After several months, maybe more, of various sorts of stress it was wonderful to spend last week in Newquay (Cornwall, UK, for international readers), and get outside in that marvellous coastal fresh air! I’ve wanted (needed?) some sea air for a LONG time, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
There’s something about being near the sea that’s very different from other outdoor environments: even in a coastal town with traffic the air is somehow cleaner, fresher; the light is clearer by the coast, no wonder so many creatives and artists feel drawn to places like Newquay in order to paint/draw/write/make; and being so close to the sea itself is truly awesome, in the proper use of the word. Renoir, Monet, Hokusai, Turner, and so many others depict raging seas, catastrophic storms, or heroic sea battles, whilst Turner and Monet, plus artists such as Beryl Cook, have also immortalised more ‘seaside’ images of our fantastic coastlines.
Many a poem has been written about the sea, from Samuel Coleridge’s ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner‘, to John Masefield’s ‘Sea Fever‘ (one of my favourites!), and Ariel’s song from Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest‘. As with artists, there’s something that pulls writers and poets again and again towards the coast, that digs deep into the heart of island people who have a love and healthy respect for the beauty and power to be found at the edge where land and water meet.
I have the sea in my blood, as do many Brits I suspect: my dad and his father were both Merchant Navy men through and through, spending all their working lives on the sea, and both grew up near the sea; and my other grandad spent time in the Royal Navy during WW2. Some of my best days out/holidays as a child were spent by the sea – although we went many places, the sea definitely had me even then. However, as a poor swimmer and a fearful child in general, the sea has also always held a tiny dread for me: what if I get taken by the current? what happens if the ship sinks? and all the other nightmares we tell ourselves as scared little children, when we can’t swim, or we’re far away from home.
Part of that fear is totally normal and healthy, of course. It makes us cautious of getting too far out of our depth when we’re paddling at the seaside or taking our first sea swim. We wouldn’t last long if we disregarded the lifeguards’ or RNLI advice on how to be safe on the beach or out at sea. But that fear also grows disproportionately, and stops us from enjoying ourselves in this best of environments, can result in us being terrified of exploring even safe areas of the coast, frightened to have a dip in the sea (although in our often-cold seas that’s sensible!), or taking a boat trip.
Last week, during our trip to beautiful Cornwall, I was very brave (for me) and did things I’m usually fearful of doing. We went to Go Ape one day (a tree-top climbing adventure setting) and I clambered about on rickety rope and wood paths between the trees, 20 feet in the air. I was terrified at some points, and came close to panic at going further along the worst stretches, but had to continue so that my 14 year old (who’s also rather nervous of similar activities!) wouldn’t see just how scared I was. It was an important lesson for me. Firstly, that logically I knew I was safe, being tethered by a harness and strong ropes, and secondly that I could manage long enough to show my son that we CAN do hard or scary things, at least for a short while!
Second Big Thing was going out early one morning, alone, to sit and paint in Newquay harbour. I’m getting better at calling myself an artist, but perfectionism still gets the better of me and insists that I’m not really, and that I have to do the work over and over, to practice before doing the ‘real’ piece. I’ve also had a lifelong fear of being alone, so just leaving the guest house and walking to the harbour, even in daylight, was a Big Deal! Well, I sat there in the cool air, drew a few basic lines in pencil, and then PAINTED STRAIGHT AWAY!! I know it’s a normal thing, but sitting there, drawing straight from life, no second chances, trying to capture the changing light and the way the sea was gently rolling in and out, drew me in and I forgot that I’d gone out alone, no one was holding my hand and telling me it was ok.
My third Big Thing last week was actually going INTO the sea to swim around a bit with a lovely friend who moved down to Newquay several years ago. She’s a big advocate of stepping out of your comfort zone, of trying something different, and of sticking two fingers up at fear. On more than one occasion, she said to me, “What would you do if you weren’t scared?” Spot on, my friend! I’ve spent large parts of my life so far being too scared to try: in case it goes wrong; in case no one likes it (or me); what if I don’t like it, and all the rest.
Glennon Doyle speaks about doing Hard Things, whatever that looks like for each of us. In a similar way to my friend’s comment, she encourages us to try a little bit more, to face that uncertainty, and to accept that, yes, it may well go wrong. So what? Didn’t kill you, did it?! Most importantly, did/do YOU like it, and do you now have the confidence to try again, to push a little further?
That’s what this week has taught me, or rather opened my eyes to – that the things I’ve always feared aren’t as bad in the doing as in the imagining of them. I know I’ll slide backwards – progress isn’t linear, after all, but I’m choosing to believe that I am moving forward much more than I’m moving in reverse. My week of sun, sea, and a tiny dose of fear has been just what I needed to re-awaken my creativity, and inspire me to write, make, draw, and paint.
To this end, I’ve appropriated part of our garage as my dedicated art/creative space. Hubby’s stuff and cluttered shelves have been sorted/tidied/swept as needed, I have a couple of re-purposed filing cabinets to store a lot of my art materials, and have moved in an old table to work on, and even got brave enough to put fairy lights on hubby’s motorbike to soften mechanical look of the garage! It’s a work in progress, and I’ll post some more, updated photos next time, but starting the work is the Big Thing. I felt a little fearful in taking up space – literally and metaphorically – as I’ve absorbed a decades-old message of women being small and quiet, but that little voice in my heart is speaking a bit louder, boosted by the lovely Juliet and the others at WOW (see Juliet’s site for more info if you fancy joining us!)
What is YOUR summer gifting you this year? I wish you the courage to face your little fears like I’m trying to do – and I think succeeding a bit, too! – and the excitement and realisation that it IS worth facing them, because on the other side are wonderful things!!
Let me know via the comments – I’d love to know what you all think!
You can join me over on Instagram, too! Find me at yorkshire_wellies.