Some people consciously seek out situations that throw them a little off-balance. The first time I can recall doing this was during girlhood in Virginia Beach, Virginia, waiting in the breakers until the moment when it was possible to jump up, lean in and let the waves confuse all sense of vertical and horizontal, stealing the body from the horizon and giving it back different. I decided that, despite sand-scrapes and a nose full of salt-sting, the experience was worth it, many times repeated and never-ever the same.
The sea is just the sea. But when you consciously decide to throw yourself into its most unpredictable spaces, that’s a situation.
Situations are possibilities, refreshingly unscripted. To locate the beginning of a situation, you need do nothing more than claim it. To fulfill the middle of a situation, you invent something to do and see what happens next. To pinpoint the end of a situation, you must be very still and quiet and watch carefully.
Seeing life as a series of situations you will never be bored, and you will never wait passively like a baby bird for the next sweet or shiny object. You will also make life interesting for other people. Sometimes exhilarating, sometimes quite nerve wracking, but interesting.
I have long been introspective about a profound, hard-to-explain connection to the water. Not just any water, but salt water in particular. Coastlines are liminal, shifting places; that is part of it. To “live on the water” is to belong to not one but two places at once that require each other to have any meaning. That in itself is rather irresistible.
But also, I think, the coast is the original situation. Derive (the long walk that brings insight through studying subtle changes in ambiance – see Guy Debord) most often understood as an urban praxis, can also be achieved along the shore. In mythology, people and things are always getting washed up on beaches, having encounters there of one kind or another. Civilization is there, in the form of honky-tonk vendors, tai chi classes, all kinds of social displays awaiting attendance and interaction. The built environment is there, but also the possibility of leaving it. People are there, for many different reasons. Narrative is always there, to be pondered and unlocked. I could tell you some stories.
In fragments that survived antiquity to sound postmodern, Sappho wrote: “if you’re squeamish, don’t prod the beach rubble.” Well, artists and entrepreneurs and leaders of organizations are anything but squeamish. There are many possibilities and tools today for making a living out of our desire to prod various kinds of rubble, connect unpredictable material in unpredictable ways and renew a sense of shared vitality, authenticity and meaning in our work.
It is quite disorienting to imagine what the emerging world might be like when the limits of social structures that create false senses of safety are revealed. But, as anyone who lives near water knows quite well, change truly is the only constant, and if we consciously seek out the right opportunities to experience and negotiate chaos, we might learn and pass along some of its charms.