Agnes at the beach

A writing exercise. Describe nature imitating art.

I thought how pleasant it would be to pass through the quiet town and take a solitary ramble on the sands while half the world was in bed. […] Nothing else was stirring – no living creature was visible besides myself. My footsteps were the first to press the firm, unbroken sands; – nothing before had trampled them since last night’s flowing tide had obliterated the deepest marks of yesterday.

Agnes Grey, Anne Brontë

Late afternoon, south coast, New South Wales. The last waves of the ebb tide roll in, low impact waves thinning out as they feebly stretch their way up the shore. They wash back, and watery fingers gouge long grooves, dragging rutile particles from a pinpoint, down and out in fine sinuous curves, crisscrossing and lying darkly over each other. Peppery grains gather at the edges of the patterns, sharpening the lines. People and dogs tread obliviously over the etchings; not one is without a footprint. On this beach, unmined for mineral sands, the waves retreat and carry some of the lighter sand into the ocean, leaving rutile behind, a heavy mineral that resists movement and forms patterns like fine charcoal sketches. Mined beaches have the rutile sifted out and the whiter quartz grains put back where they were found, making a new beach that is strangely light, where there are no artworks at sunset.

Next morning, I go early to the beach to look for lines in the sand. They’re all gone, the art has been washed away and the rutile is no longer gathering in dark rivulets. The night tide has stirred and blended it with the regular quartz grains. As I, like Agnes, make the first footprints in the sand, I see the dark specks that soften the glare. In the late afternoon the sketches will reappear, no two lines ever twisting the same way twice, not drawn with a pencil or brush or sculptor’s tool, but with the ebb tide.


PS  I posted this piece yesterday about nature imitating art, and today the WordPress Photo Challenge is… Life imitates art. That’s a coincidence.

Thank you

Yesterday I read two writing prompts that gave me ideas.  The first one was the Daily Post’s prompt, Handwritten, and the second was in the ebook, 365 writing prompts, where the prompt for 11th September is Thank you.  The task is defined:

“The internet is full of rants. Help tip the balance: today, simply be thankful for something (or someone).”

It was funny they should say that about the internet and rants, because I was grazed by this combination today.  I was feeling thankful for something that happened because of the internet:  a nomination for a literary prize by the editor of Eleven Eleven literary journal.  Last month the journal published my translation of Jean Lorrain’s Princess Mandosiane.  Knowing little about prizes, I made what was perhaps a mistake and searched for online information.  Within seconds I was reading a rant about the meaninglessness of nominations, the unlikelihood of winning a prize, the embarrassment of being one of tens of thousands of nominees.  Don’t put it in your bio, pleads the ranter, don’t put it in your résumé.

One moment I was thankful, the next I was fizzing.  It took literally seconds for an internet rant to douse my small flame of pleasure.

Digging deeper and reading wider, I found a number of positive articles, a number of writers reminding readers, and me, that it’s incredibly hard work to get something published, let alone to be nominated for a prize, and that that’s something to put in your bio, something to write home about.  In fact, since I’m away from home, that’s something I’m going to do.

Today I’m simply thankful for Eleven Eleven journal and for the editor’s opinion of my work.

To illustrate my little achievement, here’s a photo I took at the beach this morning when I saw this rocky man laughing up at the sky.  Ha ha ha, you ranters!  A nomination is a reason to be cheerful.

Rock face, Lilli Pilli Beach NSW
Rock face, Lilli Pilli Beach NSW



The Daily Post writing prompt for 11th September was Handwritten:  When was the last time you wrote something by hand?

I write by hand many times a day, and indeed was handwriting something for another blog post only moments before I began typing these words.  But writing for this blog is something I do infrequently, unfortunately.  Translating literature is what I do every day, writing the translation by hand before keying it into my computer.  Usually I write with a cheap ballpoint pen or pencil on cheap note paper.  However, a German friend recently sent me a calligraphy pen and coloured inks, and a French friend sent me a Clairefontaine notebook with its silky smooth papier velouté.  To test them both out, I wrote the fourth verse from St. Patrick’s Breastplate:

St Patrick’s Breastplate v.4

The last lines are particularly meaningful to me, for I love the sea and its rocks, not to mention stability…  Just this morning, in the small bay of Lilli Pilli Beach, I was snapping waves as they crashed against rock projections:

LilliPilli Beach NSW
Lilli Pilli Beach NSW

I once heard that when you’re focused on a subject or scene to photograph it, you can’t feel depressed.  Your brain is too busy getting the shot right.  Similarly, when you’re writing out your thoughts by hand, your disappointments and confusions flow out of your head, through the pen and onto the paper.  But no one needed to tell me that.