Thursday, 4 June 2015

Between Sky and Land, Sand and Sea

by Jeanette O'Hagan

At the Crossways

An author’s date snatched between appointments.
I point my aqua Laser toward the closest stretch of salt water
navigating on memory, road signs and intuition
pulling up when I catch the silvery glitter of sun's light on rippled surface.
Two unexpected treasures (re-)discovered,
eliciting memory like an unexpected gift -
by the road, the Full Moon Hotel, scene of my 50th celebrations
and, glimpsed at the base of the cliffs
the Victorian Gothic building conjuring its inner city cousin
where I said “I do” 26 years and one day earlier.

I walk back along the road
looking for a way down
flashes of white between the grey-green of trees
red-ochre tin roof slants in four directions
white clapboard, pristine and pretty, rose windows,
a miniature gothic spire spearing heavenward.

Descending the steep path beside an ant highway
birds and butterflies embroidering the faint breeze
the boisterous cries of enclosed preschoolers playing
counterpoint to cicadas, bird calls, the roar of cars,  
above planes and a helicopter traced the skyways
with raucous chatter.

I venture out on the tidal flats
past the church now kindergarten
the growl of motors and voices
fade away
in the
of cloud smudged
mud-brown sand
salt water.

Rippled strand stretches out like canvas
snaking through fingers of cloud-mirrored water
marked with life tracks and water currents,
sea-water trapped
in lagoons dimpled by shells
and small rocky sentinels,
reflecting back a woman on a mobile and her dog
other stray walkers,
reflecting back me.

The lullaby wind carries the sharp, briny aroma of sea things
and the susurration of pygmy waves fingering the sand,
bringing the tide in with soft gasps and gurgles.
White cotton candy clouds merge
into the grey-blue smudge of sky and sea.

On the way back to the crossways
between sky and land, sand and sea
- the phone’s battery life draining, technology failing
sun hot on skin, sweat stinging eyes and muscles humming -
the white building sits at the junction
focal point, seemingly silent and serene
its image reflecting in the rippling waters
singing divine echoes
the beauty capturing me.

Jeanette O’Hagan 28 March 2015
(Author’s date on 26 March 2015)

The last unit of my course I’ve been pursuing over the last three years, focused on understanding and sustaining creativity as writers. Among other things, we were urged to keep our inspirational wells full (as suggested by Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way). We looked at various ways of doing this such as journaling, imaginative exercises, creative word play, dabbling in different media, reading – and artist’s dates.

'The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly “artistic”– think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play.' Julia Cameron

For the exercise for week 4 (Creative Play) I decided on an artist’s date. I was writing a short story set on an island. Time-strapped and with a full hour’s travel to a surf beach, sea cliffs or lighthouse (depicted in my story), I headed instead to my nearest stretch of salt water at Sandgate, a bayside suburb of Brisbane. In the one hour window of time available, I walked, used my senses, took photos, and made voice and sound recordings.

It was an exhilarating experience despite a low grade dose of sunburn, a flat battery and, the discovery that most of my whispered reflections didn’t actually record. Still, I took home a wealth of impressions, images, emotions – the pub and the church; the expanse of sky, sand and sea; the bold birds; flowers; the tracks in the sand; shells (including a sea cone – Turritella); and a numinous feeling of blurred borders, of the vastness and beauty of God’s creation. None of this was overtly relevant to the opening scene of my short story.

What took me by surprise was how the unexpected find of the (former) church building dominated my experience – from the moment I caught sight of it like a gift between the trees, as I walked past it and as I walked back towards it and the mundane world beyond, how it stood at the junction of “sky and land, sand and sea”. While it was hard to express in words, this white clapboard building became a symbol of how my homage to God, how God himself, is at the crux of my creativity – intersecting the sacred with the profane; the finite and temporal with the infinite, eternal God who became human, lived, died and rose again in our midst.

Mudflats aren’t quite sea cliffs and there wasn’t a lighthouse to be seen - but I hoped to evoke this feeling of immensity and wonder in my short story. Driving to my next appointment, I knew I’d be incorporating artist's dates into my schedule as a regular thing.

