As an ocean-dweller, writing is the only thing that grounds me to the land. This blog is dedicated to both my fictional and non-fictional works. I hope you enjoy!
As an ocean-dweller, writing is the only thing that grounds me to the land. This blog is dedicated to both my fictional and non-fictional works. I hope you enjoy!
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I remember our winter swims, in the brisk salty air. I remember the cool water trickling down my bronzed skin. And how happy we were.
We swam when the moon was full, beneath its glowing eye, and when the sky was tangerine. The sand danced beneath our toes, alight in golden grains of fire.
A university essay written in 2018
I’m standing, toes dipped in the sand, in the warm sunlight. The air sifts its fingers through my hair, tossing the thin strands around. I breathe in. And out. It’s Sunday, and I am alone. I lay my towel down on the sand, and set my bag beside it. Spreading my body across the towel, I close my eyes to the sky and let the sun course over my skin. I hear the gentle waves break, hear children laughing and dogs splashing. My body stills and relaxes.
The beach: a place everyone can enjoy, can be freely half-naked, and can delight in the sea. It’s my favourite place on Earth. So why do we love it so much? Why does it make us feel so good (even if we do get sunburnt sometimes)? Is there a science to why salt water, waves, and sunlight improve our mood?
I open my eyes. The clear ocean is a mirror of the sky. I lift myself upright and head to the shore, my light footprints following close behind. The ocean pulls me in. I dive into the cool water and swim under oncoming waves. The sand is clean and white. I emerge, breaking through the surface, and breathe.
Before we meet the earth, we are born into water. As we develop from embryo to fetus, we float in the placental bellies of our mother’s airtight womb. We form inside in a warm bubble of amniotic fluid, attached to a cord and fed by our mother. We coagulate inside this pool until we are dragged out, by our limbs, into the world. Some of us, depending on our mothers’ choices, are birthed into a pool of water. We emerge into the world screaming for breath. Smeared in blood, we are cleansed with warm water, and delivered to the Earth. We are born water babies.
Our body is made of 70% water. According to a 2016 US Geological Survey, the brain and heart are made of 73% water, and the lungs are made of 83% water. You can hear the ocean if you cup your hand around your ear. This “wave” sound is your blood, your essence, pumping and coursing through your body like rivers and red streams. There is a reason why the ocean makes us feel so good: we are a separated part of it, longing to return.
There is a science behind why we love the ocean; there is a reason why being around or in the ocean improves your wellbeing. The colour blue is associated with feelings of calm and peace, and looking at the ocean “changes your brain waves” to induce these feelings, according to clinical psychologist Richard Shuster (cited in Heiser, 2017). Watching the blue waves crest and peak, you can feel the rhythm of your body slow and still. Your heart matches the gentle in-and-out of the ocean; the soft white foam tickles your toes.
The sea has a significant physical effect on our physiology and psychology. Marine biologist Wallace Nichols says the ocean affects “a mildly meditative state characterised by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment” (cited in Gohring, 2015). The calmness of water steadies the sensory input our brains receive, allowing our minds to relax. The experience of breaking waves, buoyancy in our bodies, soft sand, and blue water relaxes us.
Every time my boyfriend and I swim in the ocean, he collects clumps of wet sand and smears it all over his face. He creates a sandy, makeshift face-mask and rubs it into his skin. He looks ridiculous, but he loves the feeling sand gives him. It makes his skin tingle. He lets it sink in and then submerges himself underwater. Even after he has washed off the sand, I still find tiny grains of sand in his hair. Salt water and sand have cleansing properties. They help exfoliate your skin, reducing conditions such as: psoriasis, inflammation, irritation, eczema, and acne (Adams, 2017). Salt in the ocean opens your pores, removing toxins, and cleanses your skin of dirt and bacteria. My boyfriend knew this without knowing the exact science behind it.
Salt water, while tasting bitter and sour, is also good for your insides. Doctors recommend gargling salt water when you have a sore throat, cough, or flu. Scientific studies have found that gargling salt water when you have a cough can reduce inflammation and can loosen mucus, flushing out irritants and bacteria (MacMillan, 2016). Salt water is like a giant, cleansing bath that cures all ailments.
There is also a form of medical therapy, called “thalassotherapy”, which uses seawater to improve medical conditions. Thalassotherapy, from the Greek word thalasso meaning ‘sea’ and therapia meaning ‘treatment’, uses the beneficial properties of the ocean – its climate, algae, seaweed, and alluvial mud – for health and wellbeing (Bergel, 2018). This form of treatment has been commercialised, although a dip in the sea is free. Salt water has its own aroma. It smells like tangy salt, like the inside of a white seashell. I can feel the spray of salt on my face and inhale it into my lungs. I can feel my hair being whipped around by the wind, into salty strings of golden mermaid locks. The sun beats down on my face and I feel lighter.
