I grew up hunting for shells with my mom on Figure Eight Beach. My favorites were Olives and Drills. Hers were Scotch Bonnets. When I was young, shells seemed to be everywhere you looked. They grew harder to find as I grew up. Or maybe I stopped looking so hard.
My dad taught me to hunt for shark teeth. I found a few along Figure Eight. I even found some stuck in the shell-laced pavement they used on the driveways there. I would dig them out with a screwdriver and add them to my jar of shells.
When my dad saw how much we enjoyed finding shark teeth, he took us to a place on the other side of Pamlico Sound where you could buy a bucket of sand and sift for teeth. We went wild over this. You could find dozens of large teeth with almost no trouble. Dad purchased a ton of sand and brought it back to the farm with us. We built screens out of scrap wood and wire mesh and sifted for teeth all day. I felt like I was panning for gold.
Amber and I moved back to the beach a year ago, and I immediately resumed my hunt for shells. We’ve found some keepers, but they are few and far between. So many more people looking, I suppose. Maybe fewer washing up on the beach. I’ve taken to wearing my snorkel and mask and swimming just offshore to spot them before they wash up. But I notice a few others doing the same.
What’s impossible to find are shark teeth. I looked and looked every day we went to the beach. I would kneel in the surf, waves crashing against my back, and paw through the fine shells looking for that small triangle amid the broken fragments of the once-pretty. I never found a single one. I spent hours trying.
And then I ran into a couple of hippies on the beach. The woman was twisting wire around a shark tooth, fashioning it into a necklace. She had a similar necklace around her neck. “I can’t find any shark teeth,” I told her. I wondered if she’d give me some pointers or tips.
“You find shark teeth,” she said. With utter conviction.
“No. I don’t. I’ve tried.”
“You find shark teeth,” she told me. “You have to start saying it. Say ‘I find shark teeth.'”
I said it, but mostly to placate her. I didn’t really believe that would make a difference. I don’t believe in magic or karma or any of the awesome things that would make life more interesting if they were true. But I do believe in the power of determination, and so the next time I was out hunting in the sand, I kept telling myself, “I find shark teeth.”
And I did. Three of them in that same spot. I ran like a young child to Amber, who was reading under an umbrella. I showed her each one as I found them. They were tiny things, no more than specks. I started to wonder if I was finding them now because I was trying harder, or because I had a false sense of confidence to spur me along, or because I was looking in each palm of shells a few minutes longer before dumping them into the surf.
I told myself similar things while I was writing my first novel. Even though I’d tried and tried to write a novel for twenty years, always failing, this time I told myself that I was a writer. I told myself that I finish novels. I came home from a writing convention where another wise guide, Caroline Todd, lit a fire under my ass. And so I lied to myself about what I could do . . . until I did it.
Now I know that I can write a novel. I know I can find shark teeth here on Jupiter Beach. And so I do both with more diligence, with more time and care than I invested into these pursuits before I truly believed in myself. All it took was listening to someone say something kooky or crazy, tell me something about myself that I didn’t believe, but say it with such utter and complete conviction that I began to doubt my own doubts.
I find shark teeth. And so do you.