Sunday, December 14, 2008

It's always ourselves we find at the sea

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

- e.e. cummings

I'm finally recovering from being ill and Simon and I went for a short walk by the sea this afternoon. Our shoes and socks ended up soaked through, but I always find the sea inspirational, awesome in the correct sense of the word. The rhythm of the waves is always calming, and eventually it feels as though you are breathing and your heart is beating in time.

This is one of my very favourite poems, first read in a much-loved fat book of children's poems that my grandparents gave me (one of the best of its kind I think, I wish I could remember what it was called.) I've always wanted to write a story out of this poem, and recently I've begun little fragments of one on my train journey to work that runs right along the coast. It's the story of four adult sisters who move, for the autumn, to a house by the sea. Think The Ghost and Mrs Muir meets The Sea, The Sea - but not at all of course because I've drawn on a lot of different threads in my past to create these characters: trans-Atlantic experience, close families, both east and west coasts of England, and much of the material feels very real and familiar to me. As with all of my writing these days, I can't seem to keep short, and I think it's a roughly 80,000 word novel in the making rather than a short story, although I'm really using this as a de-stressing exercise rather than a serious project. It makes a nice break from the rewrites for Glass and Ice, my first novel which is a mammoth children's fantasy that needs major work (and that I do find very stressful.)

But I like the rhythms of the sea, and my 'maggie and millie and mollie and may' story (tentatively called 'Whatever We Lose') is as therapeutic for me. It's something I can work on when I walk along the beach and just feel the need to write that wind-sea-sky feeling down.

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