Last night, after I nodded off at the table for the 3rd evening in a row, having been lost in thought and pretty detached from family dinner anyway, my son said, “Mom, just take a day, it doesn’t matter, just take a day.”
It would be nice to think he was genuinely concerned, taking care of me, wanting to pamper his mama. But the truth is, I think the emphasis might have been on the “it doesn’t matter.”
Hutch is a fledgling writer, a talented one, so it’s not that he doesn’t understand the creative impulse -- but he’s a teenager, so he
a) does not understand denying oneself sleep for any reason, and
b) has never been a slightly ragged artist/parent, so it doesn’t register for him that these few weeks, this cloister of time and space, are my lifeblood. That I need to do this. I need to be tired, sore, and insufferable, passing out in my noodles, and get up and do it again the next day.
Also he may just think, it really doesn’t matter - and to be honest, he’s probably not wrong.
I’m aware that the work that I do out here for few weeks each summer is neither the salt mines nor finding a cure for cancer. The family takes a vacation and I, somewhat arbitrarily, work harder in a certain way than I do all year round. There is, in fact, a method to my madness, but that’s not what’s important here -- what matters. What matters, of course, is simply doing it, running and writing, and putting it out there into the universe even when it feels unfinished, imperfect, raw.
I’m in the middle of week two, and I know from experience that this is when it gets hard. The body refuses, the mind is alternately too overwhelmed with random ideas to sort or shape them, and just completely blank. The writing dries up, the canyon's lips seal. The excitement, adrenaline, and fresh legs of the first week are replaced by boredom, indolence, and gams that feel like lead. It’s too early in the process to have gained significant strength or speed, too late to be running on zeal. In this phase it’s just stubbornness, and the belief -- or at least the commitment to believe, or the memory of the belief -- that it’s worth it.
The first time I woke this morning the sun wasn’t yet up over the mountain, but the sky was lighting up, and so pale that, as I squinted out the window, the black branches of the trees, still shadowed in the foreground, flattened out against the distant canyon walls, and held the bleached sky above in little V’s so that it looked like the mountain peaks were ringed with snow. I tried to bring the image into focus. For a moment, I couldn’t figure out where I was. Summer in Topanga or early spring in the Rockies?
After I’d blinked away the optical illusion, I checked the clock -- 20 minutes till my alarm. I could get up, sit on the deck and watch the canyon turn pink and gold. I could hit the trail early. Or I could “take a day” and go back to sleep.
I drifted away before I could decide. Heard my alarm, rolled over and shut it off.
The next time I woke, it was still early and everything was quiet. I grabbed my journal and pens and wandered downstairs and then outside, half asleep. It’s not too late, I haven’t missed the sunrise! It was cool, and the sky was still blue-white; a thin mist hovered out over the water, and a stocky fisherman stood on the hill in our front yard, with his line cast out in front of him. He turned and smiled at me over his shoulder and said something, and I said it’s such a beautiful morning, and then I realized I was in nothing but a sheer camisole and panties and behind me was not the house in Topanga but my family’s summer cottage at Thunder Bay on Lake Erie, where I first started writing stories as a little kid. I clutched my notebooks to my chest and dashed, barefoot, on tiptoe, up to the patio to get to my writing.
I knew I was sleeping and made an effort to climb out of it. I realized it was actually very late, we were late. I jumped out of bed and rushed into the kids’ room but they were already downstairs, so I sat down on the carpet and got to work sorting Hutch’s backpack. He came in, and asked me what I was doing and I said - Good thing I checked because as usual you don’t have the right stuff in here. You need at least one full change of clothes, including warm socks, and a sweatshirt, and long pants. And he said Why? All I need is my bathing suit and I said, Take my word for it you’ll be glad you have them, and do it quick because we’re late to meet him and if you’re going to be swimming across the ocean you’re going to need warm things at night in your cabin. And as I said it my heart staggered and a sob yanked my throat but I didn’t show it, I tried to act happy for him, and when we got to the beach I saw in his face the excitement and fright and determination and he swam away out to the boat and said hey to the gorgeous hippie surfer dude with the long streaky tangled hair and ratty shorts hanging on his stringy frame who smiled and said hey, man and reached a hand out over the hull to help Hutch climb aboard and I lay flat out in the sand at the edge of the water and ran my hands through the gravel, trying to get interested in its glitter.
