Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Loved Ones Far and Near....

So this blog has been quiet for the last few months, purposefully so, as a grand decision was made to move back to the States.  The main reasons primarily being family - aside from parents and siblings living here and feeling far from them, one sister recently had baby number two when I had only seen baby number one once.  And then there were the finances.  And…more importantly…housing. 

I’m buying a house.

No tiny shack, though equally no McMansion.  All 1,068 square feet of modern architect-built rambler on an island in the middle of the Puget Sound that’s a haven for writers and artists…and all for $195K.

I’ve kept mum a bit on the house and only still barely talking about it and won’t write too much more at this point until the deed is done, the ink is dry and the keys are in my hand, but in the end for a house I’ll own I will be paying $350 to $400 a month less than I was paying in Bath for a one bedroom flat rental. 

It was a no brainer. 

But what it meant was leaving a life behind.  A life I wasn’t completely ready to leave.  A life full of friends and laughter and wine and intelligence and trading that in for a house and being closer to family.

But the tradeoff meant an estimated two months living at my parents’ house.

I love my parents.  They’re interesting, quirky, intelligent, lively, opinionated people whose said opinion I value highly and the opportunity to be close to more often was a primary motivating factor in returning to the Pacific Northwest.  But it also meant, as a woman who just turned 40 in October, who hadn’t lived in the same city as my family for over 12 years, I would be now living with my parents.  In a small room.  With my dog.  Another sibling had moved home to finish her degree and was in the active grind of job searching, so the house would definitely be full.  And to say that the whole scenario filled me with trepidation would be a bit of an understatement.   Not for how they'd do...but I’m used to my own ways, my own time, my own schedule, my own life.  

And so I moved.  Crated up the dog, boxed up my belongings, said my farewells and took another leap of faith. 

Which as we all know, I’m big on leaps of faith.  

I didn’t offer on the house I thought I would, the small blue one with the trees growing through the deck that looked like a fairytale writer’s retreat.  Its beautiful pictures belied a weary house in need of more TLC than I wanted to muster and a lackluster interior.  But I did offer, the day after I arrived, on another house, a  little green cottage with slightly Scandinavian exterior and an almost modern Craftsman-style interior with a high ceilinged living room and a huge bank of windows that looked out into a ravine of pine trees.  The house I’d thought would be mine didn’t call to me, but this one did.  I do believe houses choose people…. and so this one chose me. 

And then the waiting game began.  Dealing with finances and mortgages and earnest money and inspections, agreement extensions and banks.  In a house hunting purgatory, waiting for the paperwork to be approved and for the boxes to be unpacked. 

But in the last week or so as Christmas has arrived the limbo of my life has started to wear me down.  Again, so grateful and thankful to be with family for the first time in ages, but realizing also that this holiday season was passing me by.  As my friends posted cheerful holiday pictures on Facebook, friends literally worldwide, I sat in my room working or walking Otis on the beach, occasionally watching TV, trekking off a meager few times down to the city to see a couple friends or sneaking an extra glass of wine after the parents had gone to bed, feeling like a naughty child.  It wasn’t that the company wasn’t good or I wasn’t happy to be here…but I’ve been stuck at the starting line of a race I’m eager to take, waiting impatiently for the flag to be dropped.  Waiting.  Not choosing.  Not doing.  Just waiting.  

I’ve never been good at waiting.

And so as my friends were busy, flitting here and there, I’ve felt time just ticking, watching the second hand turning, hoping it turned faster.  I know in my head it’s temporary.  I know it’s only a week or so to go before I can get going.  And in the next few days I know I’ll again begin to feel a sense of momentum as I can once again start to plan and organize and dream with a feeling of reality.  And I know these moments at home are actually things I’ll cherish, precious time spent with people I love.  But at the same time feeling greatly a loss of all the things, and all the people, I’d left behind.  And the sacrifice felt like it was becoming hourly more acute.  Thinking of my friends merrily together.  Thinking even of siblings near and far with their children and their families.  Feeling spread and torn apart and wishing there were  many of me that could be everywhere and always.

And then they called me.

