I don’t like beaches.
It’s not a fevered hatred, like somebody who flat-out can’t stand reality TV and thinks it’s the decline of humankind. No, it’s more like a distaste of the TV show Friends, which I also possess. I understand why others might like it, I can even accept their opinion that it may occasionally be enjoyable, but there’s just too much baggage for me. Joey never appealed.
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There’s lots of other things I don’t like too, but none quite gets other people’s backs up like the idea of not liking beaches and the sea. On some deep level it fits into my persona of being a contrarian. I also won’t watch Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, despite how many times you might tell me I should.
Yeah, the beaches thing is weird. Of all the many contrary opinions I hold it’s the one I find myself defending the most. I have valid reasons to be much more hateful of humble sand on the edge of land. I nearly died on a beach when I was young enough to find the sea mesmerising. I fell in one of those beach puddles that can be deeper than they seem. That feeling of helplessness, that feeling of looking up at the sky through the water that was rapidly killing me, that feeling of my dad grabbing me out of the beach puddle and saving me. It’s one of the only things I can remember about being a toddler.
I’d learned to swim early in life, faster than all the other kids, or at least that’s what my parents said. My experience with the beach puddle and the drowning and the nearly dying made me mentally block and forget I’d ever learned how to swim. It took me until I was much older than the other kids before I could comfortably swim again. I was terrified of water for a good portion of my childhood.
And then after I’d learned to swim again and I’d hit my early teens, I got stung by a jellyfish in the sea. So my second strongest memory of beaches is being laid on one, terrified I was going to die again because I didn’t know that jellyfish stings aren’t that serious.
All in, I think I have a reason to dislike beaches.
That isn’t why we gather here today though. We gather here today for me to make a tangential link to another opinion I hold. We walk together on this metaphorical beach, me much further behind you and much closer to the land. You’re probably walking bare-footed, whilst I walk in my trainers. Whilst we’re walking along the beach and after I’ve told you my stories of nearly dying and being stung by killer jellyfish, I begin to tell you about my other opinion. It’s more controversial than my casual beach hatred.
I don’t really consider myself a ‘writer’.
We stop on the beach for a second or two. I brush the stray sand off my legs that’s somehow managed to get there. You just look at me, from 10 sandcastles away.
Nah. I’m not a writer, and I don’t like beaches.
Most would write this opinion off as simple ‘Imposter Syndrome’, but that’s too easy. I’m not lacking in confidence and I’ll have a go at most things once1. I’m aware of the fact that I can write, that I’m capable of stringing a tale together and putting words next to each other to make people read them. I write 20 emails a day, probably. I’ve written blogs and journals and articles and even written video game reviews for as long as I can remember. Most hilarious of all: I’ve written and self-published 3 books. So yeah, it’s gotten a bit silly now for me to still hold the opinion of ‘I’m not a writer’.
But I’m not alone on this beach. There’s half-built sandcastles dotted all around us on this sandy land. On this writer’s beach, there’s plenty of half-finished work, work that nobody ever saw because the writer wouldn’t call themselves a writer. There’s plans and statements and diary entries fettered with the words ‘they say we all have one book in us’ blowing in this salty sea air we’re sharing together.
I don’t know what it is for you or anybody else, but I know what stops me from calling myself a ‘writer’. I hold myself to a higher standard than others do, often to too high of a standard. I plop myself next to a Stephen King or a Chuck Palahnuik or even (whilst it pains me to say this) a Thomas J Bevan, and I don’t compare. I don’t make a living from my writing, so I’m obviously not a writer. I don’t hold myself to a higher standard because I’m cocky or confident, I just compare myself to others who are clearly better than me. Clearly more competent and established, just like everyone else does. My standards are grandiose, but my opinion of my own writing wasn’t. For a long time.
I say wasn’t, because it’s starting to change. I never knew before what I wanted to write about. I didn’t know what my voice was or how I wanted to write or what I wanted to say or where I was going to say it or how I’d write a book or an essay or a tweet or whatever. I just knew that the things I wrote wasn’t the writing I wanted to write.
I still struggle to see writing as a creative act. I still struggle to carve out that time weekly to sit and just write. I still get an idea and frantically scurry to write it all down before it disappears out of my head. I still struggle with feelings of ‘this is shit’ and I have more half-thought ideas written down than I do finished ones.
I still struggle on this writer’s beach. I still look out, stood closer to the land than the sea, at all those other writers who make it look easy and seem to be comfortable building sandcastles and throwing frisbees. I sit at the back of the beach, underneath an umbrella blocking out all the sun. But now, I’m on the beach. I didn’t used to be on the beach. I’m seeing, and I’m saying. I’m not just seeing any longer.
I still dislike beaches, but one day I’ll probably start to like this beach. Maybe one day in the future, I’ll even go back in that sea again. Face some jellyfishes. Get stung.
Yeah. Then I’ll be able to write about that too2.