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Nobody Puts Kenzie In The Corner: Yup, definitely hydrophobic

Did I mention I hate water?

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Something weird about being an artist is that when you’re in work mode, you get to feeling invincible. Like, you literally forget the limits of your physicality as a human being.

Running from meeting to meeting to a meal (that is also kind of a meeting) to a photoshoot to a “casual event” (a.k.a. meeting) to a “totally not casual event” (yep, these are all meetings) for 22 hours straight in stilettos? Why not, you’ll totally be able to walk tomorrow! (False. “Walk” is a bit of an overstatement. You might be able to waddle. Or crawl.)

Forgetting to eat or sleep for 2+ days because you’re shooting a video? Eh, coffee is kind of food(??) and you can sleep when you’re dead! (False. You will feel deceased at the end of the shoot and fall asleep binge eating at Waffle House at 2 A.M. Not chic.)

Agreeing without hesitation when your director asks you to be strapped into a weight belt and sunk to the bottom of a swimming pool to film part of aforementioned music video “for the art”? Oh my goddd, I’m in love. No, seriously, I’m like, so visual, and I am literally so obsessed with that idea. This is going to look so cool. I can’t wait. (False. You have forgotten everything about water and how it works.)

And, friends, while all of these anecdotes are 100% true, the last one is what led to my first time scuba diving. When I first put that on the List, I imagined myself back in Hawaii or a Caribbean island, perfectly bronzed in some fabulous swimwear. I imagined myself wading into the water, somehow making a massive air tank and goggles look glamourous. Perhaps I would be accompanied by a very attractive foreign scuba instructor.

I did not imagine myself at the bottom of an indoor community pool in Overland Park, Kansas, with middle-aged director by my side and my entire video department watching.

Let me explain how I got there.

The month is October. When director Jason Cantu sent me the video treatment (a written explanation of the concept for a music video) for my latest single “Deleted,” one part immediately caught my attention. The shot called for me to be underwater in a huge white dress. An underwater camera would film me afloat, giving the scene an ethereal quality. The shot was experimental, different. Everyone in our video department knew it was definitely the most out of my comfort zone of anything we’d shot for my music thus far. They asked if I liked the idea, and more importantly, if I was comfortable with it.

And, I loved it! This is the type of weird stuff that makes my job so fantastic! Yes! Who cares if I can’t swim?

Wait, what?

Yes, you read that correctly. I can’t swim. I’m able to not drown, but that is not equivalent with swimming. Put in water, I won’t sink immediately, but my mobility skills are virtually nonexistent.

Yet, I assured everyone (especially my poor parents) that I would be fine! We would be fine! I just had to go underwater in a pool, right?

Imagine my surprise I’m told that Cantu and I will have to take a scuba class together. Apparently, to film the shot, the film crew wanted me to sit at the bottom of the deep end, and to make the matter easier, someone had the idea to hook me up to a subtle scuba tank* so I wouldn’t have to hold my breath the entire time I was at the bottom/wouldn’t have to keep coming up for air.

*There is no such thing as a “subtle scuba tank.” More on this later.

Okay, wow! A scuba class! In a swimming pool? They do those? Dope! Another cool experience at a cool part of my cool job!

The (first of so many) foreseeable downside(s): it’s recommended that I wear a bathing suit instead of my performance outfit while I’m being taught to scuba, just until I get used to wearing the equipment. Eh, bathing suits. No matter how good of shape I’m in, they always seem to make me feel like a chubby fifth grader at a pool party. But whatever, it’s just going to be for a little bit. I show up the morning of the shoot assuming the only people in attendance will be the instructor (sees people in bathing suits all the time), my stylist (has seen me in various states of undress), my makeup artist (has also seen me in various states of undress), and my director (directs rap videos, and thus has seen many girls in various states of undress).

Imagine my surprise when our entire video department, all twentysomething-year-old boys who I have to work with and see every single day, begin showing up. I haven’t even gotten in the water yet, and all I’m thinking is, “Oh my god, I’m in a bikini, which is about 3 square feet of fabric away from being totally naked. I might as well be naked. This is horrible. I’m joining a convent.” Thankfully, they’re all so distracted setting up equipment (and trying not to make eye contact with their boss’s daughter, who is standing there in a bikini) that they don’t really interact with me. Bless.

As soon as Cantu shows up, we are introduced to our scuba instructor, a very nice lady who I immediately informed of my lack of swimming capabilities. She assures me that I’ll be fine and straps me into the gear (a massive tank, goggles, and breathing tube that attaches to a mouth guard thing that looks a lot like what I see football players wear in movies).

First, she has us float face down in the shallow end to get used to breathing through a tube. Tube breathing is harder than it sounds. I do a lot of sputtering and choking. The glamorous life of a pop star.

After I figure out how to breathe through a tube (a skill that literal coma patients have  but I do not), she has us traverse over to the deep end. It’s like 15 or 20 feet deep. Near the wall, a buoy is attached to a rope which is chained to the bottom of the pool, kind of like the metal poles they have in firehouses in movies, if firehouses were underwater and the metal pole was actually a rope (so, in other words, it was in no way like the metal poles they have in firehouses in movies). Basically, we’re supposed to grab onto the rope and slowly lower ourselves until we reach the bottom of the pool.

This part is surprisingly easy. Once I get used to the whole breathing underwater/do not breathe through the nostrils thing, I feel like a sporty scuba extraordinaire. In minutes, I’m walking along the bottom of a swimming pool! I, water-intolerant Mack, am defying the bounds of the human body and am now one with the aquatic creatures of the vast ocean. Spectacular. After a little more underwater meandering, I resurface and head straight into hair and makeup.

