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Going to the Beach Makes You a Better Writer & Artist

C’mon down to the beach with me and I’ll tell you about my word of the year (if you aren’t thoroughly sick of those by now).

Miami Beach, on the north shore of Penang Island, is a five minute walk from my apartment. I’ve been there a handful of times in five months.

Because the beach is about indolence and indulgence. These are not qualities I am naturally comfortable with.

I can do the beach for a week, bookended by frenzied weeks of preparation and catching up.

But everyday beach? Beach just for the hell of it? Beach for a $3 lunch of nasi goreng on a Tuesday? Nunh-unh.

Because there are things to be done! I need something to show for myself at the end of the day. Words written, money earned, chores completed. These things feel more important than the beach (until I actually go to the beach).

A few weeks ago, in the new spirit of chillaxing that I am cultivating, I took my pen and notebook to the waterfront café. Here’s what came out.

Other People’s Problems

1. They are not sitting on a beach.

It is impossible to have a problem when you can see the blue-brown sea washing over the rocks and sip cold mango juice. When “Que Sera Sera” is playing on the old radio at the café and birds trill just out of your vision.

2. They don’t want to sit at the beach.

They complain about the heat when there is actually lots of shade. They don’t like sand on the soles of their feet, and they miss out on a free reflexology treatment from the pebbles. They are too busy and the beach will be there tomorrow, they think. But the beach is not there if they are not there. They must create it every day.

3. They think the beach has nothing to offer.

Just because there is no place to plug in their laptop, no air con, no deep fryer, they prefer the coffee shop or their own bedroom. They forget that the sun was the first energy source, the breeze the first climate control, and their hand on a pen the first way of writing a story. And french fries make them feel bloated.

4. They consider the beach a cliché.

Beach = decadence, vacation, luxury, doing nothing. Beach = suntanning, parasailing, power cruising. Beach = blue sky, puffy clouds, sunshine. But the beach was here long before the resorts and cabanas and gasoline engines, before the hawkers selling their coconuts and fried rice. The beach is paleolithic. The beach is an ecosystem.

5. They don’t want to be alone.

As if they are alone, surrounded by palms and fishing boats and jellyfish and rocks larger than two cars stacked on top of each other. As if they are not alone in their own minds, believing that the child wading in the surf and the red ants crawling over their chair and that plastic bag floating offshore are separate beings, made of some different element.

6. They could have gone to the beach and they didn’t.

You have a beach nearby.

It may not be a literal beach ~ it could be a cozy shop that makes incredible scones, or a friend whose conversation is better than a latte, or that shelf full of poetry books in your study.

But you don’t go. You don’t call. You don’t read.

Why do we deny ourselves the beach? We are sadomasochist artists. We don’t feel like we deserve it. The beach is not productive.

You need the beach.

The beach gives you time to just BE: to listen, watch, and savour. The beach reminds you about what you love and how you’re connected to the wider world. The beach is Mireille’s favourite spot to kick back and drink her fill of Truth and Beauty.

Here’s your assignment: Go to the beach this week. 

In the comments, tell me about your “beach” and how you feel when you go there. Visit this week, and come back and tell me about it. On Sunday, February 5, one hand-picked commenter will get a free copy of The Field Guide to Truth and Beauty.

P.S. I am not the only writer recommending that you chillax. Chuck thinks you should too.

P.P.S. “Other People’s Problems” came from a prompt in Lesson 2 of Story Is a State of Mind, Sarah Selecky’s online writing class. I am thoroughly smitten with this program. It is the most loverly writer’s beach, only a click away. Do come join us.

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{ 7 comments… add one }

  • Marjory February 2, 2012, 8:26 am

    Dear Ali,
    this is beautiful. We are so interconnected! As you know, I love the water and your words ring so true. “Why do we deny ourselves the beach? We are sadomasochist artists. We don’t feel like we deserve it. The beach is not productive.” I couldn’t help to laugh, sadomasochist artists..ha, you nailed it! I have been wanting to write a post precisely about this topic. Our fast pace culture doesn’t like to indulge in quite moments of introspection and it suffers so much from it. I am so glad you are speaking up and raising awareness about the lost art of creative rest. Yummy. Love, Marjory

  • Laureen Marchand February 2, 2012, 11:37 am

    What a lovely idea, to go to the beach. Because you did, I did. It’s on my blog now and you, Alison, get the credit.
    - Laureen xo

  • Rachel February 3, 2012, 9:54 pm

    Chillax – I love it! I’ve put it on a sticky note right next to ‘thrival,’ another great concept. I love the beach. It regenerates me just conjuring it up in my mind. When I get near the water, I feel everything inside go down a few notches. I know what you are saying is totally true for me. I feel like I am constantly fighting the mindset that if I’m not actively ‘doing’ one of the many things that I’ve been told will bring me success – mostly revolving around tasks that will bring me semi-traditional work as opposed to the in-every-way nurturing art life that we are trying to create, and if I don’t have concrete evidence of what I have ‘done’ it’s really a process to not be harsh with myself.

    I’m hoping and planning to take a ‘beach day’ on Tuesday and spend the day focusing on a totally fun project that I keep putting off – partly, I think, because it could be really great and that is kind of scary. Enough with the scaries! I’m off to the beach.

    Thanks Alison! I always love getting your posts.

    • Alison February 16, 2012, 9:21 pm

      Thrival! That cracks me up. I hope you enjoyed the beach, and I would love for you to have a copy of The Field Guide to Truth and Beauty as another kind of retreat for reflection and chillaxation :-)

  • Sarah February 16, 2012, 1:57 am

    I really love this post, and also the term “sadomasochistic artist.” I may very well be one of those. (Okay, I totally am. True confessions.) I think there’s this puritanical idea that if it’s not hard it doesn’t count as work. I know personally I work better outside, particularly near the ocean. Recently, since it’s freezing here in CT, I’ve taken to working on my living room but lying on the floor rather than sitting at a desk. Just that little thing makes a world of difference in my attention span and somehow feels so much more loving than forcing myself to be at the desk.

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