16 August 2007

Seven things that inspire me: two: the sea

I grew up by the ocean. I've always joked that I learnt how to swim before I could walk but, although I was a late walker, the statement is not true, of course. But sometimes it feels like it's almost true. I did learn to swim young, and my father, one year, took me swimming in the beach every day of the year. The hardest thing about swimming in winter isn't getting into the water but getting out. That wind chill factor ... brrrr. And, yes, although it's true that ocean temperatures don't vary much between winter and summer, that's not quite true of the shallow waters in the bay. It's cold. Not the kind of water you ease into, but the kind you plunge into and feel the shock of a vise closing around your head.

Perhaps it's no surprise then that the sea has such a profound effect on me. I grew up in a seaside suburb, and I live in a neighbouring seaside suburb. I love taking my dogs swimming, though our newest pup has yet to learn the joys of the water. When I was troubled as a teenager I would take myself off to the beach and sit and stare broodily at the water. Often, I found clarity this way.

Sometimes, now, when I'm stuck, I'll walk the water's edge, or just take the dogs there for a frolick and, again, the calm of the water's movement, the whispering rush of water on sand, will help clear my mind. This week I've been rewriting a scene where my characters are on the beach and enjoy a "submersal". It's a writing exercise I did as a student and one I get my students to do -- to get their characters really wet. It amazes me that some of them choose to do this with rain. Not me. For me it had to be the ocean. I never considered otherwise.

For one part of my novel, my characters have to negotiate a beach in absolute darkness. To research this, I blindfolded myself and walked the beach near Tidal River at Wilson's Prom to see if it could be done -- navigating by the depth of water on my ankles -- and was happy to find that it could.

I've been surprised to find it's not just the sea but water in general that's a creative inspiration. This was brought home to me when I was flicking through the photos on my creative blog, Playing with words. There were pictures of reflections in the sea, reflections in a canal, frozen water, water droplets, swamp water -- water was the most common theme, which surprised me till I really thought about it. But the sea is a great love, and it's been and continues to be such a big part of my life that it's inevitable that it will find its way into my writing.

There's the turquoise waters of the Meditteranean, the black-sanded beaches of Santorini, the grey, wintry waters of Port Phillip Bay, the swell of Bass Strait -- but most spectacular, the beach at the bottom of the Gibson Steps, where the twelve apostles break their way to the sky, and the sandstone arches and sentinels to the sea all along the shipwreck coast. Manna for writers everywhere!

Of course too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. When we first moved into this house, I envisioned sitting out the back and gazing at the tidal swamp with its assortment of birds, but I found their was too much gazing and not enough writing, so I soon scotched that idea. The best view for me is ... but that is perhaps the topic of another post.


ellen said...

Yeah, the sea is wonderful. I am loving Phillip Island and its south-coast clifftop walks overlooking the wild ocean of Bass Strait.

Tracey said...

Yes, ocean views from a cliff -- you really can't beat them, can you?