A group of merry revilers in Bath.  Santa hats and paper crowns and sparkling antlers.  Who had been slightly overserved but were all ever so charming.  And who wished I was there as much as I wished I could have been.   They cheered me with their joy and their silliness and, especially, their rousing rendition of the Pogues Fairytale of New York, which they said to have been dedicated to me. 

I’ve decided to choose which lyrics they meant most heartfelt. 

But in that moment I was loved by my friends.  And missed.  And not forgotten.   

I move a week from Friday.  So, again, the waiting more or less is ending.  And starting tomorrow the limbo also more or less ends and the doing begins.  

But I needed that.  I needed them. 

So thank you Santa, you two sparkly reindeer and you two crowned fairies.  For caring about me.  For remembering me.  Thank you for my soliloquy and for, as I said, the best Christmas gift… for being my friends and for sharing with me your Christmas cheer.    

And in the end….it was a very merry day.  

Saturday, August 11, 2012

People Watching

Like a painter that goes out into the streets and cafes to capture the pictures of the people around him, so I as a writer find that often I am most inspired when out in the world among people.  Watching their detailed interactions, the nuances of the relationships, trying to capture the moment and the thoughts from their expressions. 

People watching is something I've always loved but I think years as a script supervisor have honed my ability after spending all day watching actors live or on a monitor, seeing one person's ability to state a line clearly and communicate a specific emotion or other actor's inability to emote a most basic line in a way that seemed remotely natural, let alone believable.  

Perhaps that's inspired me or shaped me to write.  Watching for so long people in false situations, I find it now so much more interesting to see the real life dramas that take place on a minute scale in the real world.  

The woman sitting with a laptop at a table outside a cafe, her dog tied at her feet, drinking tea, watching the world and writing at the same time would probably be something I would find fascinating to watch.  If that person wasn't me.    

And so today I'm writing what I'm seeing.  
A cow stands on the corner of the square, greeting pedestrians as they go by, handing out something.  The mascot seems familiar, as if for a local ice cream or dairy company, but the cow seems less than comfortable with her job.  Not ill pleased, exactly, but a little self conscious.  As perhaps one would be as a relatively small person in a cow suit on the sidewalk in a square full of people.  Though I've never seen a self conscious cow before.  

A man sits at the foot of a tree, leaning against his bike which leans against the tree trunk, his dog at his feet, rolling a cigarette and talking to a fellow biker, a female dreadlocked bohemian.  The man cracks his beer as they chat and she opens a letter.  

Early Start by Richard Burel
Tourist and locals alike pick over the fruit and vegetables at the farmer's market. Comparing the nectarines.  This one?  Or that one?  Does it have a bruise?  The girlfriend checks inside the paper bag to see if she approves with the boyfriend's selections.  He puts one back and she selects another one and they move on down the line, reviewing other options.

A few teenagers sit on a bench, chatting and looking at their iPhones.  They smile but not laugh.  The three girls sit together sharing one phone as the boy gets up with his and stands in front to better chat with all of them.  

A man sits on a bench, his backpack next to him, enjoying an alfresco sandwich and soda.  Comfortable in his skin...he people watches even as he is being watched. 

Two young blonde women sit at the cafe drinking coffees, gabbing.  One has sunglasses on her head, artfully placed as to not mess up her hair.  She gesticulates as if telling a story and the friend seems rapt.  It's not funny, but engrossing.  Is it the end of the story or an update to a previous one?  

Two guys join alfresco man on his solitary bench.  He moves his backpack over, but keeping it on the seat to separate him from the other two.  It's a small bench for three good sized men and momentarily awkward, but they settle in.  Alfresco man stops people watching and pulls out his iPhone as if to define that he's definitely on his own and not with them.

A young mother with magenta hair wearing an ill fitting, mismatched track suit pushes a pram through the square, trailing after her even younger looking, head shaven, t-shirt wearing partner.  She seems to be on the verge of yelling at him and he knows it, walking faster ahead, turning back to answer her only when he has to.  She stops halfway through the park to hike up her sweat pants and continues on. 
Tree Shadows by Adebanji Alade
A young couple stops in the middle of the square, carrying overnight baggage and a camera and appear to not exactly know where they are going.   They turn and head to the cafe, seemingly having made their choice for an afternoon snack. 

A young girl in a floaty floral spring dress cools herself with a princess shaped electric fan.  

