Friday, December 30, 2011

Leap Into a New Year....

On the eve of another new year I can't help but look back in wonderment at what a difference a couple of years can make.  Two years ago this time I sat at my parents' house on the couch and asked them if they would look after Otis for 6 months so that I could sell all my worldly possessions, leave my entertainment career in L.A. behind and move into a house in the middle of nowhere in England, a little cottage on the estate that I'd never seen before.  

I am a huge fan of leaps of faith.  The bigger the better.   But even for me this one was a doozy.

To be fair, it wasn't exactly the first time I'd done this.  I'd dropped a job at Microsoft to move to New York and be an actor.  A few years later, I listened to my heart and pitched the acting career and followed a short, slightly twisted path into script supervising and a life in L.A.  But each of those leaps had been, in my view at least, wildly successful.  Not necessarily the outcomes I'd dreamed of on embarking I didn't win the Oscar I set out thinking I wanted but they were life changing and made me stronger and self sufficient and shaped me for the better in more ways, significant and subtle, than I think I could ever really name. 

I do think that taking the leap becomes easier the more you do it.  You become braver.  You see that there's something to be earned, and something to be learned, whatever the outcome might be.    

I jokingly say that my parents were supportive of everything we did as kids as long as it wasn't illegal, but there's a huge kernel of truth in that.  As the child of two adventurers, a sailor who has been around the world at least twice and a former nanny who crossed the ocean from a small island in Finland to live in New York City, following your dreams and being willing to make huge, albeit calculated and educated, life changes was somewhat the backbone I think of what you could call a family life philosophy.   Perhaps even family lore.   So it never occurred to me not to go or that they wouldn't want me to go.   You can always go back.  You can always return to the status quo.  But if you don't take the risk, you don't get the reward.   

If you never buy a lottery ticket, you'll never win the lottery. 

One of the things that I've had to learn to rely on and to trust, most importantly of all, is my own intuition.  Female intuition or just, perhaps, human intuition.  Whatever its source, through the years I've learned to believe in my own instincts.  To have faith in myself.  In my intelligence.  In my own abilities.  In my stamina and  resourcefulness, to deal with what comes at me and to look for new opportunities to grow and prosper. 

In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade there's a moment where Indy realizes that one of the tests to get to the grail is to take a leap of faith.  Step onto a bridge that he can't see but he is sure that is there.  In his case, there's both a mental and physical leap to be undertaken, but any leap of faith is a decision to believe in your own judgment, that what you believe to be true is true and what you are doing is the right choice.

And having faith in yourself and taking big risks are what dreams are made of.

Here, now, it's both fascinating and revealing for me to look back and see how right that choice was.  Two years on, I'm challenged, interested, enthralled, curious, motivated and excited about where my life is, on both a personal and professional level. As if all the experiences of my life before this point have been a set up to get me to where I am at this moment, eager to move forward and see what the next adventure will be.   

So, as my friend Molly recently said, let 2012 be the year of doing. 

Let's see what we can achieve when we take a little leap and have a little ourselves. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Who needs an umbrella?

The weather this last week in England has been a chaotic, ridiculous, glorious mess.

First it's windy,  then it's hailing, then it's beautifully sunny, then it's a torrential downpour, then sunny again with a chance of rainbow.  It's warm enough to walk outside in just a sweatshirt but an hour later you freeze in your winter coat.  

And I love it.  Every second of it.  My only wish is that we could get a little thunder in there to complete the package presentation.  

I love the changeability on a moment's notice.  The unpredictability of what will be next.   I sit inside at my desk and laugh, watching the dark clouds roll across the sky, dropping the afternoon sunlight to a dusky blackness, unleashing their havoc and then disappearing again in another breath. 

Four and half years of living in Los Angeles was four and half years of living without any variation in the weather.  Every day was like a scene from the movie Groundhog Day - the same sunny blue skies with wispy white puffs of overly cheerful clouds floating through.  The last year I lived there it didn't rain from February to August.  Not a drop.  There were four days in June that were slightly overcast and hinted at a potential drizzle, which those of us from out of town anticipated eagerly, only to be bitterly disappointed by the return once more of those boring blue skies.

