Sea Dreaming 2
So big was the night and bright the dream I felt I couldn’t describe it just as the dream I’d had last night, but, more pronouncedly, as the one I’d had ‘on the night before this day’. I was leading a motley group of friends and colleagues from the city on a tour to my home on the seashore’s sea-line and would take them, I explained, projecting my voice to the one or two who lagged behind, not along the road that skirted it, but down the beach. They would walk the littoral pounded by the roar of the incoming waves, their forms outlined by the foaming white spume. They would dream with me. But also, so would it really be that on the day after the night of my dream when I moved into this home, the life that sometimes dreamt, would be the dream.
It didn’t matter that I’d not got here before, that there’d been Kuala Lumpa, Rama Pleasurama, Rajastan, Umba Lunka, Bexhill even, and that for a long time as an employee of the Travel Bureau I’d been required to journey between places that lead as inevitably down to the sea as islands to water, without ever staying there for long. For now, today, I was coming home, as if I’d been here all my life, a ship crashing, cutting through and cruising the breaking crests. All my life here on the edge of the stunning swell, the wild and windy wet, the swaying, swelling trees where foxes ran half seen along wooded cliff-banks, because of the semi-crepuscular light, or because events happening in parallel worlds happened simultaneously not in time. All at once or not at all? If that were possible, or wasn’t that the point?
Here the lap of the eternal sea swell broke eternally over stones. What was there to write or say? That to live by the sea was to live eternally beside a little bit of what went on forever and today would last for ever? But my friends gathered round a rock pool picking up plastic bottles that had been washed up there couldn’t hear and so were spared my next thoughts too. That the sea would extend its privilege. That for all the life lived outside was also the other, within. That to be alive and focused beside that inside space triggered from without, was, just for that moment, to be immortal.
Popping up behind my left shoulder as if he has heard me, one disbeliever, also from the Bureau I’d been employed by, said, ‘That’s crazy!’. I laughed, ‘yes, longing to look out over this vista is as crazy as wanting to look out over eternity, but here it is coming in waves like dreams set down before us on a real plate on a real table full with real food in our real life. The sea. To be able to see too, to imagine. To be able to imagine more than you can see. I am neither upon nor within the sea but feel myself to be afloat upon it, within its caress and dreaminess, the wind in the trees breathing a new expansiveness into my soul. Touching it as the breeze a leaf’.
I wasn’t surprised at the disbeliever’s criticism. Not only had he been my supervisor, but the only figure of restriction at the Bureau otherwise a special and visionary, vocational organisation funded by a ‘creative’ philanthropist as a literary and psychology society. He’d been employed by the profit making rather than educational side of the organisation which was defined distinctively by an unusual imaginativeness. Its Mission Statement was from Kafka, ‘You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has not choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet’. So my restriction had been specific. Once I’d had to do as Kafka had told and stay in my room.
First I’d had to find it, sit at its table and look. Work out how to create a microcosm of what was outside. From some city rooms you could see plazas, cathedrals or town halls, or from beauty spots its mountains, valleys and lakes. Then it could be listed straight away, otherwise a trompe l’oeuil of its special features would need to be painted. I would organise the artists. Also writers – as our clients were mostly artists and writers - for the place’s hidden histories to establish a small library for each room. Then doing as Kafka had instructed I’d sit silently at my table and listen, and that’s how the guests would find me when they arrived. Silent. Apart from a few strange breathing sounds made in the perfecting of my yoga and meditation techniques, listening to the deep in and out rasp of my own breath. The perfect ‘role model’ for the kind of ‘break’ they wanted.
The colleagues in my dream, my only friends, have returned to the city with their plastic bottles. If they hadn’t deserted me then, they haven’t now. That wouldn’t be possible if events happen simultaneously. Desertion would only be a concept in the mind wouldn’t it?
I’d been ‘let go’ of my ‘sitting still’ duties for the Bureau and was to go, along with a continuing salary from them, to a place where before I’d not been allowed to stay in for long, near but never on the sea. I could more or less forget about the Bureau as long as I submitted an annual journal for them relating my experiences, for their archives, for the rest of my life. It didn’t matter when I protested that I couldn’t write. Just jot down impressions and thoughts said the kindly spectacled partner, ‘at the top’ far more senior but empathetic than my supervisor. Write about heritage, home, honing. Or our final heritage. The sea. And by the sea was where I chose to live.
My first day looking out upon the Channel, the sea full in my face, my thoughts which were constantly renewing old thoughts rolled in and out like the waves. Again I saw the real life set upon the ocean of life, a life-house tipping its boughs into this swelling sea, with I having come to the end of one never ending life, to be in the forward tossing waters, beginning it anew.
Between the suck and the wash of the trembling waves that quivered and broke on the pebbled shore was the silence quieter than that between my rasping breaths. Silence at night as the undulating waters rolled in at an angle from the east, spraying out like a fan of glittering teeth. Silence when I woke from the first night in this house on the ocean of life and saw the sea there, grey under the greyest of clouds, exotic. And every other morning too. In every weather. Even if the winds beat outside, and it was neither silent nor still.
The winds beat outside, but inside a champagne, coral sandy like carpet marked by shoe prints that can be sucked and swept away not by the movement of the sea but a hoover that picks up dust and crumbs. The shoreline-shaped sweeps in its pile caused by flooding, a neighbour explains, delight me and here in this chameleon shimmer, this fine-sand softness under foot is reminder of life’s relish-able textures. Not the deep dark mud of Wilfred Owen’s trenches that need avoiding, but a cradling sea, flickering, glistening and stretching, without us being drowned or shot.
