Yesterday I stood by the ocean, and the waves hurled abuse at my feet. “Weakling,” they hissed as they crashed against me, splashing disdain into my face. “Fool.”
“You can’t conquer me,” hummed the darkness underneath those roaring giants. “Why bother trying? Don’t presume to penetrate my depths. Step back, you foolish child. Turn away. Go and build some castles in the sand.”
I almost did. The golden beaches of the past stretched behind me like an open invitation, like a friendly wave and a familiar face. The breeze caressed me. “Come. Come lie under the sun,” it sang. “Come, step away from the unknown.”
But wonderful secrets glimmered in the water, and the shoreline was a battle I intended to win. So I tore my gaze away, took a deep breath, and plunged head-first into the waves.
I fought across a great many shorelines by now. I plunged into a great many unknowns.
I fought when I forced myself to click “send”, and pitch an essay to a magazine I love. I fought whenever I turned on my computer in the weeks that followed, and checked, with shaking hands, whether the dreaded “You call this writing? What were you thinking? Who do you think you are?” response has arrived.
I fought when I grabbed a language that wasn’t my own by its tail and its rhythm and its fondness for adjectives, and forced it into rhymes, and dared to call my work a poem. “No, I’m not a native English speaker,” I told my reflection in the mirror that night. “So what?” And I walked onto the stage, my printed poem trembling in my hands, my voice only a touch too high.
I fought when I glimpsed a truth on the horizon and tried to turn it into a blog post. I had to jump to truly grasp it, right over the abyss of fumbled arguments and messy logic and the heady criticism of my peers. I tittered on the edge at first. I looked down, and saw the confusion I could gender, the disapproval that would greet me if I’ll fail and fall. But I could tell that the right words were just across the valley, just outside my reach. And so I jumped, eyes shut, hoping to land on the summit that I reached for.
I fought against my own fears every time. And I plunged. And I struggled to breath when the ocean crushed me with anxiety, and clawed my way from day to day with chewed up nails.
And then a “we are interested in your essay” email arrived, and the audience cheered when I finished reading my poem, and my idea took form and spread new wings of its own in people’s hearts. And I climbed onto the shore, dripping wet, pearls cascading out of my hands, laughter on my lips.
I cried and rejoiced and wrote more essays. I sent more emails and recited more poems and piled pearls by my computer, where they sparkled and glittered in the light of the screen. Yesterday’s battlegrounds became a victor’s crown across my brow, a sign that declared “she dared, she dared, she made it.”
Yesterday’s battleground became my dominion, a place to recline in, a place to call home.
But then today became yesterday, and yesterday’s comfort zone became today’s boundaries. Because now, when I google magazines, I think to myself – why bother? Why pitch to them when I can keep pitching to the magazines that already know me? Why reach for new pearls when I can rest on my laurels?
And when new ideas or creative challenges glimmer in the darkness, I hesitate. Why bother with the new when I’m good at the old? I struggled to get here, after all. Why not simply reap the fruits of yesterday’s work? Why must I reach for the summit beyond them?
I wear yesterdays pearls around my neck, but they no longer taste of salt and courage and a daring venture underneath the open seas. Now, they smell like society gatherings in well-lit salons, where everyone’s bored and even the witticisms are stale. I walk through these metaphorical parties and smile and touch the pearls around my neck, yesterday’s pearls that are slowly becoming last week’s pearls and last month’s pearls and, eventually, the achievement of the distant past. And I drink metaphorical champagne for the faux-vitality it offers me, reminiscing about yesterday’s battles, because there is nothing new and actually vital going on.
But I know that the ocean is out there. I can feel it in its absence as I touch yesterday’s pearls. I can hear it, like a whisper, slithering underneath the humming of clinking glasses and the tales of the battles-past. It seeps into the pleasures of comfort, and mocks everything it sees.
“You see,” it sneers at me, barely audible over the sounds my fingers make as they type more of the same more of the same more of the same and click send. “I told you that you’re a pedestrian creature at heart, little girl. I told you that you will always play in the sands of the familiar and the safe.”
The ocean is distant and I am drowning, drowning in shallow waters, in the smallness of sameness, in the comfort zone I worked so hard to achieve. I’m drowning in sand and stale pearls and the spoils of victories past, and they bury me here, in this pleasant place where I grow small.
Yesterday’s comfort zone became today’s prison. A prison that smells of comfort and death.
But my story isn’t over, I whisper. There are still new battles I can pick.
The murmurs of the ocean are a lifeline in the dark. They remind me of that moment by the shoreline, of what happened when I dared to get wet.
They remind me that I can always plunge again.
“Thank you, dear ocean,” I whisper into the night, the champagne forgotten in its elegant flute. “Thank you for awakening me. Thank you for your example of eternal restlessness, which flows now, like liquid courage, in my veins.”
Yesterday’s battleground became today’s comfort zone, and today’s comfort zone is a prison in disguise. But tomorrow… Tomorrow, I will maketurn my comfort zone into a springboard. Tomorrow I will cast aside my hard-earned pearls. Tomorrow I will stand by new shorelines, and chew my nails, and giggle nervously…
And plunge, once again, into the sea.