This summer’s “mini book tour” in the UK filled me with confidence and connection.
Public speaking has been something I’ve had to continually push myself to do. I was one of those “shy” kids in school, sitting as close to the back as I could, hoping I’d get overlooked when it came to reading aloud. But my teachers didn’t let me get away with it. In fact, during 6th grade I was picked out of hundreds of kids to read aloud at the school’s Remembrance Day assembly. I was scared silly but didn’t let myself back out. I rose to the occasion and shared my essay in front of hundreds of other children and got a standing ovation. You’d think that would might have hooked me, but it’s been a long, slow learning curve, coming out of my shell. I’ve talked about how choral singing has helped with that, and probably also having had parents in the theatre.
I was simultaneously flattered and taken aback when my old friend on the Isle of Wight said, after my presentation there this June, “I’ve never seen you look and sound so natural, ever!” Wow, I thought, does that mean I seem awkward in real life? But it feels good knowing that I am conveying the messages in Walking to Japan with flair, and just enough gravitas, and humour! How rewarding to see smiles—and even tears—from members of the audience. How gratifying to feel I have made a connection to folks through this book.
I gave three book readings and two speeches this summer. My first event was in a proper theatre with spotlight and sound system and big screen. At first, the size of the space was daunting, but I then found that being in the spotlight was somehow reassuring. I know folks could see me and I didn’t fret about not seeing them. I settled into the warm light and the familiar rhythm of the book.
Two days later I entered what seemed like a fairy cottage and met a small group lovely women gathered for my reading. Now, being in such close proximity to my audience made me aware of my every little “um” and “er” and nuance in my delivery. I felt more exposed here than I had on the large stage. But soon, their smiles and attentiveness settled my nerves and I relaxed. It was like story time at the library! The following week’s event was also on a more intimate level, and fun, with several families joining in for peace-crane making at the end.
My events were not the only fun I had in the UK. I went fossil hunting on the beaches of Dorset, and hunting for the best cream across England. (I am very picky about my scones and clotted cream and strawberry jam!) I attended organ recitals and puppet shows, and visited with friends and family who made me feel incredibly welcome. I am so thankful to all my hosts!
Perhaps the most fun I had during my time in the UK, though, was walking. The country is literally crisscrossed by pedestrian footpaths, and it’s a common pastime for folks to walk through the countryside, stopping in villages to rest and dine. I love it! But my favourite place to walk is London.
The city has worked its spell on me ever since I first visited there a few decades ago and especially since living there for six months in 2013. In London, I feel at my best. The city offers me the opportunity every day to walk out the door and see/ hear/feel/learn something new. How exciting to me, all the layers of history and architecture and culture, all there for me to peel away. I can be an adventurer without worrying too much about the impact I make. I don’t have to drive, I am not disturbing some indigenous settlement, or trampling pristine wilderness. I can quietly seek the places that even many locals don’t know about, finding hidden gardens, hilltop vistas, stretches along the Thames where I can hunt for urban relics. I make my way along canal towpaths, old rail beds, narrow neighbourhood lanes, and through old cemeteries where wild creatures live and wild berries grow. Something in me wakes up when I’m in London. And every night I go to bed happily exhausted.
At home in Victoria now, it’s quieter. It’s peaceful. Incredibly beautiful. I have work to do, and there’s no shortage of activities to take part in. But, somehow, I can’t quite connect to that part of myself that I do when I’m away.
So—I’ll be back, London. I’ll be back.
As some readers may know, I am not a huge fan of wind. (There’s a pun in there somewhere!)
I understand that the wind brings in new energy, it refreshes, it cleanses, but there’s something still so unsettling about it for me as a highly sensitive person. I don’t sleep well on windy nights and I am reluctant to step outside the house on windy days. However, after finding a hat that covers my ears and doesn’t look too goofy, I now can walk and hike comfortably in the wind.
Recently on a blustery day I headed out on my hike up the steep hill near my home. I do this almost daily, and often I shed my jacket at exactly the same location on the ascent as I warm up, but this time I kept bundled. At the top, I wrapped my scarf around my ears and stood for a while admiring the view, feeling grateful for the beauty, grateful for where I live.
The rocky peak wears a skirt of green that fans out down the slopes, its frayed edges bleeding into a patchwork of fields, rooftops and roads that meet the sea, which meets the mountains, which meet the sky. Even from here I can see the ocean is frothing with whitecaps.
The wind soon begins to chill my bones so I turn to head back down the trail, but my eye is drawn to something in the air below. A small something hovers several meters above the treetops. Is it a kite? An aerial drone? It’s motionless. I realize in delight that it’s a small raptor, maybe a sharp-shinned hawk. I am accustomed to the sight of a number of huge bald eagles, turkey vultures and ravens swooping around the mountain, circling lazily on thermal updrafts. But I’ve not quite seen anything like this. The hawk is perfectly still in the air, wings outstretched.
