Finding Irony in a White Sand Dune; or, On Babe’s Beach at Eventide

By Will Watson / July 2017

I left the hotel while I still had enough light to dodge traffic, walking. I carried Dylan Thomas’ Collected Poems, a pen, and a half-sheet of ivory paper across Seawall Boulevard into the turn lane. I paced west, steady, so as to not look like a fool for jaywalking, but I needed to go east so I turned. Much daylight wasted by walking in the wrong directions as the sun was behind the bay now. It didn’t help that the staircases for descending the seawall into the sand below were far enough down Babe’s Beach in either direction to render jaywalking impractical. Oh well.

When I arrived at the proper stairs I descended, and I then realized I no longer wanted to wear my slides. I found a dune against the seawall (and one conspicuous enough that I could identify it later) and buried them at its base, and I walked through the white sand toward the last jetty.

Another white dune ahead some fifty paces, and the clear sea and sky and people chattering in every direction, echoing off the curve of the seawall in inordinate bends, disobeying where my eyes demanded to find the origin of the voices. Ghostish, phantoms in the wet, brown, packed tidal sands.

I stumbled down indianstyle atop this second white dune, stumbled into this stretched moment, and I allowed it to suspend itself for a reason that reveals my own nature: I liked the moment. I talked inwardly with the sea, it speaking much more than I understood in its calm, unceasing wisdom, vast and conquering, but only whispering now. I watched the ships inside of the horizon line prepare to harbor, and I watched the infinitesimal flicker of the oil derricks as they fell below, slowly below, that same line. Everything fading, folding grey against the yawning Daylight, giving her hand to the sharp crescent Moon above the seawall.

But even as the familiar fade and sounds and lights danced, I happened upon irony. When I dug my fingers below the surface of the dune and buried my hands to my wrists, I found the sand hot as daylight. Warmth holding on in the cooling breeze, against the cooling breeze, which pulls and pulls, even more strongly that the laughing, whispering surf. And the people, too, whispering and laughing themselves with the surf even as day fades and cars continue to roar on the boulevard above me.

The irony that the buried sand retained warmth in spite of the southerly night breeze bouncing atop the cool waves. I then sought more irony and found it. There I sat in an ethereal suspension on my dune, inwardly alone in the wild of the coast, but facing the circle of ships and oil derricks in their brawny steel and diesel, and behind me the rush of tourist traffic and hotels and shops still selling and lights and sounds of clangs and industry beyond in the bay, and closer still the chatter of other voices in their own moments, and lights along the jetty. A little boy with a fishing pole disproportionately larger than himself bouncing through the jetty’s lamps, charging evenly in and out of sight as if a Greek soldier with his lance pointing up and out amongst tribal lanterns. The bar above the gulf waters at the end of the jetty is multicolored and soundless but filled with the unheard-to-me sounds of fishermen and those still holding on to their fading moments on the island.

The irony that I have made myself alone in this untainted moment on this white dune, while the creeping fingers and buzz of economy and oil and buying besiege this little piece of Babe’s Beach.

I close my eyes and forget the dune and the beach and the gulf. I ask my daughter to be with me, be with me in the south breeze as it echoes and boils around the curve of the seawall and presses against my western ear, be with me in the warmth below the cool finish of the white dune’s surface sand, be with me in the laughter of the sea and in the kick of the salt smell in the air, be with me in the heaviness of the humid atmosphere that mats my hair, be with me in the dabbed movement of the grey-as-the-water seagulls (the same grey, as if birded windows to some ocean behind the sky), be with me on the sharp edge of the crescent Moonlight as he dances with his belle Sunlight and dips her behind the bay. My daughter is here. I say, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, and Jesus is here, and I ask Jesus to hold my daughter, and I imagine Jesus does. Be with me in my inability to hold her.

I opened my eyes to the dimmest jumping waves, dusted white with foamy spray, and the squawk of hungry gulls just this side of nightfall, and stars had begun to peek through the force of the boulevard’s light. I wrote some things down and read some poems and took to the east before remembering my slides. I unearthed them and headed east once more.

I could walk east to the nearest crosswalk, but I when I approached the jetty I turned around and walked west. I took off my slides and waded calf deep all the way to the western-most crossing, and I ascended and crossed the boulevard and moved back east to the hotel. As I took my rings off in the room I could still feel the warmth of the sub-dune sand, and as I sat still in my bed I could hear the laughter of the surf; warmth and laughter, handing me the stillest hope in the grey of nightfall as I entered my dreams.


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And if you’re ever on Galveston Island, go check out The Spot on Seawall Blvd., just a few blocks west of the Pleasure Pier. The fish tacos are happening.

A Sunset Observed; or, On the Familiar Fade of Vesper Lights

By Will Watson / July 2017

Here is the sunset.