An elderly couple walk arm in arm slowly through the edge of the park, observing the people at the produce stand.  He in a blue and white striped oxford and she in a red and white striped t-shirt with matching white caps; they seem ready for a visit to the seaside, dressed in summer nautical colors, though the seaside is miles away.  He is mildly stooped, seemingly too much so for what doesn't seem a truly advanced age.  

A double decker local bus carefully threads through the street around the park, momentarily interrupting the flow of pedestrian traffic.

A woman in a medical uniform gets up from a bench, reaching behind for the hand of her companion.  They walk off casually, hand in hand, chatting and smiling, enjoying each other's company. 

A man glides his bicycle deftly into the rack amongst the others chained up and parked.  He locks it efficiently and walks off down the road. To the pub?  To the store?  He is determined and purposeful, a goal in mind. 

A small terrier puppy yips at the corner of the cafe, realizing he had been momentarily ignored and hopeful not to miss his scrap of leftover cake. 

A young woman in hen party bride gear, complete with sash and veil and fancy embellished sunglasses, walks into the square.  She is tall, elegant and blonde, thin and prettily dressed, surrounded by friends, most at least 3 inches shorter, each wearing light summer dresses and plastic leis around their necks.  They stand in the corner chatting as if deciding where to go next.  What to do?  So many options.  It's early, only 3:00, so too early yet to hit the bars, but, then again, you only get married once.  Hopefully.  They slowly wander a few feet off to the corner, not quite yet decided, still on a lumbering exploration.  A friend points down one street, but no decision is made.  Are they lost?  Suddenly another girl comes down the corner street, wearing a similar lei and waves at them.  They recognize her and wave back and immediately the group strides off purposefully toward her.   She knows where they're going and they follow her off out of the square.  So the hen party officially begins.   

The puppy whines again, tail wagging, looking at the people walking in and out of the cafe door, hopeful a piece of cake will drop and he will be gifted with a treat.   

Kingsmeade by Shirley Toogood
Two young men, one heavyset with silver earrings and carrying a large bag, the other tall and lean, wander through the square, chatting amicably. Along with their bags they carry the easy air of student life.

The teenagers on the bench have been joined by even more teenagers.  They have multiplied like rabbits in only a few minutes.  They laugh, showing each other their shopping.  Are they telling adventures of their day?  They don't seem to be in a hurry to go anywhere and instead are working on perfecting their skills at the age old teenager pasttime:  loitering. 

At the same time a large group of teenage tourists, accompanied by an occasional harried looking chaperone, walk en masse down the corner of the square.   

A man sits with his sons on a bench, having a snack, observing the brave pigeons coming towards them.  The older son, standing up, stamps at a pigeon to scare it away.  The mother comes and sits next to her husband, sharing the seat companionably.  As the father speaks, she laughs naturally and gaily, a wide open smile, her head thrown back.   The younger son throws a treat to the pigeons who rush in and attack the lone potato chip.  He is entertained and throws another one until the flock becomes overwhelming and the the big brother steps in again to shoo the birds away.  The snack done, they get up and wander off, the younger brother dawdling behind as he finishes the last of his chips.  He throws the bag responsibly in the bin as he walks away, hurrying to catch up to the rest of his family. 

An elegantly middle aged Asian woman takes the bench they were sitting on and calmly waits.  For what?  She is dressed in all black and everything mid-sized:  a 3/4 length light cotton shirt, mid-length black trousers and gold shoes with a medium sized brown leather purse slung over her shoulder and her moderate length hair casually pulled back in a clipped ponytail.  She observes the birds for a moment out of the corner of her eye, then looks back up and stares off.  Is she waiting for someone or just waiting for time to pass?  She is calm, unhurried.  Her hands rest patiently on her lap, her legs crossed casually.  She sits quietly and still.  Not observing.  Thinking?  Occasionally she seems to focus outward but then her gaze turns off again and she is lost in her thoughts once more.  Suddenly she sees something, or someone, and gets up with purpose and walks off. 

