This wasn’t meant to be my first post.
That was supposed to be something joyous and inspiring, something hopeful. It was meant to mark the first of many such posts that would take my new readers on a journey with me, where they would care and share my joy.
It would not be the same as every other project that I start in my mind and talk myself out of before it’s had a chance to take flight.
My first post should have been a month ago. Over the last weeks I should have been telling you about the people I have met and the stories I have heard, and about the work I have done to make one small beach hut habitable and mine.
I could, as I usually do, beat myself up for this delay and for the missed opportunities. A whole month’s worth of people, happenings and change that I have not recorded. I could do that and, as I usually do, make myself sick with self-loathing. I could do that and talk myself into such a funk that I go another month and another without saying anything and storing up stories that never get told. I could do that, and focus on the pain that exists in the gap between who I want to be and who I am.
Or I could let that all go. I could be honest – with myself and with anyone who cares to read this – about how hard it is to put myself out there and make myself public. And then I could stop looking backwards, get off my ass and do it anyway.
Yesterday was a month to the day since I got the keys for Beach Hut 123. I started the process with all the enthusiasm of a serial-enthusiast. I spent a week clearing it out, another week airing and cleaning and painting. Another week researching materials, costs, and driving around every timber merchant in East Sussex.
Somewhere amongst all that I spent time talking to people, listening to stories about beach hut life and other life; about history – recent and personal, and histories from long ago.
All the time, I was photographing every element of the hut and its history as it was revealed to me. The extraordinary Caribbean cruise murals. Peeling back ancient and mouldy hardboard to find a date “1959” etched into the timbers. Pulling out the rotten kitchen to find an inexplicable hatch in the floor. Despairing as, after taking out damp and smelly old carpet tiles and linoleum, a hairy, sticky mess was left on the floor. And then the joy of discovering that just a little water and elbow grease would lift that mess and reveal the most beautiful floorboards. Wondering at the construction of the roof – the odd sections in which it was built and the rusted pulleys that appeared to serve no purpose. And then talking to the previous owner but one and hearing that another owner before him had been a star-gazer who opened up the roof so he could sit with his telescope on the mezzanine level and watch the stars.
And then I spent a week hating myself for how little I’d done; on the hut, on work, on everything else I was “supposed” to be doing. Hating myself for the time I’d spent doing something just for me. Hating myself for thinking anyone could ever be interested in something so self-indulgent as the documenting of a minor-renovation project. Hating myself for turning into one of the many creative people I know who are crippled by their own demons before they ever make the first step towards making an idea reality; people I love who, instead of releasing the creative ideas that bubble out of them, squash them and turn them to a festering internal sludge that poisons instead of nourishes them. And worst and most of all – hating myself for the time I was wasting hating myself.
Yesterday, I realised I had had the hut for a month and that I was doing everything I could to sabotage the joy that that should have given me.
I determined to change that. To write the first post. Just for me and no one else. To document the process to date and sort out the hundreds of photos. Starting with the photos. I turned on my computer. And couldn’t find them. I had backed up the memory card on the Bank Holiday and cleared it off, ready for one of Hasting’s big events of the year – “Jack in the Green”. I had happily photographed and wandered through that day, oblivious to the fact that every shot I took was written over my precious hut history.
I felt sick.
I searched my computer using every tool I know, I Googled and panicked my way through the Internet. The recovery software I have been meaning to buy for ten years would have to be sent by post. I could not wait that long. I found an alternative tool, tried running it on the memory card to see if any of the images had not yet been over-written. It found something and then crashed before I could see what it was. I tried again and it crashed again. I tried once more and left it running. I walked away and went down to the beach to scream into the wind.
Yesterday was a wild and windy one. There is no escaping the weather here. When the wind blows, you feel every bluster. When it rains, you get properly and completely wet. There is no hiding. I love it. I also love that so few people go out in the worst of the weather. I can have an entire beach to myself. Those few hardy souls who do venture out have an air of gritty, determined enjoyment. You may never speak, but the exhilarated grins and unembarrassed outstretched arms tell you that you are near a kindred spirit.
Being that close to nature in the raw is a great source of perspective. It is something I have, at different points in my life, been very close to. At other times, I have felt disconnected from it and it does me no good. Walking yesterday cleared not just cobwebs but some thoroughly entrenched sludge. Ultimately, nothing we do on this planet means much at all. We may as well make the most of the short time we have.
I am as close as I have ever been to living the life I’ve dreamed of. By the sea. Love in my life. The work that I need. And the freedom and space to create and work on my own projects. Maybe it is exactly the fact that I am where I want to be that stops me enjoying this time.
So, this is it. Raw and vulnerable. I’ve practised for many years not being vulnerable – listening to the external voices that told me I was too emotional, too open and left myself open to hurt – and internalising those voices. Enough.
The anxiety that comes from thinking, “what will people say?” and the horror stories we tell ourselves far outweigh the reality. Just because we think something, doesn’t make it true. And if someone else really doesn’t like it, so what? It’s not up to anyone else to tell us who we are or who we should be.
If I cannot recover any of the photos, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I will be free from the burden of having to organise and catalogue every image. Instead, I will be free to move forward, unencumbered by what-I-should-have-done-earlier and make this what it will be now. I am also being brave, biting the bullet, and every other vulnerability cliche out there, and putting this out for more than just me to read. Creating for yourself is one thing, but I truly believe that creativity is a community event. An important part of telling a story is having someone to listen.
And that’s what I want this to be. Not just the story of one person and their beach hut. But the story of the beach hut itself, of all 200+ beach huts, and of their owners, past and present. And other stories too, from the wider area and from further back in history. There are a thousand stories to be told in just this one small area.
Maybe by the time my computer has finished churning through the recovery process, I’ll be so in-the-zen-moment I won’t want any of the photos it finds. Maybe.