I sit and watch the fading trace of a pale blue dome behind feathery clouds form into streaked golden arms of dusty and bright flames, all still wholly lit as the white-hot star, tinged meadow-gold like the goldenrod Crayolas we all used to fight over, melts behind an empty brick house that stands against the wooded horizon and hills to my west. It happens so quickly. Next comes the pink dance of the earthbound dust that hovers amongst all that lives. We know this dust well: it can be seen when the sun’s infinite beam handles its way through a kitchen window, strong enough to castthe smallest shadows on swirling particles we never would otherwise see. But this dust is out there above the trees, too, and it slows the advance of the white and drawing vesper lights as they bend through the air and gives rise to a pink and purple swell, rising Godward and falling meward, and twisting and moving through the blackening trees, blacker now to me since the sun-source has stumbled behind them, and the sky becomes paler as it descends to a slack green ahead of its coming divide. My east puts forth the reaching stars while the west burns toward a pearly ivory, and the distant black silhouettes of pine trees reach upward into the remaining dimness of day. I have no reserve saying that there is a divide; evening does not so much fade to night, but rather night approaches from my east and floats in its echoing, buzzing strings toward the western horizon where all sky is ultimately united in blackness, and as dots of iced starlight drizzle forward to meet me as I gaze.

Julianne’s Sunset. This was right after her half-birthday on March 16, 2017. We sent lanterns to her with messages of love.

 

And it is beneath this blackness – blanketing or opaque depending on its moon – that I muse about gravity and the ripple the earth and sun cause in space and time, causing chunks of space to spiral around us, falling butnever arriving. I know it is mass that creates this wild swirl, and those massive enough can even swirl time and light beneath the realm of knowing. Permanence.

And I must wonder how I, too, bend space and time selfward. Am I not mass? And do I bend light around my own being? And all that has ever been or happend regarding me, could it have been by virtue of my own intrinsic bend?

Who knows what part any of us play beneath this heavy sky. But the evening reminds me that the same colors and cloud dances and white specks of starlight and objects of black mass and the pulsing sun will meet me tomorrow, and I will welcome them.


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Verbs of My Grief: Or, On the Flatness of Language in the Wake of Loss

By Will Watson / July 2017

Shake. An ant falls to the hot concrete in the shade of the hot metal carport. Fold. Stack on the dog-chewed arm of the Adirondack chair. Unfold another. Shake. Two ants. Fold again. Stack.

I have to repeat it exactly 42 times, and I have to be religious about it. There’s no good way to get ants out of a stack of boxed hand-me-down infant clothes except to unfold; shake loose the ants; fold; stack; repeat.

They are my daughter’s clothes. They were never worn, and they are being returned to her aunt and to her two cousins from whom they were borrowed.

I am angry at the ants. They disturbed my daughter’s room, finding a home in the corner of her closet amongst the small and pink clothes in the laundry basket that I have been halfway searching for for awhile and had forgotten about. They burrowed in the head and foot of the crib that an old man from our former church had crafted for her older brother, notching small holes and tunnels into the soft wood, and it is ruined. It would have been her day bed.

I am angry at the clothes. I shake them, and I uncover a leotard (I guess that’s what it’s called) with a gold design that says: Daddy Loves Me, or something to that tune. And I shake it violently, fold it, stack it. I pause and watch the ants spraying across the ground, and I crush a big one beneath my toe. I hate that these would have been her clothes.

Would have been. A phrase that implies a contrast, that begs for it, calling forth an open causeway of negations. But. However. She would have been, yet: she was not.

We are clearing out what would have been her nursery to make room for her little brother, who will be here in September. He will be here. But her life would have been: an umbilical cord accident one week shy of her due date brought me to this task of chasing off fire ants.

But I’m never sure which verbs to use to describe my daughter’s state of being. Perhaps she was not would have been. Instead, maybe she was. And my eldest son is, and my son in the womb is. Or maybe they all are since they are all our children despite life or death and the path either of those have forced me down. This is the tragedy of language: it restricts and is bound by the ugly push of time, and verbs can only be past, present, or future. Never can they be all-encompassing, and so they never can claim perfect accuracy. Or, I have not yet found one to do so.

But past: I remember the shock and thrill of finding out my wife was pregnant with our daughter. I remember hearing her little beating heart and eschewing the idea that her heart rate could tell us anything about her gender. But I guessed girl, and I was right. We picked the name Julianne Rachel for her, both names connected in various ways to family members dropped at different points across space and time. We established her nursery, bought things for it, took a strange drive to a trailer park in Tyler to pick up furnishings for it. My brother and I even painted her dresser and crib together.

I remember how my wife felt her kick on a Wednesday in September, and how she stopped feeling her on a Thursday, and we didn’t allow our minds to “go there” on the way to the doctor’s office on Friday morning, and the doctor told us, “I’m sorry guys, but I’m just not getting a heartbeat,” and we couldn’t move well in our shock. But I made myself forego the paralysis when I dented the car in rage, knuckle marks to this day memorializing the deep sorrow I’ve come to know.