A middle aged man in a white and blue striped oxford shirt and well pressed salmon colored shorts shops with a basket at the farmer's market.  He scans the vegetables, thinking, then picks a large cucumber off the rack.  He continues to look around, as if creating a menu in his head, filtering, choosing, selecting, eliminating.  He hands his basket to the seller, then stands, his right hand resting on the top of his head and yawns, waiting patiently for the total and his bag of completed purchases.

The man with the bike has returned.  He unlocks it and sets off across the park in the opposite direction from whence he had come.  Where has he been?  And where is he going?  Continuing his journey or ending it?  His glasses, balding head, beard, shorts and golf shirt make him an unlikely candidate for a cross country trek; more likely a environmentalist professor biking home, running errands while saving the planet.  

A maitre'd comes up from the stairs of a subterranean restaurant at the far end of the square to rearrange the placard board outside advertising the restaurant's existence.  He looks around at the people momentarily as he adjusts the sign, angling it for the best view from the entire square, as if wishing he could stay in the sun just a moment longer.  He reluctantly turns and heads back down into the caverns of the restaurant, a unenthusiastic nocturnal creature.   

The man in the salmon shorts takes his purchases to a bike, wanders with it to the corner, starts to mount it but then reconsiders.  He walks the bike across the street, over the pedestrian-heavy corner and onto another road.  Finally, he gets on his bike and slowly starts to creep his way up the hill.  

A muscled man in his 30s with a backpack, laptop bag and shopping tote from a clothing store strides quickly and purposefully across the square.  His sunglasses hide his eyes.  The faded eagle tattoo on his arm is in stark contrast to the bright blue of his striped polo shirt.  

A community worker enters the square in his neon yellow vest with a new garbage bag to replace one in an overflowing bin.  He moves slowly, as if happy to do his job today outside in the nice weather.  A car going around the square stops and asks directions, which he happily obliges, pointing the driver around the corner.  He walks around the square, carrying three large bags of rubbish, using his metal claw to pick up the bits that lazy people have dropped here and there.  He is thorough and efficient, unhurried but not lazy.  His movements are of habit and routine, but without the impression of any sense of shame or resentment.   He focuses on what he is doing but also at the same time manages to take in his surroundings and observe.  Watching the garbage and watching the people. 

A group of helmeted lady bikers stand on the corner next to the coffee shop, deciding what to do next.  The tangle of wheels and spokes, chains and people take up a section of the corner, but they are oblivious to the pedestrians trying to make their way around them. 

A elderly black man with a can of beer in his hand wanders around talking loudly to unwilling strangers.  Some acknowledge him, some ignore him.  He asks a middle aged woman for the time.  He asks several times, each time more loudly.  She looks over her shoulder and doesn't respond.  He moves on to a group near the bikers who seem to know him as if he's a local and a regular, as are they, though they come to the square with different intentions...and mind. 
11am Kingsmead Square by Peter Brown
Just when I think there are no more people to watch, to observe, to notate, to write about, another interesting character comes along.  Someone else whose body language and actions are curious, compelling and distinct.  It reminds me that there is beauty and fascination in the normal, in the everyday, in the plebian as much as there is in the extraordinary and unique.

And so, as I walk away from The Society Cafe in Kingsmead Square in Bath, somehow I feel as if I've met all of these people, if for only the briefest of moments.  That by watching them I've gotten to know some tiny, interesting fragment of who they are.  And at the same time I wonder who was watching me?  And what, watching the woman sitting in the corner with the laptop, a now empty pot of tea and an obviously hungry dog, would they be thinking?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Words, Glorious Words

This afternoon, while at a tea party with my lovely neighbors, one of them mentioned how he had purloined the word "kismet" from me.  He had had someone look at him strangely as it popped out of his mouth as easily as it has, on many occasions, popped out of mine.  And it made me think about language and words.  Specifically favorite words.

We all have our favorite words.  For some they may be more succinct and steeped in cultural symbolism.  "Fuck" or "shit", for instance.  Some people's favorite words have lost their meaning, words of a different time.  Words like "gay" that once simply meant lighthearted and cheerful, something completely different than the nebulous, socio-conscious word that it has become now.  But for me I love best the words that either sound like what they mean or what they mean is represented in how sound.  In a way I suppose a theoretical onomatopoeia but that's not a really accurate description.  The words I like best are the ones that somehow, somewhere deep inside you resonate so that they make you feel, as you are saying them, exactly what they mean. 

