Gladhval with Mist on the Water
Early Morning, Scotland, 1969
Lucky. Fortunate. Blest.
I just read a blog by Vivienne Tuffnell on The Loss of Our Youthful Dreams, which was very thought-provoking. It made me try to remember what my own early goals and ambitions were and how they had all worked out. At first, it seemed just jumble of random things happening, of starting and not finishing, with a lot of wandering around doing things that seemed sometimes surprising but often irrelevant to anything important.
The earliest plan I had for my life, at the age of two, was wanting to be “a gran’ma and a doctor.” The reason I remember this is that everyone thought it was such a strange notion — in those days it was expected that little girls all wanted to be a mommy. People liked to remind me of this and laugh all the way into my teens. I’ll come back to this later.
Sometime in primary school, I felt I also wanted to be a poet (who illustrated her own poems) and to have six children and to be a doctor. Sometime in high school, I was clear that I wanted to write and illustrate children’s books — and I wanted to be a doctor, but was beginning to worry about the medical bit. I had realized that what doctors actually did wasn’t really what I wanted to do. So I thought about nursing… and a week in the hospital showed me that this wasn’t it either. Also in high school, I accidentally became convinced that I’d never be a “good enough” artist and that the kind of books I’d liked weren’t really proper children’s books at all. So the children’s books were out too.
By the time I became a freshman in college, it seemed like being a psychologist might be the right thing, so I took classes in the subject. Back then, sixty years ago, psychology was all about behaviorism and Skinner boxes and nothing to do (it seemed to me) with real people. As for consciousness — there was No. Such. Thing.
At the end of my second year in college, I threw it all up in the air, got married, moved onto a boat, got shipwrecked, had a baby, bought a bigger boat with my husband, repaired, painted, and polished it up and sold it, and we went off to Great Britain to buy a sailing boat to go cruising. Around the world, perhaps. We didn’t find the boat we wanted in Wales, England, or Scotland so we boarded a ferry to Norway. In Oslo, we found exactly what we wanted. Almost. The entire first third of it was rotten so we decided to become serious boat builders in the west of Norway for several years. As we headed toward Romsdalen, we grounded our Gladhval in calm water and had our first relatively gentle but alarming taste of being nearly shipwrecked. In Romsdalen, we worked hard doing the heavy labor of boat building for a few years. When we reached a point where the hull was sound and tight, we launched her and headed south to Stavanger. On the way we had another near-shipwreck on Christmas Eve. There are Norwegians who are really kind and helpful. In Stavanger we spent an icy winter and then we sailed to Scotland, with major engine problems on the way, and worked on the boat some more. In Scotland, we were once again we were grounded and almost wrecked, following which we were caught in a hurricane and rescued by the Royal Navy. Scots are kind and helpful too.
This sounds silly, but after several years in Scotland, we realized that we needed to go back to Norway because many of the building materials we still needed were more readily available there. So, we tacked bits canvas over the most open places in the deck, and headed back to Norway in November during the equinoctial storm. Rough trip, but we made it. Arrived inside the skerries to find it so calm in the fjord that every star was reflected in the water. This seemed a good omen. In fact, just arriving at all seemed a very good omen!
We were going north, perhaps back to the original boatyard — I don’t remember now. Nearly got shipwrecked again — this time in very rough, scary waters with big rocks sticking up out of them. So we turned around and headed south toward Bergen. I’m not sure of our exact itinerary throughout these years, but I do remember the various groundings and near shipwrecks very well — along with the bright sparkling wave on sunny days, the astoundingly bright stars on clear nights, and even occasional auroras. We survived and made it back to Bergen, where I decided I really wanted to go back to Scotland (heart’s home). My son, Jon, and I left. Jeff, my ex-husband, still has Gladhval. I missed out on the eventual trip to the Caribbean, but I didn’t really mind that.
Then there were the years in Scotland where I applied my boat-building and painting skills to interior and exterior house painting and decorating. Then another wedding, this time to a “mad Scot” — Neil — and a new career in antiques and antiquarian books. First, we sold them in flea markets, then we exported them to Canada, and then we moved and imported Scottish things to California. All of these years, from the time I left school, may have seemed like a total distraction, but I learned some very useful things:
1) I was a lot stronger than I had thought. I endured. Yes, I even persisted.
2) I could learn to do almost anything if I was patient and willing to study and practice for as long as it took.
3) While I wasn’t particularly paying attention, I was growing up, accumulating a lot of life experience, and becoming myself. I discovered that I could make changes, could learn new things, however unlikely, and could take risks and survive.
4) That when you got in trouble, if you asked for help you often got it. Most people were naturally kind and helpful.
5) I was older and perhaps a bit wiser and certainly a lot more adaptable. People sometimes realized that I knew things.
These were important qualifications for my Real Career, which was not really antiques and old books.
