My classes are hard. Intentionally so. I work my students mentally and physically to exhaustion. My not-so-secret strategy for teaching sculpture involves doing absurd, ridiculous things to lighten the mood and to keep people smiling as they work. Coming off of a tough year socially, I had an agenda on this Sand Sculpture trip. I wanted everyone to have a great time, and I wanted everyone to feel like a close-knit family. There were students on this trip I knew very well and students I didn't know at all. My goal was to bind everyone together and make connections...while doing some back-breaking work of course.
A friend challenged me to eat with/near everyone on this trip. Our group's dinner meals were always together and I was able to sit beside/across from/diagonally across from everyone at some point during the week. This provided opportunities for getting to know everyone better and it made our dinners a lot of fun. It also encouraged students to think outside their natural small circle of comfortable friends. We all need that circle, but it's important to open that circle up and get to know other people. I'm hearing these thoughts in my hermit head before I type them and I have to say I'm feeling very hypocritical right now. Most days I want nothing more than to stay in my yard and only talk to people who share my last name. I'm the first person to look for my circle of people when I'm forced out in public.
The first night of this trip, I gave that goofy Ted Talk and I encouraged everyone to get out of their little digital phone world and look people in the eye. To hold up their hand and offer a real human connection to another person. To put themselves in an uncomfortable position by hoisting up that high five and offering an encouragement to a stranger or a friend. This isn't easy for any of us. No one wants to be left hanging. In many ways this trip was a lesson to me. It was a reminder that I need to be open to new connections. A reminder that I need to put myself in uncomfortable situations, to seek discomfort instead of the predictable comfort of the known.
During the week someone said "We're bringing f***ing joy to everyone around us!" I'm not sure any quote has ever summed up a Sand Sculpture trip quite so accurately. Maybe that will be on the shirts next year!
Sunrise on day 6. They seriously just got better and better as the week went on. I had preached the gospel of high fives all week and that pushed me to get outside of my hermit nature and offer high fives to anyone who crossed my path. This included the early morning walkers and runners I encountered on my daily sunrise runs. It's silly to think how hard it was to look a stranger in the eye and hold up a high five for them. As tough as that was, it was so worth it when I watched a huge smile spread across their morning faces when they realized they were being offered a high five from a random stranger. Every morning this was a highlight for me. #hoistemup
Another highlight was morning yoga (or PiYo) on the beach. This was something I've always wanted to do but never had the courage to do it. One day last year on family vacation Violet and I saw a family doing some yoga near us and we bravely asked to join them. But going on and doing it on my own is a different thing entirely. And I certainly am not the person you'd want leading it. Early in the week it was suggested and the discomfort was appealing. We went a few days with just 2 or 3 people participating, because let's face it, 7:00am is early and our bodies were tired. But it was great for our sore muscles. If you're going to do yoga anywhere, right in front of the ocean is THE place to do it.
How about yet another highlight? It was the start of Loggerhead Sea Turtle nesting season during our trip. We saw a couple of turtle tracks and "false lays" during the week.
Students were getting their second wind and showing off what they had learned so far. Emily turned her huge one-eared koala bear into a new sculpture.
Jester made a very cool Spongebob installation featuring Mr. Krabs, Plankton and the Krusty Krab.
Seth made a very large eye sculpture.
Lilly and Chanel worked together on the Three Bare Bears. This was a great exercise in sand. They worked all morning making this thing huge....very tall and very vertical. After about 3 hours it collapsed. But they didn't give up. They started over (a little smaller) and completed the challenge.
Part of my job as The Pope of Documentation was to take McSelfies. I know they're not popular because very often people don't think they're in their best selfie situation after working hard all day in the sun. I rarely seek photo approval before posting and I ain't got time for filters. Reality is so much more interesting. I don't want to remember something that's fake. I want to remember what it was really like. That's the point of documentation. One of the themes of the week was that Brianna wants to fight me. In spite of this fact, every time I came over with the camera reversed she busted out a big smile. I appreciate that. In this one, I told her to "mean mug" and she obliged.
Sabrina will yell at me for this one, though. The afternoon of the 6th day brought some day-trippers. Sabrina lives in the area and she's made appearances at all of the Sand Sculpture trips to date. She was out of town for most of this one but she showed up to hang out for the day. Smashley and her cool sunglasses are on the left. Let's not tell them we posted this one, ok?
Jocelyn, McCaylah, Mcat, Abby, Ashley and Sabrina. They all came for the day and it was great to see them. Everyone except Ashley had been on a previous Sand Sculpture trip. We are lucky to have so many enthusiastic students be a part of our art family.
