Rachel Smith’s NC Merfest Diary, January 3-5

9 Jan

So last weekend was the NC Merfest in Cary, North Carolina, which yours truly did not attend but Dive Bar mermaid extraordinaire Rachel Smith did—and generously kept a diary of the goings on so that the rest of us can live vicariously through her.

Please enjoy!

RACHEL’S DIARY

Jan 2nd, 2014
It’s a new year, and I’m already off on a new adventure. I’m flying out to walk in Atlanis’s Sea Punk fashion show, among other things. I honestly can’t believe that out of all mermaids on the California coast, she wanted to pick me … still a little stunned that this is really happening. I’m a little nervous about catching our flight out to North Carolina, there have been storms! Madeline, who was going to share a room with me, already got her flights canceled. We’ll see what happens with mine …

I managed to finish working on my Masquerade Ball costume after the holiday and New Year’s craziness at Dive. Hopefully they don’t get broken in my luggage! There was plenty of room in the overhead for my tail, I love how the new design is so much easier to transport—even if I still do get funny looks while carrying it around the airport and plane!

I didn’t sleep at all last night, I was just too excited and too thrown off by my New Year’s performances to settle down. I’m used to the our mer-dynamic at Dive, and am a little scared to meet so many new mermaids in one place—I hope they like me.

Falling asleep now, will write more tomorrow night.

Jan 6, 2014
Well. Writing more definitely didn’t happen as planned. There was just so much going on! I’ve been too blitzed out, waking up early, going to bed late every night. We all were, no one wanted to miss one second of the fun. I’ll break everything up into days.

I was eight or nine hours in the airport trying to get to North Carolina, and a few more mers were held back or had their flights canceled on them. Very sad and disappointing for them and for those of us that wanted to meet them!

Friday—I met up with Atlanis and her husband and got a ride over to the aquatic center along with Erin StBlaine, and her husband Darrell. We received our awesome badges (I felt like a VIP because our badges said “Staff” on them!) and boarded the bus for a trip to the aquarium with Mermaid Raina. The bus ride was fun, Thom Shouse entertained us with his ever absorbing stories, and I was thrilled to meet the twins behind the tails of Finfolk Productions. Abby and Bryn are very humble, very dedicated and fun. Basically, super cool woman who make super cool work. I also got to spend some great time chatting with Atlanis about mer-ing in general.

We both agreed that so many people have told us that being a mermaid just turned their lives around. I feel like this calling just swims up out of the dark at you, to keep you afloat when you are lost. For so many people, being a mermaid is salvation and safety. It was the same for me, it will be the same for so many others. I want to hold this safety in my hands, cup it close and let it enter and fill the voided world. We’re all doing something so special for each other. Transformative. Of two worlds.

We stopped for lunch at a cute little place on the water. I got to eat with a very friendly NC couple who were just getting into the mermaid scene, and Susan Gardner, who was stage managing Atlanis’s fashion show on Saturday. Everyone is so amicable and chatty. I even struck up the courage to introduce myself to Raina, who was very sweet.


Outside at the lunch spot


My lunch table

At the aquarium, we started off with a backstage tour. Backstage of the aquarium looks (and smells!) a whole lot like the backstage of Dive…which makes sense when you really think about it. My favorite part was an adorable sea turtle who seemed very interested in seeing his land-friends. He kept swimming at us and blowing little bubbles. You can’t convince me that these creatures don’t have inquisitive, active minds.


Sea turtle friend


Atlanis on the backstage tour

After exploring the rest of the aquarium for a while—some folks also went down to the beach—we climbed back on the bus and headed to dinner. At this point, our fins were drooping just a little bit, and our lack of sleep was catching us to us. The bus ride back to the hotel was mostly a sleep train.

At the hotel, we got ready for a mixer and pool party. In the elevator to the lobby, I was astonished to discover that the refined woman I was chatting with was Barbara Wynns, from Weeki Wachee! Barbara was one of the original Weeki Wachee mers. She is imperial, elegant and dignified. She is good friends with Dive’s tailmaker, The Mertailor, and knew a little about Dive Bar. It was so refreshing to talk to someone who performed day in and day out as we do up in Sacramento. She has been in the industry since the beginning. I know we were all honored to have her there with us.


