One Door Closes…

 I leave places a lot, especially now that I don’t have a permanent residence.  I’m not sure I could even reconstruct a list of all the place I have left since the ”Big Leave,” which was pulling up roots in San Diego and moving to Victoria.  I don’t mean places I spent one or two nights, but places where I moved in long enough to set up my computer and unpack my blender and popcorn maker. Places where I bought several bags of groceries and hung up some clothes. 

I love being settled into a new place.  Walking out the door into a new environment, a new chance for discoveries big and small, is a genuine psychological boost, but I get a different kind of pleasure out of the last few days before I leave a place.

I have spent the last month and a half in a condo on the edge of Victoria’s Chinatown, and I leave tomorrow.  I am 99 percent packed, which means in the last day I have handled and thought about  pretty much every item I brought here. There’s something about winnowing down that focuses me, because once again I see how, even after having gotten rid of almost everything when I left San Diego, I still have too much. 

How do I know this?  Because I am at this moment acutely aware of what I never used. A few days back, yet another suitcase of clothing that I liked and was perfectly fine went to a local charity shop because it’s surplus, plain and simple. I am also very aware of exactly what I still own, a state it is easy to lose track of when you stay in one place and still have room to stash what you keep buying. 

In the last two years I have developed a simple test for possessions. I ask myself when considering buying something:  will this sit in your little storage unit where you can’t easily get at it, or will you haul it from place to place every time you move?  Those are the only two options, and I don’t buy much anymore because neither sounds that great. 

The other thing I take perhaps a slightly weird pleasure in is figuring out how to walk out of a place with zero remaining food.  My meals get very strange toward the end—tonight’s dinner was a bowl of frozen blueberries and sweetened goat cheese, and lunch was a salad made with almost every last tidbit in the fridge.  I do have avocados and some Parmesan cheese to take with me tomorrow, so I am hearing the “fail’ buzzer in my head. Really, the empty fridge is just a fun game anyway. 

So now I am sitting here, cupboards, closets and drawers empty. After I do a little cleaning  tomorrow, it will be as if I were never here. That’s something to think about too, how we vanish from the places we leave. How the only thing we really take everywhere is ourself. How tomorrow I will bring myself somewhere else and be present there. 

And that brings me to the last thing I learned in the place I leave tomorrow. I wanted to live in this area at least for a little while since I moved to Victoria. I envisioned in particular all the Asian restaurants I would try, and I did close to zero of that. A few days ago, I thought about all the great menus I’d read in windows, all the opportunities I let pass, but then I wondered who I thought this restaurant-going Laurel was.  I brought the essential, authentic me to Chinatown and she eats at home. I didn’t waste opportunities. I was just being myself.  With a little Chinese take-out here and there. 



Sometimes I dig deep into my diary entries (over 400 by now, starting in 2008), to see what was going on in my life at some random point in the past.  I came across this little ditty I wrote over ten years ago, and I had to laugh at how apt it has remained. 

There once was an author Corona

Who said of her new book “I’m gonna…”

Write it, she means,

But then life intervenes

For so long she now says, “I don’t wanna.”

Well, okay, these days I do kinda wanna. I haven’t written a word of what I hope will be a successful attempt at novel number six, but I have actually made several passes at a narrative structure  and I think I have one that will work. The characters are starting to talk, and the drama is starting to build. I have reached the point where I can’t hold it all in my head, so I have two choices—do a brain dump and think about something else, or start writing it down. The first option seems hopeless. I guess I am writing a novel. See you when I surface!


Coming Down With a Book

”I am done writing historical fiction.” Yes, I did say that most emphatically after my last published book, The Mapmaker’s Daughter, came out eight years ago. Many people looked askance, as if I couldn’t possibly mean it, that I just needed a break, that writers never stop writing.

Going through the publishing and marketing aspects of producing a new novel sucked a lot of the thrill out of my last two books, and I still feel physically ill thinking about having to go through all that again. And then there’s the little problem of inspiration. I think of a few dozen stories a year that would make good novels, but all of them have fizzled out in my head without writing a word. There’s no mystery why—a historical novel is a staggering amount of work. Many ideas are fun for a few hours, as I think through how I would tell the story, but none have left me in helpless thrall, demanding to be written. A character has to get her claws in me, bother my sleep, whisper in my ear at inopportune times, refuse to go away, before I reach the point where, as Dianne Ackerman so beautifully puts it, I am ”coming down with a book.”