I come back out to the pool, decked out in my waterproof contour and white dress and ready to take on the world.

That’s when the plan slowly devolves. Allow me to list the various issues as they occurred:

  1. My father is yelling at the video crew about the equipment and how extremely careful they need to be that it doesn’t fall into the water. He is threatening to kill them in such illustrative and colorful language that you would think he was a creative writing major from the finest of liberal arts universities. At first, I figure it’s because water would obviously ruin the expensive lights, monitors, cameras, and other electrical items strewn across the room and around the pool. Then, I realize. It’s not about the safety of the equipment. It’s about me. Everything they’re setting up, all the thick cords and wires circling the room, each of the massive lights and monitors, it’s all electrical. If even just one of these lights is bumped into the pool, it will electrocute and kill anything in the water. In other words, me. I had not even thought about this now obvious thought and continue to obsess over it as I sit there watching them weigh down the lights with sandbags to keep them from causing my certain death.
  2. We start by getting simple, non-scuba shots in the shallow end. After getting into the water, I remember something vital: I hate water. I can’t breathe. It burns my nose, my throat, etc. I come up choking seconds after trying to submerge myself. Somewhere, deep in the dark archives of our video department, there’s probably hours worth of footage of me shooting out of the 4-foot-deep water gagging up chlorine, fluids running out of every orifice of my face. The glamorous life of a pop star.
  3. I’m not heavy enough, and I float up the second I finally plant myself at the bottom of the pool. We have to figure out how to strap an extra 10 pounds of weight onto a weight belt and hide it under my dress. Bless my stylist.
  4. Oh, by the way? Our original plan with the scuba tank won’t work for a number of technical reasons ranging from our inability to hide it under my dress and the possibility of my lungs potentially bursting. Scuba classes FOR NOTHING. Bikini in front of coworkers FOR NOTHING. GRRR!
  5. My father has to step outside for a few moments to take a call. In this time, Director Cantu has the FABULOUS idea to have me jump in the deep end, free float for as long as possible, then resurface. I am hesitant. We are hours into the shoot, and I now am acutely reminded of every reason I hate water. I would not dive into the deep end if I were swimming for leisure, so why would I want to do it with the extra 15+ pounds from my massive hair extensions and dress (a.k.a., layers on layers of heavy, soaking wet fabric)? But, I don’t want to seem “difficult.” I tell myself that I am an adventurous rock star, up for anything! Stevie Nicks would have done it in a heartbeat, and who wouldn’t want to be like Stevie Nicks? I step to the edge of the pool and jump.
    I free float, water filling my face holes, but make it back to the surface. They ask me to jump again.
    I crawl back up to the side of the pool. I jump again. I come back up a little testy, but fine. They ask me to jump again.
    I find myself at the edge of the pool a third time. I jump. This time does not go as well. As I enter the water, several layers of fabric from my dress wrap around and over me. As I attempt to resurface, the loose fabric wraps around my head and neck, covering my face. I can’t get back up to the surface. I start panicking, and I can feel myself sinking further down, flailing my arms. I start kicking, weighed down by the dress and gulping massive amounts of water. I come quickly to the terrifying realization that even though I’m in a room full of people, none of them realize I’m no longer acting and that I actually cannot get back up. Every few seconds, I manage to somewhat get a hand or part of my face above water. I assume I yelled help, or I was just choking. I remember wondering where the lifeguard was*. Each time I almost get above water, I keep catching freeze-frame shots of what’s happening above water around me as my crew realizes that I actually need help. Suddenly, I feel myself pulled up. I flailed my way close enough to the side of the pool that one of the Strange Music workers (a long-term employee who I’ve grown up alongside) is able to pull me up. Choking on the ground at the side of the pool, I survey the scene. Everyone is staring at me. I see one member of the crew crawl out of the pool next to me, drenched – he jumped in to try and get me out.
    I look at my director.
    “Never. Again.”
    My father was outside for the duration of the ordeal. He only found out about it during the car ride to the next set. Apparently, he never approved that shot and he was not happy to hear that his daughter almost drowned. Go figure.
    *Lifeguard is a loose term really. He was a guy who worked part time at the pool who was SUPPOSED to be lifeguarding but spent most of the time talking about managing a coffee shop.
  6. Fun fact: apparently, swimming makes you tired. I never swim, so I pretty much forgot about this tiny detail until I was submerged for 7 hours straight and realized that the protein shake I had for breakfast at 4 A.M. really wasn’t doing it for me anymore. By the time I get out, I’m waterlogged, starving, and in desperate need of some Visine for my chlorine-shot eyeballs.

So, that is a not-so-short synopsis of how I ended up learning to scuba dive in Kansas in October.

So long and goodnight,

Mackenzie Nicole O’Guin

Special thanks to my director Jason Cantu for completely throwing caution to the wind for the sake of art, my stylist Teresita Madrigal for managing to hide a massive weight belt under that dress without making me look like I was with child, my makeup artist Jacqueline Rocha Castillo for managing to apply makeup that stayed on after 7 hours of drowning, Strange Music ride-or-die Cory Nielson for saving me as I drowned, Strange Music video department electrician James Cerven for making sure I was not electrocuted and for jumping in to save me when I was ingesting mass amounts of water, and my parents for allowing me to follow all my ill-advised whims. Thanks to you all, I now realize I hate water.

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Nobody Puts Kenzie In The Corner: Yup, definitely hydrophobic