Gracious Barbara at the aquatic center

At the mixer, I got to see Malena Sharkey and Robert Minnick, who I attended a Mermaid Portfolio Workshop with last year and am working with on another workshop this coming year as crew. I was so delighted to see both of them. At that point, I was itching to get in my tail and swim with some of the other mermaids, so I hopped in the pool with the Finfolk ladies and Atlanis in her new tail. After a while, more mers showed up, and the teeny tiny hotel pool was just lousy with flapping fins. You could barely swim across.

It was really, really cool seeing the Finfolk Productions tails in persons, as well as Merbella’s tails and others. The amount of love and care that goes into every tail that is made is moving. The differences are what makes us unique, and strong.


So many merfriends, so little time


Srs Mrmd Bznis

The hotel staff at the Hilton were phenomenal. They put up with all our crazy antics, the water all over the floor from carting tails around, the sequins and glitter everywhere and they kept the pool open for us long after their posted times. Major hats off to them!

The hotel pool was absolutely gorged with chlorine, and as a non-pool mermaid, that was rough. I think that we all had blurry vision and painful eyes by the end of the trip. I could personally take about ten minutes swimming with my eyes open before I maxed out.

Whyyyyyyy?

At the pool, I met Caroline, who lives in North Carolina and is one of my new favorite people. She’s going to be on the Mermaid Portfolio Workshop with us in August—hooray! After my eyes gave in, I hung around blinking a lot in the hot tub with Mermaid Bonnie from Tennessee. She’s a true Southern Belle sweetie, and her handmade tails are lovely.

Saturday: I woke up early again to attend Raina’s seminar on How to Work with Children as a mermaid. It was so excellent. Raina is well-organized and knows what she’s talking about. As a mermaid who performs at a set venue underwater, it was very helpful to see how our activities could have more outreach in our community in Sacramento. Barbara Wynns was right when she said, “Listen to this girl, she has done her homework!” I bought Raina’s book, which she signed, and couldn’t recommend it more for mermaids who are trying to get into the party professional side of things. I read the whole book on the plane ride back and can’t wait to share it with my team when I get home.


Raina’s talk, photo by Steve Anton

After Raina’s seminar, I walked over to the mall, which was only four min away from the aquatic center, to get ready for Atlanis’s fashion show. I had a lot of time to relax and do my makeup and hair. Backstage, I was able to chat with Hyli Kaiser, who is famed mermaid photographer Chris Crumley’s new muse. Hyli is quirky and fabulous with long red hair that can’t be beat! She and her husband are super adorable together, as are all the mer-couples here really. It’s nice to see partners support each other like that.

A bunch of the models were body painted by Erin, and the rest of us hung out backstage and talked, laughed and took a lot of photos. Hyli and I bonded over our mutual fear of ending up in a pile at the end of the runway, but the show went off without a hitch. I only managed to step on my lionfish fins once, so I felt successful, especially when I heard a child’s voice say, “That’s a lionfish!” when I started walking. Erin and Darrell did an astounding aerial performance, which was made even more impressive when Erin told me afterward should could hardly hear the music. The speakers were pointed away from her!


Raina and me backstage


Lionfish design by The Mermaid Atlantis, photo by Woodland Willow Photography


Lovely Atlanis in her handmade tail, photo by Woodland Willow Photography


Amanda the manta ray, photo by Woodland Willow Photography

I walked back to the aquatic center where Atlanis’s collection was photographed by Bob; so I felt comfortable with him and had a lot of fun waving my fins around. We got to take an entertaining group shot too.


The gang’s all here!

After all the photographs on land, Steve Anton grabbed some underwater shots of Atlanis’s collection. Steve wanted me to jump into the water for my first shot, which I was little nervous about, because I knew my lionfish fins were going to fly right off. Sure enough, they did! Luckily, Steve was still able to grab some really nifty shots—of course!


Clownfish design by The Mermaid Atlantis, photography by Steve Anton


Lionfish design by The Mermaid Atlantis, photography by Steve Anton


Child’s Mermaid Tail design by The Mermaid Atlantis, photography by Steve Anton

After the underwater shoot, we putzed around, and eventually everyone got ready for the masquerade ball.