When you're old, tired, and your back hurts, you find that drawing in the sand can be artistic enough. Most of the sketchbook time I had during the week was spent writing and documenting all the cool things we did. It was nice to take a couple of days to sketch absurd things on the beach...even if they don't photograph well.
Then it was time to hit the Myrtle Beach Grand Prix! This was so much fun last year that we decided we had to do it again.
Abigail was one of the first students to get in a race car. She was ready to go.
We raced each other, traded a little paint, and got warned for ramming each other a few times. We made it through all the tracks at least once before they ran us out at closing time.
Lilly, Tien, Emily, Chanel and Victor.
Grace and me.
After some competitive racing we had a little time to hang out at Broadway At The Beach. When we pulled into the parking lot we noticed the ferris wheel. The only ferris wheel I'd ever been on up to that point was a small, portable one at the school back in December. When I said this out loud, it was decided that we were riding this one.
I'm terrified of heights, but in keeping with the spirit of discomfort, I got myself on the ferris wheel and enjoyed the view. Meanwhile, Chanel passed out while riding some ridiculous swinging torture device. I was told she passed out and then woke up screaming!
Exactly how much ice cream do we eat on these trips? Not enough. But we tried. We made another quick stop at Painter's and showed off our temporary tattoos.
There was a butterfly theme. (With some dragonflies mixed in.)
It's not easy to look badass when you're covered in butterfly tats.
But we pulled it off.
Some moments from trips like this do not translate well to photos. Maybe you don't have a camera handy or you don't want to ruin a moment by dragging one out. After we returned to the hotel late, several of us headed out to the beach to flatten out the sculptures and to make the area totally turtle-friendly. It was a beautiful night in every way imaginable. We decided we needed to get in the ocean. It was scary and very dark. We talked about sharks and jellyfish. It was a nice way to wind down after a very busy day.
We decided it was time to turn in and began making our way to the beach walk-out when Grace saw something out over the water. She pointed it out and asked what it was. It looked like a ghost ship from the pirate days at first. A mysterious glowing shape on the horizon. We stopped long enough to try to make sense of what we were seeing when it became clear we were watching the first light of the moon rising over the ocean.
We all stopped and gave it our full attention. We walked out into the surf again and watched in silent awe. It was magic.
The morning of Day 7.
Grace came out for some sunrise exercise! Each of our faces in this photo describe us perfectly. In the middle you can see The Face of Grace. She only has one face. It’s a good one.
We found another set of turtle tracks and talked to the turtle police dude. He was very kind and informative. This mama turtle decided this wasn't the spot for her nest. We really wanted to see a successful nest before we left.
Day 7 was Sand Sculpture Deathmatch day! It was a bit overcast which sheltered us from some extra sunburn. I divided up the group into two teams and each team worked to create one large sculpture.
The teams worked together really well, and after a quick planning session, they were both moving lots of sand.
Taylor Hernandez from WBTW came out to talk to us.
I got my McSelfie with her but why do I always get my head too close to the other person's head? I need to take a class on selfies. Sorry Taylor.
She talked to the students and I put on a shirt again. It was such a busy week that I never saw if this one aired. They always tell me it will at least be on their Facebook page, but I don't exist in Facebook-world, so I never see it.
More visitors! Jarecki came to spend the day with us, and she brought her grandparents again. They've joined us on all of our Sand Sculpture trips. We love them so much. Jarecki graduated the day before we left for this trip. She was offered 2 or 3 jobs on this very day. Congratulations Jarecki!
The teams made full use of the entire day to sculpt. Both chose ambitious projects in both scale and concept.
This was "Team Thic Bois" or something like that. They made a movie-inspired sculpture. It was a movie reel with images from different movies on the reel.
This was "Team Chewie's Angels". They made a giant Chewie, our dog mascot for the week.
Singletary was busy all day procuring super-secret treasures for our final meeting. With both teams working well together, I was free to hang out with Jarecki all day and make my own sculpture.
I was a good teacher and urged all my students to wear sunscreen all day even though it was supposed to be overcast. Science, you know? Jarecki came late and didn't get the memo. She got quite a burn.
My sculpture had a couple of birds and a doughnut!
After the teams finished I enlisted the help of a lot of random strangers on the beach to decide the winner. I had groups, families, and individuals cast their votes. Almost all of the voters said that it was very hard to decide because both sculptures were great in different ways.
