So Mermaid Shelly is one of many many mermaids who will arrive in Las Vegas next week for the first annual World Mermaid Awards at the Silverton Hotel and Casino. Obviously, you should come and say hello. Shelly is a trained biologist and mermaid transformation specialist as well as a mermaid generally, and I recently spoke with her about her passion for all things oceanic. Please do not be too jealous.
So how did you become a mermaid?
When I was a little girl and saw the movie Splash, I knew instantly that I was meant to be a mermaid. Something about Madison’s outsider perspective on human society and her understanding of the depths of the ocean just resonated with me. I used to spend hours with my little sister Wendy in the pool, hot tub, rivers, lakes (or really any puddle of water we could fit into) trying to swim with our legs together. We used to attempt to go underwater and communicate with each other using the high-pitched screeching call that Madison used in the Bloomingdale’s department store scene when she blew up all the TV sets. It was really quite funny… until we both got really bad cases of swimmer’s ear, that is! I think as of that summer, we were both reborn as mermaids.
What attracted you to mermaids?
I think there are several levels of attraction for me. For one, it is an escape fantasy. I had a pretty tough childhood and liked to pretend that I lived in another world, rather than deal with my own reality. At the time I first saw Splash, my parents were getting divorced and my Mom was remarrying to a man that I didn’t approve of and moved us away. I lost all of my friends that I grew up with in Sacramento, and being shy, had a hard time meeting and trusting new people. It was a lot easier to create my own fantasy; one where I knew secrets that others do not. I think we can all agree that when we have a hard day, there is nothing better than just swimming away from your cares, and a secret life as a mermaid definitely allows me that.
Secondly, mermaids have an advantage as being able to cross into two worlds; one where they breathe air on land and in the other, water. They have knowledge of the deep, dark depths of the ocean and her mysterious creatures. They know the ecology and terrain of both worlds, and can serve as a translator between the inhabitants of both sides; aquatic and land. This to me is equivalent of being a wildlife interpreter or a park ranger, except of the oceans.
Thirdly, there is an undeniable magical quality about them and an innocence that cannot be breached. That is something that I strive for in my own life, and being a mermaid has definitely helped me to tap into it.
Have you always identified as a mermaid?
Yes, I think I have since I was about nine years old. At that time it was more of a play fantasy that was imagined, or drawn on paper when I was alone. It wasn’t until I met my boyfriend (now husband of 16 years) Chris that I really started embracing it culturally. I remember when we first started dating that the subject of mermaids came up, and how shocked and amazed that he was as enthusiastic about them as I was. It really felt like when Tom Hanks’ character meets Madison for the first time, and then later realizes that she saved him from drowning as a child. In a way I think our relationship parallels theirs, in that we both have nurtured each other’s love for mermaids and the ocean and it has just grown over time. He helped me to make my first tail when I was sixteen on his mother’s sewing machine, and then saved me from drowning in it in his neighbor’s pool, as it was not swimmable at all! He drove me to San Francisco to get fabric for my second tail in the days before online purchases, and has been my number one supporter, photographer and confidant all these many years. He encouraged me to meet Linden Wolbert of Mermaids in Motion for some inspiration last spring and to finally purchase my Mertailor tail at long last. We really have saved each other from our respective realities and have created our own, submerged in mer-culture. Over the years, we have amassed so many mermaid artifacts that our house could almost be considered a mermaid museum.
I understand you are very passionate about ocean conservation and other environmental issues. Can you tell me about that?
My undergraduate degree is in Conservational and Organismal Biology, so I am trained as a field biologist. I see myself as an independent observer of ecology, and human’s affects on it. I do not believe that humans have dominion over the Earth; we just act as though we do. We have changed the ecosystem to suit ourselves without ever considering the effects to other species. Then we nominally mitigate our bad deeds and pat ourselves on the back for it in the name of conservation, but that all it is… mitigation, not prevention. This is one reason that Chris and I decided early on not have children; we don’t want to perpetuate the human problem. That might sound strange to many, but when you look at it from the larger perspective of the planet’s health, reducing the population is the only sustainable mechanism we have. We humans are a virus on this Earth, and whether we are conscious of it or not, each of us is consuming resources that we can never hope to replace in the larger scheme of things. I know it sounds harsh, but that is my honest opinion on the species. I guess I am sort of an all-or-nothing person, for better or worse.
My Master’s degree is in Electronic Education, so I am hoping to incorporate adult learning theory and an interest in mermaids to help educate the masses through my blog, A Mermaid’s Journey. Through this blog, I can take a light-hearted approach to the serious issues that keep me up at night and hopefully gain interest in conservation through reading them. I try to cross-post my blog entries as notes on my Facebook page also to try and get more viewers through electronic media. Each of us can make a difference, and my gift is sharing knowledge. I want people to know that I am more than just a “girl in a tail,” I am an actual biologist and a concerned inhabitant of our planet. If just one person reads it and learns something, then I am a happy mermaid. I would like to share the joy and sadness that I feel when I observe phenomena around me, and hope that I can bring some understanding; to hold hands with you while we watch our ecosystem win or lose. It’s all in our hands.
Can you tell me about your mermaid store and what you sell?
I do have a web-store with items made from our photos. The store sells ceramic coffee mugs, t-shirts, magnets and note cards. Nothing too fancy, but 10% of the proceeds are going to be donated to the Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation (our local lagoon preservation charity) to support the good work that they are doing, in these times of State Department budget cuts.
More recently, I have decided to share my husband Chris’ photography skills and my love of mermaids to start offering mermaid transformation photo/video shoot packages. This is something new that we are taking on and will be donating 10% of the proceeds to Surfrider Foundation, to assist them in their public education of shore issues worldwide. For details on how to be transformed, visit http://www.mermaidshelly.com/#!transformations or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Will you be attending the World Mermaid Awards?
Absolutely, I wouldn’t miss it for the world! The WMA and MerCon are organized by a longtime mermaid friend of ours, Sita Lange. I have been a fan of Sita’s work for a very long time and was lucky enough to get to work with her as a mermaid for her website, MauiMermaids.tv. My husband was her web editor for the site also, so we are really excited to get to come out and support her once again.
What do you think about mermaids’ current popularity?
I think it is wonderful; the more the merrier! And hopefully now people won’t think I am crazy when they see Chris and I out on the beach taking photos in my tail. Sometimes people come up to us and ask what we are doing and if we are doing photos for an advertisement, etc. and it always makes me laugh… why don’t they understand that we do it just for the love of mermaids and the ocean? I hope that now they will be more inclined to understand that.
Have you attended any especially interesting mermaid events and/or places?
I think the most interesting mermaid adventures I have had thus far (aside from the upcoming WMA) is being transformed by Sita Lange for Maui Mermaids. We travelled to Hawaii’s Big Island for our first photo shoot and to Maui for a second one. Oh the fun we had! She knows those islands like the back of her hand and it is wonderful to be with someone local and have them show you the most amazing, secluded beaches. On our first shoot outside of Hilo, we went to a beach that was so deserted we literally had to climb down giant Pothos vines to get down the cliffs. At the base we found pristine black sands, a waterfall with a small pool just perfect for a mermaid to take photos in. Sita really has the pulse of the islands flowing through her veins. I will never forget those days as long as I live.
What advice do you have for aspiring mermaids?
Well, I would have to argue that there are no aspiring mermaids… they are just mermaids. Perhaps they are land-locked; perhaps they don’t have their own tail, but mermaids at heart nonetheless. And the only advice I could ever give anyone is just to believe in yourself; believe in what you are doing and don’t ever let anyone drag you down. Just keep swimming!