The ball was nothing less than incredible. It was held at a natural history center and our entry way led under rows of blue colored, glowing archways into a photo booth area. A photograph was taken of you in your masquerade finery, and printed right there! My photo was incredibly unflattering and will never see the light of day—I blame my awestruck brain. After the photo area, a meandering path lead through displays of ocean life throughout time; enormous and terrifying whale skeletons hung overhead. At the end was a dance floor, and dining tables set around small display cases wherein little flora and fauna peered out at the masquerade company. Christomer couldn’t have picked a more perfect arena for the ball.

I also may need to mention there was free wine and cute bartenders.

I was able to eat with Malena, Bob, Atlanis, Eric, Erin, Darrell and Caroline—lovely dinner company. Atlanis and Erin had worked together to create silicone shells that lit up and glowed in the dark. We were all fairly mesmerized by their … tops … all night.


Atlanis, Malena and Erin are stunning, photo by Way Beyond Productions


My ball costume, photo by Way Beyond Productions


Hyli and hubbs, Way Beyond Productions

At the ball I was fortunate enough to spend some nice time with Thom Shouse, who was feeling slightly neglected through mis-communication. Raina and her boyfriend and mertender Sean had taken Thom kindly under their wing, and I sat at the table and chatted with him for a bit. Thom is such a sweet man, with a good and generous heart. Like talking to Barbara, I feel that we were all so incredibly rewarded at having the chance to have Thom there. They are both a big part of the foundation of what we do—and sweet Thom gifted me some merbeads and an adorable photo frame. I was deeply touched.

We all danced together—my favorite—and there was a siren song competition held. I missed most of it because I was chatting with Thom, but what I did hear sounded entertaing to the max. Many of the company danced till the band was ready to leave!


We can’t stop…and we won’t stop….  photo by Way Beyond Productions

At the hotel and afterparty was held, and buckets of the now infamous Mermaid Punch were consumed. The chlorine pool did another number on my eyes, as usual. I spent the majority of the time chatting with Meridian Mergiver, who is one of Thom’s ‘girls’. She is another California sea-sister, and I really enjoyed giggling with her and getting to know her better. She and her husband have a veritable menagerie of critters living with them – including bees. I am envious. She was wearing the tail that Thom made for Alyssa Milano in an episode of the tv show Charmed, and I felt like I was touching history when I saw that tail. I got some serious chicken skin. Pearl, Meridian, Victoria and Brittany Osborne and I were the last mers out of the hot tub that night.

Sunday: The third day most mermaids suffered the repercussions of the free alcohol at the ball and too much Mermaid Punch the night before. Things ran a little behind schedule – including me! I set my alarm on my phone, but neglected to turn it off of silent mode…so no alarm went off! I was heartbroken to miss Raina’s second lecture, and John Jay’s Breathholding class, which Atlanis had generously offered her extra ticket for.

I spent all my extra time that day getting alluring glitter threads sewn into my hair, chatting with Bob and Malena about our plan for the Bahamas workshop and wandering about.


Sparkle time

I was also able to swim with Malena, Erin, Caroline, and Atlanis. As simple as that was, it was probably my favorite part of the whole weekend. There’s just something so special about being submerged with your mersisters. I will follow them anywhere. It’s such a perfect feeling to see their flukes waving in front of me, leading me onward and upward; true seastars and mermaid loves. It was absolutely sensational to look underwater with goggles—a thing I hardly ever do—and see all the different tails swishing around. The festival had an entire pool reserved for mermaids only!

I have to re-iterate how fascinating it was to see the prodigious variety of tails and creativity that everyone brings to the tail-making process. There’s such a range, and we got a taste of nearly everything out there. Everyone looked splendid, from the most humble of fabric tails, to sequined beauties, to the big silicone stunners.

As was swam and played, mers started congregating on the pool edge for a big group shot.


Photo by Cate Vail, Siren’s Photopraphy

We gave a fluke in the air tail salute to finish it all off. Drums played in the background, mermaids danced, and everyone was spasmodically happy.


Fluke Salute!

We were all going to have sore muscles from holding our flukes in the air for so long, but it made me laugh to see us all with our tails flopping around and our merbums exposed to the breeze.

Afterwards, the first ever Mermaid Olympics were held. Malena, Erin and I ended up winning a bronze for the flop like a fish contest. The games were excessively cute and clever;  they featured events such as, trident toss, siren’s call, diving for dinglehoppers and even coloring! Bonnie won overall champ, which was very well-deserved! I wish I could have seen her and her partner, Mermaid Lei Loni’s, underwater lyrical dance from the surface!


