Welcome. This blog site places before you a remarkable man, Charles Beck, an artist and teacher. This monthly series of stories begins by describing Charlie’s ways of being in the world, through my encounters with Charlie in the last decade of his life first as my colleague, then mentor and finally or rather for ever as my dearest friend. Year two of this blog expands to include my own hopefully and enduringly perspectives on art, on teaching and of a certain slant on life inflected by Charlie. ~ Peter London

Not Necessarily a Bad Day

" . . . everything was already there."  ~ Peter

Not necessarily a bad day but a full one. An hour meeting with a departmental colleague went as well as could be expected.  Still towards the end I noticed that my mind was drifting away from my heart (again) and I was feeling slightly dizzy and empty. Right after that I spent more than half an hour reading my email, campus mail, U.S. mail and listening to my voice mail. I taught a class- that's always nice, I mean that. In the hall I had a pleasant enough conversation with Harvey about the under use of a classroom. I signed some registration cards for two students who were waiting for me back in my office. I wanted to leave by two, but after this and that, finally got out at three thirty. I could have stopped to speak to a student at the elevator but took the stairs instead. It was still nice out but this being early December, I only had an hour before sunset. I had a number of things to prepare for tomorrow, but I was so thirsty for a walk on the beach that I decided to go anyway. It's only a half hour's drive.

When I got there, I parked in a different place than usual, closer to the water so I could start walking right away. I had my school cloths on, but I just didn't want to go home first, then change, then, then, then. Just go to the beach for a walk. By my self.

The sun was a yard from setting; of course nobody else was out. Cold but no wind so I was dressed all right. I started out, the sun and water to my right, the sloping beach and slight dunes to my left, in front of me a long stretch of beach that hooked to a rocky point. It was already getting dark in the east over Cape Cod. In that direction the world was made up of three bands; a thick and textured gray-blue one, that was the ocean, an intense thin gray one, that was the Cape, a very wide one that started out deep gray,  then went pale blue, that was the sky. Covered with the grime of many small events of my day, I buttoned my top button and started out.

I wasn't going to relate the following but then I read a poem by Hafiz in which he wrote, 

So I'll go on with my own true story. Stepping alone on to the beach, the low slung sun spread a rosy glow over the rutted sand, salt marsh grasses and drifts of shells. But the sand and grasses and shells was not a landscape. This was different. (How many times have we heard that before?)

But it was different. I rushed through the day in order to take a walk on the beach. I hadn't been out for a couple of days, the weather finally turned nice, and I simply wanted to get outside, get some fresh air, be by myself, take a little walk. So I was as surprised as perhaps you are as you read this, that after taking only a step or two things changed. "It" became "she". The sand the grasses the shells the knots of seaweed the small waves lapping at the wet edge of the sand, became to me the unsurprising features of, well, (remember how crazy Hafiz was!) my lover. Please understand, it wasn't "as if", the beach was, she was, my lover. Search as I have for a more accurate term to describe the relationship; friend, dear companion, secret sharer, and so on, as nonsensical as even I know it to be, I experienced in the clearest, non extraordinary way the beach as my lover. Although we had met many times before and none of her features were unfamiliar to me, prior to this moment the beach and all its artifacts remained just that, a beach with nice things to look at, pick up, chuck away. I think we were both taken aback for a moment by this turn of events, but almost immediately we both seemed to accommodate to our new relationship. At the time it seemed no big deal. Nobody was watching, we could be who we were.

As it turned out she had been going about her affairs all day just as I had mine. When I arrived, not even changing out of my school clothes, there she was. Waiting, not impatiently, just waiting. I said, " My God, you are so beautiful". [This being literature of a sort, I know that I ought to use a more original, more poetic word than "beautiful", but that is what I said and this is a true story.] When I said this, in response she showed more of herself to me. I saw that the rosy sand was dimpled with violet lines. I saw sea clams pale blue, mussel shells, a stout iron hoop, eel grass entwined, a busted whelk showing it's spiral orange interior, tracks of gulls, sand pipers, mice, arcs of dune grasses, small, mostly gray drifts of pebbles, wider swells of pink barnacles in long chains humping each other...  This doesn't sound beautiful? To me it did. I thought the pink marsh grass spouting up in large bundles, pulsing now and then in the shore breezes was beautiful. I thought the long violet shadows cast by rocks and things across the now lilac sand was beautiful.

I thought that where everything was, in heaps, mounds, drifts, layers, plaids, sprinkles, and dots, and how they got there by being swept, blown, dragged, smeared, folded, twisted, buried, pounded, perfect. Nothing appeared out of place or in poor taste. I had no urge to rearrange anything, make something clever, more telling, nicer. I had no desire to express myself, to work the crowd, to do art. I did walk to the end of the point but I could have just stood where I happened to be because everything was already there. I didn't have to do anything.

Or be anyone. I didn't feel obliged to introduce myself, say what I did for a living, make excuses for why I was late, or why I would be leaving early. I didn't bring anything. 

I felt I had come home to my other family, the one nobody else knew about. It was not a bad secret, just our secret. I just said I had come home to my other family. It was not like that. I had no role in this other family, I was not a father or a husband. No one depended on me, expected me, called me, I had no place at the table that was mine alone. Still, I felt I could have laid down, looked my fill, fallen asleep right in the middle of everything and nothing would be bothered. Everything would go on doing what it had been doing, and when I awoke whenever that might be, everything would still be going smoothly, only now there would be stars and everything would be cloaked in night shades, doing what they do at night.

The sun sank lower still. From where I was standing, the sun goes right into the water. I watched until it did. 
                              Everyone stayed at the beach except me; 
                  the big rocks in the water, 
                                               the seagulls, 
                              the purple clouds and some stars, 
                                       the entire stretch of beach all the way to the point,
             the drifts of shells and seaweed, 
                                  the marsh grasses and the small waves chopping pebbles.

~ Peter London

1 comment:

  1. peter, have you stopped writing? I enjoy these ramblings, and they inspire me. I often talk to my plants, especially the lovelies in the greenhouse, that grow so tall and lushly. I likened it to a queendom. such magnificence, such thick beauty. They love it when I talk like that. I don't know how I know, but I do. I am always thankful when year after year, they return.
    HOpe to see more writings on your blog, it's been a few years.


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