Dec 5, 2006

ISLAS ROSARIO, Colombia –  Sea-washed and weary, I sleep under palm thatch. Morning blares through the open windows, curtained only by shrubs. Time to dive again – and deep, this time.

Down the reef we descend. Scarlet fades to plum, as the spectrum dims. And my math skills sink like the Andrea Doria, thanks to Martini's Law (every 50ft equals the effects of one stiff cocktail on an empty stomach).

At 100ft – two drinks down – Fernando pokes a slate at me: an equation I haven't practiced in three months. I fumble through most of it, then shove the pencil and plastic sheet back. Enough. I'm here to see sponges, not evidence of my own stupidity.

"How do you feel?" he writes.

"Overstimulated," I scrawl back. "I'm trying to do math, stay buoyant, breathe steadily, look around and deal with my first deep dive. Plus I'm tired and I NEED MORE CAFFEINE!!!" The last is underlined three times and larded with exclamation points, which I constantly nag my writing students not to abuse. Clearly, I'm not firing on all cylinders.

After we surface, Fernando starts laughing. "Nothing wrong with your communication skills down there. You practically wrote a novel."

"Yeah, well, I'm an author. We're highly trained – and lowly paid – to bullshit under the influence."

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