You’re Not Looking

Four hundred and seven miles from home.  I lean over to pick up a light brown and white striped seashell, impressed.  It’s gorgeous.  Bold terra-cotta stripes against ivory on this other one.  Even better.  Even more beautiful.

“Look.”  He walks over to show me.  He gives it to me.  Something green, looks like part of a broken bottle.  Exactly what it is, turns out.  Boring.  The second he turns away I toss it right back into the sand.

“Here’s another one.  This is this stuff called beach glass.”  Never heard of it.  He gives me another lime green lump.  Okay.   I wait for him to turn away again.

“Look, here’s another one!”  He smiles and puts it in my hand with my other stuff.  I take it out.  It doesn’t go with my vision for the shells.  I prefer something natural.  I drop the ones I admire into my palm.  A tiny violet lobster claw, perfectly intact.   A miniature spiral.   Vibrant blackish-purple stripes set off against a cream-colored base on this shell.   Almost flawlessly symmetrical.  Very fine ridges too.

A few more minutes pass.  Here he comes again to hand me another, without a word.  Then turns away.

Alright.  Not sure what the big deal is but this time I give it a chance.  I concentrate on this piece of garbage refined by sand that somebody gave a fancy title to.  Let’s see.  Actually, it’s pretty nice.  Really nice.  Not the lump all by itself.  What jumps out is the striking contrast between the neon green and the beach pastels.  In shape and color and texture, so different.

I watch the whole image develop in my palm before my eyes, like a photograph in a darkroom.  This type of feeling is amazing when it happens.  I watch and feel the fence I’d built around something dissipate, melt into the afternoon wind.  I feel a sense of lightness.  I relax and let the idea in.  I let this simple collection of objects teach me.

The green glows in the sun.  Reminds me of glowworms I’d once seen.  I imagine this green lump hatched from some cocoon in my brain.  It pops out of the soft whites and pinks and browns and purples and greys of the beach.  All of these and then the intriguing green… stone adds interest and mystery to the whole collage.  It’s marvelous because this element changes everything.  Everything, since what it changes is my…mind.  I like it.

Back at my friend’s house I notice what he took home.  Five or six seashells.  Just seashells.  Haha.   He didn’t even notice me hang on to the stone I have now.  Funny how it turned out to be the last one he handed over, this one that I finally kept.  The subject was dropped after that.

I recall another unexceptional green object and my art teacher standing over me, years ago.  “Don’t forget,” he tells me while I struggle to copy a bell pepper resting on my desk.  “If you can’t make the picture look like this pepper, then it means you’re not looking.”  In my memory I look at the dark green pepper and feel afraid that I won’t be able to see it.

Makes sense today, harder to practice.  Forget what’s in my head.  Just look at this right here right now.  What is it?  Not that, over there.  Or in here.  What is this.  Otherwise I’m somewhere else, disconnected.

I’m posting this sign in my mind, right now.  Now this minute, I post it.  There it is, I see it.  When I feel like I don’t want to look or listen or know, when circling back like a vulture to some impaired idea on a dead end road, let me see this verdurous sign in full view on that path and let its words echo.  Go.  Go ahead.

TAKE THIS BEACH GLASS