Sora is a bellydancer and was one of the performers at MerCon last year, by the way, and also, as a newly minted diver like yours truly, was my dive buddy on this trip. That means that she and I spent a lot of time making hand signals to each other under water, assuring each other that we were still alive. For this I will be forever grateful.
Below I ask Sora many penetrating questions, which she answers with luminous generosity.
How long have you been a mermaid?
All my life. It, predictably, started with Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Before anyone knew it I was drawing mermaids and their scuba diving companions adventuring through many underwater scenes. My mom sewed me a blue tail with little silver sparkles so I could pose on the sofa and try to swim. We didn’t know about monofins then. So I’ve been dreaming of being a mermaid, and in my mind believing and pretending since I learned to swim; but it’s only been a recent few years that I began pursuing it as a lifestyle.
What does being a mermaid mean to you?
Being a mermaid is about—to me—the core feeling of freedom. When I drop below the surface of the water, everything becomes easier. My tail moves me with but a flicker of thought, and my body coasts along the bottom of the pool or along the sand with ease. There is no weight in the water. All things that trouble me are lifted from my shoulders and left to float about the surface until I’m ready to connect them. Being a mermaid is to be free of responsibility, of blame, of guilt and sorrow. It is the most meditative experience.
There is no judgment of self, as the mind drifts, only the texture of the water smoothing against skin, and the power of a tail ready to thrust forward. Mermaiding, to me, is the closest feeling to flying, to soaring about cities and town and mountains. It is communing with the Goddess of the sea, of all life.
Were you surprised to discover a whole mermaid community out there?
I was! I had no idea there were other merfolk out there. I don’t even really remember how I discovered it all, but it definitely is credited to the great Hannah Fraser and a bad day spent on youtube.
Tell me about your experience at MerCon.
I arrived in Las Vegas with my mother on Wednesday evening. It was my first time there, and just getting off the plane I was entranced with the vibrancy and sounds and smells of the city. There were slot machines everywhere, and big posters advertising shows and restaurants. It was 108 degrees outside!
We caught a shuttle to the Silverton and took in the huge, beautiful mermaid tank and aquarium, the beautifully lit bar with the mermaid statue, and the fun fluke-shaped menus. Since Mercon didn’t really begin till the next day, I spent the rest of the night enjoying a few drinks and relaxing.
Once I began meeting other merpeople, the real emotions began to build. I met Mermaid Anita and her boyfriend, and Mermaid Iona and a few others before getting the great honor of meeting Hannah Fraser at the Barnes and Noble book signing. There were a handful of us listening raptly to the reading of Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon. Some lounged around in tails, others dressed in style. Around us Sita Lange, the organizer of Mercon, flitted about on light feet, introducing herself and getting things set up for later.
From then on it was a whirlwind of emotion and events and awe. There’s not adequate way to describe how overwhelmed and happy I was. I was surrounded by pirates and merfolk in the glittering Las Vegas. Music and the sounds of the slot machines was always around, and at any hour of the night I could go down and be around people, or sit by the large aquarium and watch the fish swim. Thursday flew by; and Friday, a beautiful day, full of raised hopes and frantic, last-minute tail decorating, was the most amazing of all. I got to perch beside Mermaid Malena for most of the day, in my tail greeting folk as they came into the vendors area with the stage. I jumped into a dress and then back into my tail for the pageant, before rushing out to go sit poolside until the performance that night. It was the greatest honor and joy to be able to dance for, and with, Hannah. I look back with some embarrassment—for it was not my greatest dance!—but the joy of the opportunity will linger forever.
Exhausted after swimming with everyone in that little pool, and having a photoshoot with Susan Knight bright and early the next morning, I slept away the night. The next morning, my mother and I found our way to the saline pool where the shoot was to take place. It was extraordinarily fun! It was a vast, deep pool, and I could really stretch my fins. There was a small crowd of us, and Susan took amazing pictures of each mermaid that came. By the end we were tired, and it was raining, and there was nothing need doing until the party that night.
