This blog follows projects connected to water and the sea. Mapping previous work as a context to ongoing developments it also (loosely) plots the undulations of energy levels as my health waxes and wanes. Following the tides has been a useful parallel to the chronic fatigue I’m living with.
My starting point: I’ve been writing about diving recently, a research project in Spain studying seahorses. While waiting for the rest of the group to finish counting urchins and so on, following their transect lines, I used the empty space left on my slate to draw. Without a camera I wanted to find a way of recording, of evidencing this under water world. On the back of the white board, the side that wasn’t covered in III’s numbering black and rock urchins, I drew. I was clumsy, it is hard keeping balance and holding in one place eighteen metres below the surface of the ocean, harder still without use of a hand to steady myself. The pencil was awkward in my gloved fingers. Over the course of those last few days of my trip, I ended up with a series of strange and abstract line drawings. Photographs were my only means of documenting them, Gail wanted her slates back. The resultant images were of nothing I could recognise back on the surface, but a record, an attempt at something. I could visualise the scene because of the way I looked at my surroundings in the attempt at drawing them. I remembered it better and differently because of the act. The physical process, the act of immersion placed a seed of something I’m hoping to now nurture.
Seaweed, trees, rivers, veins. Skeletal structures, views from above, all spread outwards, thinning and succumbing to the foundations that support them. Rivers follow fluctuations in the ground, geological underpinnings and fractures.
Mine are stunted, it seems. Something stems the flow, slows it to a halt. I don’t have enough energy, despite my sleep, despite my diet – I cannot sustain myself. Gravity is not my friend. There’s not enough iron, or B12 or good bacteria to keep me upright. There’s too much infection or instability or bad bacteria in my gut.
Blood is taken, again. I’m poked and prodded and asked to touch my toes.
“Your blood tests are normal.” The doctor tells me, listing more things that I don’t have wrong with me.
I wake up feeling better, think I can climb mountains again. I can’t. I’m out of breath at the top of the stairs. This can’t still be altitude sickness, can it?
A giant etch-a-sketch, the beach is a perfect place for play. Everything will wash away and leave a new surface.
I wrote “The tide will take me” in wet sand with a piece of dried cuttlefish and it began to sink into the ground as I was writing. The sea was rising up from below as well as washing in from the incoming tide.
After months of visiting, collecting water and taking photographs, I finally made it to the beach with the intention of playing. A new beginning and chance to experiment.
Wading through shallow pools left by indents in the beach, the seaweed washes up to me. I want to replant it, the stem of one type clearly uprooted but intact. While it is wet it is also soft and pliable, smoother than my skin. I wind it round my leg.
Standing in the water as the tide comes in sucks the sand from under my feet. It begins to plant me in the beach too.
How long before I begin to grow barnacles I wonder. How long do I have to spend in the water before the sea claims me for itself?
Landscape drawings cut into the ground expose the bedrock beneath. Here, in East Sussex, it is chalk.
As with the sculptural forms of the cliffs just down the road, the brightness of the white and the contrast of the green hills and the sky has made me think about materials again. It has also made me think about light and texture. It has mostly made me think about the importance of doing and of making (and of not thinking so much). In recovering from and living with a chronic level of fatigue, doing things has often been beyond my capability. I have spent more time in my head, thinking, considering, imagining. I need to be outside, experiencing my own physicality in landscape.
I continue to walk to the sea and stare. I was reminded last week how many of us are drawn to the edge. The precarious cliff face proved just too tempting for some as they stood at the top of the cliffs on the South Downs Way. Here, at Birling Gap, there are regular cliff falls – always unpredictable, they are not unexpected. It’s the start of the summer holidays. The days are marked by the edges becoming more populated, with family holidays and tour buses.
Having intended to explore, to look for interesting things washed up by the sea, and to contemplate how to push coastal based projects forwards, I ended up doing what everyone else did – I got an ice cream, took a photo and left.
I was here.
There has been a pause in posting here. In part due to a fluctuation in energy levels and health, and in part a result of pursuing my writing practice and developing my notebook on my website.
In October I began, almost by accident, a new strand of this project Body of Water. I began to collect a small amount of seawater from an incoming wave. It connected with my physical limitations and the joy of being able to walk to the beach again, even if it took all day to get there. What came next was a mission to get to the beach each day, the jars of water became part diary and part evidence of my achievement.
The writing that has begun to emerge since doing this has felt like it has reconnected with my initial intention for starting here, more than 18 months ago. Things take time. With an energy limiting illness things take even longer. It seems I also need to be able to wander off and start to do something without thinking too much about it – a tricky thing to plan for.
Last week a new piece of writing and images were published by Sussex University Life Writing Projects and I shared my project at a Waterweek event – speaking on the beach at Birling Gap, East Sussex. It feels that this project has now become solid enough to be able to share it here and begin to reflect more on what it is I am doing/have done.