And, truthfully, for me there really are only two that stand out:  "Pathetic" and "Kismet." 

There's something so  joyously derisive to call someone pathetic.  Just the way it rolls off your tongue...."You are pa-THE-tic."  The emphasis behind the word matches the desired intention.  The true definition of the word could mean, "You are cheese curds," but yet somehow it would have still the same desired intention of insult, derogation and disdain.  While there are few in my world who deserve being called so or described as such, when the time comes, as inevitably it occasionally will given the feeble nature of the human race, there is such satisfaction in delivering those syllables that it's hard not to crow with glee as they are uttered.

Which leads me to my second, and perhaps optimistically more favorite word: "Kismet".  While in essence it means "fate" or "fortune" its Persian/Turkish/Arabic origin gives it just that little bit of...spice.   It's fate with a little bit of magic carpet thrown in.  Over the years, in all my adventures, I've come more to embrace, even revel in, the idea of fate.  Not predestination....I think we all choose our own lives.  But the idea that the world is yours if you're brave enough to take it. 

For example, last year in July I posted a blog post titled, "I Am For Bath."  At the end of the post talked about how funny it was that two years prior I had been driving through Bath with my sister and brother-in-law after being at my brother's wedding in Porlock, here in the U.K.  I had a lovely boyfriend in L.A. and was not planning to move anywhere at the time, but my sister, in reference to my newly acquired dual U.S./Finnish citizenship , at that moment said, "Just think...anytime you wanted to you could live here."   And in that  blog post I wrote, "How ironic that here I am, planning to move to Bath."

Two months after that post, after an exhaustive search across the entire town I carefully selected and then moved into a flat here in Bath.  A couple weeks after that my then-boyfriend pointed out that the house at the end of that street on the right, the front door that, while far away, is centered in the picture, was the house that I had just moved into.  The flat that I am writing this post from now. 

So two years and change prior to moving to Bath I took a picture of my current front door.  When I had no idea that I was even considering moving here, I took a picture in a city I didn't live in, in a country I didn't live in, of a house that I would, in future, live. 

That is kismet.  Leaps of faith and imagination topped with a sprinkling of fairy dust. 

I love the idea of being where the universe thinks you're supposed to be.  I'm not religious.  When people ask, I say I believe in Carl Sagan and The Force.  And while I abhor the idea of predestination... I dislike the idea of some supernatural being saying, "You will be here," as much as I hate the idea of any mortal telling me where and when I should be...I do love the idea that if you're smart enough, if you're willing and crazy enough, you will end up were you're "supposed" to be.  Perhaps I think in my head that there are many "supposed to be" options and that it's a matter of choosing your own ending in the Choose Your Own Adventure book of your life.  But I do like those strange coincidences the world throws at you makes you think about...just for that second longer. 

And so kismet.  While fate seems to pragmatic and fortune seems so capitalistic, I love the magic of the word.  It implies to me, as I've said, a bit of spice and sand and flying carpets.  To say, "It was fate that I moved here," or "It was fate that we met," seems so bland and pedestrian.  But kismet....kismet is the stuff of legends.  It's the stuff of heroes.  It is the stuff of magic.  

And while we know, at best, it's just a pretty illusion, deep down we all want to believe in magic.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Little Quiet...

Talking to a friend this evening about writers and artists, and our natures, there came a moment in the conversation where he suggested that creative people in general are lonely.  I argued that while I think there's an element of truth to that it's not actually that they're lonely.  They're solitary.

Solitary is a choice.  Lonely is not. 

I am someone who most people who meet me would consider quite sociable.  Gregarious even.  The life of the party.  Someone who loves being a hostess and being hosted.  I talk a lot, I laugh loud and often and I enjoy the company of both people I know and people I don't.  Strangers to me are just people I haven't met yet. 

But at the same time I am a person who needs their alone time.  Years ago as a member of a touring theatre company I would dream of and prize the 15 minutes of solitude I would get every few days.  I craved it.  I needed it.  Achieving a quiet moment alone in my own space, albeit a hotel room, became almost an obsession.  And without that solitude I became crabby and shrewish.  Not a pretty sight.

