Is Anyone Out There Listening?

It was a beautiful moonlit night

With all writing, you throw things out to see what sticks, if anyone connects with it. Usually for us as writers it’s a blog post, an article, maybe a book (if we’re lucky). We wait and we find out if it was a good idea—if anyone out there is reading what we write.

But sometimes it’s literal, you really throw it out there—like if you’re communicating via a message in a bottle thrown into the Atlantic Ocean.

Such it was that last Friday night, by beautiful moonlight, MEH (My Engineer Husband), MOD (My Outstanding Daughter) and I found ourselves in the car under the cloak of darkness. We had a mission: throw three bottles containing messages into flowing bodies of water leading to the Atlantic Ocean.

Just the words message in a bottle conjure up a romantic vision….not to mention they’ve inspired songs like the 1979 hit “Message in a Bottle”  by The Police; short stories like “MS. Found in a Bottle” by Edgar Allan Poe; and of course the book (and subsequent movie) by Nicholas Sparks, Message in a Bottle.

Legend and Wikipedia have it that the first known message in a bottle was released around 310 BC by Greek philosopher Theophrastus—as part of an experiment on water flow.

I was curious, what would happen if I did the same thing? Would I ever hear anything back? Would bottles get lost or end up as seaglass on some near or far beach? 

MOD generously agreed to help me with this “fun activity.” For our experiment, to ensure best success, I purchased three clear glass bottles with screw on tops. Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit I bought the two cheapest bottles of wine I could find at Trader Joes (plus one bottle of “fizzy water”). Suffice to say we enjoyed the contents.
If you see one of these bottles on a beach near
you, please let me know! 
I wrote three identical messages and put one into each of the bottles, then wrote on the outside of the bottles in black permanent marker and in pink nail polish: “Message in Bottle” and 

“Open Message.”

Friday night we started making the rounds, first to a harbor at a river mouth. We stood at the end of the public dock and I flung the bottle in. Unfortunately tide was coming in, so the bottle immediately started flowing toward me. Not exactly encouraged, we moved locations, to the bridge overlook (where we take the videos each week). This spot had much deeper water, but was problematic because we had to stop in the middle of the bridge.

Traffic was light (actually we probably saw two other cars the whole time we were out), and MEH stopped mid-bridge. I got out and flung the bottle into the dark water below. MOD hunched in the backseat, not wanting to be seen. I offered MOD the opportunity to throw the bottle, but she declined:

“No, Mom, I don’t want to be arrested for littering. I don’t want a record for my medical school application.” (MOD wants to be a doctor.)

Just as I threw the bottle, MEH said: “I hope it doesn’t hit a seal.” And then he yelped.

Gales of laughter filled the car as I got back in. (You had to be there; take my word for it, it was pretty funny at the time.)

Our last stop was a small point where boats are harbored, where there’s also a public dock. MEH and I walked out onto the dock. This time MEH did the deed and flung the bottle out into the darkness. MOD stayed off the dock, pretending to be involved with texting a friend (okay, she may have actually been texting a friend since this is an almost-continuous activity for college students).

As I watched the bottles, one after another, floating toward us, I thought about the irony of communicating with someone via such an ancient method during this electronic era—and decided that Theophrastus and me, we’re on the same wavelength.

The bottles flowed toward us, so fortunately our
message is not as dire as if we were shipwrecked!
But not just Theophrastus; I join a long line of other famous and well-known bottle messengers, including: Christopher Columbus, the British Navy during World War I, and a group of 88 shipwrecked migrants who in 2005 were rescued off the coast of Costa Rica after they placed an SOS message into a bottle.

Fortunately my message isn’t so dire. Honestly, I’m just plain interested in whether or not anyone will find it and how far it might travel. It’s such a romantic notion—to toss a sealed bottle with a note into the ocean and have it travel to somewhere far away and have someone you don’t even know, on a far away beach, find it and read its contents. What’s not to love? 

Stay tuned to find out what happens!

Have you ever sent a message in a bottle? What happened? What other non-electronic communication methods fascinate you? Have you considered trying them and then blogging about them?

And for us as writers? Do you, like me, ever feel like blogging and writing for the Internet is almost like throwing a bottle out into the ocean? Do you ever wonder if anyone is listening?




  1. Country Wife says:

    I am really fascinated by that ancient communication method referred to as “hand-written letters by postal mail”, I believe. Maybe I should take that back up one of these days 🙂 But I do agree, a message in a bottle is very romantic!