(Wanna hear a funny story I probably shouldn't tell? The beach-goers were really impressed with my students all week, but on this day especially. There were countless compliments on their talent and abilities. The teams went inside and just a few of us were still out as I finished up my sculpture. A middle-aged lady walked over to us and announced, "Y'all are so good! I'll be happy to pose nude for you if you'll sculpt me!" I managed to politely decline. True story.)
I don't want you to know how many photos it took to get this photo with Jarecki in the air. Worth it.
After some much needed showers we took over the whole patio at Moe's Original BBQ.
Then we headed north to find the perfect crappy T-shirt spot. This place had really terrible Bike Week Ts on sale. They were happy to see us.
Then it was time for our final meeting. On the last night of our Sand Sculpture trips, we reserve "The Spirit Room" in our hotel and have a special meeting and award time. This year we announced the official winner of the Sand Sculpture Deathmatch, and we gave out individual awards to the students. Each student receives some absurd object to commemorate some sort of inside joke related to them. The details of these awards are funny and important but they are also sacred and protected. And since they probably wouldn't be funny to you anyway, I'll leave them in the mystery of The Spirit Room.
Team Chewie's Angels won the Sand Sculpture Deathmatch with their giant dog sculpture. They received golden shovels and buckets AND gold medals!
And then we took ridiculous photos for no reason.
Apparently we're pretty darn photogenic.
With the help of H-Dawg, our professional photographer friend, we arranged ourselves into a heart composition. We were supposed to be "mean mugging" but I'm not sure we all look mean.
After the meeting several students helped me wash out buckets and shovels and get them tied to the top of "Fred", my truck. (Funny story, we tied everything to the roof under the covered loading area and then realized we piled it too high to drive out.) We took a quick trip out to the beach to level everything one last time. We returned the beach to normal and destroyed our public sand sculpture gallery. We took some time to stare mindlessly into the dark waves. We saw a shooting star, the second in two nights. Magic.
Day 8. Drive home day. It always seems like this is the most beautiful morning. The last two years have given us some really great photo moments on the sunrise run on our final day. This year topped them all. Down at the point the low tide trapped some unlucky fish in a large tidal pool. A small group of herons and egrets moved in on the breakfast buffet while we were turning around for our out and back 5K. We humans were able to get really close and they paid us zero attention. This was a real moment.
I love birds. They're very important. This was a real treat for me. The rising sun was sharing it's pastel light with everything and it all felt like a dream. A real moment.
But beach yoga awaited us back at the hotel, so after a photo session we headed back north. Along our path, just above the tide line was a single set of turtle tracks.
And granting our week-long wish, this one ended in a successful egg laying. The same turtle guy was on the scene and he said, "Y'all were just going to keep at it until you found one weren't you?" He pointed out the dig marks and how the sand was flung out around the nest site. He showed us the debris mixed in as the turtle covered the nest. Then he pointed out the fact that the mama turtle retraced her own tracks, coming in and going out in the same straight line. This was also a quite a moment. The beach was kind to us this week.
This was our last day of yoga on the beach. I brought my phone out to capture the moment. They were a lot better than their teacher.
I mentioned that I love Victor, right? I know I mentioned the high fives and how I was challenged to sit with everyone at some point at our dinners. I didn't mention that we played a card game during the week called "Sneaky Cards". Each student was given a card from the deck with a challenge written on it. The card may ask you to take a selfie with a stranger or give someone a gift for no reason or to walk up to them and say, "tag, you're it". The goal of the game is to get people to interact and connect. Connection was a recurring theme of the week.
That's Victor on the left. Katherine found his M&M doppleganger on the peanut butter M&Ms. A lot of us seem to have a twisted idea of what love is. We say we love peanut butter M&Ms and we love our parents and we love our dogs and we love our significant other but surely the same word can't be accurate in all those cases. And if we do think we love someone, it's so much easier to type or text it than to say it out loud. Most of us don't understand what love is or what it means, and humans have a history of fearing what they don't understand.
The people that went on this trip, students and faculty, are my people. I love them. My own personal and slightly goofy challenge for the week was to tell everyone I loved them and to really mean it. Victor was my first victim. He said something hilarious and I turned to him and sincerely said, "Victor, I love you!" and without batting an eye he said "I love you too, McAbee." Of course, Victor is known to say all sorts of things, and you never really know if he's serious or not, but I'll take it. I worked my way through 6 or 7 people with varying responses, but I was never disappointed. This was the verbal version of a high five. When you offer up a high five, it stops being about you and starts being about the other person. Turning your focus outward instead of inward. It's about giving joy to others.
That's what sand sculpture does. It provides an opportunity for the artist to turn their focus outward, and to offer joy to others.