In a recent workshop on The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, I was given an assignment: “take your inner artist on an excursion.” The intent was for me to go out into the world, alone, and have a creative experience, with examples such as go to a museum or a concert, or even to a local dollar store and buy a couple dollars’ worth of stickers. Do something that seems frivolous on the surface. Spend at least 2 hours.
Okay, you can do this, Jacquelyn. Even in these pandemic times where museums and concerts aren’t an option and you really don’t want to go into a store unless it’s for food, there are other things to do, right?! Then it dawns on me – I will go to the beach, and I will make little art pieces from found objects a la my favorite 3D artist of all time, Andy Goldsworthy. Perfect!
The day arrives and leaving my partner and kiddos at home, I grab a take-away latte from a local café and go to the local beach. I note the time when I get there, 1:45pm. I originally planned to stay for two hours, but I renegotiate: I will stay on this beach, Doing The Thing, until 3pm.
I walk along the beach, noticing the birds, the ships in the distance, that the tide is out. But when I look around for beach detritus to begin my ephemeral sculpture that will be oh so romantically swept away by the tide, I come up with BUPKIS. This beach is one of the most boring, vacant-of-detritus beaches I’ve seen! Grumbling, I begin picking up tiny bits of shells to do …something… with.
I finally get a rough handful of shell bitsy bobs and sit down in the damp sand (note: I loathe sand. I also loathe being damp). I arrange the shells in some kind of pattern, say hi to some rather optimistic seagulls, and take a couple pictures of my art. I check my watch.
IT IS ONLY 2:15.
Bleaaarrrrrghhhhh, I still have 45 minutes. All the while, my sulky creative self mutters in my mind, “Now what?! This is lame. You’re lame.”
I head back along the beach toward my car, aimlessly wandering. I find a part of the sand that’s less damp and plop down, sulkily watching the runners and power walkers go by. But then I see a shiny pebble in the sand near my knee, and it reminds me of a beach I went to with my family as a kid – the whole thing was made up of pebbles just like this one. We used to spend all day there, digging through those pebbles. Sometimes we would find agates, rubbed smooth by their time in the tides, but mostly we just made a respectable pile of pebbles (of our choosing) near our towels.
Aha! I will do the same here. But I will do it according to silly, arbitrary rules, just like when I was a kid. With the current selection of color and texture rather limited, I decide to pile rocks found from where I sat; no standing, no getting up, etc. And so I sit, patiently combing through the sand around me, making a hundred inconsequential decisions about why this pebble was appropriate for my pile but not that one. I found some tiny rocks that looked like moonscapes, others worn so tiny and smooth they were hard to pick up. Some could have been gravel from the sand they bring in to infill the beach, others brought in by the tide. I keep going until I have quite the tidy pile in front of me and am leaning rather far to scout for additions to my collection.
I look up and see the tide is coming back in. I check my watch: 3:15pm! Time to head home. I stand up and begin walking to my car, not even remembering to photograph the pile of stones. It was an odd sensation, like I didn’t have to prove what I did with my time was productive or beautiful. Sometimes you just sit on the beach (even when you detest sand) and pile rocks for a while – and that’s okay.