The Family with Uncle Tom and Grandma...1986ish. 
I'm in the back in my favorite red and white checked Esprit shirt
I wonder if that is a result of growing up in a loud, boisterous, exuberant household.  It was a rare moment to come home from school and find the house empty, so those moments became greatly prized.  Until my early teens I can think of maybe only two or three times where there was not someone else in the house with me.  We were, and I think still are, a rambunctious family, full of laughter.  Family dinners were held every night and still are some of the best memories of my childhood.  Random evenings where we were all in tears of laughter as my dad explained to my middle sister that the best way to make sure her swimming goggles weren't stolen was to etch her initials into the lenses.  Taking a break from the table saying "I'm going to take a walk" holds special meaning in our family...let's just say it's in regards to hated non-Oscar Meyer hot dogs, a wood pile and a really good throwing arm.  Not mine. 

But I need a place to retreat to.  From the chaos.  From the color.  From the energy of other people...that they take, that they need, that I want to give them.  To a quiet and a solitude where...yes...I like the sound of only my own voice.  Lucky for me Otis seems to like it when I have long, philosophical, sometimes wine-induced conversations with him....he's a very good listener, though he occasionally does tend to fall asleep in the middle of a very good oration. 

I've never been one for background noise.  My hip and cool college roommate Julie used to like to turn the radio on the moment she got up until the moment we went to bed.  But for me I needed quiet.   Constant background noise is to me the same as the buzzing of a fly.  Irritating, incessant and...did I say irritating?  

I do have two theories on my lack of interest in background noise.  Both of which sound bonkers.  

First, I have a dog ear.  One of my ears hears high pitched sounds.  I've heard a computer monitor whining that others couldn't hear.  People didn't believe me when I switched it off because it was too annoying....until the day it went up in smoke.   Literally.

Second, when it's really loud I can't smell well.  Again, seriously.  It's not actually that uncommon, to have your sense of hearing be a more dominant sense than the sense of smell, but not something people general are able to put a finger on.  Once, watching TV alone in my apartment in New York I smelled smoke.  I muted the TV.  Sniffed.  Decided it was cigarette smoke.  Then unmuted the TV. 

And then realized what I had just done.  I had muted the TV so that I could accurately determine what kind of smoke it was.  True story. 

I find myself now as an adult who's lived primarily on her own, other than my rarely-barking, non-English speaking dog, for a number of years and find there are times when specific amounts of vocal volume bother me.  Something that would have been natural to me as a kid in that energetic family and childhood now is foreign.  I can be overwhelmed by a person of loud pitch, overt vocal aggression or grating tone.  To the point of wincing.  To the point of snapping.  Don't get me wrong....again, I talk loud, I laugh loud, and I can, at moments, gesticulate wildly, so the words calm, quiet and reserved do not even remotely apply to me.  But those times, those people can be so overwhelming to me that sometimes I wonder if it's just, in essence, I'm out of practice. 

But...I'm probably out of practice by choice.

There is a nearby bar that I jokingly refer to as my writing office.  It's a place I go to escape from the carpet that needs vacuuming, the dishes that need cleaning, the work that actually pays me money to have a glass of wine and write.  And I've had some people ask me how I can write with all the bar noise.  How can I focus.  But bar noise isn't personal noise.  The sharp edges of the various accents and verbs and melodies blend into one constant white noise background.  One shrilly harping shrewish voice can make my skin crawl, but 200 of them in one giant cacophony becomes a symphony of life around me that I can tune out.

I do wonder what it is about artists and writers that makes us...different.  Through history we're often jokingly referred to as drunks or lunatics or eccentrics.  The best, truthfully, are often all three.  We live our lives by our own choices, not by what society dictates.  We may like a little too much wine.  Or dress in alternate clothing.  Or cut off our own ears.  But if that's what is necessary to open the floodgates to the creative process, is that really too much? 

Okay, I'll give you the thing about the ear.  That's a little weird. 

I suppose in the end as a writer I need to be able to hear the voices in my head.  In the quiet of my solitary living room or in the loud din of society.  Perhaps that's why people think we're nuts...we listen to those voices, we feed off them, we are obsessed with them.

But the funny thing is.... the moment those voices are down on "paper," suddenly they're considered sane.  They're still the voices in my head.....