Well, I think I am indeed coming down with a book. There’s a remarkable woman who will not leave me alone. But the big question for me is why it has taken me so long to get started, since I first fell in love with her story a year ago.

Fear That’s it. Plain and simple. I sat outside yesterday at a Victoria coffee house, on a bright spring day, and when I least expected it, fear ambushed me. It wasn’t fear of the publication woes I described above. I haven’t even thought about what will happen to the book once written, and I wouldn’t describe my reaction to publishing as fear as much as loathing. It is the magnitude of the project that makes me weak in the knees.

A book is hundreds of pages long, and the author has to write every word of it. When I get the first few pages drafted, they seem so paltry. It’s a matter of breaking the writing down into doable bits, then adding each one to the total, and eventually I get to the end. I know this, and I know I am up to it because I have done it before. But page one is a daunting prospect, and page ten, or twenty, isn’t a whole lot better..

It’s not really the writing itself that most scares me. I love to write. I love the utter joy of finding the right words, the thrill of seeing a story take off and become more than I ever imagined. I really can’t wait to start experiencing that again. Maybe my biggest fear comes from loving writing a bit too much. I know how much a novel takes out of me. I reach a point where my world is the book, and the world I actually live in starts getting out of whack. I forget to exercise, I miss mealtime, I neglect my friends, I have to remind myself to brush my teeth and shower, I don’t watch where I’m going because I’m listening to my characters talk.

Finding out what’s going to happen next, letting the characters surprise me, or experiencing a place that feels more real than the room I am writing in—all of these and more are very seductive, but as the late Sharon Kay Penman advised, while we are writing about the past, we have to remember to live in the present. I am loving my present. I love Victoria and Vancouver Island, I love being with my friends, I love going to the pool and gym, I love going off on leisurely ambles in forests and on beaches. I don’t want to get crazy. I want balance, but creativity tends to thumb its nose at balance.

Can I write a book and have the life I am enjoying now? I guess I am about to find out if I can keep the crazy from taking over. i lie awake imagining dialogue, planning scenes, making decisions about the narration. The first words on the first page can’t be far behind. I hope I’m ready for them.




Quick—what image first comes to mind when you hear the word ‘island”?

For many people, myself included, the first visual is something tropical, with astonishing turquoise water, palm trees and white sand.  A week ago, as I made the sunset flight—so short we barely had time to climb—between Vancouver and Victoria, I stared out the window at an entirely different sort of island.  These were so densely forested to appear almost black, most without a single light to suggest human presence.  How radically different this was from the Caribbean I had just left—beautiful and fun, but so thoroughly humanized. This would take some getting used to. 

The first time i saw the Island View exit on the highway through the Saanich Peninsula, I thought it was just another example of naming something to sound more romantic and exotic than it really is, like calling tract homes villas or estates, or pretending there is a river or a bay where these only exist in some marketing firm’s imagination.  

Then I went there.  The Gulf Islands visible from shore are dark, hauntingly beautiful enigmas, most with names that signify nothing, because nature doesn’t need the labels we give it. i have been back many times since, and it has become one of my favorite places.

Today I made my first trip back to Island View Park (see photo above), and I was starkly aware of how much had changed in my head since I walked here last summer Today I struggled to be in synch with it because I am struggling to be in synch with everything.

It hasn’t been an easy transition back to Victoria. I was randomly selected for Covid follow up, which made me unable to call up friends and suggest an immediate get together. Oh well, as my friend Annie said, perhaps a soft, buffered landing is better anyway after such a huge and lengthy adventure. 

She was right, of course.  One thing I dread about a return from an adventure is the sense I must account for it somehow. I truly don’t know what to say about all the different environments I was in and the wide array of challenges i faced, and trying to think of how to hit the highlights is exhausting. And besides, I am really more interested in what I have missed by being absent from my friends’ lives for so long that I’d just prefer to pick up where we left off. 

But as I walked today along the pebbled beach at Island View, I thought there is something more going on. With the exception of a few cruise companions for short periods, since I said goodbye to my tour guide in  Montenegro in September, I have been alone. Yes, on the ships I did make a few friends I think are keepers, but the typical day found me off on my own from morning to night On the ships, I ate dinner alone most of the time (Covid rules, and my personal concerns influenced this), and when I didn’t have an escorting gig in port, I wondered around on my own. This made the months I spent in the Caribbean feel very different from any other cruise assignment I have had. 

