A woman once ran across the elderly Picasso as he sat sketching. She offered him a huge sum of money to draw her there and then. He made a few strokes then handed her the completed work. “But it only took a few seconds to do that!” the woman complained. “No.” He replied. “It took my whole life.”
Big decisions, big changes often seem to happen in “ahah” moments—the last straw, the flash of insight, serendipity, gestalt. When we try to tell the story, though, we recognize that it is hard to know where to start, perhaps even further back than memory can take us.
In 2020 I decided to sell my condo in San Diego, get rid of all my furniture, dump every possession that wouldn’t fit in my car, and move to Victoria B.C. I knew no one there, and had seen the city only for a few rain-soaked hours a number of years before. I did this based solely on an understanding of the important through-lines of my life and how they were calling out to me for change.
“Well, you known Laurel,” a few friends said. “She gets an idea in her head to do something, and then bang, almost in the next breath, she’s done it.” That’s how it looked on the outside, but like Picasso’s few short strokes, it took a lifetime to get there.
A lifetime, and a year of Covid lockdowns. “I don’t want to be here,” started as a whisper and grew into a loud challenge to do something. I realized that I had never fully adjusted to retirement from my career as a college professor. I went from dividing my time between teaching and cruising, to cruising and more cruising. Then that vanished, with no resumption in sight. I was left then with the realization many retirees come to, that life without work just isn’t enough. I discovered I need a lot of stimulation to feel fully grounded and thriving in this life, and I wasn’t getting it.
This wasn’t about finding a hobby, or writing another book, or doing some volunteer work. It was much deeper. After 50+ years in San Diego, I knew nothing I could do post-Covid would make living there enough for me. I was shriveling inside, and I just didn’t see how I could fix that without doing something drastic. So I leapt. I loaded up my car and drove to British Columbia. What was the worst thing that could happen? If I didn’t like, it I could always go somewhere else.
Shortly after I arrived, I went up to a regional park near Victoria and hiked along a trail leading to a viewpoint overlooking the ocean. Almost instantly the clutter in my head began to clear. The silence reminded me of how long it had been since I had not been surrounded by noise. The occasional bird song and the rustle of bushes caused by an unseen animal was all that broke into the barely perceptible hum that was my ears adjusting to hearing nothing.
One of my first thoughts was, “here I am, walking in a forest.” Metacognition of this sort is often the preamble to insight for me, and that day my thoughts went something like this. “I want to be the kind of person who walks in forests. Most of the time I am a person who thinks about walking in forests, but doesn’t actually do it. But here I am, doing it.”
There is no reason, I thought, that I can’t be more consistently the person I want to be. I had a glorious chance for a fresh start. I vowed to call myself out on all my old excuses—no time, no money, no transportation, nobody to go with.
As I hiked, the me I usually am tried to defeat the me I want to be. The hike was longer and steeper than I expected, and I saw clearly the toll that a closed gym, curtailed life, and quarantine has taken on my stamina and strength. The complainer in the back of my mind said I could just turn around, but the me I wanted to be pressed on.
And then, there I was, a bit breathless, as I looked out on the reward I had earned by being the better version of myself. As viewpoints go, that one was relatively unspectacular, more a peek through the trees than a wide-open panorama. By then I didn’t care. I was exhilarated by the walk in the woods, and the bonus of a walk through my own head.
That better me has made the year I have now spent in Victoria one of the richest and most satisfying of my life. I am, most of the time, closer to the person I want to be. I think I will be chasing her happily the rest of my life.
Guest Author Bio: Laurel Weeks
Laurel Weeks lives in Victoria BC and travels extensively as a lecturer for Seabourn and other luxury cruise lines.
She is a retired Professor of Humanities at San Diego City College. She is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction under the name Laurel Corona. Please reach her at www.laurelcorona.com
Photo by David Knapp-Fisher