I write to Ess, who’d worked with me as a ‘investigative researcher’ for the Bureau in the early days when we’d had to find the perfect places, that later when more qualified, I but not him, had had to use for my Kafkaesque duties. ‘In case it’s escaped your attention’, I say to him, ‘and I’m not sure how much attention you’ve left, I’m no longer in the city, but a stone’s throw away from it. It would be good if you could throw a stone, without hitting the birds, and come down to this place. A woodpecker pecks for a worm in the lawn. A robin with wings whizzing like a humming birds’ hovers at the window with a mouthful of worm. A resident crow attacks a pigeon as if it were a worm trespassing on its property and its mouth bulges with pigeon quill and mottled grey white feathers. You could fill your mouth with food from my kitchen and direct your thoughts differently. In case it hasn’t escaped your attention I’m in the perfect place....’
‘Case’ was the prerogative word for Ess’s who was more than just the friend I’d been waiting to join me. Apart from what he was to me he was the Bureau’s case who were bound as a condition of their funding to employ a small quota of staff who had ‘needs’ like his of the ‘obsessive’ personality, the alcoholic, who if failing to turn up for work couldn’t be sacked. But he could be stopped from progressing to where I was – where I wanted to be - and though I wanted him to be with me too part of me was grateful for their intervention. Until he was dry he’d be a drain, financially and emotionally.
‘Though these rooms are as big as the sea they are warm and dry, not cold and wet’, I told him, rubbing it in. ‘It is civilised on the edge of this cliff with grand Victorian buildings, including The Grand itself, whose uppermost roof windows peer out like lambent eyes. It is warm and dry’ I said again ‘and almost luxurious.’
But Ess, for different reasons to my previous Kafkaesque staying put, would for the time being, unlike me, remain indoors and not respond with full mouth, that is with articulate words, let alone come down to see me. The outside world was too much of a temptation that lead to the first drink then the downfall. Still I continued, ‘On nights when the wind off the sea is cold and ebrasive the holm oak and sycamore which line the upper cliff are bent low, and the lush undergrowth of the undercliff offers the little protection of a half cultivated wilderness. It makes me wonder how anything can offer protection when the whole endearing mass of us and what civilisation creates, will be undermined, any second, by our inevitable demise. Still’ I tell him, ‘forgetting their temporality, the buildings and the hotels do just that. They offer protection in a vulnerable, gale-battered land upon whose edge we sit with nothing but the sea and France between us and Spain, even if they are feigning, and laughing if buildings can, as we must too, at our sad reliance on the impossible resilience of matter.’
Ess still sat in a room that offered a kind of permanence while I repeated to myself to carry on duping the sea, to carry it beyond the limits of its destruction, that I’d been here long enough now, even if only a few weeks, to feel the privilege of it’s extension. That for all the life lived outside was also the other, within, undamaged. That to be alive was to be immortal just for that moment of immortality, for ever.’
For three nights the moon had been full, the skies clear. The silvery light haunted and illuminated the ripples of sea behind a silhouetted tree. The people of the city would see the witch unperturbed. What she saw, they’d say, is the sea-saw sea, its sea-saw rocking that dissolves in fog. What I saw was the place that leaves us rolling between what is vulnerable and what resilient without abiding completely in either, which will, if we’ve the stomach, bounce us up and down, like boisterous children on their sea-saw, from strength to weakness and back again.
The nights that were clear were now foggy and the night that was cold before brought a warm wind the next day. With a difference. The differences spewed forth by the changing winds from this sea-saw sea that bent trees and grasses and wobbled the shrubs that shook in it, jelly on a plate, then sent a warm gentle, misty breeze, were alleviating. When the sunlight eases through the mist to reveal, ever so surreptitiously, a visible horizon with azure pools of light crossing the swishing, slurping sea, and a benign wind whispers again through the whispering trees, our spirits can rise in amazed whisperings too.
I would like this sea-saw sea that sways to and fro between frailty and strength, sound and silence, this sea and landscape that is so dauntingly bigger than my insignificance, to give me speech. But if it did would that help or hinder, hold me back or let me go? Or does it not matter and should I give up, words only seeking to sculpt meaning from prevailing chaos, and conversations often made up of what we do not say?
If, unlike Ess who can’t leave his room, I see everything with complete clarity, also like Ess, I am deluded if I think I do, or if I don’t see that clarity changing from one moment to the next. But he does. And so do I. The sun leaves his room. He closes his curtains. The sun leaves the land. Long afterwards it picks out cargo ships, yachts or fishing boats at sea that swan across the horizon, then turns them, one by one into huge bars of floating gold or tiny sparkling gems: a seagull into a fleck of amber which like a single spark from a bonfire, floats unhurriedly upwards. We retain the memory of an event long after it has happened without always being able to explain the how or why of our perception. But here the diurnal cycle as wholly independent of us yet forming something of the minutely personal, is intensified. A day in the city I would tell Ess, is a day wasted.
While I sleep the land and sea of the world that won’t yet finish shifting, forges its way through that tiny bit of atmosphere we call the sky. When I wake and open the blinds, swifts sensing warmer air have arrived shrieking and twirling over the littoral under a solitary seagull. Maybe the one lit up by last night’s sunset, now gliding over them proudly not needing to flap its wings.
What do they see moving at such speed, rarely setting down to rest? What does the gull see, moving so fast without having to put effort into it’s flying? Is flight like running? And can I compare it to ‘They who run will read’? How can they read small print when moving at speed? Who’s to say it was small, asks the questioner in the joke. No, the print may have been as huge as that sea and as hard as ETERNITY to miss.