As a result, my authentic life has been lived inside my head, and I am fine with that. One of my alter egos is a hermit. But the hermit life is not what being in Victoria is about. I really like a number of friends I have made, and my reluctance to break through my self-imposed exile for people who are important to me is surprising.  I guess there are a lot of different kinds of islands, and I have been on my own personal one for so long it  has become my sanctuary, and I feel protective of that. 

I thought that when I first came back to Vancouver Island I would feel a rush of affinity with it. Instead, I feel stuck on my own island, with unresolved business, personal worries, and an inability to just be in the moment, which has been so central to what has made me happy here. I guess that is the nature of any transitional period. I have “moved ” in a sense, and I should expect that to be mental, physical, and psychological  work both in relation to what I have left behind and what I have entered. But I wish I felt a little more of the magic….

I think stepping off my island is crucial now. Just a coffee, or a movie with a friend (hooray—theatres are open!) may crack something open and let the comfort of being here find its way in. All I know is that everything changes, and I will change too, and that has been the driving force in my life. Who knows what is next? I will have to come off my island to find out



When I was a teenager, “grounded” was the state I most dreaded being in. Today (a little more than half a century!) past my teens, and on my first day back in Victoria, the word takes on a beautiful glow.

I first came to Victoria in September 2020, and left for my five-plus months of travel almost exactly one year later, so I hardly had a chance to feel as if this were really my new home. But surprisingly it is. True, my associations with every square inch of it aren’t deep, as they are in San Diego, but every street I crossed, every building I remembered on the taxi ride from the airport into town, called to me, asking if I remembered them.  And I did. And I knew that I would be seeing them again and again, because this where I live.  

As I wrote those words, I realized that “this is where I live” is still not exactly the same as “this is home,” but in my head, it is still quite a step for me to have a place I really want to be. No, my wanderlust  is still—well, lusty—but I think I can be grounded here. I can see how I can be present here, how I can grow, how I can take on new challenges.  How I can not be bored, or stagnant, or feel as if I am wasting one minute of this precious life. 

This morning, my walk was a song about being here.  As I walked along the Inner Harbour (see photo above), I said hello to so many things.

Hello, morning sky.

Hello, steamy breath.

Hello, wool socks and boots.

Hello, Emily Carr sculpture.

Hello Empress Hotel.

Hello, Cafe Milano, with its awesome pumpkin scones year round.

Hello, squawking birds.

Hello, puffer vest.

Hello, hands in pockets

Hello nip on my cheeks

Hello totem poles.

Hello, hello, hello…..

I embrace this huge, wonderful hello, and ask “what’s next?” with the wonder of someone who has lived long enough to understand that “grounded” can be a blessing. 


Dear Feet, I Love You

Many years ago, I was in a shoe outlet with a friend. We were exclaiming about how cute a particular shoe was, when she added, “until you see it in our size.”  And it was true. We pulled out the size 9, and it was clunky and ridiculous. 

I’ve been told that the most popular size (meaning, I assume, the median size for women) was a 7 or 7 1/2 when my adolescent feet exploded into a 9, and I have spent the decades since thinking of my feet as big. I’ve also been told that 9 is now average, and I’d have to agree that the paucity of size 9 at shoe outlets suggests that that may be true. Still, my girlfriend is right, that so many shoes—and tennis shoes are the worst— just don’t cut it in that size.

Still, for many years, I have admired my feet. I look down at them and am amazed that something so small in proportion to the rest of me can do such a bang-up job of holding me up and moving me around. The strength of those bones, the power of those muscles and tendons is remarkable—a fact I sometimes have trouble appreciating when this awareness comes in the form of a briefly excruciating arch cramp. Maybe I should treat this as a plea for attention rather than a nuisance.  

I am writing about this because I have noticed recently a deluge of articles relating to Covid weight gain, Covid flab, and other developments that are causing great unhappiness as people struggle to get back in the clothes with which they once ventured out into the world. Most articles focus on how to lose weight, how to get back into an exercise routine, or other approaches where the insidious subtext is how we have let ourselves go.  The likelihood is that many of us were dissatisfied with the old normal as well.  We had fitness or weight goals in early 2020, that now may seem hopelessly out of reach. If we wanted to lose 10 pounds before Covid, or up our regular exercise,  now we may need to lose 20 or 30, or drop the weight on the resistance machines, just to start getting back to where we were. 

