Sunday, September 29, 2013

When Seagulls Take Flight

It had been a rainy morning and the sky was still full of dark clouds, the air thick with humidity. Not the kind of day you’d want to sit on the beach. I was on my bicycle heading down Sea Pines Drive on Hilton Head Island and had a choice – turn left and head back to the condo or turn right and head for the beach.  My wheels made the right. The beach was quiet. A few people strolled along, their feet in the surf, another rode by on his bicycle. It was after five o’clock so the lifeguards were no longer there. Basically, it was the seagulls and me, and that was just fine. The only sound came from the tranquil whoosh of the surf as it lapped against the shore.

A white wooden box that I think held supplies for the lifeguards, or for the guys that give out chairs and umbrellas on a nice day, seemed like a good place to sit. I stared at the dark gray surf and watched champagne-like bubbles form as the waves lapped against shore. My mind became quiet. My entire being settled. I watched the sea gulls take flight and somehow words formed in my head. The words became sentences and in a few quiet moments I had a whole paragraph. Writers are supposed to carry paper and pen wherever they go for moments like these, but I didn’t have any.  I did have my trusty iPhone and slipped it out of my pocket, pressed “notes” and began typing on the virtual keyboard. My index finger worked furiously -I’m not a two- thumb texter.  

Recently I’ve read about the need for quiet to stir creativity, to allow one’s mind to turn off, to dig deep into oneself.  A person does not have to actually meditate, she needs to stop. Stop talking, thinking, texting, emailing. Stop doing – and let your mind quiet down. As I stared out at the great expanse of the Atlantic watching the gulls take flight, with the sand between my toes, I found that quiet place, the place that let my creativity flow.
You can't plan something like this. You can't force the moment. It just happens, and when it does, go with it. Let yourself go. Let your thoughts, words, and  images flow like the sea,  back and forth, no beginning, no end. Eventually the sun comes out and everything is brilliant, vibrant. 
 Here’s a sample from the scene I created while I sat on that white wooden box. It’s from the middle of my new first chapter for FLOURISH, the novel that I’m expanding, once again, from suggestions given to me by an agent who rejected the manuscript as is, but offered to read again once polished. To be honest, my mind has been on Liz, my main character, and her vineyard ever since - actually ever since I started writing the novel four years ago! (go to for more). Although I wasn’t planning on writing when I rode to the beach, my quiet mind let the words flow.         
         On a mid September morning in 1980 when the air smelled of autumn and the sun was low in the sky, Liz and the kids climbed in the golf cart and rode up to the vineyard to inspect their fruit. Just as Matt Woods predicted, the grapes matured and would soon be ready for their first harvest. Liz kneeled down to Noah’s size and together they sniffed the grapes. She took a clump in her hand and felt for firmness. Plump and juicy, ready to burst, just as they should be. “Only a few more days,” she told her little guy with the wide open eyes, “and then we can pick them.” She left Bethany and Noah playing on the grass and went to check the other rows, to make sure insects or birds hadn’t bruised any of the fruit.

            “Mommy, mommy,” Noah’s five year old voice cut through the quiet peaceful vineyard. Liz knew from the whine he had some kind of complaint about his sister and she wasn’t in the mood to referee. “Befany ate a grape!”  He shouted and Liz couldn’t help but smile. She adored his lisp. Then as usual, Bethany chimed in. “I’m not the only one, Noah ate one, too.” It drove her crazy when her kids tattled on each other, plus she’d told them on the ride up not to pick the fruit. She would give them a taste, but only one.

            “Remember we can’t eat the grapes,” she reminded them. “We have to sell them.”

            With thick juice dripping down his chin, Noah looked up at his mother, in all innocence. “Why? Why can’t we keep them?” he asked, licking his lower lip.

            “Sweetie, I told you before, when we sell the grapes we’ll get money and then we can buy you a new big-boy bike.” Liz smiled at her little guy and swallowed the other words she was thinking - and Daddy can buy more vodka. Dick drank it straight up or on the rocks, and it was the reason he was still in bed that morning. He’d come home late the night before. Liz was in bed with the lights out, but she was wide awake. She didn’t want to start another argument, there had been too many of late, so she kept quiet when Dick claimed he was out with the guys. But she wondered when men started wearing Shalimar.




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