There are few places more evocative than the post-season, post-tourist seaside town. I walked as lonely as a telephone box today, hands and ears buried in pockets and hats with gentle piano lilting and dancing through my skull. The empty neon arcades on the little Las Vegas-y strip opposite the fish market blinked like so many confused minds, promising so much but offering so little. On the empty promenade, the sea took advantage of the deserted beach and charged towards me, making a break for the land, a chance to swallow us all. The sea hit the defences and crashed upwards, palms out in deference and maybe acknowledgement. Every great splash seemed to fall before or behind me, but I know not to get ahead of myself. Today it was benevolent.
Last week I stood on the end of the pier watching a huge wave rolling in and I knew it was going to be a big one. My fellow photographers, observers and young romantics all fled but I stood with my camera in hand and took two shots. One was the wave approaching and the second was the wave striking me full on.
When a wave hits you, it is a curious sensation. I’ve experienced it before, back when I lived in Bedfordshire, in a sleepy little village. I sat on a railing that ran across a ford – a peaceful spot on a road that was rarely used. Except on this occasion when a motorist decided to take the ford at full speed and I trudged home wet and smiling.
You see the wave as it approaches and in that moment time slows down. You can look up as the wave lifts up over you like a bed-sheet. It hovers for a moment, perhaps giving you a second chance to move away. The wave can be in front of you, around you and above you and you will remain completely dry. Until it breaks. The house of cards tumbles down, the wave arcs up above you and then just drops. The water that soaks you is a curtain rather than a jet. It’s less invasive and more of an arm of nature that embraces you and pulls you close. You come away feeling alive. You feel a connection.
I stood for a moment after the wave hit the pier, and me. I was soaked from hat to boots. I turned around slowly to see a large group of people… some smiling, some cheering and applauding. A couple of photographers called to me to ask if I got it. I laughed and said I did. Two old ladies asked if I was okay and I said I was… that it was rather exciting. Three more waves would go on to hit me before I shambled off home – wet, freezing and very alive.
The wave, before it hit.
It’s been a dispiriting and yet invigorating summer. Being somewhat used to, and even accepting as an inevitability, the constants of disappointment, I am trying to roll with the punches. But it isn’t easy to remain so. All that built up experience, all those failures from childhood into adulthood that cast the second, third, fourth and ninth skins… they are all only finite. I was sad that not one of my pictures sold in the cafe over the busy summer, and sadder still when I went in last week and saw that most of them had been taken down and replaced without telling me. Another gallery keeps promising that they want me but never follows up. All the while I plough on. My writing comes in fits and spurts, but is still immune against the welcoming diseases of Being Published and Being Sought After. It’s monuments remain in a charred pile of rejection. Just as my pictures hang uselessly – and now invisibly.
And yet, I continue on. Because I have no choice. I am here to do this – to write and to take pictures and to paint and to create. Because I’m rubbish at everything else, and everything else is rubbish towards me. I stare up at the sky and I don’t see God, only stars that sometimes go out and sometimes reappear again. It’s no use looking to all my superiors – all those writers and artists who were infinitely better than me and yet were rejected multiple times before finally finding their audiences.
I have to carve my own path. My doubts, as arrogant as this may sound, isn’t in my own work. The doubts are in other people’s acceptance of it. I see so much rubbish published in books and made into films or hung on walls. Some of it deserves to be there as a pure, but flawed, artistic vision and some of it deserves to be destroyed for being a cynical attempt at getting heat from the ashes of a bonfire.
No matter. This is what I was signed up for. A childhood marked out, an adolescence planned, an adulthood pre-formed. I never asked to be ostracised by many of my peers, to be an outsider all through school life, to largely live inside my own head and therefore build a world of fantasy through my imagination to largely ignore the folly of Ordinary Life. I look around at my circle of friends and I see hope – I see a circle of artists and authors, some published already and some only a matter of words away. I see success going to those who deserve it. I know these dreamers and I can read these dreams, and see these dreams drawn, and hear these dreams in song.
Handed the ticket, I take the ride. I do not intend to be left behind.