Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Where a Shell Belongs

Shells are teachers, and we put them in the bathroom. Right now there are two Ziploc baggies of shells on our kitchen counter. They hold their beachy breath and wait for us to open them. It seems unfair that they go from the sea to the back of the toilet in a bowl that was made in a pottery class.

Last week two friends and I found ourselves on the beach in the late afternoon, up to our waists in the ocean water. We planned to go for a swim, but the ocean had other ideas. It was serving up all sorts of shells - shards and whole. Standing meant getting the soles of our feet stabbed, our ankles and calves pummeled with the ocean's teeth. Oh, what lovely teeth the ocean has! Instead of swimming, we started collecting, or trying to collect, what was being served to us.

At first, I tried the "spot and grab" method. A beautiful shell would glimmer under the water, the wave would pass over it, I'd reach down, and voila! It was gone, pulled in by the undertow. After a few disappointing tries with this method I switched to the "blind scoop." The wave passed over, I scooped up whatever I could in two hands, and then sifted through for goodies. I found beautiful, tiny bits of seaglass and perfectly smoothed stones this way that I wouldn't have found otherwise.

Wendy noticed our different collecting methods. She had the "spot and grab," Anne pressed herself down into the water against the thrash of waves to seek out whatever she could find, and I continued with my blind scooping. We all stole something from the ocean.

I thought about how when writing something large, you try all of these methods. There's the initial idea - the spot and grab, and then the blind scoop, and finally you press yourself into the project, against all the waves and salt and potential jellyfish. I'm still in the blind scoop mode with a project I'm working on, and will be happy to submerge myself in its last pages. The ocean reminded me to be patient - to let go of that beautiful idea because it is already washed away and replaced by other ideas. It reminded in a fatherly way. It roared, "Look, look, you numbskull! Look at what you've already picked up in your hands!"

These shells belong in the ocean, not in a baggie, not on the back of the toilet. But here they are, all landlocked - on my desk.

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