  2. Country Wife, I know what you mean I too am fascinated by that ancient communication method (I’ve blogged about that too, haha!) — but seriously, I can’t remember when I last got a handwritten letter, and I may write one two times a year (usually when sent with a package or as a birthday card!). Thanks for your comment!

  3. JM Merchant says:

    What a lovely idea Julia. I’ve considered doing something like this a few times, and living not far from the River Thames I could probably do it quite easily, but I’d love to send a bottled message down the River Dart in Devon, a far more romantic setting than the bustling and polluted mess that is the Thames as it runs through London.
    I used to write to my mothers aunt as a teenager, but forgot the habit when I started attending university 6 years ago. Maybe this is something I should start doing again!
    Thanks for the lovely article Julia, and the food for thought.
    Jo x

  4. What a fun idea! And you are correct, sometimes I feel like blogging is a lot like sending a message in a bottle. Great analogy.

    I hope you get a response. Please let us know.

  5. Jo, I hope you do try this in the River Dart — just the name of the river sounds lovely! Please let me know if you do! I too used to write far more letters, but the immediacy of email and Twitter and SMS makes it seem so impossibly slow, doesn’t it? Glad I gave you some food for thought!

    Karen, So glad you (and others) ARE listening — can you imagine if I’d gotten no comments to THIS post? LOL… it really was a fun thing to do. And I’ll certainly keep you all posted, via blog (not bottle), what happens, if anything!

  6. Very cool idea, Julia! I have never sent a message in a bottle. It’s sad, but I can’t even HANDWRITE legibly anymore. Typing is much easier. Did you leave any contact info on your message so people can get in touch if they find the bottle?

  7. Jen, So glad you said that about your handwriting — it makes me feel better because I can’t handwrite legibly anymore either and I used to have such nice writing 🙁 Ironically enough, I included my email address for people to contact me… haha, technology meets ancient Greece!

  8. I’ve never sent a message in a bottle, but I once bought a pre-made one for my nephews and sent it (through the mail, lol) from Key West.

    Jen and Julia: The more you practice your writing, the better it’ll get. I love, love, love handwriting. It’s cathartic for me—like when I used to sit & color w/my kids. I once found out by default (when my laptop crashed) that writing my story with pen and paper somehow unlocked a different part of my creativity. So now I do all my outlining as well as drafts of key scenes in ink (says Ms. Written NOT With Ink)! For that reason, whenever I get stuck in my story, I switch to pen & paper rather than typing.

    Anyhow. What was your question, again? Oh yeah, do I ever wonder if anyone out there in cyberland is listening…? Ha ha… *Yes!*

    I’ll be staying tuned for more details of your experiment. Great post & analogy, Julia! Sounds like it was a fun time for your family too.

  9. Blogging definitely feels like throwing a message out into the ocean sometimes, especially on those days when you post and watch the visitor statistics take their time, lol!

    I’ve never thrown a message into the ocean (I love the romance of it), but my best friend did give me a message in a bottle when I was in high school. She sealed it and told me to open it on a day when I was having a rough time and needed an uplifting message. And you know what? It’s been 10 years and I still haven’t opened it. I’ve been tempted to break that seal, and each time I’ve thought, “No. Things are not as bad as they seem.” So it was actually a beautiful gift she gave me.

  10. Guilie says:

    Such a wonderful idea… Somehow, the more e-fficient our communication gets, the more we seem to long for “antiquity”, don’t we? I’ve just begun a handwritten (and — yes — snail-mailed!) letter experiment with another writer halfway across the world. We’re as excited as children, and I keep wondering WHY. Why, when we have the immediacy of email, of twitter, of blogs, Google+, Facebook, whatever. Why is this such a GREAT idea? I think maybe it has to do with the fact that our human consciousness has finally realized that immediate gratification isn’t what we were after, after all. Perhaps we’ve realized that delaying gratification is, actually, what keeps us alive. Sane. Reaching out through here, after all, as satisfying as it might seem, can’t compare to the thrill you’d feel to receive a handwritten letter (in a bottle!!) from me (or anyone), right?

    Thanks for the food for thought, and please do keep us posted on the results of this bottled message experiment!

  11. I am tickled that you actually did this, and your family along with you. Very cool and fun. Now I’m wondering what your message was! And yes, blogging often feels like putting a message in a bottle although we don’t have to wait that long to maybe get a message back…

  12. Ann says:

    I know you probably won’t tell us, but I’d love to know what you wrote!

    I am fascinated with letter writing. When it was the main form of communication – before phones and the internet, people were just so…I dunno…NEWSY!