During that last year I heard and became obsessed with the song "Grey in L.A." by Loudon Wainwright.  As he so eloquently put it, "When it's grey in L.A. I sure like it that way 'cause there's way too much sunshine 'round here.  I don't know about you, I get so sick of blue skies wherever they always appear. "  

Don't get me wrong.  It's not that I don't like sunny days.  They have their time and their place like everything else.  I like sunny days when there's a flea market or a wedding or a festival.  I like lovely warm, cloudless days picnicking in the park.  But as much as I don't want rain every day, sun every day is not just boring.  To me it's soul crushing and uninspiring, and drains away my energy and ability to think and create and dream.  Without variations in the weather what do we have to look forward to, to talk about, to wonder about?  If every day is predictable on such a basic level, the rest of your life takes on a monotonous color, like a series of paintings only painted in yellow and blue.  Much as you might like those colors, you occasionally want to look at something else. 

There's a Ray Bradbury short story called All Summer in a Day about a group of kids in a classroom who live on Venus where it rains all the time except for one hour every seven years.  Most of the children have never seen sunlight except for the one girl, a recent transplant, who remembers living on Earth and seeing the sun.  The kids tease her, taunt her and lock her in a closet...and then the sun comes out for an hour and they play outside...forgetting they'd shut her away.  They remember her only after the sun has gone and the rain has once again returned.  

My days in L.A. I often felt like that girl, except the opposite.  Surrounded by days of neverending sun, barely remembering what rain smelled like, tasted like, felt like.  With the lyrics of the song "MyTime of Day" from Guys and Dolls ringing in my head, "And the smell of the rainwashed pavement comes up clean and fresh and cold," I dreamt of that scent, that metallic, minerally smell of the sidewalk as the warm summer rain begins to sprinkle the dirt away.   

I love rainy days.  Misty grey to a torrential downpours.  Perhaps it's growing up in Seattle, but I know many native Washingtonians that think sun every day would be fantastic.  I admit I prefer to be inside when it's raining or in a car or in a tent, listening to the rhythmic pinging on the window or roof.   But give me a booming, window-rattling thunderstorm and I'm a happy girl.  

Otis, on the other hand, isn't too thrilled.  As he really doesn't like getting wet, he's not too fond of the rain, even in his bright yellow raincoat.   

Well, can't please 'em all.

Monday, July 11, 2011

I Am...For Bath.....

 I love my little village.  My own little Brigadoon, I've called it in the past.   I have fantastic neighbors.  A great pub with colorful souls.   A sparkling brook that trickles behind my house.  And a castle just down the street and around the corner.

Did I mention there's A CASTLE.

As a kid I definitely thought about living in a castle.  I mean who doesn't?  I think most little girls think about it at some point.  Living in the castle with their handsome prince wearing a big pink pretty, pretty princess dress and the world is perfect.  

When you're nine.

My adventure in England has taken a wide variety of twists and turns.  I started out in The Little Cottage on the Estate.  I currently live in The Little Cottage in the Village.  

And I plan to move to....The Little Georgian Flat in the City. 

I'm like Laura Ingalls Wilder's modern day English ex-patriot equivalent.  

The reality of a being single woman in her late 30s in a small village has been impressed on me more and more lately as people who have been important in my life this past year have slipped away, only to expose the holes in the theory that life in a village is perfect.  It is perfect.  If you're retired.  Or raising kids.  Or a poet.  Or someone looking to hermit away from life and be a cat lady. 

I am none of those things. 

I fell in love with Bath the first time my friend Les took me there last year.  He took me to all his former drunken haunts in the city, meeting up with a great group of his friends, and within seconds I wanted to live there.  But the idea of leaving my little haven, the place of respite I'd found after the craziness of first arriving here and having everything thrown into chaos, was a difficult one to stomach.  