...but, because you've read them, they're now a voice in your head as well.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Fine Line Between Bravery or Insanity

Bravery.  We use the word so casually but yet what does it really mean?  

To me bravery is a fireman who leaps into the flames to save a human being.  A soldier on the battlefield facing dangerous situations but carrying on nonetheless.  My older sister who was near the front lines of the first Gulf War.  That's brave.  Hell, to me someone is brave if they're willing to climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower or stand on the deck of the Empire State Building..

I'm terrified of heights.  Completely, absolutely and to a state of crippling panic.   I turn into a whimpering, shaking ninny.  

No.  Not at all what I'd consider brave.

Yet, on regular basis people tell me how brave I was to have moved here to England.  Where I knew only my aunt, uncle and cousin.  To just plop down and begin a new life.  

But to me I can't help by think:  really, how scary are strangers?  They're just people you haven't met yet.

I've always been the one in my life to walk up to the stranger at the bar.  I'll think about it for a second, come up with something witty to say and just plow on.  I've never understood the trepidation.  Really, the worst that can happen is they will be dumb, rude or....worse...boring.

Well, truthfully, we all live in a little bit of fear of being cornered by somebody who's cringetastically boring.  

But it's not going to kill us.

Though if there's no immediate escape we may feel like killing ourselves. 

And so I suppose for me physical bravery is true bravery.  But it's an interesting thing to contemplate.  In some ways there are many types of bravery.  There're people who are brave with their physical being - the soldiers, the firefighters, the policemen.  There are people who are brave with their hearts - they jump easily and willingly where many of us would be reticent and cautious, worried of being hurt.  And there are those who are brave with their lives - willing to try something, someplace new.  

In my case it wasn't to escape a life or change who I was.  Quite the contrary, I would say that the life leaps I've taken have been to believe more strongly in myself and who I was and, in some ways, find the place where I am supposed to be.  Perhaps, like the heart leaper's quest to find "the one", the life leaper's quest to find "the place" is just as transient, as much a fairy tale and yet...still as much a possibility.  Like winning the lottery, if you don't buy the ticket, you won't win.  And people sometimes do win.  

I am not a nomad or an aimless traveler.  When I left Seattle years ago I said I'd go to New York and if I hated New York I'd go to L.A. and if I hated L.A. I'd go to London.  I neither hated nor loved either New York or L.A. but I realized 3 years ago that London was simply New York with better accents.  But I was reminded that I loved England.  And I am.  

When people ask, "Weren't you scared?" I say, "You can always go back."  Again, unlike the love leaper or the physical leaper, the life leaper isn't burning bridges...or being burnt.  I could always move back to New York or Los Angeles or even Seattle.  While some friends have moved away, they're still friends and there would be more friends to be had in those places.  Though, as I get older, the uprooting does become tougher.  While you know you'll stay in touch and visit the important people, if you're not in the immediate vicinity it is never the same and relationships inevitably change.   I sometimes long for a cottage on Bainbridge Island, taking the ferryboat over to downtown Seattle.  I recognize though that much of that is love and nostalgia, for the lovely childhood that I had and the home that it will always be.  But for me now, to go back is to go backward.  For now.  

And for now, at least, I want to continue to move forward. There's so much of the world I haven't yet seen, I haven't yet smelled, I haven't yet tasted.  But I've been lucky, not as lucky as some but luckier than many, and I continue to be grateful for that little bit of gumption, guts, bravery or just plain insanity that has led me to where I am.  

Which is sitting in a bar in Bath writing and drinking a gin and tonic.   Living the life of a writer in England.  

And right now, life definitely could be worse.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Little House, Little Cottage....

When I first arrived in the U.K. and reality hit and my grand vision of a "Little Cottage on the Estate" ended up as a lovely but quite scruffy and uninhabitable dud, I toyed with the idea of changing the name of my blog.  I was no longer going to be living on an estate, but instead in a lovely, 250 year old stone house.  Sadly, though, "Little Cottage on a Brook in a Small Village...With A Castle" somehow didn't quite have the same ring to me.