And then, I also see evidence of a pushback against this thinking.  I read articles that point out that self-love doesn’t have to mean getting back into one’s old clothes or old shape. Self love can mean noticing how well your body has served you, and thanking it by knocking off the criticism. Self-love can mean more targeted improvements, like greater flexibility or increasing stamina for activities you enjoy. Self love can mean wearing sleeveless shirts in hot weather even if your upper arms look flabby.  Self love can mean realizing you don’t owe it to the world to wear makeup, or a bra. Self love can mean throwing away the Spanx. Or it can mean doing none of the above. Self love must be authentic, and mine will be different from yours.

I will probably dislike a greater proportion of photos of myself as years pass, noticing how many are “spoiled” by making me look more wrinkled or fat than my self-image will tolerate. Here’s a baseline photo of me (including feet) still looking pretty good at 71, taken in Montenegro last fall.

Maybe I can learn to see as fabulous the older self i am becoming.  Who knows? But right now, as I move through the world, I can observe myself still moving, still smiling, still reveling in being alive.. I can look at myself after a shower and grimace at the sags and dimples, or I can say; “good job!” Thank you, from vital organs on out to the muscles and bones, to the skin which takes a beating to protect it all. Take care of it. That’s all my body asks of me. 

I can vow to take good care of the whole me I am now—body, mind, and spirit. That’s what self love is 


Taco Tuesday

For the last several months I have been in the eastern Caribbean, which is populated largely by the descendants of enslaved Africans. It was interesting, and heartening, to observe that from those awful beginnings, those descendants now own the culture. It was good to see how they now collect on this from people of the same color as those who enslaved them, who come to enjoy the lifestyle they have created. It is their music, their speech patterns, their way of doing things that rules.They reflect the beauty of Bob Marley’s line, “we forward in this generation, triumphantly.”  

It is indeed a story of victory over a brutal past, but the economic truth, of course, is far more complex. The story of wealth has not paralleled the story of freedom.  I asked a couple of the crew on snorkel expeditions who actually owned the boats, and it was not anyone with skin their color. I asked if it would be possible to reach a point where they owned a boat like the one we were on and could operate it independently, and they said it was not impossible but it was very hard to see the path to that. But still, there is something wonderful about the fact that they live in a world so unlike that of their enslaved ancestors, and that the end result of slavery was to deliver to Africans some pretty fantastic real estate in the New World, and a lifestyle that has far more joy. 

And now I am in the Mexican Yucatan, and the peoplescape has changed. Yesterday in Cozumel it was so wonderful to be surrounded by people speaking Spanish. I didn’t realize how much I had missed that. Mariachis, not steel drums, entertained people in the tourist shops near the pier, and the bars were serving tequila rather than rum. Of course, that is a far cry from authenticity, but it brought for me all the associations with Mexican culture I have from living for decades on the Mexican border, in San Diego.

My shore excursion was particularly fun, labeled as a day of taco appreciation. And indeed it was. We went to a place where we made tortillas by hand and on a press, prepared our own guacamole and a salsa with ground pumpkin seeds that was new to me, both in the traditional way with mortar and pestle. This was followed by  three kinds of tacos from various parts of Mexico, accompanied by however much tequila we wanted. Me, not much—I love the smell but am not crazy about the taste.

It’s good to roam the world, and it is good to stay put for a while in new places, but there is always going to be something utterly special about the familiar things one grew up with. My first soft, fresh, fragrant corn tortilla in who knows how long.  My first taste of salsa spiced with habanero chiles in months!  Welcome home. 


More Than Enough

I wrote two weeks ago about sea changes, and I suspect now that the deeper, more essential Laurel had already begun to reconfigure my thinking in ways it would take a while for my conscious self to catch up with. ”There’s something going on here,” I have been telling myself, noticing this and that post over the last months that reflect glimmerings of the direction my guiding self is pointing.

Sleepless one night a few days ago, that pleasant semi-wakefulness where it is okay not to be asleep because one is so relaxed that powerful thoughts have a chance to surface, I had a rush of clarity about what I want to do with the rest of 2022.  I saw that the person who committed to another full year of cruising is not the person who is now in January of that year. 

The forced grounding of Covid had two stages for me, the first being in San Diego without opportunities to travel, and the second in Victoria, where Covid restrictions forced me to stay put for a year. Both were valuable experiences, because the first stretch caused me to understand that I could not see my way forward in San Diego.  I had been gone so much not just because I love to travel but because, despite having deep personal ties there,  I was restless and unsatisfied with my life. 