    I’ve never thrown a bottle in the ocean. but like many bloggers…I suspect we all wonder, from time-to-time if anyone is listening.

  13. This is such an adorable, quaint little story. The acronyms for your family are super cute. I smiled the whole time I was reading it 🙂

    I also think it’s a perfect analogy for writing- particularly something on the internet. Sometimes it gets swept away and you may never know who finds it, and sometime it comes right back to your feet and you KNOW no one ever sees it, lol.

  14. Nancy Kelley says:

    I love that you do things like this, Julia. This… whimsical, adventurous side of you is so neat. I’ve never thrown a message in a bottle, because to my more pragmatic self, there’s no point in doing so unless I’m on a desert island.

    Do you see what I’ve missed out on?

  15. Barb, (Someone gave one of those bottles (like you got your nephew) for my son! They’re cute!) I used to handwrite things all the time, but now, almost nothing…maybe I should try switching to pen and paper when I get stuck, thanks for the idea!

    Natalia, I hate the visitor statistics! It drives me crazy watching them… 🙂 That is the sweetest gift from your best friend! What a wonderful gift to boost your spirits when things seem bad — everyone should have such a supportive friend! (p.s. don’t you wonder what the message says, though?!)

    Guilie, What a wonderful experiment your friend and you started! There really is something to be said for slowing things down to a more sane pace….to finding a less hectic and more peaceful way of life. Not to mention the time and care it takes to prepare a hand-written letter. It is so much more special in the making of it. Thank you so much for your comment and visit to my blog!

  16. Annette, I’m glad you enjoyed the fun adventure with us — you have no idea how many things like this we do! I’d like to say it’s just for the blog, but not at all! 🙂 Speaking of the blog, I’m so happy I got responses and didn’t have to wait as long as I probably will for the bottle messages to return! 🙂

    Ann, The bottle message was pretty simple, just saying I hoped they’d answer back — and saying more specifically where I live, still it’s more fun if it’s a mystery! Letter writing really does seem more newsy somehow, I agree. As for blogging, it’s just sending stuff out into the ocean and then waiting and wondering!

    Sara, Thanks for your sweet comments…. glad you enjoy the acronyms — they started as a way to protect identity for my husband (he’s shy) and then my daughter helped me make one up for her…. we had fun! Glad you enjoyed the story — and I agree that it’s a perfect analogy for writing and hoping we somehow find someone we can connect with out there. You just never know, do you…. funny you’d mention it coming right back to your feet, which is exactly how I felt when the tide pushed the bottle right back at me! 🙂

    Nancy, You have no idea how many of these kinds of things I do…. all the time 🙂 I have a pragmatic, sensible side too, but we do enjoy having fun. As for you missing out on this kind of whimsical thing, from your blog I know you have other adventurous streaks…. for instance your travels and planned move — EXCITING!!

  17. I hope you will let us know when you hear back, Julia! I love the idea. When I was a little girl, I lived next door to my best friend and our rooms were directly opposite each other. My father – of his own volition – set up a cable wire between our two houses and put a bucket on the wires. Via pulley, we sent each other messages on paper. We made up a code for our messages so no one could decipher them.

  18. Leslie, I absolutely will let you know when I hear back (if I do)! I’m glad you enjoyed the post and idea. And you have NO IDEA how envious I am of your set up iwth your childhood best friend — I always wanted that kind of set up, isn’t it every kid’s dream? Not to mention your terrific father. The secret code tops it off; I’ve always loved to decipher codes. Thanks so much for your visit to my blog and for your lovely comment!

  19. I love that you did this! Now I want to do the same and see if anyone finds it. Great idea. I agree with Sarah’s comment above that it’s often like putting a thought or writing online; you never know who will read it and how your work will impact others.

  20. Leah, You may not believe this, but I actually thought about you and Sophie while we did this! I thought it might be so much fun for you guys too since you do so much as a family, too. (We did it once when the kids were much younger too.) It’s so interesting how throwing a bottle out is so much like throwing a thought out — you never know what will stick and with whom. Or who you might meet — and why you connect with them!

  21. Lisa Ahn says:

    I love this idea! Your description of the adventure is wonderful, especially when your daughter hunches down in the back seat. Perfect.
    And, yes, I feel like most of what I write is just something flung out into the depths. I guess that is part of the thrill of those rare acceptance letters, the jolt of realizing that someone read it, got it, liked it. Little islands in a big, big sea.

