Diving In.

I wasn’t daydreaming when I thought about the beach during my GlassBook Project class. Really. My thoughts were directly related to the Peripheries of Perception theme we are exploring through the assigned projects.

Project Number Two requires selecting an item with personal meaning, and a means by which to transform the object. The course challenges us to rethink transformation by considering processes including pounding (of which I am very fond), cutting, igniting, or dismounting.

I selected a thick pile of paper on which I’d written various drafts of a recent short fiction. I wanted to save the pages from my household scrap-paper pile, and a future of to-do and food shopping lists. My goal is to transform the multiple versions of the story into one visual object that communicates the essence of the story. All this within two weeks and limited studio art skills. Yoiks.

I wrote the story, so it would make sense that I should instantly be able to answer “what it is about” and what visual object best captures that. However, stories are more than just plot and action; they are multilayered experiences and often go deeper than I, their creator, anticipate. The first step of Project Number Two required repetitive, focused interaction with the story. “Obsessive” artist Tom Friedman calls the process a meditation. I call it a deep dive, and that led me to thoughts of the beach.

Every summer, I stand at the shore of Cape Cod Bay and shiver. I am an awful swimmer, terrified of water, and hate being cold. It would be easy to limit the aquatic portion of my beach experience to watching the schools of tiny fish glitter past my freezing ankles. I can watch and hear the water from my beach chair, but enjoying what only Cape Cod Bay can offer this urban-dwelling Boricua requires leaving my comfort zone.

I walk further away from the shore, my teeth clenched so they won’t chatter from the piercing cold or fear. I walk until the water rises above my knees, hips, reaches under my arms and sometimes unexpectedly over my head. I pinch my nose, let my bottom hit the sand, and wait for my eyes to adjust to the non-transparent, non-tropical water. The sand settles and I see the waving tufts of sea grass. Tan-colored algae that look like holey bath loofahs float past me. Sometimes a crab scuttles in my direction (underwater creatures can sense the anxiety of urban land dwellers). I stay under water until I can’t hold my breath any longer, then burst the surface like I’m emerging from miles below.

I am so transfixed by the world beneath the surface, I always wish I could stay submerged indefinitely. I repeat my graceless dunk-and-burst routine repeatedly, sometimes with a bit of a swim. I become more relaxed and aware of what is above the surface, too: the screams of greedy gulls feeding at the breakers, the occasional voice carried by the wind from a distant kayak. I end up enjoying my time at the beach much more because I push my limits. The result is an experience that is truly particular and individual.

Writing requires that kind of “deep dive”, too: I need to disrupt my expectations to write a story the reader can experience through the senses and his/her own meditation. For example, the first ideas that come to my mind to describe the water of Cape Cod Bay — cold, calm, rolling — tend to be too “on the surface”, i.e., general, can be observed by anyone sitting on the sand, and are not particular to my experience of the bay. A deep dive meditation yields more particular details, such as my encounters with the pincing guardians (those crabs) of the underwater world I intrude upon.

The GlassBook Project course is as strange and scary to me as any body of water; however, I take it as a challenge to view the process of my craft more clearly, and an opportunity to apply the lessons to my writing practice.

I am still intimidated by Project Number Two, but I have my paper pile and two weeks. I’m not exactly sure what I’ll find during the deep dive. I am certain that I will be surprised, and that’s the real achievement.

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