Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bobbing Coconuts

I was reminded of an event which occurred in Indonesia many years ago. Last week, a friend was visiting from the east coast, so we took her to the see the beach near Santa Cruz. My kids played with boogie boards in the water. My friend and I walked along the shore. Suddenly, my friend stopped. She had heard a woman say something. That same woman ushered her children—and all the children in the vicinity-- out of the water. What was wrong?
“Shark,” she cried.
I raced down the beach to where my children were jumping over waves and splashing one another, oblivious to the danger. By the time I got to them, they were the only ones left in the water.
“Get out,” I wheezed. “Of the water. Now.”
“What's the matter?” my daughter asked.
“Shark,” I said. “A lady spotted a shark.”
“Sick,” my son said. “Where?”
It was about this point that I was reminded of a similar event that occurred on Bintan, an island about an hour away from Singapore. While our family went off swimming in the coral, our neighbors stayed back at their hut, singing and laughing and drinking heavily. When we came back to our hut to shower off for dinner, one of the neighbors—Mrs. Suzuki-- came rushing up to us. Had we seen her husband? He went for a swim and never came back.
We joined the search for Suzuki-san. By this time, the shores were empty of people, everyone else having gone off to shower and get dinner. Then one of the men spotted Suzuki-san.
“Look!” he said, rushing into the water in his clothes. “He's way out there. Only his head is visible.”
Wow! We all stood along the shore—at least a dozen sober adults—while the friend swam to meet him.
“You can do it,” we called out. “Come on. You're almost there.”
I'm almost where?” A voice rang out from behind us.
After waiting at the restaurant so long for his buddies to show, he was walking back to see what the holdup was. He wasn't drowning in the middle of the dark waters. So who was out there? The friend swam the extra yards to rescue the person. He reached out and grabbed onto nothing more than a bobbing coconut.
Needless to say, there was no shark. When my son asked me where the shark was, we all scanned the waters.
“There it is,” my daughter said. “There are two of them.”
“See,” I agreed. “There they--
“And they're normally called dolphins.”
Another bobbing coconut.
“Oh, mom,” my son said, sinking to the sand. Please tell me you didn't run down the beach yelling 'shark.'”
I hadn't. Thankfully. I had left that job to the shark spotter. But I empathized. I can spot sharks—or bobbing coconuts—wherever I go. Especially in my writing life.
What if I sit down to write and can't think of anything?
What if I get all the way to the last chapter and can't finish?
What if I finish and my agent doesn't like it?
What if my story is published and no one wants to read it?
If I let myself go, I can imagine my waters dark, scary, infested with all kinds of terrible creatures. The trick—which I must remind myself over and over—is to go step by sandy step, watch the water lapping just in front of me, and don't listen to the shark spotters. Because most of the time, those sharks...well, they are normally called dolphins.


Martha Alderson said...

You have always had the greatest knack for taking events in everyday life and bringing meaning to our writing lives. Masterful!

Great good luck in the brave new world of the blogosphere......

Anonymous said...

Jana--I love it--not, ooh! a dolphin, but Mom, you didn't embarrass me, did you?! Remember when they were younger, and all they would want to do was pet it? :)

Great metaphor for writing, too. If we're lucky, sometimes the sharks do turn out to be dolphins and the "heads" turn out even better than coconuts--maybe a nice, sweet mango!

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