When your past calls, don’t answer. It has nothing new to say.
2014. Ten years ago, we left the United Kingdom to make a new life in Canada, the land of my birth. In this tenth anniversary year, my family and I will shortly make our first return visit to the land that I called home for 25 years of my life. The impending trip has filled me with a longing for places left behind, filled me with memories of my years in England and Europe. Today, my memories have wandered over my time working as a stewardess on a private yacht in the Mediterranean. It was only a summer, but a summer that was long and filled with amazing experiences, travelling from city to city all along the Mediterranean coast, to Corsica and Sardinia, Elba and then across France, through Paris. I had just finalised divorce from my first husband. I had great prospects in the UK for school and love and a good life. I took the job to get away, to be present and silent with my own thoughts, to decide what I wanted to do next. My family were keen for me to return to the US, to take up the university direction that had been lost in the early marriage. I had decisions to make.
I am particularly remembering San Remo in northern Italy, not far over the Italian border from Monaco. The ship spent awhile there undergoing some repairs. I had an opportunity to wander the city over several days. I have three lasting memories from those days . . . the young men on every corner, each seeming more gorgeous than the last, who admired me openly, murmuring “Ciao, bella. . . .” in low bedroom voices; the strange absence of women – one or two beautiful, lively young women, and black-clad old women, with nothing visible in between; and the young man on the scooter who followed me everywhere, and who stationed himself by the end of the gangway for three full days, shouting “Bellissima, bellissima!” every time I appeared on deck. 🙂 But I am particularly remembering San Remo for a certain life turning-point, on a faint long-distance payphone call to tell my parents I was not returning to the US. Sometimes, looking back, you can see those points so clearly, the moments of decision that change the course of your whole life.
I returned to the UK after my term in the Med was finished. I enrolled in law school. A year after my return from the Med, I remarried, to the man who remains my best friend and life partner today, 28 years after we met. I went on to steep myself in the history and culture of Great Britain, made it my home, pushed my roots deep into that ancient soil. Returned to visit the US for the first time ten years after I had moved to England. . . . Patterns repeating themselves . . . . As I recall feeling then, I have been feeling odd, mixed feelings about returning to the UK nearly ten years after we left.
After law school, I pursued a successful legal career for 15 years, achieving considerable success as a litigator, writer and teacher. These were the same years over which we continued to try for a family, and over which I repeatedly miscarried. Not long after my daughter was finally born, I achieved Associate Partnership with a firm 200 miles from our home, and the transformation of our lives that would lead to this place began. Another one of those turning points so visible in hindsight.
A decade ago, I walked out on that professional career. I haven’t talked alot about why I left, or how I felt at that time. The truth is that I felt I was the loser – that the male bastion legal profession had succeeded in driving me out. My strengths and gifts as a woman were meaningless. My parenthood was a burden to them. I was judged on whether I could be more than any man, and still that wasn’t enough. I did not see my child awake all week, but still that wasn’t enough. And so, after 15 years, I walked away. We took the decision to start over, to make a life in Canada where I might escape my qualifications and have a hope of making a new career. We sought a strong creative community where we could pursue our creative goals for the future and raise our child in a strong environment close to nature.
I and my family have gained enormously from that decision and live a life far beyond the modest dreams we held ten years ago. And ten years later, I know I was in the wrong career, that there was constant friction between my true self and a role that grated against my values more with every passing year. Intellectual challenge isn’t everything. I have also learned that I do not have to use all my skills and talents in one place. Today, I enjoy a career fulfilling the passion of my heart, as a book artist, writer and teacher. My work is held in collections around the world, I am privileged to travel and teach, to write, to share my passion with others. I have many opportunities to use my legal training and skills in other areas. There is a natural flow to my work, my career and my life. I am not fighting upstream or compromising my values and my goals. I look at these images of myself ten years later and I see my true self. I look younger. Fully occupying my life and my spirit. I see what is in the eyes. I have found my place.
I return to England a very changed person, fully occupying a flourishing arts career and loving the life I live and share with my family. I realise now how much of my old life was lived in fear. Fear of failure . . . . fear of somehow being ‘found out’ to be not quite as brilliant as they thought I was . . . fear of losing everything. I have finally learned that the only cure for fear is to face it. And in facing my worst fears and taking control to make the change on my terms, I have reaped joy and the life I was meant to live. This return visit will have joys and sorrows and alot of mixed feelings, I know. But it all looks different to me from this vantage point. I realise I am the winner after all.