12 May 2020

#52writing cards: Prompts from Shaun Levin's Writing Maps - no. 8


A version of this prompt appears on the Write by the Sea Writing Map illustrated by Fathima Kathrada.
The beaches I've been to worldwide.
I. 
As much as I love the sea, I've only been to a few beaches ... lots of coastlines and walking along shores, certainly, but I don't count it as going to a beach unless I'm directly on the sand and dipping my toes in the water.

I can only go by what I can remember, but I'm pretty sure my very first beach ever was Long Beach in New York City, since I'm originally from New York (Queens). That means at a very, very young age I got to swim in the Atlantic Ocean. There was even a time when we'd visit my godparents in Connecticut and they'd take us out on the houseboat on the water, and we'd go swimming there, too...but I don't remember where that was, so it's not on the map.

When we moved to Ohio when I was five, there was no longer the access to the sea, so the next best thing was Lake Erie or the local reservoirs close to the area I grew up in.

The beaches in Ohio and New York.

In Ohio near my hometown, that meant Charles Mill Lake and Clear Fork Reservoir, although between the two we actually swam at Charles Mill and I think only walked around the Clear Fork area. I've never been swimming in Lake Erie, but did a lot of goofing off in the sand and dipping my feet and legs in, but most of all riding on boats.

I never swam in Wales (Tenby and Swansea) or in Japan (Ashikita, Karatsu, Kabe Island, and Izumo) -- I just rolled my pant legs up and walked on in.

The thing about being a girl, and being a woman, too, is that you learn to hate your body. When you're a child, you don't notice so much -- your body is chubby and a bit on the androgynous side just like all the other kids -- but once you hit puberty, men didn't seem to care how old I was. I remember being twelve, fourteen, seventeen...and stared at and getting lewd gestures. You see, by the time I was thirteen I pretty much hit my adult height, give or take an inch or half (I'm 5'10), but the thing was, even though my body was changing I was still a freaking child and that should have been very obvious.

When I had an athletic dancer's body, I hated wearing a bathing suit because I hated other people seeing me. And when I had a curvy body, then later a fat body, I hated wearing a bathing suit because I hated seeing myself.

The last time I swam at a proper beach was age 18. The last time I swam in a pool was age 22. At the time of writing this I'll be turning 37 in July.

That's a long time to be hating yourself.

II. 

The place where I hit the most seaside towns had to be the UK. It's helpful when you're just a giant island! I lived a semester abroad in Wales - so about five months - and got to do a lot of travelling as part of the exchange program, so that meant a giant tour of Wales's famous historical and culturally significant places, and that's how I got to visit places like Swansea, Tenby, and Aberystwyth.

The beaches in Wales. 



 I'll always remember my sister and I walking around the Mumbles at Swansea and checking out Oystermouth castle, and I remember when one of my friends from high school visited me and I took her out to roughly the same area in Swansea. We rolled up our pants, stuck our feet in the sea, and sang "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid because we were giant dorks.

Aberystwyth's sea was a brief experience because the ocean out there is fierce and wild, and has taken many lives and swept people away. I didn't technically walk into the sea because I took that warning very seriously. But I got to the edge of the lookout as far as I could and got splashed when the water hit the rocks; and I did walk along the sand next to the pier, so that visit counts to me. Aberystwyth on the whole looks like it's from another time -- it's an old college town and the seaside, with its resorts and pubs, give off a warm, cozy feeling.

Out of all the seaside towns I've been to, though, Tenby is my favorite. I've written about Tenby before here and here. It even inspired the city of Mariner in my graduate thesis novel, The Name and the Key. There's a medieval stone wall that still runs around the city; there are nearby islands like St. Catherine's, which you can see right from the beach (technically within walking distance, though the water covers the way); you can catch a small boat to Caldey Island, home of a Cistercian monastery; and there's plenty of quaint shops, pubs, and pastel-painted buildings along the quay.

III. 

When it comes to remote islands, Japan is the place to be. But even so, islands that seem remote aren't exactly empty, because they're home to the kami, and you can almost always see a torii gate somewhere, as islands are venerated in Shinto.

One of my favorite prefectures to visit in Kyushu is Saga, and its city of Karatsu. While Karatsu Castle and Yuri on Ice! are probably two of its most famed contributions, I love it for Nijinomatsubara Pine Forest, which was built along the sea as a natural defensive wall and home to 1 million black Japanese pines. I also love the beaches there, of course -- the water is a brilliant turquoise and home to some of the warmest water I've had the pleasure of stepping into.
The beaches in Japan.

My absolute favorite place in Karatsu has to be Kabe Island. Just before you reach Kabe Island, there's a walkway under the bridge where you can find Bentenjima - a tiny, remote island named for the kami Benzaiten, the goddess of things that flow - and it's one of the places I feel is truly a "power spot," as my fellow Japanese like to call sacred spaces.

If you continue along the bridge and actually cross to Kabe Island, you can reach another beautiful shrine -- Tashima (sometimes spelled Tajima) Shrine, home of one of the Sayohime myths and the giant stone she turned into waiting for her loved one's return across the sea.

Whenever I mention these places to others, no one seems to know about them. They feel all the more special to me because I find them just randomly exploring them on my own.

There is another Bentenjima along the beach in Izumo that's a pretty popular tourist spot for photographs...I don't know how they managed to build a torii up on this vertical rock...but because it's often quite crowded, I don't get the "power spot" vibe so much. Nonetheless I still said "hello" to Benzaiten in Izumo anyway. She's a patron goddess of the arts and creativity, so I'd like to be on good terms with her, considering I'm a writer and all -- I need my words to flow!

IV. 

I can't easily find connections between these places because they all seem so vastly different from each other. The beaches in America feel...touristy and "normal" in that there doesn't seem to be anything special that stands out to me. The beaches in Wales are places where it feels like you can touch history; meanwhile the beaches in Japan are places where myth becomes tangible.
Photo by Matt Hardy on Unsplash


The only common strain I see with all of them is that I have only been to beaches in the countries or states I've lived in. I don't seem to seek out beaches for their own sake; if they happen to be nearby or there's something quite famous about them, then I'll stop by if it's convenient. However, I've always enjoyed myself immensely every time, so I do think I'm a child of the sea in a way. It calms me. I love the sound and the smell, and I could stay there forever.

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