I went back to college part time — psychology, as a study, had radically changed. Jung! Rogers! Real people issues! Um… even a parapsychology class where I met people who taught me tarot (outside of class) and was introduced to many things I could see were important and valid. Exciting! Maybe I could be a counselor or something. Someone took me to a Spiritualist church, and one of the mediums told me I was a healer. I knew that — had known since I was two — but didn’t everyone always do healing? Turned out that they didn’t. How amazing! So, in my kitchen, I showed a couple of neighbors how to do basic hands-on healing. The two became six, the next time around. Teaching teaches us faster. The friend who had taught me to read tarot moved away and sent all her clients to me, so I did readings and teaching in the back of our antique store.
In my early forties, I was standing in field under a full moon performing a wedding ceremony for a hopeful young couple. In the middle of this, I suddenly realized that “a grandmother and a doctor” really meant a “wise woman and a healer” and what I was doing at that moment was exactly a part of that. I thought that was all finally settled, but it wasn’t.
Eileen, a massage therapist and healer from London was travelling through San Diego. In a grocery store, she asked the clerk if she knew of a good psychic reader. The clerk didn’t, but the customer behind Eileen said, “I know just the right person!” and gave her my phone number. After her session, Eileen asked, “Would you be interested in coming to London and Cornwall to teach and do readings?”
Eileen went back home and made arrangements. I bought tickets and went for six weeks — time to teach enough to pay for my tickets. And then I went home, having arranged for me to come back in three months. That was the beginning of my tick-tock travels over the Atlantic. People started wanting me to do classes and reading in other places, and finally in Bath on Beltaine, someone asked what it would take to get me to actually move there. I muttered that I was thinking about moving back to Scotland. But they said, “Bath!” and repeated their question. It was about three in the morning after our celebrations and I was heading back to San Diego the next day. I mumbled that I supposed I’d need somewhere to live and somewhere to teach. I was to come back anyway (tick-tock) around Midsummer. They said they would have places waiting for me to live and work. And they did, so I stayed and tock-ticked in the other direction after that. And started travelling once in a while up to Scotland, just because I loved it.
And about that time, a student showed a publisher friend of hers the notes that I gave to the class and told him that he should get me to write a book on meditation. He did, I did — Moon Over Water — and then I did a second on imagery and inner journeys, Sun Over Mountain.
Then I reversed that situation as well, moving back Scotland, traveling to England and Cornwall — and to California. Scotland is my own magical homeland. I thought I was settled forever. I liked traveling and my cats didn’t mind it too much. We even went camping together. Then I got sick.
Nearly died of pneumonia; couldn’t go back to work for months. I began to feel as if I’d never be really well again. Every doctor and every healer I knew told me that staying in the good Scottish rain would kill me the next winter. That was August, and by December I was beginning to see that they were right. On the 12th of December the cats and I traveled — Arrochar to London to Los Angeles to the desert of Borrego Springs.
As it happened, I didn’t do well in the desert — seemed like I was going to dry, crack, and crumble into dust. All those years in rainy, cold countries hadn’t made me ready for this. The cats and I moved up into the mountains, where there was a bit more water in the air. From there, I drove to San Diego once in a while to teach. Unfortunately, even occasional teaching was too much. Couldn’t teach, couldn’t do healing or counseling; made myself sick again every time I tried. Wasn’t getting much better — in fact all of my energy seemed to be needed just to stop getting worse. It felt like my path had gone over a cliff and me with it.
Just about then, on my 60th birthday, Brian Froud asked me to write the book for the Faeries’ Oracle. I could do that — stay home, write some every day, and rest as needed. This was my third book, and it sold much more than I expected. It took a while, but when the “advance” finally came, I moved to Washington State, bought a bit of forest, and my wild son gradually built a home for me on it. I still wasn’t settled, though I had hoped I was. But after some to-ing and fro-ing, I may be settled now in the middle of three acres of forest with a nearby super-neighbor and caregivers, near Port Townsend. Port Townsend is filled with artists and writers, sculptors and photographers, yoga teachers, tarot readers, craftspeople — witches and elves and gnomes commonly walk the streets. At 79 I rather hope to be settled just where I am — it feels like home. And I can write what I most want to — which tonight is this blog.
What else am I writing? Another oracle for starters. And a book (or five) about tufted faery cats and humna — half human, half faery people. I’ve even found a way to do the illustrations — with help.
Is it for children? Well, yes — and for their parents. And teen-agers and grandparents. And people trying to find a way to live together in a world where so many of us have become strangers and refugees. I’ve gotten ambitious, you see. So I may have accidentally (if you believe in accidents) become a wise woman in a forest, a grandmother, and a writer-illustrator-poet for children and others.
It now appears that all of this time I’ve been working back and forth through my ambitions, often without even realizing that they were ambitions instead of happenstance. I may get there yet. I’m also taking classes in writing — you always need to be trying to get better at things or they get boring. And I keep thinking about teaching a class in using the tarot to help write a book or story. You know, plots and character development are a lot like reality — if you believe in reality.
Tonight I just happened onto a video about someone doing his own version of one of the things I used to do in Scotland. I’d love to go make that trip, if it were possible. Who knows what may yet happen or what paths might open? (I was going to link to it here, but lost it. If I find it again, I’ll put it in the comments.
Tell me, please, what did you want to be when you grew up? And where do you think you might be on the path to getting there?