“I am as unfinished as the shoreline along the beach,
meant to transcend myself again and again.”
- Joan Anderson
It’s been sometime since I sat down to write. I have been waiting for a modicum of creative inspiration to hit me. Nothing of that sort has happened. Either it needs to whack me harder so I can recognize it or it needs to come carrying a label as such. Because lately, my mind has been too scattered to be receptive. Creative thoughts in my head are a rare occurrence to begin with and even if it happens, it vanishes as quickly as it arrives. It is reassuring, nevertheless, to know that it is out there.
For the past few weeks though, it has been completely eluding me. I don’t seem to have anything to say. I read as usual, but everything ricochets off my brain. Even with all that barrage of information, all is quiet on the opinion front. Everything seems either very obvious or very ambiguous. But I am not going to fill this entire post with my woes on creativity. I doubt if it is going to be anything profound or original, but I do have something to share.
I just finished reading ‘A year by the Sea - thoughts of an unfinished woman’ by Joan Anderson. It was recommended to me by my friend a while ago. It stayed in my ‘To read’ list until after a serendipitous second prompt, I dove into it last week. It is a small book and I finished it in two sittings.
The premise of the book is exploration. An exploration of the self, of nature and of life. It all begins when the author surprises herself and those around her when she decides to upend the status quo and spend a year away from everyone - her friends and family. She writes about her experiences living in a small fishing village in Cape Cod. Relishing her solitude, she comes to terms with her past, ponders her future and explores the present.
Her writing is as fluid as the sea that inspires her. She engages your senses describing her experiences with nature - the elements, the sky, the seals, the sea and the shore. Especially the seals. Personally, I have never found them appealing. Dolphins, yes. Seals, no, not really. They are smelly, bulky and when out of the water, they seem physically, a bit awkward. But after reading her perspective, I see them differently now.
The author’s scrutinizing of her life and all the self-analysis might seem indulgent and self-absorbed to some. You could argue that a year living in a cottage by the sea is an idyllic setting that few could afford. And with no responsibilities and obligations to boot. That she should count her blessings instead of focusing on what is purportedly lacking. To many who aren’t as privileged as she is, it might not be all that much that is missing in her life. As her husband reminds her something to the effect of - ‘You have food, warmth and shelter. What more could a person need?’. She herself is aware of it when she laments “When will I ever learn to accept what is given instead of always yearning for more? My lavish expectations too often tarnish my blessings.”
But I get it. I get the longing she feels of coming into her own. The freedom to be herself - to find her true essence buried below layers of posturing. And years of conformity. She is restless and unhappy until she finds the courage to step out of her comfort zone. She revels in her solitude resolutely denying everything that is acceptable and familiar. She makes the little village by the sea her home not because of the community, but because of her affinity to the landscape. I can understand that. I understand that there is nothing that can ground you as much as nature can.
A few takeaways from the book -
- It is never too late for your dreams.
- Make time for reflection, every day, even if only for a few minutes.
- Experience nature in its own terms.
- Learn to be in solitude.
- Have a personal mentor. This is totally new for me. I never thought of the concept of a mentor outside of my job. To paraphrase the author - You need someone other than your mother who can rally for you and your dreams and who can pick you up when you fall flat on your face’. How wonderful would it be to have someone like that.
- Have an adventure. Step out into the unknown.
None of these are entirely unfamiliar to us. But maybe when we come across the same advice over and over, albeit from different sources and directions, however inspiring, it stops having an effect on us. It loses its simple wisdom and becomes a cliche. It doesn’t spur us on to create. It doesn’t move us to take action. It doesn’t challenge us to break the cycle. But once in a while, it makes us think and wonder. Maybe there is a start.
One of my favorite quotes from the book is ‘To become you must do’. It is less esoteric than the ‘Don’t do, just be’ mindful slogan that I am used to hearing. So I intend to follow it... for once, at least. Hence this post.