  22. Lisa, Glad you enjoyed our adventure — yes, MOD was indeed a little concerned she might be seen and also admitted (when we got home) that it was a bit more than she expected…. still, she’s a sweetie pie to do wacky things like this with me….still! That’s a good point about acceptance letters, they really are like someone found the bottle and responded. I like that: “Little islands in a big, big sea….” Kind of like we’re all shipwrecked and get rescued one by one…

  23. Lisa Ahn says:

    At least if we’re shipwrecked, we’re in it together! I love having your blog as a floating life raft. 🙂

  24. CMSmith says:

    You do the funnest things. I hope you hear back from at least one bottle.

    Young adult daughters can be a real splash of cold water on things, can’t they? Glad you enjoyed the adventure even without her unconditional enthusiasm. (She’ll tell this story to her children, and you’ll look like the fascinating, fun-loving individual you are.)

  25. Christine, I guess I really do, do some funny things — we’re kind of a zany family that way…. which may explain why it sounds like MOD isn’t that enthusiastic; we’ve dragged our kids on some pretty crazy adventures over the years 🙂 She really was enthusiastic, but I think when the project dragged into the 3 hour realm, enough was enough and she convinced MEH and me to be worried about littering, too! Thank you for your lovely compliments! 🙂 And I hope we hear back from at least one, too!

  26. Ado says:

    What a cool family! I love the peels of laughter as you all pile back into the car after your little adventure. Next time we are at the beach the girls and I will put a message in a bottle into the ocean and hope that it gets up to you in Maine. One never knows! (-:

  27. I love the analogy of blogging with tossing a bottle into the Atlantic with a message inside of it. I think I remember doing something like that long ago, but the memory is hazy. I’ll have to get my gang together and have them write notes and put them into bottles and bring them to the water. What a great memory to have!

  28. Ado, I’m afraid you might be the only one who considers us a “cool” family! Nonetheless, it was a really fun activity (we did it once when the kids were a lot younger, too). I hope you and your girls will do a message in a bottle too — let me know and I’ll keep my eyes peeled here in Maine!! 🙂

    Dina, It was such fun; I’m guessing your kids will have a wonderful time doing it too! (Let me know when you do and I’ll keep my eye peeled for it here in Maine!) I’m glad you feel the same way about blogging — definitely throwing the old message in a bottle every single week! 🙂

  29. I have done this before (but not for a LONG time). What a fun family project…I may need to think about trying this again. I never heard back after the first time, but you never know…

    Yes, I do sometimes feel that I’m writing for only myself. It’s probably good to keep my expectations low, though. 🙂

  30. Amanda, It was really fun — and I think I had the most fun of all! I’m like the biggest eternal optimist about these things…. same reason I always run to the mailbox every day! 🙂 I suppose the fear of writing only for ourselves is not just a universal feeling but perhaps even a universal truth — do you think?

  31. As for your last question–YES! I’ve felt that way on Twitter especially . . . worrying that I’m just adding to the noise. I’ve wanted quiet lately and I imagine others do too, so I always feel guilty adding more to an already cluttered internet. Of course I still have a blog anyway! But I am struggling with post ideas . . .

  32. Nina, There does seem to be an awful lot of stuff out there on the Internet, I agree. However, you always seem to contribute useful and wonderful writing and observations, and (perhaps just as importantly) you seem to have fun and enjoy the process! As for you struggling with post ideas, I would never have guessed! I think we probably all go through that as it’s the nature of the beast…. and perhaps the flip side of the message in the bottle analogy is that as we throw that bottle, we sometimes feel like we’re all alone in the process…

  33. Lisa, for some reason your second (shipwrecked together) comment *just* came through! That’s so sweet to say my blog would be a floating life raft… and as writers we’d have plenty to talk about, too!

  34. Loved this little adventure! You think of the coolest excursions.

    The part about hitting the seal was funny to this reader, too, believe me. I started laughing out loud and thought about how my MEH would HAVE TO say something humorous or sarcastic at the critical moment if I was the one throwing the bottle.

    Hilarious about your daughter not wanting a police record for her med school application. That made me think about you ending up in Police Beat as the crazy writer who threw a bottle into the water – and, of course, the police would give such a dry description of why you did it. (You should write your own Police Beat entry for this post!)

    I’m off to Twitter now to look up a fun tweet that had a link to a story about a boy and girl from different countries who met when the boy threw a bottle into a body of water. It was actually tweeted by JM Merchant, one of your earlier commenters on this post. When I find it I’ll RT it to you.

    ~ Milli