The idea of changing the name has popped up here and there ever since, most recently on my move to my now "High Ceilinged Georgian Flat in the City (of Bath)", but for two reasons I have resisted.   First, the title connects to the motivation and sparking idea for the move in the first place -  the estate cottage - so although the journey changed, it still was a journey.  And, second of all, the inspiration for the title stayed the same.  Which is, quite obviously, Little House on the Prairie and Laura Ingalls Wilder.  But it made me I never lived in the "Little Cottage on the Estate", how would Laura feel about my inaccurate misappropriation of her book title?  Would she be shamed?  But then I thought...her books are referred to as the "Little House" series but really only one of her books -- the second, by the way, not the first -- was set on the actual prairie, so really, was the use of my imprecise blog title any different?  

Because it represents the start of an idea....not necessarily the finish.

Many covers exist, but this was
the cover of my first copy
The Little House series of books were a strong influence on my childhood and I find as an adult now an association, empathy and appreciation for the kind of pioneering spirit that those books, and the people of those times, experienced.  True, I just moved from one modern civilization to another, escaping the brutal rusticity the Plains pioneers endured.  But there is a shared sense of stepping into the unknown, to a place where you know no one, and just jumping in and see where you land.  Though at least where I landed there was a pub already in existence. 

I think if I had to choose, no single book, or even book series, affected my childhood as much as the Little House books.  I loved Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, the latter still being somewhat of an adult fascination.  But I look back and of all the books I read – everything from Mrs. Piggle Wiggle to Ramona The Pest – none stands out as a childhood memory more.

Laura Ingalls Wilder (from
It's hard to separate the imagined story characters from the real image of who Laura Ingalls Wilder was, and also then even harder to separate her from the pigtailed, buck toothed version played by Melissa Gilbert.  But I think in some ways in my head as I was reading them as a child I became Laura.  That little girl in the books was written in a way that I felt it, I experienced it.  I remember reading Little House in the Big Woods, the first of the series, when I was about nine and being enthralled.  The stories of Pa playing his fiddle while people danced, watching Ma put her hair up with tortoiseshell combs, the joy of Laura's corncob doll, and tapping trees for maple syrup.  They were mesmerizing and addicting and I devoured them all.  Thank god for the '80s and the plethora of "prairie-style" dresses, Holly Hobbie and sunbonnets.  

Laura's tomboyish nature appealed to me as well.  I spent hours as a child out with my dad in his workshop, sanding blocks of wood and nailing together treasures.  I love the smell of sawdust and shellac as those are the smells that take me back to the days in his shop in the garage, chilly in the winter while my dad, dressed only in his white t-shirt and down vest, worked handily at his extensive, self-built, highly organized workbench and made fantastic things out of a two by four, some nails and a bit of glue.  We still eat as a family at the large dining table that he made when I was 7 and the addition of "baby" Megan meant we needed a larger than normal table to seat our seven person household.  

Almanzo Wilder  (from Wikipedia)
I still can recite the entire list of books by heart.  Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, By The Banks of Plum Creek, On the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years and The First Four YearsFarmer Boy, the official second novel in the "set", was actually about Laura's future husband, Almanzo Wilder....and set nowhere near the prairie, so even she was guilty of narrative digressions.  So I suppose I can be forgiven.

I look as an adult now at Laura's life and wonder would we have liked each other?  Would we have been friends?  Would we have identified with each other over an adventurous spirit and a imaginative bent?  Would she be a hopeless romantic?  Would she find my modern brashness off putting?  Or were she, and her daughter, writer Rose Wilder Lane, kindred spirits in creativity, narrative interest, and bold, brave personality?  Their lives as women were on the cusp of many changes in the world, where female writers often changed their names to make their work considered respectable.  While our lives are so different in so many ways, fundamentally we are people that comment on the world around us, so whether by a computer or an ink pen, and so there is a basis somewhere there of commonality.   Ah, what we would give to have an hour's conversation with the people in history who have shaped us....if only to have that moment to let them know what an incredible influence they have had.

My goddaughter and niece is now currently 6 years old and I think that soon she will be old enough herself to discover Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House.  I wonder if it will affect her already creative fashion sense as it did mine.   Right now she's obsessed with sparkly jewelry and hair bows but I have a feeling it's only a matter of time before it's sunbonnets, button shoes and petticoats for her too....  

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.