On verbs, I don’t think would have been would be proper or accurate in her regard. It posits a falsehood: Julianne would have been implies that she had not yet attained the dignity of humanity. But read above: when we celebrated the news of my wife’s pregnancy, Julianne was is. In hearing her heartbeat and feeling her kick, she was is. When we named her and celebrated her gender reveal, she was is. A present member of our family, so close to us and real and alive, so celebratedly human and dignified from the beginning, if anything because we heard her heart beating and wondered at our own hearts and how they might beat along with hers. How on earth, then, could we call her would have been? If anything, she is and was.

But she did not become was until that poor weekend in September, and even then she still maintained her is. We held her. We looked at her small face and features and tried to figure out who she looked like. We rocked her in the delivery room chair. We laughed some in her presence, and we cried and mourned her. We still do these things. And these are things that we only do for humans who are. Thus would have been is offensively insufficient language. She is and was.

Of course, though, describing her as is fails as well. If she were is, I would not be shaking ants out of infant clothes. I would not have memorialized my grief by denting the car door. Yet I’m not sure that I can disregard is entirely. She somehow abides in my memory and in the pressure I feel in the bottom of my throat and at the front of my chest when I think of her and travel backward to the moments I shared with her before and after she was stillborn. I cannot see purple things without feeling her, and I sense her life somehow in the falling of leaves, though I cannot say why. She’s present in my son’s face and in the kicks of her little brother. Somehow, she exists in a strange location between is and was. As something fully past and concretely present.

As well, I know there exists the hope of will be, but I only say this because I know I have to. I certainly do not feel it today. I know she will be made right at the end of it. Her stolen life will be ransomed by Christ. There will be a day when I see her breathing and alive and brand new. But in all honesty, that hope does not abide with me because I must unfold; shake loose the ants; fold; stack; repeat. I can only trust this hope in a solid, wooden kind of way, a knowing rather than an emotive confidence. Tomorrow may be different. But ants and a basket of clothes make it difficult today.

I can feel the sting of was between each ant and each little piece of unworn clothing. But when I finish and go inside, I see my son, and I see his mother and the evidence of the little boy forming within her, and I feel Julianne’s sweet abiding pressure at the front of my chest. And somehow, in this moment, verb tenses–was, is, will be, would have been, was being, will be being, has been–defy their nature in a way that verbs are usually too weak to reckon: they are all mysteriously one spherical, eternal, all-encompassing tense.

And all I can do is be. I don’t know how to make sense of most of this, but so goes grief and its slanted cycles.


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The Return

Friends…

The Will Watson Blog is back! In 2015, I dipped my toe into the world of blogging and enjoyed every bit of it. However, as I grew into a new job and began to explore and grow into my role as a father and husband, I dropped the ball and let the old site float around in an internet graveyard until I finally took it offline.

Not anymore.

From what I gathered, those of you who subscribed to my original blog enjoyed it! I certainly enjoyed allowing my creative juices to flow, and I definitely enjoyed conversing with many of you about the things I wrote. So I’ve decided to make my return to the blogosphere.

One mistake I made with the old blog was pigeonholing my theme. I wanted to write about Texas–and I still do!–but I found myself running out of things to say after awhile. Plus, I also wanted to write about being a dad, Jesus and the Bible, small town life, coping with stress, books, poetry, the great outdoors, teaching at a public school, social and political issues, and the Lord knows what else! I couldn’t do that with a narrowly themed blog.

This time, I’m keeping the categories as wide as the Texas sky (there’s some Lone Star content!), at least for now. Eventually, I’ll see what you all have enjoyed most from my blog and use that to be a bit more specific and thus grow my readership. Until then, though, expect an article about a day in the classroom to be followed by an article covering my musings in general relativity.

With that, I’m giving myself a few rules:

First, I’ll create at least one blog a week by Thursday midnight. Some weeks could see two or three, but I’m not going to demand any more of myself than once a week. I’m really busy (I have a full-time job, a part-time job, a seat on the City Council, a family, masters degree work, and a yard to mow), and I previously allowed overzealousness regarding my blog to burn me out as I tried to balance it with other responsibilities. One 500-or-so-word post each week is reasonable, and I won’t lose my sanity and give up with that kind of quota.

Second, and to reiterate, I won’t pigeonhole my theme, at least not at first. Expect variety for now and for the extended future.

Third, I will keep you in the loop. If you’re reading this post in the week or two after I originally published it, you’ve probably been personally asked to subscribe to my blog-related emails. Down the road, you’ll have to sign up via the subscribe bar at the top of the page. Regardless, with each post there will be an accompanying email so that you don’t have to forget about checking in each week.

These rules are more for my sanity than anything else, but they’ll also keep me accountable. I love writing, and I want to do more of it, and when I was blogging regularly two years ago I felt like I was doing what I was meant to do. Who knows, maybe this will turn into something bigger than I could’ve ever expected? We’ll see.

Until then, I just ask for your support and patience as I get this thing off the ground! I’m excited to be embarking on this great crusade (there’s some semi-political World War II-era content!).

Will Watson

Grapeland, Texas

Summer 2017

P.S. A lot of this is thanks to the inspiration of Jeff Goins.


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