Five Hundred Words a Day: Sailor

Painted in white on a pane of glass is this phrase: a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. I pause, as if to take a photograph, but instead walk on and write these seven words down. It’s what I needed, I think, and it reminds me of my soul sister who spent years painting and mapping her own internal sea. It reminds me of the seaside, which I’ve been thinking about for a few weeks since I learnt that I was leaving. I want to go to the seaside, and here is a reminder of my country’s sea: rocky, washing brown and grey on a pebble shore or gritty sand beach, cold and mountainous and bracing. A sea which makes skilled sailors. What I take with me is the knowledge of three decades navigating a sea, surrounded by a sea and the strange inner world that develops with being an islander, being an island. One writer writes about the stories of an archipelago; another writes how we are nothing like islands. But here, a truth to consider: we are very much like islands, very much like small speckles of land dropped into a wide and unknowing, uncaring ocean. We’re given a fleshy set of valleys and hills to carry around with us in this sea, occasionally bumping into other islands, fishing boats, schools of coral fish, white birds, trawlers, singing whales. Living as an island hooped by a crashing and wailing sea is the way of becoming a skilled sailor. All at once we are the sailor, and the sea, and the island, and the careening seagull far above and a plankton floating past a giant eye and a tube with no face waggling in a hot current as it has done for a hundred thousand million years. Our skill is to become all of these things and none of these things, as a sailor plants her feet on wooden boards and bends her joints in time with the huff of the wave. Bending your joints and huffing as a sea shanty echoes around you, as you revisit seven white words painted on a pane of glass. What does this sea feel like for me? I would like to say it is a tropical ocean and we can all enjoy that, but as my own fear of the sea on this physical plane manifests itself even in those warm, clear-colour gold heartbeats, so does the sea of my spiritual plane. The black water is there, always, a cup of ink and a cheery coaster balanced over the rim. The black water sings out to me in a low whale song, a song of ease and tubes without faces, a song of dissolution. It is a sweet song and the sea there is calmer still. But a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor, I say to myself, a skilled sailor is never made by a smooth sea, and I long to be the sailor, feet planted, swaying with the huff of the wave, I yearn for that creaking knowledge far more than a dark little mirror reflecting an ancient, eyeless skin.