A couple weeks ago, I woke up an hour earlier than I had to, just for the chance to throw on a damp bathing suit, swipe a beach towel, and get down to the water one last time before the shuttle would take me from Playa del Carmen to the Cancun airport.
The sun was already up, but barely, and lizards and iguanas slipped out of my way as I hoofed it across the wooden bridge that traversed the mangrove swamp between the hotel and the sand. The Caribbean was dimpled with flecks and sparks, gently rippled, but without any real waves. A few puffy clouds, their bottoms flat where they dew point and air temperature met, hovered over the horizon, and the sand was already warm underneath my feet.
I nodded at the hotel employee working beach security that morning, his uniform a blinding white against the jungle behind him, dropped my towel and flip-flops and shirt in a pile on the shore, and waded through the shallows before diving into the water and swimming out a few yards. I paddled around, barely able to make contact with the seafloor, dove a few more times, and took deep breaths of the salt and summer air.
My heart was a compressed conflict of joy and sadness, anticipation and presence, of contentment and disappointment.
But I also felt a sense of comfort, because I knew that I wouldn’t be away from the water for long. And I had a plan for making the beach a consistent part of my existence.
Last November, standing in the sand, feeling heartbroken and a little lonely, and maybe a bit disappointed at the unsettled weather those first couple of days, all I could think was, “I don’t want to wait another 18 months before I’m at the beach again.” I tried to comfort myself by thinking that I could do another beach escape with Simone the following Thanksgiving.
And then I felt a rush of depression and thought, “I don’t want to wait another year before I’m at the beach again. What am I going to do?”
I caught my breath as a small wave broke over my ankles—colder than I’d expected. But I didn’t move, because I knew that each subsequent wave would feel a little warmer than the last, and that my feet would slowly sink into the soft sand, heels first, then arches (not that I have any), then toes. It’s a game we’d played as a family all my life—keeping our balance as the sea and sand washed in and out, our feet creating their own little tide pools as the water dipped and eddied around them.
That day, I figured it out. If I wanted to be able to go to the beach more than every year or so—if I wanted to be able to be by the water whenever I needed solace, or quiet, or a place to think and read and write and regenerate—then I needed to make it as easy as possible for that to happen. I needed to find myself a beach house.
And the more I pondered the possibility, the more logical the idea became. I’m probably not going to leave Denver when Simone goes to college in three years. I have friends who feel like family, roots in the community, relationships with the bartenders and servers and chefs whom I adore. I have a house that makes me happy, a climate that can’t be matched, and a connection to the city that has grown and matured and become deep and abiding over the last 25 years.
Plus, you know, my company is here.
But..what if I found an affordable house by the sea somewhere? That could be totally doable!
As I stood there watching the choppy waves break and tussle, vying for just a few seconds of semi-permanence, I came up with a set of conditions that a beach home would have to meet.
- Be within easy reach of Denver, so that I could get there for long weekends.
- Have sandy beaches and warm(ish) water. At least most of the year. (So Santa Cruz is out.)
- The location should have enough infrastructure for me to be able to work from there—solid Internet access, cell signal, and coffeeshops (Mexico or parts of Costa Rica, yes; Belize, maybe not).
- The real estate would need to be reasonable enough for me to get something livable. I don’t need a mansion or an sprawling estate. Just a simple home that’s big enough for friends and family to come and visit when they’d like (or for the occasional company retreat, and for Simone to use during college vacations).
And, just like that, my feeling of wan helplessness faded away, and I was able to think through a plan for making it happen. I could map out the priorities and positioning that I’d need to find a place in the next three years — from scouting locations (oh no! More beach trips!) to building a team that would give me the freedom to shift my work rhythms. It was all doable.
I believe my connection to the sea stems from some of my earliest memories, when my family, grandparents, and I would stay for a week at a beach house on the East Coast, at Fenwick Island. I remember my mom getting on her bike and riding through the gravelly streets to get a newspaper each day (I also remember when she crashed her bike with my sister Sarah in the basket). I remember jumping through the waves with my Zaide. I remember lazy, warm days on a blanket, under an umbrella with my family. I remember Bubbe reading with me on stormy nights. And I remember digging in the sand with my father, uncovering tiny sand crabs scrabbling away from daylight.
I can’t help thinking that those halcyon days of simplicity and light have stuck with me, buried over time by the contingencies of grownup life. Living on the beach when I was in school at UC Santa Cruz was a balm during some difficult times, but moving to Denver after college made it harder to connect with those comforting memories. They bubble up in dreams that leave me wistful, craving the aimless, structureless days from my childhood. In fact, now that I think about it, I’m always a kid in those beach dreams!
Simone has never had a week on the beach. It doesn’t call to her like it does me. I didn’t think about it until this last trip to Playa del Carmen, but the beach represents something deep and old and far away—a time when the family was whole (well, almost—my baby sister Karen wasn’t yet born), when a week in a rental house meant the only tough decisions were which boardwalk to visit that evening, and when laughter and joy were the rule. Maybe that’s where I learned the gift of being in the moment.
I don’t believe having a beach house will somehow bring me back to that space, but I do know the salutary effects that sand and sea have on my soul.
People don’t believe me when I say this, but I’ve never been a goals-driven person. I’ve found my way forward by learning (sometimes painfully slowly) what I’m good at and doing more of that. And then, I’ll wake up eight years later (in the case of WideFoc.us) and think, “Holy crap, we’ve been in business for almost a decade!” I set a goal for finishing the first 13th Clock novel in a year, and accomplished that, but I’ve been sitting on the unpublished manuscript for longer than it took me to write it.
So to have an actual, concrete, reasonable goal is new and exciting and motivating for me. When I tell people my story, not only do they encourage me (because, like I said, it’s not an outlandish dream), they also help me stay on track. I’m writing this column, not to brag or boast, but to put my goal out there so that I feel even more accountable to it. I can do this.
And, of course, with any luck, I won’t have to do it alone. Hopefully, that one right girl (where are you?) will be excited about working toward finding a beach house we can share.
No more waiting 18 months for sandy toes and salt water sunrises (or sunsets—I don’t care). No more pining away for a book and a beach. No more dreams of longing for a dip in the ocean. The sea will call, and I’ll answer quickly.