Marine Biologies

(A Queer Creatives Workshop)

golden-tailed merman dives in blue sea
Gil Mualem-Doron, fragment from Interweaving Spaces installation submitted to Queer Creatives’ Exhibition. (Image Caroline Osella).

I brought him to the beach. It was what he wanted. I wasn’t sure if it was what I wanted.

After 25 minutes of grasping and slipping, hoisting – we both always hated that bit – he was out of the tank and at the edge of the water.

He had his arms around my neck, where I’d carried his precious body across the sand and shingle, and now he looked thankfully into my eyes and then leaned in to put a slow, soft kiss on my lips.

Then he was in, gone – joyful to be free and slipping inside the waves again. He turned and grinned, waved, dived under, flicking that beautiful tail that I had come to love (long since recovered from my initial fear). 

I wanted him back.  He promised he’d be back within 30 minutes. He just needed, he’d said, to get out of the tank and into the sea, a proper expanse of water. “Playtime”, he called it.

But when I saw him dive and slide, bend his body to natural waves – nothing like the artificial ones I generated for him in his tank – I was frightened.

We’d been coming down here weekly since he came to live with me (because me living with him was an impossibility).  Every time, it made me feel so selfish. How long could I keep him with me?  Should I?

I’d lived by the sea all my life. Suddenly, I hated her. 

This is a micro-story I workshopped today at a Queer Creatives writing workshop held by Savage Heart Theatre, Brighton. The workshop was part of an art exhibition and series of workshops run in tandem with the Socially Engaged Art Salon and the People’s Proud Picnic, at Colonnade House

In collaboration with People’s Proud Picnic, and with support from Adur & Worthing Trust and The Rainbow Fund, in July, Colonnade House is hosting a week celebrating the creative LGBTQ+ community of Adur & Worthing.”

Over the road, in the park, they’re setting up for Worthing Pride tomorrow – a mainstream and now highly commercialised event that many of us want nothing to do with. I’ll write another day about why, but Rainbow Capitalism doesn’t even begin to cover the problems with Pride here. The People’s Proud Picnic is a genuine grassroots alternative, their exhibition and collaboration with Colonnade House and SEAS an authentic community-led initiative. 

The workshop leader warmed us up towards our stories with exercises. 

First, we walked around the room and looked at all the art. We were to choose 3 pieces that spoke to us or that we felt drawn to. Next, we chose just one to write from. We brainstormed sensory descriptive words and phrases that the work brought to us. 

We each wrote a short warm-up piece, introducing one character whose 1st person perspective we’d write from.

I dreamed up Hamid, a marine biologist who was in love with Gil Mualem-Doron’s merman. Hamid stands on the shore, watching his merman-lover dive. Sand has got onto his hand and he rubs his thumb and fingers together without realising it – trying to rid himself of a sense of abrasiveness. 

Finally, we positioned ourselves in front of our chosen work and wrote our stories. No editing, no hesitation – free-writing with imaginations flying. 

All this work took just one hour. Once more, I am surprised at how much tumbles out when you’re in company, under instruction, and forced to write with a ticking clock timer. Of course, this is all very shitty-first-drafty, but it’s not as bad as you’d (I’d) fear. I need to get myself back into doing more of this.

At the end of the hour, I walked once more around the exhibition before leaving. Thanks, Worthing, for allowing us this space and time. We could not have imagined this, even 5 years ago. Precious. 

I’ll leave you with a piece that I didn’t choose to write about in the workshop, because it would surely call up some intense – maybe also hard-to-manage – emotions and memories in anyone who sat with it. A story written from this piece could be quite difficult to write in a one-hour improv among strangers. 

tiny metal spines grow from prickly black branch
‘Biographical Fragment’. Art and image, Skylar Mulholland

The image comes from artist Skylar Mulholland’s contribution to the exhibition.

The work is excruciating and exquisite. Crown of thorns, balancing act, harm done by self and others, prickly refusals, armour worn with terrible heaviness, frangibility, cudgels and scourges, dried out exhaustion, sticky black pain and soul-weariness all scream to me from this piece. But also – strength in fragility, delicacy and fineness, tentative reachings-out, polished and burnished refinement, lucid brilliance. And then, too, that certain cyborg blending of the natural and the manufactured that makes up the contemporary human. Have the added micro-prickles grown out from the initial, deeply embedded, earlier ones? Are the hard wooden thorns evolving into the even harder material of steel? Are the thick unyielding thorns becoming thinner – more flexible and workable micro-prickles?

Skylar Mulholland’s ‘Biographical Fragment’ (image Caroline Osella).

Using artworks as prompts proved fruitful for all us of at today’s workshop. Collabs between creatives, meanwhile, are whispering to us about larger and more revolutionary changes that we could still dream into being. 

Published by Caroline

After 30 years as an academic anthropologist doing ethnography in India and the Gulf, Caroline now avoids airports and spends a lot of time walking, cycling or quad skating around for conversations and stories in their adopted home of Worthing. Caroline does public sector consultancy work and project evaluation, using creative research methods. Caroline also writes. Find them on Substack at (Yes, there's a WIP and yes, it's a campus novel, but hang on - it's not a memoir, and it's not a thinly-disguised writeup of people and situations. I studied creative writing, trained, practiced and ** made it all up**).

One thought on “Marine Biologies

  1. Great read! The creative writing workshop and its outcomes are inspiring, highlighting the powerful connection between community, creativity, and environmental consciousness. Thanks for sharing such an engaging narrative!

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