Bonnie the champion, photograph by Steve Anton

After clumsily helping Bob and Malena strike their booth, we drove out with Caroline to meet everyone for the closing lu’au. At the lu’au, Finfolk was raffling off a silicone tail! Tension was high as they choose their ticket, and Mermaid Marla was the lucky recipient.


Marla wins her tail!

Before the Finfolk ladies drew out the winning ticket, they gave a short speech, which was concluded with a blessing from Thom, who made everyone in the room tear up. To quote Thom, “My heart is full of water, and when someone touches it, it leaks.” It was moving to see a first generation tail maker welcome a new generation into the fold.


Thom and Finfolk

After we ate and held the raffle, I was overjoyed to share a hula from my halau in Concord, Na Mamo No’eau. Despite a few technical setbacks (the restaurant owner couldn’t quite figure out how his sound system worked) everyone was so polite when I danced. I was shaking like a leaf, but all managed to go smoothly.


Photography by Way Beyond Productions

I was privileged afterward to introduce the mind-melting fire performance that Erin and Darrell put on. Those two are truly master performers, excellent at their craft and sent the weekend home with a literal burst of light.


Erin swallows fire!


Acro firedance


Darrell, Erin and fearless leader Christomer

We reassembled at the hotel pool one last time. Victoria was kind enough to let me try out her custom-built monofin, which swam like the creamiest of butter. None of us wanted the weekend to end, and it was a long time before anyone could bring themselves to go to bed and say goodbye. Several pints of lobby ice cream and oceans of happy tears later, I had to stagger off to bed. I couldn’t tell if it was the chlorine, my zero sleep, or the sadness of leaving the new and old merfriends that made my eyes burn like the dickens, but they needed to close on some of the happiest memories I had made.


Me and Bob saying goodbye

I did miss my hometown sea sisters with all my heart, and wish they could have experienced everything that I had been gifted. I especially missed my mermom sharing this new adventure with me, I know she would have had a blast. I am bursting to share all that I had witnessed, take on new projects, swim with them and give huge hugs on my return home. Leaving on a trip like this often makes you appreciate even more what you have at home, even if the trip is a fantastic one.

I can’t fully comprehend all the things that have happened in the short amount of time we’ve all been gifted to do together. The ball is rolling, the tides are turning and we are all realizing our true homes—with each other, even across the country and the world. I look forward to the next one, and hope I have the chance of returning. It’s time to meet the sea again.

And finally: I would like to give credit where credit is due: Thank you ChristoMer Starfish for organizing and making this happen for some many fantastic people. Thank you Atlanis Jaguar for being the reason I was able to attend, for your talent and work getting the fashion show together and for carting my merbutt around NC. Thank you Erin St Blaine and Darrell for melting my face off with their crazy/awesome performances and amazing glowing boobs! Thank you Malena Sharkey and Robert Minnick for taking me under your fins, giving me Bob’s wonderful photo, for the swims, talks, hugs and general love. Thank you Caroline Nelson for making me laugh and ALSO driving my butt around—you’re awesome. Thank you Hyli Kaiser for being such a sweet human being, and your excellent energy and enthusiasm. Thank you Bonnie Lavender for your kind words and elegance. Likewise, Lynne Crady Sluder for your sweet soul. Thank you Thom Shouse for all the stories, insight and the beads and picture frame. Thank you Meridian Mer-Gyver for all the hot tub giggles and laughs! And lastly, thank you Carolyn Turgeon for uniting mermaids online and for always giving me your support and trust. Please, please let me know if you would like to receive photo credit on any images. I excited grabbed them offline willy nilly and can’t remember who they all came from.

One Response to “Rachel Smith’s NC Merfest Diary, January 3-5”

  1. Janis Quinn January 9, 2014 at 11:59 AM #

    I loved reading this but could not open the pictures.  What a wonderful time. So sad about that!   I call myself Old Mermaid Toes.  Must of my mermaid experiences were from my imagination as a child. It started with the movie “Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid” and the “Little Mermaid” original fairy tale (or should I say, “tail”?). The one in which she actually turns to foam. Had they been available to me,  I totally would have participate in all these Mermaid adventures. 

    I do love this site. I am “Old Mermaid Toes” – Janis

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