But as the days have moved on, I've realized that life in Nunney doesn't change.  It's lovely.  As always.  It's friendly.  As always.  There are always people to chat to on the street, always friends in the pub to share the day's events with, always company for a cheerful supper.  

But, like Brigadoon....not many other people come here.  

To be fair, we do have a good amount of visitors.  Walkers who come to explore the trails of the Mendips.  Parents who bring their young children for an educational day out for the 20 minute walk around the castle.  People from neighboring villages venturing "out" for the evening.  Men who work for the quarries that come and stay at the pub for a night.  Some even become semi-monthly regulars.   

But the village, the core, the people you meet daily, the people who you know and who know you, stay the same. 

I grew up in a small town, an island, and thought I would embrace small town life easily as it was something I'd known and loved.  But nostalgia is a different thing from reality. 

The reality is Nunney has become my British home town.  The place I can go to and know in my heart that I'm welcome.  Step into the gossip should I choose, step out of should I not.  I know the people and the dogs, the houses, the roads and the trees.   

But it's time to fly the coop.

I love my hometown of Bainbridge Island, Washington.  Like Nunney, it's an idyllic place, perched just across the water, a 30 minute ferryboat ride away from downtown Seattle.  In the twisted turmoil of trying to figure out where I belonged, knowing I didn't belong in Nunney but not really knowing where I was supposed to be, I thought, "Bainbridge." 

But that would be the end of the story. 

I'm not ready for the story to end. 

And the reality, as I said recently in a conversation with my mother, was that after the magic wore off of being "back home" again, what would I be doing there?  Where would I be?

I have lived in New York.  I have lived in LA.  And there were reasons I left both.  In some ways both were too big for me.  Too much.  Nothing you could get your head around and embrace.  Nothing tangible.  I want to know when there's a new restaurant opening in town...I don't want it to be one of 200 new restaurants opening that day....but I don't want it to be the only one that opened that year either.  

Since I first went to Bath last summer I've spent a fair amount of time there.  I've introduced old friends to it.  I've met new friends.  I've fell in love with restaurants and shops and parks and I think I found that place, that singular place, that I've been searching for.

It's not Bainbridge.  But like Bainbridge, or Nunney, I could walk across it in a day.  It's not New York or LA, but like those cities there's something new, something happening every night.  Restaurants and theatre and music and people.   And life.

And so I've notified my landlords, who optimistically are putting my current house on the market to see who else wants to buy this little gem on the brook with the ancient walled garden.  My cottage that is older than the United States.   That has sheltered me.  And protected me.  And now needs to let me go.

I'm looking forward to moving and feel as if I almost belong to Bath already, in a way that I don't think that I've felt I belonged to any city since I left Seattle 12 years ago.   I wonder sometimes if this is what I've been looking for in all the travels and all the years of adventuring.  Stay tuned. 

What's funny is two years ago my brother got married in beautiful house in the village of Porlock, a really, REALLY little but lovely place on the Exmoor coast, looking out over the bay to Wales.  On the way back to London, driving with my sister Megan and her family, who live in Sweden, we detoured for my first ever view of Bath.  As we drove away, remarking on my newly acquired Finnish citizenship, Megan said, "Just think....anytime you wanted to you could live here."

And now...I will.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Dog Years....

Being the owner of an older dog, a dog that was older when I got him, I think I'm much more aware of time slipping by.  More so than friends, family, even parents, though now that I'm farther away I feel even that more acutely.  But for a pet, it's not a gradual change over years, decades.  Sometimes it's months.   I look at Otis and I see, what seems suddenly, salt and pepper coloring trickling into the jet black of his coat and realize that in the best of times I might have 4-5 years left with him.  If I'm lucky.  Talking to his vet today I asked him his opinion of Otis' age and he seemed skeptical about the 9-year-old guestimate.  When I got Otis I was told he was probably between 6 and 8, so three and a half years later I know he's probably between 9 and 11...and while I like to err on the 9 I'm aware that day by day he's getting older.  I hear that ticking clock more loudly and heart-wrenchingly than any proverbial biological one.

