Last Saturday Evan and I went to the sandy dunes of a Lake Michigan beach. It was our only Saturday home, sandwiched between our June in Atlanta and the next three weekends in Chicago. We had gotten the name of a great state park an hour north from friends who remembered it fondly.
So when we woke up on Saturday morning to overcast skies, mid sixty degree temperatures, and a forecast of scattered thunderstorms, we didn’t let that deter us. We just went anyway. I would like to tell you that it turned gloriously sunny when we got to the beach, and that you too should venture out on thunderstormy days because they usually turn out gorgeous. But actually when we got to the beach it was really foggy, and the water was incredibly cold.
The water was so cold that just walking in the surf made my feet numb— numb in July. This became slightly more disappointing because only two weeks before we had spent that Saturday swimming for hours in the balmy ocean waters of the Gulf.
But Lake Michigan is not the Gulf of Mexico. All morning the fog and the clouds rolled in and out like a tide in the sky, but the sun never quite made it out. And yet, it was absolutely beautiful and completely worth the trip. There is something about the sand and the waves, the sounds and the textures of the waterside, and the soaring seagulls and the spray that restores my soul.
Sure, sunny skies and non-numbingly cold water are nice for beach days. But we had our own private section of sandy beach surrounded by dune sand just an hour away. Fog or no fog, that’s pretty amazing.
It reminds me a lot of my attempts to write these past few weeks. We’ve been traveling and visiting and only now have we slept in the same bed more than four nights in a row. With all the hubbub, I’ve fallen into that place of wanting to write when I don’t have time, and not wanting to write when I do have the time. It’s like all those sunny, hot days when I wanted to go to the beach but couldn’t, and then when I went to the beach it was foggy and the water was cold.
But it’s still worth it. It’s still worth writing when I don’t feel like it.
The thing about foggy and cold days at the beach is that you don’t swim, or fall asleep in the sun, or stay as long. You read with a sweater on. You contemplate the way the foggy sky and the foggy lake meet and mingle and meld imperceptibly together. You go on walks in the surf with your feet slightly numb next to those miniature cliffs of sand and grass. And then when your feet pass from numb into pain, you walk back barefoot on the board walk and marvel at the dunes.
You stay for four and a half hours, call it a day, and stop at Trader Joe’s for groceries on your way home and enjoy that tiny cup of complementary coffee.
The days when I don’t feel like writing, when my brain is foggy and cold, I can’t expect to do the same things I would on an easier writing day. I have to take the day for what it is, and to work on the small corner of my story that I can that day. I draw pictures. I make little lists. I journal about why something is confusing. I write for forty-five minutes. But it’s still good to be there, doing the work. It makes it easier to write again tomorrow.
It feels a lot like playing. The kids near us on that foggy beach didn’t seem at all put out that instead of frolicking in the water, they had to build elaborate sandcastles. For hours, they dug and sculpted and decorated moats and mountains, towers and whole sand towns.
Writing is both work and play. Some days, I think, I really want to write a particular scene. But then that day is filled with errands that unexpectedly need to be run, or babies who unexpectedly need to be held, and my energies go instead to being a part of a family. I can choose to be angry about the foggy weather and the cold water when I really wanted to swim. (And sometimes that’s ok; that’s what I need to do—be angry that you wanted to write and couldn’t.) But other times, you take your left over, tired 45 minutes, and you play around with a few ideas. You make a little sand castle turret, you stare into the foggy horizon and remember that you get to be a part of the beautiful, glorious, messy work of creating.
Life is full of foggy Saturdays mornings, and sunny Monday afternoons. The times we have for leisure or the work we’ve been looking forward to do not always match up with when we have high energy and clarity of mind. But if we keep making time to get out, to go to the beach, to write and work on the projects of our hearts, we learn to appreciate the beauty of the time we are given. We develop skills to enjoy the day for what it is. And we learn to bring a sweater and long pants to the beach in July because it might be cold, because some days you just have to build sandcastles—you can’t go swimming. But it’s still almost always worth going to the beach.
How do you deal with your foggy days?
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