Brushing It Off

By -

I’ve decided to start my novel again.

Although I’ve written dozens of books, and even a screenplay, I’ve never written a novel in my life. Some months ago, I made an earnest attempt to write one. As I started the second chapter, I got cold feet. I was worried I simply couldn’t do it. So I set it aside for a long while.

But I’ve decided to take another stab at it. It’s utterly unfamiliar territory to me, and there sheer organization of the thing is what I’ve been grappling with tonight.

I’ll share with you the one page the precedes even the first chapter. It is a simple vignette, and it is in no way directly related to the content of the book. But perhaps sharing this tiny morsel will give me the courage or incentive to press on. I have a lot to say in this book. I just don’t know if I have the talent to say it properly.

20,000 B.C.

A warm breeze weaved its way through the palm fronds of the southernmost island. The beach, populated by massive boulders and ribbons of sand, was pulsing with life, as terns, coconut crabs, and white-tailed birds moved about and sought their morning meal. Where the land met the sea, the mangroves seemed to hover over the surface, their roots plunging into the shallow water, with small fish darting around the roots and pebbles.

Farther out in the water, beyond the beach, and past the long, shallow slope of sand, the coral began. Staghorn, elkhorn, and sea fans rose from the seabed, and the abundance of colorful sea life navigated the coral forest with ease. The grinding noise of dozens of parrotfish, each of them engaged in the ceaseless act of nibbling algae off the hardened calcium, was the only sound in this otherwise silent world. 

Red and black sea urchins were anchored to nearby rocks, and sea turtles, most over a meter wide, pushed their flippers behind them, gliding out toward deeper waters. A school of angelfish fluttered by, the iridescent blue streaks across their vivid yellow bodies creating another swirl of colors in the chaotic and kaleidoscopic scene.

In a much later age, using languages not yet invented, this lively seascape would have been described as a paradise; a heaven on Earth whose sights and sensations would invoke cravings for adventure in any person. The entire reef of the archipelago was awash in blue, pink, white, green, and red, and wrapped in sunlight, creating a sense of peace and possibility.

To the creatures there, of course, no such thoughts of paradise would have any meaning. The moray eels, hiding like sock puppets in whatever crevices they could find, the vivid neon nudibranchs undulating near the ocean floor, and the occasional octopus shooting by had neither the capacity nor any reason for such a thought. This pleasant reef was all they knew, and all they need ever know.

Merely thirty feet farther, the flamboyant hues and hundreds of shapes of sea life gave way to a brown and grey emptiness. A small, round stone lay on the seafloor, coated with brown moss. A few feet away was another stone, similarly shaped, and similarly adorned with dullness. And another. And yet another. And so it went, for almost the entirety of the 140 million square miles of ocean covering the planet. A ceaseless progression of the unremarkable, the unseen, and the drab. 

Yet for those precious few inhabitants swirling around the rainbow rocks in the warm, shallow waters of the Seychelles, the alien depths of the ordinary ocean might as well have been another world altogether. One did not know the other. Yet every creature on the reef innately knew it was already exactly where it wanted to be and living precisely as it wanted to live.