I rolled over and Eric was gone from bed. I could smell coffee and everything was so still I could hear the pages of his book turning out on the deck.
Yesterday, after a morning run-hike in Red Rock Canyon with the dog, and just a couple hours of writing, we made our first trip of the year out to Point Dume.
In all seasons, all weather, at any time of day, it is my favorite beach. Mysterious, weird, and wonderful things happen to me there, sometimes; other times it’s just a beautiful, inspiring place to sit alone and think, make up stories, or play with your family.
I feel at Point Dume the way I felt at Thunder Bay as a kid -- lonely but happy, full of stories and possibility. Young, ready. Vulnerable. Awake and dreamy. Tuned in and connected to...something. If I were a big “Star Wars” fan like my son, I might say that at Point Dume, The Force is With Me.
It was a perfect afternoon, all pure sun and blue sky, not too hot, but there wasn’t, as their often is, a chilly wind, either. The waves were spectacular -- big rollers with a pummeling shore break, which, if you like that sort of thing can keep you entertained all day. They’re really too sharp and steep for surfing or boogie boarding, but offer never ending opportunity to invent new ways to ride their backs or hurl yourself into their power and let them do what they will. What’s great about this beach on such a day is that the waves will knock you silly, but always keep you close to shore. You come away a little scraped and bruised, exhausted, but exhilarated.
We picnicked, read books, snoozed in the sand. We played in the water for hours. And Hutch -- who is as big as I am now -- jumped on my back in the waves and we laughed and tumbled, snorted sea water, got a proper throttling. Sometimes I carried him, sometimes he carried me. And all day long that surly teen -- who is such a good kid, and we’ve always been close, but he knows how to push all my buttons, and is lately, especially, making a big production of pulling away from me -- was like a jubilant toddler experiencing the ocean for the first time. Making up games, telling the detailed story of every wave just like he did when he was little, eager to share it all with mommy.
He’ll move on from us so soon, I wish every remaining day could be like this.
Later, Eric and I were sitting on the beach watching him play in the ocean, and he said, Look at him. He’s so beautiful - out there, in his element.
The other day my friend who lives out here, and has an older teenage son, told me that when her kid was Hutch’s age she realized that the ocean was exactly what he needed. For one, it was the only thing that could wear him out, channel that testosterone energy. For two, as the parent of a teenage boy, you are so often the minister of NO. No you can’t drink that, smoke that; No you can’t have the car; No you can’t be on your devices all day; No you can’t speak to me like that...
But the ocean is YES. Over and over it says, You want to come at me? Come on. Go for it. I’ll push back and challenge and delight you. Hurl yourself into me every which way, you cannot tire me. I have boundless energy, imperturbable patience. Joy, sensation, thrill. Whatever you need, I have fathoms of it. I will hold you, rock you like a baby - just like you want - and no one has to know. You can let go, go wild, be free, be yourself. Yes yes yes.
No one wants to hear about other people’s dreams; I promised myself never to subject anyone to mine. But I just couldn't shed those I had this morning, and they slipped into this post. Actually, I woke up, when I finally did, with the whole essay pretty much in my head. Dreams and all.
I woke knowing how those dreams, and the time I had with Hutch at Point Dume yesterday are connected. That what’s true for my glorious, annoying, heartbreaking teenage son and his beloved Pacific, has such a strong parallel in the creative life. It is, I think, why Point Dume is such a mystical place for me; why, as partner to the canyon project, "taking a day" for ocean time like this matters --
Every writer, actor, artist of any kind faces many NOs. It’s true that often the world, the establishment, the in-crowd says No -- No we don’t want it; No, this person’s more right for the job; No we’re not buying what you’re selling; No there’s too many just like you, and a lot who are better, you’re just so regular…
But really, if you’re honest, most of the No comes from inside yourself. From doubt and shame about walking out in your skivvies in broad daylight, in front of total strangers with nothing but your tattered notebooks to hide behind, and for nothing because it doesn’t matter anyway.
You need a place where you can go and flop about, dive deep, give up control, lose your bikini bottom, rinse yourself of all that petty inner life, cast your story upon the waters, take chances, sound your barbaric yawp, and let a power, a Force, so much greater than yourself say, keep at it, keep coming back, keep coming home, come, be a child again, I got you, I get you -- yes yes yes.