In recent weeks I've started a new habit of going to the beach with Sonny the husky and a spiral notebook. I'll find a comfortable drift log, dune, or slice of riprap, sit down on the sand, stare at the ocean, perhaps snap a photograph with my film fish-eye camera, peruse my notes, and write with absolutely no editorial agenda in mind. I also actively resist any notion of linear thinking. I ride a wave in my mind of the past and present tense.
Here's what resulted:
A friend tipped me off to an opening of a classic American novel I'd never read, an opening he thought I should know about: It goes like this: "When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home. I was wishing I looked like Paul Newman — he looks tough and I don't." Never in a million years would I have guessed The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton, begins this way.
I read this in the Oregonian: "Oregon last month signed all nine assistant (football) coaches to contract amendments that boosted the value of their existing individual salaries for this season to $2,759,500, up 20 percent, or $460,333, from last year's collective salary of $2,299,167 … The raises do not include the combined $450,000 in retention bonuses six assistants are set to receive this month."
The special-teams/tight-ends coach will earn (sic) $322,500 this season and $339,250 in 2013. His retention bonus was $100,000. I would have to teach at Newport High School for five years to earn an equivalent salary. But alas, I get to teach poetry and the special-teams/tight-ends coach doesn't. He also doesn't get to stage a rock festival and take photographs of the rain with his students.
It all brings to mind something I read by the Italian author/intellectual Umberto Eco. "Sports debate is the easiest substitute for political debate." He wrote that before ESPN and the Internet. Let me also loosely paraphrase something else Eco wrote about big-time spectator sports: Those who watch and obsess over spectator sports are not playing sports. They have lost the ability to play.
A while back I read a line by Robert Adams in a fantastic book called Why People Photograph: "Most people alive in the United States today have never had, for a variety of reasons, the full attention of a first-rate teacher, and our democracy is failing partly as a result." I might amend the sentence to read "totally" instead of "partly."
I finished a biography of James Cain, author of The Postman Always Rings Twice and Mildred Pierce, and came across a line that startled me. This is a paraphrase: A writer with ambition has to become a pelagic fish. In other words, he has to swim out to open water where it's deep. Have I stayed too close to shore by writing almost exclusively about Oregon?
The high, tubular clouds in the sky intrigue me. Some time back I read the Cloudspotter's Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society, and learned all the interesting names and salient facts for the many different types of clouds.
I have since forgotten everything I learned except that stratus clouds dominate the Oregon Coast. They give us the gray. It doesn't bother me that I can't remember. I much prefer impressionism to meteorology anyway, butI would like to become a writer who can bring the aesthetic and the scientific together in creative fashion. Rain would be my subject.
A man and a woman rode bicycles in front of me a few seconds ago. I took a photo of them with my fish-eye and they waved. They looked like a couple and brought along their kid instead of resigning him to duct tape and cough syrup. They're playing sports, not watching them, and will probably play another sport when they get back to their tent or motel room and the kid's sacked out.
Just look at the plastic all around me! I loathe its utter existence! Every city on the Oregon Coast should ban the plastic bag and Styrofoam containers immediately. This is a course of action as obvious as gravity. Every coastal politician should make the ocean and its creatures their chief constituency on this issue because all the truly momentous and portentous political decisions of our time will involve the health of the ocean, and the impetus for change has to begin locally.
In 1941, Victor Yarsley, an English chemist and one of the pioneers of plastic, wrote: "The plastic man will come into a world of color and bright shining surfaces where childish hands find nothing to break, no sharp edges, or corners to cut or graze ... all his toys, his cot ... the teething ring he bites, the unbreakable bottle he feeds from ... as he grows he cleans his teeth and brushes his hair with plastic brushes, clothes himself within plastic clothes, writes his first lesson with a plastic pen…"
Yarsley ultimately wanted, "a world free from moth and rust made up of synthetic materials." To that I say: You can't always get what you want, but sometimes you get more of what you don't need and never needed. Rust never sleeps at the Oregon Coast, by the way. Neither does mold.
Here comes Sonny loping toward me. Not bad for a 13-year-old husky with ruptured front ligaments. Time for a family self-portrait. Hope I got the shot. I'll know whenever I have the film developed. Patience in photography is a virtue. So is guessing. Both were required before the advent of digital cameras and sometimes they produced beautiful mistakes. I always love that my celluloid blunders usually turn out better than my memory-card contrivances. In recent months, I've made more guesses in my writing, and I think this evolution came about because I began shooting almost exclusively with film.
My left hand reaches to the ground. I grab a handful of sand and let it sift through my fingers... Oregon's publicly owned beaches, free to use, free to frolic... ahh... the wonderful benefits of socialism. More, please.
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Matt Love is the author/editor of 10 books about Oregon. He lives in South Beach and teaches creative writing and journalism at Newport High School. His latest book is Of Walking in Rain.
Books mentioned in this post
Matt Love is the author of Of Walking in Rain