When I was little, I remember seeing one of those Disney films–you know the ones with the oddly colored 1950s film and a comfortable narrator–about pearl divers. I don’t remember much about the film, except the shot of a boy holding his breath and diving into the clear water. He collected his shellfish as the narrator described in tones like a plush sofa the difficulty and danger of the boy’s occupation.
These days, I’m not sure if people dive for pearls anymore. Then again, I wouldn’t have thought fishermen used trained cormorants to catch fish in remote regions of China, anymore–but they do. So, perhaps the grueling, dangerous, and labor intensive trade of diving for pearl-bearing oysters has also survived. I feel a certain kinship with the shadow of that brown-limbed boy diving to the bottom of the shallow seas to find his livelihood.
The Danger Isn’t What You Think It Is
You might suppose, if I may be permitted to borrow the Pearl Diver for a little longer, that the inherent danger was drowning or being attacked by some form of aquatic life. But here’s where my personal path intersects with the dim memory of Disney documentaries. About five months ago, I started publishing my work.
Now, it was pretty intimidating at first, because I’d never even attempted such a thing. I was raised to self-efface, to immediately devalue my work, to shroud myself in modesty. This was only ever partially effective, but it did serve to hamstring my sense of confidence. The key, I’ve found, is intentionally forgetting my Self in the context of other people’s Selves.
If I can just manage to be absorbed in pursuit or commission of a goal, I’ll be okay. The dive occurs, with absolute focus, and the task is completed–as many times as required in order to achieve success. The danger is in remembering mid-action. This division of attention can be disastrous, because it entails failure, a loss of focus, expelled oxygen. A return to the surface.
Days of No Pearls
Every now and again, even the most successful of divers will come up empty-handed. Sometimes, oysters are just oysters. I don’t think I sold anything for most of December. That’s partially my own fault, because I let my presence on social media lapse. That particular activity has always felt rather like trying to start a fire in a monsoon, and occasionally, I need to take a break.
Well, I’ve had my hiatus, and now I must start fresh. The New Year approaches. I have plans for January, but I won’t mention them, here. The holidays brought me into proximity with a family member who thinks everyone should have a clear idea of where they want to be in the future. I don’t. I never have, and quite frankly, I’ve given up trying to shove myself into that mold. If it works for others, fantastic.
I don’t want to speak my dreams aloud. I already know that if they don’t evaporate, they’ll be twisted by people who don’t understand me.
I’m going back to flying by the seat of my pants. And there will be plenty of flying in 2016. I have to pause and take in the fact that I put out four books in as many months. Crazy? Probably. Foolish from a marketing perspective? I’d be willing to say so. But they needed to happen. I needed to know that I could do that, and the need itself was something that refused to be silent for careful drafting.
Empathy for the Oyster
2015 has been a year of healing for me. There’s been a certain amount of spiritual gestation, which necessitated stillness. It’s had its fair share of setbacks and frustrations–people who wouldn’t know a rock if it hit them in the face, well, they’re related to me. I’ve learned that I have to withhold certain things to keep them safe from these people.
As well, I’ve come to terms with memory. I often wondered why I was so weak that I could not let go of hurt or bitterness. Well, one morning I woke up and understood that it wasn’t the fact that I couldn’t let go that was the problem. It was the fact that I wasn’t putting those things to work for me that held me back.
Here I was, with so much sand–abrasive, irritating sand–and I was just staring at it, wishing it would go away. That’s a very human thing to do. Well, while I’m still human and can’t actually make pearls, I figured I’d take a metaphorical lesson from the oyster itself. If they have a grain of sand stuck amid the tender tissues of their interior selves, they begin to surround it with proteins and minerals.
The pearl they create is a protective reaction to pain. And I realized that I should take notes. The pearl is not the agent of this pain, nor is it precisely the oyster. It’s a product of the two. It is something separate and yet bound to its origins. In the coming year, I will set to making pearls. They may not be what anyone expects.
In fact, I’m willing to bet even I will be surprised. But I think there’s a supreme justice in creating something beautiful from events that hurt me, something I was unable to expel from my Self. To create art with the act of setting aside these memories is perhaps the ultimate expression of my own nature–the nature of every creator.