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Sea Glass

Photo by David Schneider

A few years ago my family purchased an antique apothecary jar. It’s lovely, tall and delicate with a curving shape, the type of jar once used to store cotton balls or candy. We display it on a high shelf and fill it with beach glass.

There are two beaches near us where locals go to hunt for glass. The first, closest to our house, is the best. It’s rocky and not suitable for sun bathing, but walk there at low tide and you are likely to find fistfuls of sea glass, in colors ranging from brown to green to the coveted and rare blue.

At first, that’s where we went. My husband and I would stroll there after dinner and fill our pockets, or the kids would walk with friends and return to spread their plunder on the table, proudly showing off their haul. And little by little the apothecary jar, which one seemed so enormous, began to fill up. The more glass it contained, the more striking it appeared, the more I couldn’t wait to see what it would look like when it was full.

And then last summer, I was admiring the jar, the way the light played off the colors within and turned them into rich jewels, when it hit me. The layers of glass represented more than just a decoration. They stood for time with my family, for summers that were quickly passing by, for time that wouldn’t come again. Why was I rushing to fill it?

The realization hit just when, due to a myriad of reasons, I was struggling to find happiness in my writing and elsewhere. I was trying to force the outcomes I wanted, slogging through with my head down, sad and missing the beauty around me.

So I decided to make a change. Instead of scurrying to fill the apothecary jar as fast as possible, I’d slow down. I stopped going to the first beach, where sea glass was plentiful. I went to the second beach instead, the smaller one that was further away. It’s a tiny hidden cove, the length of three house fronts, and most days I was the only person there. I told myself I could take home as many pieces as I wanted, but I couldn’t leave until I found at least one.

Searching for sea glass became a very different experience. No longer was I finding five pieces in the first five minutes and then heading home. Instead, I walked the same stretch of beach over and over, scanning the tide line, poking aside seaweed and shells for the tiniest flash of reflected sunlight. I had time to be lulled by the hypnotic sound of the waves, by the warm sunlight, the roughness of the sand beneath my feet. The walks themselves, the hunt, became what I looked forward to, rather than the reward.

The glass I found also became more valued, because it was so much harder to find. Some days I went home with a single piece, barely larger than a splinter. Other days I pocketed three or more, all distinct and beautiful.

Now, when I look at the apothecary jar, I don’t see layers, I don’t see years. I see individual pieces of glass. I see moments. The brown, coin-shaped piece reminds me of the family on the beach with two toddlers who chased each other and the waves, shrieking with joy. The long green piece is from after a big storm, when the early morning air was especially fresh and clean. And the prized blue piece is from a twilight when the sky was moody and dark and a teenager brought his guitar out and treated me to an impromptu concert.

Six hundred plus words into this essay, and you may be wondering what this has to do with writing. It’s simply this, a lesson it seems everyone is learning these days, whether they wish to or not: Slow down. Lean into your writing. Let it fill the days. Savor your words, your sentences, your paragraphs, even if you are the only one to see them. Marvel at the way they string together. Stop looking so much at the end product — at finishing a novel, at getting read, getting published — and find joy in the process, at the single lines that stand out to you, shining, tiny miracles on a page.

And then, of course, make every sentence like that.

Your turn! Which sentences from your work in progress give you joy? Please share one here. I can’t wait to read them.

About Liz Michalski [2]

Liz Michalski's (she/her) first novel, Evenfall, was published by Berkley Books (Penguin). Liz has been a reporter, an editor, and a freelance writer. In her previous life, she wrangled with ill-tempered horses and oversized show dogs. These days she's downsized to one husband, two children and a medium-sized mutt.