About an hour from here is a place called Seaham Beach and it holds a good amount of interesting treasure, for those who can see the beauty in a thing like sea glass. About a hundred years ago, an old Victorian bottling company closed up shop, and then dumped all their glass into the North Sea (This obviously predates, all environmental “woke-ness.”) and ever since, the ocean has tumbled it and frosted it and smoothed it into beautiful gems, and then the tides dutifully bring it back to shore depositing it among the millions of stones, pebbles, and acres of tawny sand. If sea glass is what you’re after, it’s a beach comber’s dream.
I grew up in Florida, and scouring the beaches for unusual treasures was always a peaceful and rewarding way to spend a couple of hours. The sound of the waves, the smell of the salty air, the spotting of a beautiful shell gifted at my feet was the stuff of soul renewal. But this was a different endeavor, as it required a lot less scanning and strolling along the waterline and lot more work.
It required me to dig.
After low tide, I walked along the drifts of rock and pebbles, took a seat and started digging and sifting, and I dug and I sifted a lot, moving vast amounts of earth and stone in order to spot that one little glint of color among it. Then I “ooohed and ahhhed” and stuck it in my bag and kept digging, and I couldn’t help but think, this is the life of a creative. You dig and sift and dig and sift, and move things around and search and seek an entire beach’s worth of rock and sand to find a fistful of something extraordinary. And admittedly there are many times when that seems like the most frustrating and draining of all the things in the world and so you often ask yourself if it is even worth it to work so hard for so little. But yesterday, it dawned me. It’s extraordinary because there’s only a fistful. After all, if all beaches were made of sea glass, we’d sort and sift and dig through it to find the sand and rock.
Which means maybe it isn’t about the sea glass at all.
Maybe it’s all about the dig.
Maybe it’s about the perseverance and the search. The act of looking and working to find something special. When I found a piece, I tucked it away and went looking for more. Just like when JK Rowling finished Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, she went back and wrote Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and then back again. And then again. It’s why Albert Einstein never stopped exploring physics. It’s why Freud never stopped seeking answers to the human psyche. It’s why Leonoardo da Vinci never stopped painting or inventing or writing (there’s a guy who will wear you out.) Humans have to dig. And when we find what we’re after, we just keep digging.
Do you know why that revelation spoke to me so deeply? Because lately, I’ve been too focused on and overwhelmed by what I was digging for. I’m a writer by nature, not by trade. And most days, the idea of seeing a project all the way through to the finishing of a novel seems like too big a feat for me to accomplish. The idea of putting all that work into something that may never get published makes me sick to my stomach. The fear of trying and missing the mark absolutely paralyzes me. But that’s how any big discovery or achievement must feel, if you’re hyper-focused on the discovery or achievement alone. And then you’re defeated before you’ve begun.
I really felt the message to me was “You need to relax into the dig. Enjoy the work of it. Stop letting the idea of the finished product strike fear into the deepest parts of you and cut off your oxygen supply.” How many of our goals do we see that way? Weight loss, education, a big move, a challenging relationship? How many times do we refuse to do the work, because we’re so far away from the goal and we’re too focused on the distance?
If I would have looked at that beach yesterday, seeing nothing on the surface and focusing on the fact that I’d have to move a lot of ground for a tiny piece of something special, I’d have come home with a whole lot of nothing. But instead I sat down, and enjoyed the process of digging. As a result, I came home with a handful of something beautiful. And a handful of something beautiful is worth a beachful of work any day, all day, every day, for the rest of my life. Not because of what it put in my hand. But because what it did for my soul.