The second stretch, when I moved to Victoria, unlocked thrilling opportunities for growth.  Yes, I was excited when the opportunity arose to travel on my own in the Adriatic and then to resume cruising last fall, but I noted a wistfulness about leaving Victoria that surprised me. I wasn’t ready yet to stop having the experiences I was reveling in there. 

Theologian Huston Smith summarized the Hindu concept of Samsara (often translated as Illusion) as a process of discovering that “we can never get enough of what we don’t really want.” Through countless forms and lifetimes, the soul comes to realize that each of the desires it has pursued has not actually led to more than fleeting happiness. The brilliance in Smith’s remark is that the only way to move beyond what we desire is to get it. Only then can we recognize it as just another illusion, another thing we thought could satisfy us, but in the end doesn’t. 

I wrote previously here about how the pile-on of solo travel last fall was a bit too much, too long, too hectic, but it had to be more than I wanted in order to learn the lesson in it. Likewise cruising. I was excited about resuming it, but not giddily so, as I might have been if I hadn’t done so much of it already, but I was ready to go, and very excited about living on ships for several months.  I was excited about an extended stay in the Caribbean, relaxing into a lifestyle of swimming, boating, snorkeling and perfect, beautiful sunny warmth. 

Well, I got it. More than enough, as it turns out. I am so ready to be done, although I am looking forward to the last two weeks, on another ship with a different itinerary in a part of the Caribbean I have never visited. Then, home to Victoria. 

Home. That is quite a statement coming from me. And here’s where the sea change is apparent.  Lying awake the other night, it came to me in a flood of thought. I don’t really want what I had planned. I have had enough. The next morning I canceled my summer cruise assignment in the Mediterranean. I wrote to the lovely people who own the place I was renting in Victoria and committed to stay through the end of 2022. Stay put for a while, I told myself. Less is more. See what will emerge from this greater stillness. See what you have been missing.  Release the Laurel who is struggling inside you to become who she needs to be right now. I can’t wait to go back to Victoria to meet myself. 


Can I?

I have a lot of questions right now. They aren’t my usual questions, like “is it lunchtime yet,” or “did I put on sunscreen?’ or “where did I put my room key?”  These are weightier ones, prompted by the passing yesterday of Zen Master Thích Nhất Hạnh.

Can I spend less time dwelling on petty thoughts? Can I notice them, and move on? Better yet, can I figure out what they are really about and think productively about that? Am I mad at someone because of how they behave, or because something they did made me feel slighted, foolish, duped, or taken advantage of?  Can I offload that pettiness into a serious discussion with myself about why I feel that way? Can I not leap so quickly to confirmation bias, seeing everything through the lens of what I have already decided about a person? Can I see my petty thoughts as a form of cheap entertainment?  Can I see them as burdens dragging down my spirit?

Can I look at an individual and ask “what do the people who love this person hope will happen in this moment?”  Can I ask, “What would I do if I loved this person?” Really it is the same question. Can I smile at her on behalf of her mother, or say hello to him for his sister, or stop for a moment to acknowledge her presence for her grandmother because right now all these people worry that that person in front of me, that person they love, is all alone, far away. They don’t know what is happening. They worry. Perhaps they know that times are hard for those they love. Perhaps they are harder than they know. Can I be an emissary for them? Will someone today be an emissary for me to those I love?

Can I ask, “How do I fit in here?” a little more often? Can I work a little harder to remember that each individual is the star of his or her autobiography?  How can I be part of the good in their story?  How can I help? Can I grow into the compassion that asks, “How can I love you better?”

I can feel it when I become burdened by the negative. I don’t feel it quite as easily when I am weighed down  by indifference. Can I get better at recognizing both more quickly?

Thích Nhất Hạnh told his followers that he, like everything else, can never be gone, but is always present in the cycling of everything.  Look for him in a flower, or a butterfly drying its wings, or in a crocodile zeroing in on its prey, or in the ugly actions of those who cannot yet be compassionate. Look for him also, I think, in the sudden urge I now have to think about things I have long neglected. Yes, I do think he is still here. 

So smile to me and take my hand and wave good-bye. Tomorrow we shall meet again or even before. We shall always be meeting again at the true source. Always meeting again on the myriad paths of life.”