Like a parent with a newborn child, if he's not snoring loudly enough underneath the desk I look to make sure he's still breathing.  Unlike a newborn, fragile, optimistic child, this is an elderly animal, well loved, well cherished and, while healthy and nowhere near his last legs, I'm aware that he's gotten to the age where he can just slip away.  My first, and only, family dog, Captain, a beloved Springer Spaniel, passed away in his sleep when he was only nine.  I, however, was only four and a half and only generally realized the implications of what was happening, outside of the immediate sorrow of my parents.  Now, as an adult who's already had to put to sleep two cherished pets, I love the ease of that, the way that Captain slipped away and we mourned him but didn't have to make an anguished decision.  I look at my little Schmo and recognize that when that time comes this would  probably be the hardest decision I would ever make as this little dude has been my constant companion, my friend, my worry when he was ill, my heartache when he was lost.  He's been my partner in crime, the boyfriend when I was in between, and when there was a man, the girlfriend to talk to in the dark of night.

Vets are a funny thing.  I think I'm less picky about human doctors and car salesmen than I am vets.  Because a vet has to understand animal behavior as well as the science.  I've been lucky to find some really good vets along the way, in Seattle, in New York, in Los Angeles and finally now in England.  But it's someone you just instinctively trust to protect your furry pal.  Our new vet, part energetic idealist, part mad scientist, is my new hero as he still believes in fairy tales...well, of the veterinary medicine sort....specifically that we can cure Otis' ear infection.  The ear infection Otis has had for all the time I've had him, despite years of antibiotic therapy.  This vet thinks we can cure it...and that's quite nice after having basically given up.  

I still have days where I look at Otis and I wonder where he came from.  Where was he before me?  Did have have any babies with some foxy Spaniel?  How did he get lost?  How long really was he a stray?  And, most importantly, why did they not come looking for him?  Maybe they did and gave up before he actually came to the shelter.  Who knows.  I'm only grateful that, in the end, they either gave up or didn't care so that I could find him.  And he could find me.   

So I sit here tonight, about to go to bed and expect I'll have a little furry body sleeping with me.  And while I know he likes being near me I'm also honest enough to admit that I know he also just really likes the heat of the electric blanket.   But aware that each moment is precious....I'll take what I can get. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Let There Be Light....

I just recently spent a weekend in Finland, the country of my mother's birth and, luckily for me, the place that has given me dual citizenship and a passport which allows me to live in England.   I saw family and friends and had a lovely time and enjoyed being in the city, but what impressed me most of all, strangely enough in a country that is dark and snowed in for half the year, was the light.

Yes, light. 

Living in England, people love their gardens.  They love their fireplaces.  They love their pubs.  They love their wine.  But the one thing they have forgotten to appreciate, in a way, is light.

Scandinavian architecture, or at least the Swedish and Finnish architecture that I've been exposed to, is specifically directed to take advantage of as much light as possible that they can bring into their houses.  In countries where there is approximately 5 hours of light a day in the deep winter months, that makes sense.  There is a great book called Living With Light all about how Scandinavian design is intended to use every available moment of light and welcome light into a house.   Be it an old house or a new one, the essential style is the same. 

But in England, with old stone cottages and small windows, it's almost as if the light is something like the cold that needs to be fought against and braced for.  The theory being in a way if you keep the light out, you keep out the cold as well.  While Georgian buildings welcome and rejoice in the light with large, multi-pane windows, they're sadly not in the majority of the houses I can afford to live in.

To be fair, most houses in Finland are made of wood.  And, as my architect cousin Hanna reminded me, wood houses burn.  Apparently the city of Turku, one of Finland's largest cities after Helsinki, almost complete burned in the late 1800's.  My  cottage in England, built in the 1750's of Somerset quarried stone, is of a different era entirely.  So it's unfair to put even relatively modern 1900's standards of architecture and house building as a comparison to that.  But even so, standing in the bright living room of my cousin's 80 year old house or looking through the large panels of glass in my aunt's mid-century home that invites nature in, I had waves of window envy.