Getting out into the sun is good for you. In moderation, the sun can greatly improve your mood. Exposure to sunlight triggers serotonin, also known as the ‘happy chemical’, in your brain. Such is why it is recommended that we get at least 10-20 minutes of sun per day. The sun is known to improve mood disorders, such as: seasonal affective disorder, depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, anxiety, and panic attacks (Nall, 2015). Not only this, but its luminous rays also bring warmth to your body. The warmth of the sun hugs your body, slowing down its infinite pulses and tics. When you close your eyes to sunlight, it permeates through your skin like a soothing balm. It brings a smile to your face and you forget yourself. We should all strive to get out into the sun, whether it is by the ocean or not. There is nothing more relaxing than a catnap by the sea.
Even the buoyancy of water can make us feel good. When we immerse in the ocean, the upward pressure of the water counters the force of gravity and we float (Becker, 2011). The water relieves us of our body’s weight, so we feel light, weightless, and fluid. Buoyancy decreases the impact of shock to our joints and muscles, relieving any pain and cramps. Because salt water has a higher density than fresh water, we float easier in the ocean than we do in rivers. Buoyancy in the ocean is also fun. With it, we can surf, kayak, bodyboard, paddle, swim, splash, and snorkel. What’s not to like? The ocean is a place we praise, a sacred and natural baptism. It pulses with life, and with it we become a part of its motion. The sea’s alluring, blue water entices us in; it magnetises our body toward it. There is no other place on Earth that allows us to float, to be without the burden of gravity. The ocean makes us forget our flesh, enables us to be light and fluid. It gives us pause, and removes our incessant thoughts. It’s a source of inspiration and joy.
The writer and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in his famous play Faust, Part Two (1831), wrote: “Glory to the sea! Glory to its waves encircled by sacred fire! Glory to the wave!” (cited in de Beauvoir, 1949: 168). The sea is a murky, mysterious, and wondrous creature. It is both seducing and secluded: a plaything, yet something not to be played with. The ocean is our home; it is the vast fountain for our Earth. From all water springs life, and life, inevitably, wishes to return to the water. One scientific, or perhaps philosophical, theory hypothesises that all humans possess an innate desire to return to nature, and to reconnect with their environment. This theory is called Biophilia (Kahn, 2011: 11). The term, Biophilia, was first conceptualised by evolutionary biologist Edward Wilson in 1984. Biophilia, or our love for nature, expresses itself in our “cognition, emotion, art, and ethics” and it begins to emerge from childhood (Kahn, 2011: 11). Wilson writes that humans are evolved to respond to nature primarily: its threats and advantages. We recognise nature instinctively as we used to be a part of it, and survival meant being alert to the local environment. In today’s world, humans have instrumentalised nature; we have investigated it, learnt from it, codified it, and labelled it. We have built walls of concrete around us; we have alienated ourselves from nature. According to Wilson, inside each of us is an innate desire to reconnect with nature: to be among the wildflowers, to be lost within the forest, or to explore underwater caverns.
I feel Biophilia within me. Whenever I step from hard, crackling tar onto soft, giving sand, I feel joy in returning to nature. It’s the reason we seek parks in the centre of cities; it’s the reason parks are built. Nature is an undeniable seam in our existence. It is sown into the helix of our DNA. We try to dominate it by smothering it in concrete, yet tiny, green leaves still poke through like little arms reaching for the sun. We gaze up at the universe, and find a universe within us. We peer into the depths of the sea, and search within our own depths. We are encompassed by the ocean, and encompass it.
As we are made of nature, so too are we made of water. Our mother’s womb is a warm, comforting, bubble of amniotic fluid that provides us with nourishment and fosters our growth. In early mythology, women themselves were linked to the nurturing qualities of the ocean. French feminist, Simone de Beauvoir (1949), wrote: “She is earth and man seed, she is water and he is fire. Creation has often been imagined as a marriage of fire and water… Sun and Fire are male divinities; and the Sea is one of the most universally-widespread maternal symbols” (167-168). The sea, she continues, gives way to force, yet retains its cohesive skin; it does not break, but accepts. From a philosophical perspective, the ocean is our mother, and just as we long to return to nature, we also wish to return to the womb (Odent, 1993). The ocean’s qualities, such as temperature and buoyancy, mimic that of the womb, and remind us of our pre-life existence. These mythologies are alternative to scientific theories, yet they stand to remind us of human’s innate connection with nature. As Nancy Hill wrote in an article for the Women’s Legacy Project (2015), “All humanity is born of woman. All life is born of water. Women and water are the life-blood of this planet’s current conscious population.” There is a clear connection between humankind and the ocean.
