Like everyone else, my family has been in isolation mode for (he cites off the top of his head because he just happens to be keeping track of it and just happened to see what today’s number was) 161 days.
That’s a lot of time to be jammed right close together for anyone. To those who don’t have kids and don’t get the big deal, you need to realize that by the time summer break is done–usually a little over two months–parents are really, really ready for their kid(s) to go back to school. Now realize that by the time we (in Toronto) have kids back in class/learning remotely, this isolation is going to more than triple that length of time.
It’s all made that much harder by the not being able to do a lot of the stuff a family could normally do over summer break, in terms of going places and doing fun/distracting things. Much of the usual Toronto summery places and experiences were initially locked up or not happening, so weren’t available. And now that some of them are starting to open up again, a lot of it feels like it’s too much too soon and I’ll be damned if we’re going near them just yet.
All of which has led to my wife and daughter and I exploring beaches near and far that we haven’t been to before, both in order to have a destination (to get out of the four walls of the house) where we can cool down from what has also been a sporadically brutally hot summer (aside from the A/C in said house).
The thing is, I’m not normally a beach guy, per se. I appreciate the genuinely relaxing aspects of going, but not as much the planning ahead and the trunkload of shade-providing/comfortable seating/sunblock(s)/towels/change of clothes/nutrients/snacking/drink accoutrements and the assumption that I’ll end up with a sunburn on some part of me no matter what lengths I go to, that all tend to be part of our family’s hours-long beachgoing experience. I enjoy the being there once everything is schlepped from the car and hauled over hill and dale and set up and I can sit and splay toes in the sand and drink something cold and have a snack maybe actually go into the water (if it’s not unpleasantly cold, also a pretty frequent Ontario phenomenon).
And books. Bringing something to read doesn’t quite meet the requirement of having sustenance or shade or sunblock, but it’s damn close.
On one such trip to a local beach a few weeks back, I brought along Making Comics by Lynda Barry, and as I sat on the beach and cracked it open, within a scant handful of pages, I was more inspired than I have been in memory to just draw something. To draw for the sake of drawing and not worry about what it is or whether or not anyone will ever see it, but just do something that results in, as Neil Gaiman has said, getting pleasure from making something that wasn’t there before.
Now here’s the thing: I don’t draw. I wish like hell I could draw well, as it would make the visual narrative ideas I have way easier to produce, but I’ve never been good at it, or at least don’t recall ever being particularly happy with what I drew. But right then and there, Barry had opened up something new or hiding away or formerly untapped inside me and I couldn’t have cared less about any of that.
On the spot, I downloaded a highly rated sketching app for my phone and in just a few minutes, cranked out a number of (digital) pencil sketches, just of things I was seeing from my position on the beach. A rock jetty with some rolling waves over there. My wife and daughter out in the water. Some trees and the city skyline in the background…
The sketches were rough and crude and pretty bad and it didn’t matter in the least because doing it felt great.
I’ve since used that same app quite a bit, just to sketch whatever’s around me at the time and/or to try out a new aspect of the app’s myriad tool and effect options to get different looks and feels in the images. I even got a stylus for it–specifically for using with this sketching app–because trying to do fine detail “pencil” sketching with the tip of one’s finger on a phone screen doesn’t always work out as one may hope.
Having said that, the quick sketches I threw down on that first day at the beach just after I grabbed the app were all done with a finger tip, and of all the stuff I’ve done since then as a whole, those initial images contain some of my favourite. Which starts getting into the issues of quality of tools used to do one’s art, which is a whole other post topic in itself (hint: The quality of your art tools doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you bring to the process).
We’ve been to more beaches in the last couple of months than in any summer I can remember. And I don’t mean just me as a husband and dad, I mean for my entire life. This has been the Summer o’ Beaches. And while I never would’ve thought that I’d enjoy such a beach-filled summer, I’m at least now at a place where I can confidently say that while I’m still not a fan of all the planning and lugging about of stuff, from what beaches have given me and inspired in me this year, I think I’m coming around to liking them a lot more.
PS – In case there’s any confusion, as there would’ve been for me out of context, the top image was taken at the beach we were at today. I’d never seen such a thing before, despite how much sense it makes to have around locations where people cook their food in the open.