Jeanette has recently had a short story published in the general market Tied in Pink Anthology  (profits from the anthology go towards Breast Cancer research) . She has practiced medicine, studied communication, history and theology and has taught theology.  She is currently caring for her children, in her final unit of post-graduate studies in writing at Swinburne University and writing her Akrad's fantasy fiction series.  You can read some of her short fiction here

You can find her at her Facebook Page or webistes or Jeanette O'Hagan Writes .

Images:  c Jeanette O'Hagan 2015 (All rights reserved)


  1. Some lovely imagery in your poem Jenny. And glad to hear how much you got out of your artist's date. I started reading The Artist's Way at Christmas (was one of my presents) and I was really enjoying it. But I found I had so much to process by the time I got to Ch 4, that I needed to pause for a while and reflect. I had every intention of going on an artist's date, but somehow it got pushed aside. Thanks for the reminder of how important it is to take that time to replenish the creativity well.

    Hearing how the Sandgate location could still inspire your story (in terms of atmosphere etc) even though it wasn't exactly the same, also struck a chord with me. I'm currently writing a novel set in Nova Scotia, and even though I've been there, I would love to go back to pick up details I need now. However, there are still things I can do here. For example, some scenes are set in an antique shop, so I can still go to antique shops here to get a sense of smells, textures etc. Thanks for the reminder that we sometimes just have to think outside the box :)

  2. Thanks Nola :) There are (overseas) places I'd love to travel to for the sake of my fiction - but can't see that happening in the near future. As you say, there other ways to experience something similar or transferable. It's also easy for the busyness of life to crowd - I'd certainly recommended taking some time out to replenish the well. What I found is that it doesn't have to be a whole day.

  3. Really enjoyed reading about your 'Artist's Date', Jeanette. I'm very partial to Julia Cameron's book 'The Artist's Way' though, so I'm a bit biased! I loved your reflections on the old clapboard church at Sandgate too--very apt. I know that area quite well from my childhood, so that made it interesting for me as well.

    1. Thanks Jo-Anne. I think I need to add 'The Artist's Way' to my To-Read list :) And I hadn't realised you used to live in Brisbane. It is a lovely area.

  4. That was lovely Jenny, both your poem and the prose about your artist's date. Loved how you showed us the church first as a glimpse and then as the real thing in the photograph. Loved too how you found the church was a symbol of the importance of God in your life. Sounds like the experience was very positive and glad to hear you will be incorporating artist's dates into your regular schedule. Good on you! Am sure your writing will be further enhanced! All the best in your next assignment and well done on all you are up to, Jenny. Sounds a very productive interesting life of a writer! Well done.

    1. Thanks Anusha. Yes, it feels quite busy at the moment but am grateful to God for this season.

  5. Hi Jenny,
    What a productive Artist's Date and beautiful imagery. I love the reflective nature of your poem, and your discovery of the church building was beautiful. I'm sure you returned home feeling refreshed.
    I have 'The Artist's Way' and do enjoy Artist's Dates, but I find myself sometimes turning them into homeschool excursions with my son, which I know isn't what Julia Cameron had in mind. It's a great idea though, along with her Morning Pages, which once again, I don't always do religiously first thing in the morning as she suggests.

    1. Hi Paula
      It was exhilarating - nothing like a good dose of God's magnificent creation to charge the creative batteries. I'm sure a homeschool excursion could be quite instructive but perhaps not as immersive as an artist's date. I'll have to have think about the morning pages idea (though I am much more of a night owl than a morning lark :) ) Thanks for your comments. Much appreciated.

  6. What a wonderful idea! You certainly took in so much it flowed out in your lovely, descriptive poetry. That's exactly what I'd love to can't give out all the time without taking in. During special times off I've always settled on relaxing but it sounds as if can also be a time of in-gathering.

    1. Thanks Rita. Yes, I think being fully focused on the experience - and the serendipity of finding the church - made it an extra special experience.

  7. Jen, love the imagery in your poem. "bringing the tide in with soft gasps and gurgles." That line makes me feel the water, smell the salt, hunger for the taffy and plops me right down on a chair with an umbrella. Lovely poem. I love the 'artists dates'. I must make one with myself. I can hop on one of our horses and ride our mountain. Just me, my horse and my Savior. Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks Robyn - wow, I love that the words take you right to the water. There is no better accolade. Do go on an artist date. Riding your horses on your mountain sounds perfect. Love to hear about it :)