Women are soft, nurturing, and forgiving. But just like the sea, we can be wild, ravenous, enveloping, and tidal. Our menstrual cycle, like the tides, is ruled by the moon (Law, 1986). Women and the sea are lunar beings; both are generous providers of life and joy. The ocean flows in and out – wavers – and so too do women. Our emotions flow through us and over us in waves; they engulf us. Our connection with the ocean is primordial, instinctive. We are the Mother, akin with Mother Ocean and Mother Nature. I feel this connection when I am by the sea.
I step out of the ocean, salt water trickling down my shoulders, arms, and legs. The sun has turned my skin a deep golden brown, and I am warm. I begin the walk back to shore. The waves lap at my calves like puppies. I dip my palms into the water one last time, and splash my face. The cold salt water stings my skin. I feel alive, naked to the Earth’s blue-mirrored sky. I am baptised. Free.
My body opens wide and absorbs its surroundings. It’s easy to let your mind descend into catastrophe.
I can’t stop thinking. Always thinking, mind ticking. I think about doing something – anything. Get up. Or should I? Should I do nothing? No. I should get up and get outside. But…
And then an hour passes and all I’ve done is think about doing something. I wish I could switch off. I wish I could be the type of person who just does things without having to mentally prepare for it. I want to get up and go for a bike ride along the beach without contemplating it. I want to be a “get-up-and-go” person.
But, sadly, I need to practice being that person. I am not naturally a go-getter. I am a thinker, a contemplater, a worrier. My mind churns, until my motivation curdles.
Undoubtedly, I love you. I can still feel the warmth of the sun on my body, the flecks of salt crystallised on my skin. Oui, je t’aime. Mon amour. The world is poetry — beautiful, sparkling — with you in it. The rich colour of every film photograph, capturing an irretrievable moment in time. Beauty has posed for my sake. Art is the street; art is the buildings, the reflection of faces. Grainy specks of light course in streams to me as I stand in the centre of the Champs-Élysées. Is that a burning ember? Smoke churning? Is that a cloud of cotton candy?
Comparing the photographs of old and present, nothing has changed except the steel fence to Jim Morrison’s grave, his cold stone littered in blasphemous flowers rather than smashed beer bottles and heroin powder. Everything has culminated to this: a collection of French photographs and books and la musique. Sortie – exit. But no quarter. Mais il n’ya pas Loups.
Green and grimey now, and I feel sick now. Two young dissidents smoking cigarettes in a train carriage. Pale fluorescent globes. Stained seats. Heat. Travelling musicians and beggars. My thumb is over the lens.
Drawing you into me
Clawing at your wings and
Scratching pretty red vessels
Across your back
As if to absorb you,
petroleum jelly pasted skin
licking tongues and black pupils,
python hands snaking
around my neck.
I am in control;
I am out of my body.
No one knows how we find our way into the heart of another. We sink into the swamp of love, often losing our boots in the quagmire. And if we like it there, in the warm cave of their heart, we declare it our home. We dust away the spider’s webs, we lay out our crinkled sheets, and we huddle into the protective nook.
In love, it’s the two of us: one God and one devotee. In love, it’s just you and a mirror – a white, beaming moon of a mirror. (I am your mirror) The God absorbs the devotee’s adoration and becomes stronger. (I want to cocoon inside your heart forever)
I dive underwater, as the wave falls over me. The ocean is cold and luminescent. I wait ’til the whitewash dissipates. As water drips from my face, the full moon blinks in greeting. It perches in the winter sky — a white, glowing eye. I meet its gaze. I swim onwards.
With every thundering wave, I dip below the surface and reappear. I stroke forward, deeper and deeper and deeper, until the seafloor sinks out of reach. I float and watch the waves crash over the distant shore. The moon shines on me like a cold sun. The water surges; the waves are magnetic. I sink below…
What a perfect blue morning: the sun teems through the palm trees and sears my skin. The ocean afar crashes and pounds the shore like a relentless rain. That giant, beautiful monster of water — who can drag and suck and haul you away.
We gravitate towards it, a Cancerian ecstasy. We give ourselves – our futile flesh – until we drift away like fog over mountain peaks.
The waves roar like the sound of a vicious wind. Birds tumble in the purple sky. They dip and dive and fumble for fish. I crouch on the cold dune and dig my toes into the sand. The water rushes forward, and backward, spraying creamy foam into the air. The spitting sea spray tastes like crisp, salty crackers and I loll my tongue out to catch it. A bitter breeze nips at my tanned skin, but I cannot feel it. I cannot feel anything but the coursing of the water, the blistering sun, and the gaze of the moon above.