Years ago in the States I fell in love with Craftsman style architecture.  A product of the American Arts and Crafts movement propagated by Frank Lloyd Wright and William Morris, its ideals were about a combination of beauty and functionality.  No space was wasted....built in cupboards, sideboards, closets.  The themes of nature...and being one with nature in the space you lived in...are fundamental.  

And so I find myself in an architecture quandry.  My ideal house would be a Craftsman-style cottage with Scandinavian-style windows and light usage in the middle of bright green England.  

As I somehow doubt many of those exist I better start saving up so I can build it. 

And....might as well save up to build a sauna in it as well. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

That Time Of Year....

Today was a beautiful day in England.  Sunny, warm, clear blue skies, a light spring day teasing you, making you eager for the coming of summer.  As I sat in the backyard beginning to weed away the winter's brown overgrowth, I took a sip of wine and listened for a moment to the sound of the brook tinkling by and thought, for the first time since I've been here...

"Ah, this is familiar."

I have now been in Nunney a year.  A year and two weeks, to be exact, and it's exceeded my expectations and surprised me, as well as challenged me.

This year has been an interesting journey of learning.  Of who I am and who England is.  But also interesting now to look back after a year and see all the things I've taken in, absorbed and made my own, while still remaining who I am and thinking of what is yet to come.  

I now know if I don't want to get harassed I should say "bah-sil" instead of "bay-sil."  I know where Cheltenham and Swindon and Plymouth are on the map, though I still tend to confuse Westbury and Weymouth.  I've had a shandy and a wiskey mac and mulled wine.  I've learned about the curious tradition of British pantomime.  I've learned all about the rules of DEFRA in the U.K. and the USDA in the States.  I've negotiated the bureaucratic hoops of the National Health Service, HM Revenue and Customs, Mendip Council Tax, and the DVLA (driver's licensing)... I've had to learn to drive again...I never forgot but according to the U.K. 21 years of driving doesn't count.  I've weeded and wined and whined...or whinged as they would say here.  I learned it actually doesn't rain all the time in England.  I've had Santa drive by my house on a fire truck and bet on which rubber duck would win the Easter race down the brook.  I know the difference between naff and tatt.  Well, actually, I'm not sure I do exactly but I know the gist.  

Personally I've gained friends, gained a niece, lost a godmother, gained a few pounds, regained a dog, and am in the process of finally buying a car.  I've sat as friends far away have gone through major life trials, unable to physically be there, but reveling in their recovery.  Love and laughter, tears and torment.    

I think if how lucky I have been that the fates brought me here to this village, instead of where all my grand plans were going to take me.  I imagine the isolated year I would have experienced, the sad, poor, lonely soul I would have been in my original little cottage on the estate.  It was an exceptionally lovely setting.  With friends and visitors and a knowledge of the area it would be an amazing place to live.  But my life, my year, my adventure would have been lonely and miserable.  How lucky was I to find that place derelict.  And then how much luckier still to stumble into this charming, quirky, lively little village full of diverse and interesting personalities.  In a way, it's like my own Brigadoon.   

I miss my friends in the States, but those of you who matter to me...and whom I matter to...make sure I know that you are still there, even though you're miles away.   And I do my best to do the same....though admittedly I do make many telephone calls after a few too many glasses of wine.  

But after a year, there's still much to explore.  A car will give me the ability see beyond my immediate village walls, beyond the bus rides, beyond where the train will take me.   As any 17-year-old will tell you a car means freedom.  It means that I can go where I want, see what I want, experience what I want, when I want.  That thought is amazingly exciting.  

I get closer each day to figuring out what I want to do when I grow up.  Someday I'll have to make a decision but until then, I'm enjoying each adventure, each challenge, each curiosity.  There's still so much to see, so much to experience, so much to learn, that who knows where the journey will take me.  

But still, after a year, I walk Otis down the street, around the corner and still, after a year, I look up in wonderment and think...

...."It's a castle!"