~summer shorts~ reclaiming

Have you seen me lately? is the title of one of my depression songs. I hardly ever listen to the Counting Crows anymore, but the feeling that I have gone missing lately is a little bit accurate.

When I go missing, when I need to retrieve myself, the ocean is where I go. During a pandemic, it may mean going to the ocean at 6:30 am on a Monday, and it may mean going less frequently, but the ocean is still where I go to collect myself and bring myself back. Here I am, standing, kneeling beside the crowded tidepools of my inner world. There beside them, soaking in the brine, is the end of a long strand of mended rope. I pick it back up in my hand, ready to start adding to the storyline, twisting new strands, threading on new beads and seashells, eventually stringing more cranberries and popcorn once it is a little less soggy.

woman beside a tidepool

How does it happen that I would ever set this rope down? I know better. I repeat to myself like a mantra why I write. I repeat it enough that others know it, can paraphrase it. The fragmentation that once characterized my inner experience was the result of mental health crisis – major depression brought on mostly by emotional abuse (gone), but also a little bit predisposition (still there). Fragmentation, a broken storyline, allowed me to lie to myself, disconnect from myself, betray myself, something I remain committed to never do again. Writing is my best tool to maintain a cohesive storyline, to integrate the various pieces of myself into one narrative that I can keep my grip on, so that I can see the connections between one segment and another, so that I can tell if I am being true to who I am and so that I can tell if I am deviating from my truth or forgetting crucial pieces of the story.

tidepool on oregon coast

Too much slack in the line is a different problem from fragmentation, but tangles are not conducive to okayness either. Winds will blow on me, waves will continue to endlessly pass, and if I am not doing the steady, dynamic tending this line of mine requires, it can become knotted and snarled. These posts piling up behind the scenes, where I keep second guessing myself and saving to drafts, need to start being eased out before they accumulate further. Like the sheet that controls the business end of the sail, my line works to keep me on course, to keep the wind coming across my sails in the most efficient way to maintain forward progress, to keep me from capsizing, to keep the sails full not flogging, to keep me from wallowing in the doldrums.

sea urchins and anemones

There is a certain amount of tension required to keep ahold of myself, in other words. The danger is there to become too tense, to hold on rigidly, which can also rock the boat. When my shoulders start to reach my ears, my hands are clenched, and I am holding my breath too often, I need to loosen my grip, inhale, exhale, and observe what the ocean is doing. Take stock, adjust course.

sea urchins and anemones

You can sail forward even when the wind is close to your bow, but there is a reason why they call it “beating to windward.” Heading into the oncoming wind and seas (usually they are coming from a related direction to one another, though not always) can feel like a beating. The motion of the vessel is more jarring, the force of the impact coming down from the crest of each swell causes the whole hull to shudder and the rigging to vibrate, and the ship is heeled over at quite an angle. The ship must be tacked much more frequently to maintain course, an act which by its very nature strains every line and piece of hardware, every tired seam and joint. Changing direction frequently just to keep going forward is exhausting, and you must ensure the coffee pot is lashed in the galley, the deck gear all stowed.

sea anemone partly folded inward

Still, it is while sailing to windward that I have most often encountered dolphins riding the bow wake. It is also only in the dark of night that the bow wake glows with bioluminescence. Remembering my study of the word “streamlined” a couple of years ago, I recall my conclusion that the status of the flow around me has less to do with turbulence in my life, than what shape I present to the flow; that if I present less resistance to the flow, I have a more streamlined experience. Salmon use the energy of the current to propel themselves upstream; adversity is not a direct line to crisis, in fact it can be a force of energy that is harnessed for good.

sea urchin and anemone close up

I feel as though, right now, I am swimming upstream against a strong current, or sailing into a strong wind. I am okay, but I am on watch for signs of slipping down the current too far towards the waterfall’s edge, or letting the wind get around behind the wrong side of my sails. I am okay, but I am swimming hard with nothing in reserve, I am beating to windward and taking a beating. I am okay, but I am only okay because I know firsthand the consequences of slipping downstream, of capsizing.

urchin and anemone

At market one recent Saturday, a lovely woman handed me a bundle of braided sweetgrass. She grows it herself, and she said she wanted to give it to me because I inspire her. I am using it to smudge this space and reclaim it, to clear out any traces of energy that would keep me quiet, that would turn down my voice, that would ask me to be smaller, less than fully me.

anemone detail macro

red and purple sea urchins

closed sea anemone

sea urchins and anemone

sea urchin with spines missing

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