I watch in amazement for what seems like a couple of minutes. The bird’s hovering seems entirely effortless. I see no slight adjustments of its wings at all. It seems to have found the perfect spot to rest, where the air pressure and flow are just enough to suspend it. And then, suddenly the bird drops from the air, diving swiftly into the trees. It doesn’t reappear any time soon, so I presume it caught its prey. Well done!
Once again I feel gratitude. What a moment in time to witness. How swiftly the hawk sliced through the air just by folding its wings into its body in one quick move! I am filled with sheer joy, and no words yet to describe the experience. As I make my way home though, I begin to think about it in metaphorical terms.
The whole business of publishing Walking to Japan, and now publicizing and marketing it, has been an uneven and uncertain journey for me. Although I have wonderful mentors and helpers, I am largely on my own. The whole process has been an unconventional one since Derek began; neither of us enjoy playing by the rules. But sometimes when I listen to others’ experiences, or read articles about the publishing world, I feel anxious, guilty, like I’m not doing enough, like I should be “getting out there and SELLING!” But selling the book is only important to me in that it means that more people are exposed to Derek’s message. To hurry along with that would be utterly contrary to the message itself.
I am shortly embarking on a mini book-tour in the UK. It’s paced just right, with lots of time to walk and spend time in silence, and also visit with friends. Four events in 6 weeks is more than manageable!
Reflecting on the hawk, what it demonstrated was the elegance of stillness. The solo bird seemed to be in no hurry, and when the time was right it simply dropped from the sky with its eye on the target. I am not saying that I need to swoop in on unwary prey and promote my book in some kind of canny calculated way. No, it’s not that exact an analogy. The WAITING part is more what speaks to me. It’s really OK to hang out and enjoy that feeling of floating for a while. I have done a lot to get where I am so why not allow myself some rest? And I will know when the time is right to move. It will come as naturally, I hope, as changing the angle of my wings.
Walking to Japan has been launched! Twice, in fact, with two or three more on the calendar. Oops! Is it possible to launch more than once?
Both events (Victoria and Sechelt, BC) were well attended by friends, and even some complete strangers. Feedback from the audience was overwhelmingly positive and I really had fun. I don’t know why I should be surprised, but despite having some public speaking and solo singing experience, I think of myself as uncomfortable in the spotlight. But since reflecting on those evenings, I have realized that I’ve been influenced by three great storytellers in my life and must have learned something!
The first two were my parents. They met while acting in local theatre productions in Vancouver, and they were both teachers as well. So my bedtime stories, read from books or made up on the spot, were always brought to life with a colourful toolkit of accents and gestures.
Derek was a master storyteller. He wasn’t someone who would entertain a group of friends with anecdotes at the drop of a hat. That wasn’t his style at all. His stories were more like fables or parables and each had a spirit. Only when the time was right would he begin. He’d paint a vivid setting to capture your imagination, and then just enough detail to keep it flowing, pacing it just right, not too fast or slow. His intention was never to impress you but that the heart of the story would touch something in yours. There was always a lesson, but that would be for you to resonate with in your own way.
I hope that as I continue sharing Walking to Japan at readings, I’ll get better and better at bringing the book to life for an audience, and do both Derek and my parents proud.
For 25 years, Derek Youngs was a peace pilgrim, walking the world, often not knowing where he would sleep that night, or if he would eat. But he had faith in himself and the universe, and trusted in the goodness of the people he met. Although he faced challenges and struggles in his journeys, he was met more often with support and love.
As he continued his journey, his experiences and personal lessons became teaching stories, and after a few years of walking and sharing his tales, friends and strangers alike asked, “So are you going to write a book?” That question planted a seed, and he began to write. When my husband died in 2010, his memoir was unfinished. It has taken me over five years—sometimes working daily, sometimes not at all for months at a time—but finally, Walking to Japan is published! I know that Derek would be thrilled that it can now find its way into the hearts and minds of readers across the world!
With all the violence and injustice going on in the world, I am angered and saddened, yet I remember what Derek often said: “I shall not create an enemy. I choose not to live in fear.” This is not always easy.
Since Derek’s death in 2011, I have been coping with fear in my own small ways, particularly in the process of completing his memoir, Walking to Japan. In striving to do justice to his voice, to capture his loving presence and preserve his memories from the road, I’ve had fearful thoughts. What if I fail? What if nobody reads the book? What if they don’t care?” What after all the editing is done there’s still a spelling mistake—or two, or—? Or what if I die in an accident before I finish it?
To face my fears, I have needed to take to heart some of the lessons Derek shares in the book, and letting go is one of the biggest. I need to let go of ego, my need for control, my perfectionism. As paradoxical as it might seem, as much as I believe in this book with my heart and soul, I have to let go of my hopes for its popularity, and for Derek’s legacy. I must remember what Derek himself would tell me: “No matter what, it’s still a success, because we both did our best.”
It’s time now to let go of the book itself, and let it fly.
Want to know when a new post is published?
Send us your email address and you will automatically be notified.