The Writer at the Beach

It is the height of summer, although judging by the weather you wouldn’t know it. Still, I did get to the beach early this week. Sun screen, hat, and seated under an umbrella, but I was at the beach. I took essential summer reading, Don Watson’s ‘American Journeys’ Don travelled across much of America in the days immediately after Hurricane Katrina and documents an outsider’s observations of American society. He witnesses the terrible aftermath of the hurricane. He writes about the people he meets and tells in equal portions about the optimism, riches, failures and doubts of America. Having lived there for almost six years, I find his writing makes a strong connection with my own experiences.

In between reading and swimming I spent valuable time people watching –and listening. A beach day throws up such a rich tapestry of personality types for one to observe and fertile ideas for the writer within.

I note snatches of conversation:

Mother: Stop throwing sand!
Child: God!
Mother: I’m not God, I’m just a mother who object to throwing sand!

Overheard - “New plan Dan. We’re now looking for jellyfish eggs!”

I notice as a father walks in the damp sand close to the shoreline. His
young son follows closely. He stretches to place his feet within his father’s
substantial footprints. It evokes a strong metaphor for father and son
relationships. The scene also connects to the role of the teacher in the
classroom –leading so that others may follow in your steps.

In my mind I began to make a list of ‘Things the world could easily do without.’ Lists are such a great thinking device for writers. Just the act of thinking is entertaining and stimulating. In no particular order I came up with the following:

Jet skis
Paris Hilton
Underwear this is visible above outerwear (jeans, shorts, skirts etc)
Conversations peppered with the word ‘like’
Misogynistic rap lyrics
Plastic bags in supermarkets
Racism and intolerance
Brussel sprouts
Corporate greed
Reality television
…and so on

So there I was sitting quietly under the beach umbrella enjoying the beach environment and my ideas were entertaining me. A potential topic list. The possibility for lists is infinite. Think of things that are fast, slow, ugly, wonderful, green. Make a list of things you associate with summer.

In the meantime, I’m off to the beach again. Mind you, I have the good fortune to be able to walk there. It’s at the end of my street. Who knows what writing ideas will spring up this time… I just look forward to the possibilities. Last week, my beach time washed up a poem about sea-glass.


The beach is not a place to labour
Too warm and damp
And soft
Never a place to conjure flights of fancy
It rises against one’s mind
Washing away thoughts of tidy resolution

We are captured by the rhythms of the shore
Waves lapping the beach
Wind in the trees of the scrubby headland
The slow flapping of a giant tern
Skimming the surface

We fall under the spell of beach scenes
We relax
We stretch
And our thoughts flatten
Leaving our minds bare and open
As solitary as the shoreline at sunrise
The thoughts of the day

Just as the tide washes away yesterday’s markings
The jagged edges of our minds are gently smoothed
Like sea glass
This is the sea’s gift.


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