Ok, a couple of months ago I went to a reunion of a bunch of us who had worked at the same ad agency back around the time my oldest daughter was born. In talking to one of the creative gals from the old gang that evening I casually mentioned how I wished I had some talent at wood-working or cabinetry because I loved the smell and feel of a well-made piece, and how the wood-working section is my favorite when I go to craft shows with the Reverend Mother. The woman’s face lit up, and her eyes got big. “Oh, well then you MUST pursue it! Chase your dream! Take classes! Buy tools! What can you be doing that’s so important that you can’t go after what you really want to do! Come on, let’s call your wife right now and I’ll tell her you HAVE to do this!”
“Ummm, let’s not,” I said. I told her that wood-working was something I’d like to pursue some time in the future when I had more time and fingers to spare, but that there were things right now I’d rather do with my evenings (like blogging, for instance). At least with writing I know I can put a few words together in a craftsman-like way but with lumber the only thing I’ve ever been able to make is a racket. I did muse a little at the thought of throwing myself at something I liked, and how this blog was perhaps a step in that direction.
Then a few weeks ago a friend of mine spoke at our church and told about how he and his family had packed up, sold everything and taken off on a year-long trek across the U.S. in an RV. The impetus had come from a conversation he had had with a man he had hired to do a laser-light show at an event:
We were talking one day and he was telling me about his life and all the different places he has been and all the neat things he has seen. He has done lasers for the past 30+ years. I was amazed just sitting there listening to him. He went on for several minutes. Talking about touring with The Stones, Clapton and some other big names. Then he stopped. He looked at me differently than before. He got real serious and then he said, “Tracy, I have been diagnosed with colon cancer. I most likely have one to two years left in this world.” I just stared at him, I am sure with a dumb look on my face. Then he went on to say, “Can I give you some advice, from an old guy to a young guy?” Of course I said yes, please do. “Do it now.” I looked at him and cocked my head to the side much like a dog does when you say the word “treat”. He went on. “What ever it is in your life that you have always wanted to do, do it now while you have the time. Do it now while you still can. You never know when the day will come and you can’t.”
Right about that time I also got a book for Christmas entitled Two Years in St. Andrews: At Home On the 18th Hole. It’s a true story about a guy, George Peper, who decided to chuck his high-paying job and move to a smallish flat he and his wife had bought several years before, nicely located alongside the 18th hole of the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland. (Just happening to own a place next to St. Andrews makes this a lot easier, I imagine.)
I’ve been to St. Andrews twice myself and found it an ethereal, even entrancing experience.
I’d been to St. Andrews before, on a cold blustery day 30 years ago and had virtually had the town to myself. I had walked the 17th and 18th holes of the Old Course and visited the ruins of the old town’s castle and original cathedral. I had stood on a cliff overlooking the North Sea as the waves pounded the rocks below and the wind chapped my face before I returned to my senses and realized I had been standing there for 40 minutes, hypnotized. This day, however, was a “soft” day, sunny, cool and, of course, windy. The occasional shower blew over us as we parked at the Old Course and walked up the 18th hole, and then turned toward the castle and the sea to retrace the steps I had made so long ago, this time able to show the sights to my children.
I love the gray stone buildings, black roofs and tight streets of the old town, the crash of the North Sea on the rocky shore. Peper himself became entranced by the slower and quirkier lifestyle, and it is easy for me to picture myself hunkering down in such a place to write — to pursue something while sitting nearly still. My mind drifts for awhile along the black cliffs until a splash of cold North Sea spray slaps my face. Oh yeah, job, mortgage, bills, health insurance, weddings, educations — worthy objectives themselves and hard to accomplish without a steady income. Yes, I know, the lilies of the field live quite well — but the lilies of the field never needed a 401k.
Mark Twain once said, “Write without pay until somebody offers to pay you. If nobody offers within three years, sawing wood is what you were intended for.” Within a month I will have been blogging here for three years. The “sawing” I do everyday pays pretty well, but I wonder sometimes if I could make a living as a writer in a world where people seem to read less even while so many very talented writers are giving it away for free. But still…
Nearly three years ago I looked up and realized that though my very impressive job title contained the word “Communications,” about the only things I wrote anymore were emails. So, I fashioned a little skiff and pushed it out into the electronic current, poling through the shallows almost as a lark, to see where it may lead. And now, as I type this, a line from a song by The Waterboys comes to me … “that was the river, this is The Sea!” And I see myself standing on the cliffs at St. Andrews again, watching the sea rush in and fall away from the rocks below — is it beckoning or taunting? — and realizing that taking a step is important, but not as important as timing!
What? Why, yes, I am turning 50 very soon. Why do you ask?