After hours of enjoying the casino and hanging out with my merkind, I caught a ride with Iara to Sita’s party. The lagoon was beautiful, and full to the brim with swishing tails and sparkling lights. This is where I met Mermaid Shelly and Merman Chris for the first time and became fast friends. I enjoyed the lagoon pool, the dance-shows that were performed, and the cool temperature until around midnight, when the party ended and it was time to go back to the hotel. Since that was the end of Mercon, I was terribly saddened. Everyone was going their separate ways, and I wasn’t sure when I’d see my fellows again. Though my mother and I stayed and enjoyed Vegas another night, and it was definitely more relaxed without the urge to know who was doing what, and when, I missed the water and the flap of fins all around me.
What about Mermaids in the Desert? What is it, and what was your experience like there?
Mermaids in the Desert was lots of fun. It was a meetup organized by Pamela Morse, who wanted to get a bunch of us together at a Palm Springs resort to enjoy the warm waters, try out our tails, and do some performing. That was the first time I ever swam in the tail I refer to as “The Beast,” and it was Merman Chris’ first time really getting to exercise his fins too. It was bitterly cold at night, but the water was about 88 degrees all the time. It was my first chance at meeting Jeckyll the Seashell Queen, and Angela Schommer, both beautiful and talented mermaids. We had a lot of fun in those waters! Very relaxing, very soothing. The hotel staff and guests were astounded by us and thrilled to be swimming with mermaids. We took lots of pictures, some video, passed out business cards and had some great drinks at the bar.
Was it mermaiding that led you to scuba?
Yes indeed. Mermaiding and the fabulously enthusiastic Mermaid Malena inviting me along to the BlackBeard’s Cruise.
Can you tell me about that trip? What did you learn?
There’s so much to say… I went on the BlackBeard Cruise full of anxiety. I didn’t know what to expect, it had been nearly a year since I’d learned to dive, and it was my first time flying internationally. I couldn’t use my cell phone and there was no internet to be expected. When I arrived in Nassau I wasn’t sure where to go, who to talk to, and was terrified that I’d missed my ride. Not bringing a watch and my cell phone not functioning, I couldn’t figure out what time it was, only that it was time to be at the docks. I got my luggage and met the driver outside. A wonderful tour to the docks later, and I met up with Malena, who guided me to the ship. Once aboard, well, it was quite the adventure! Meeting Sam our Dive Master, Molly the chef, Red our Captain… and so many others. I made new friends, got re-acquainted with old ones and began an adventure. The week was a whirlwind of new experiences. I swam with sharks, I visited a sunken plane, numerous coral reefs and met so much wildlife. I forgot what time it was every day, to the wonderful confusion of my mind, and simply enjoyed being around friendly people, amazing food, incredible waters, and the open sky.
I learned many new techniques in diving, free-diving, and exploring. I learned that I can jump off a boat into waters with sharks swimming around and be O.K.. I learned how to assemble and disassemble my first gauge and how to use a computer when I couldn’t sit up all the way in my bunk. Some of my favorite lessons, though, were how to pick out fish between the corals, how to pose for above—below photos, how to swim with the beautiful mermaids Iara, Kristi and Malena. I learned so much, every single day.
When/how did you make your first tail?
It’s hard to define which is my first tail, of the tails I’ve had in life. I had a tail around the age of five or six, early as memories I have, but I couldn’t swim in it. I worked on another tail many years later, but it was unsuccessful, so it is not really a tail. The first tail I have made that is fully functional is my red gypsy tail. This was a big adventure, with me, my mom and a tailor helping.
We experimented with at least five different types of glue, foam, and ways of sewing the tail together. We were making it way too hard by trying it in an unorthodox way. Eventually we realized the materials we were working with were too thick and harsh for our sewing machines and went to a very nice man named Murdoc to help. He basically tore the whole thing apart and remade it. Then I decorated it day and night until it got to the unfinished state it’s still in today!
Are there any mermaids out there who inspire you?
I don’t know anyone who isn’t inspired by Hannah Fraser, but Mermaid Melissa and Linden Wolbert are amazing and great role models. On a more personal level—I am really inspired by my girlfriend Ariel, who has been a mermaid since I met her, even without either of us knowing there was a community out there. My dear friend Mermaid Shelly—how she’s inspired me! She’s done more for me than I could ever express. And Mermaid Malena, who has given me such lovely gifts of courage and adventure.
And finally, do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
Let it come naturally. Let it be about the water, about the peace and meditation. Let it be for friendship and community and beauty. Do it to set your heart free, if your heart longs for the sea.