I took an Electrical Engineering course at University, mostly due to my father’s belief that engineering would be a secure and financially-beneficial career. I joined the workforce in the 1980s. It was a boom time for the Scottish electronics industry and I enjoyed the job, travelling to the USA, Germany, Italy and around the UK for work. Later, the industry went into decline and my job became increasingly tedious. The foreign trips were gone, replaced by a series of preposterously-named initiatives like ‘continuous improvement policy’, ‘key performance indicators’, and ‘total quality management’. I became disillusioned and wanted out.
In parallel with my day job I had been making increasing sums of money playing in a function band. We became so busy that we were playing most weekends, so I began to entertain thoughts of a life outside the mundanity of the 9-to-5.
On a whim I had made a spontaneous charity-shop purchase of a flute and decided to take lessons with a teacher called Marie-Claire. I chose her because she lived 10 minutes’ walk from my office. M-C was an inspired choice as not only did I achieve Grade 6 ABRSM flute under her tutelage, but we became pals, and she did some gigs with my band. One day she announced she was moving back home, but had been offered the job as saxophone tutor for Edinburgh Council’s Adult Education programme, which she would have to decline. She suggested that I do it. I had never considered being a teacher but the idea intrigued me. I contacted the administrator and was offered the job on the spot. As the course was due to start in two days I guess they were desperate! My first term was pretty scary, as I hadn’t even acquired a copy of the course book when I started. I was bluffing the whole thing but if any of my pupils noticed, they were kind enough not to say. I apparently did well enough to get asked back for a second, and subsequent terms.
Now that I was officially a semi-professional musician and music teacher, and able to start taking income from various pensions, I decided the time was right to give up the day job. I asked the HR department if there were any voluntary-redundancy programs. There weren’t, so I skulked back to my desk. A few months later I got a phone call from my big boss, asking me to come and see him that afternoon. I was handed a letter offering the opportunity for us to part company under terms which were favourable to me financially. I took the offer and have never regretted it.
I set up officially as a sole trader. My income was definitely down on my previous life, but I immediately found my new self-employed life allowed far greater freedom. Mrs W and I were able to go on far more holidays, even fitting in a 3-week adventure to Australia which wouldn’t have been possible with the holiday entitlement and inflexibility of my old job.
The greatest benefit of my career change has been downsizing my working week from five to three days. I do private tuition on Wednesdays, plus a gig on Friday or Saturday night, along with some Sunday afternoons. I used to get up at 5:30am Monday to Friday and often ended up sleep deprived. Now I get much more sleep and it’s a huge improvement. I feel lucky to have ended up where I am. I have plenty of free time, I live in a nice house and have enough money to live a comfortable life. I have never had any grand plan like so many ambitious people, I’ve generally gone where the currents take me. It’s amazing it’s worked out so well.
I never tried to live differently. It just evolved as my life circumstances changed and as I followed more and more what my inner truth was telling me, also referred to as my ‘intuition.’
In 2017, I sold up my “happy place” in New Zealand and after 29 years, moved back to Canada in my late fifties to start up my life and my business all over again.
Why would anyone ever do that?
One day, when I still lived in New Zealand, I heard a whisper in my head, “Move back to Canada.” I was born there but I’d lived half of my life in New Zealand. The idea of moving back felt exciting, but when I really contemplated it, I was terrified. The thought haunted me.
I went to see a Reiki healer. We’d never met and he didn’t know anything about me. At the end of the session, he looked at me and said, “Oh, just one more thing.” My whole body froze. “You are going to move back to Canada.” His words, like an arrow, went straight to my heart. There was a truth about them that I could feel in my bones.
Standing on the deck in my backyard, I looked out over my gardens, the trees and the flowers. I’d planted them all and watched them grow. I loved my home. How can I leave this? I can’t. This is crazy. I shook my head, trying to shake off the clarity of the message.
Breathing deeply and slowly, I felt strength inside. Leanne, you are going to die one day, and you don’t know when that day will be. How do you want to live the rest of your life from now until that moment? Holding on to fear and dying in your comfort, or…? Tears of excitement and grief flowed down my cheeks. I knew.
In May, 2017, I arrived on Canadian soil with a suitcase in each hand.
Logically it made sense to get a place and establish my business again. But it wasn’t logic that brought me here. I sat to meditate and ask my inner wisdom what was next. In my mind, I saw the image of a camper I got excited. I sensed I wasn’t to settle anywhere yet.
My thinking mind had lots to say about that, “I can’t just go off and travel. I need to find a place to live. I need to set up my business. Where am I going to go?” But I trusted my intuition and started looking for a camper.
What kind of camper was I going to get? something I could tow? maybe a bus I drive? Or a van?
I settled on a truck camper. You can put down the camper legs and drive the truck out from under it when needed. A good plan I thought—until I actually had to do it.
Being on the road for 12 months presented its own considerations: being in all 4 seasons and running my business. I would need systems. I used 3 suitcases—one for summer stuff, one for winter and one for office stuff.
The camper was like carrying a small cabin on your back. It had everything I needed: fridge, queen bed, couch, stove, toilet and closet. Everything had its place and when the camper was moving, if anything was left out, it was doomed to smash or damage something else. This was one of the lessons I learned by experience!
I am a kinesthetic learner, meaning that I learn through doing. Unfortunately this means that I had to make all the mistakes in order to learn. I am also not mechanically minded and I don’t like getting my hands dirty. This part of the journey was stressful.
Anything that could go wrong with the camper, did go wrong.
The camper was so tall that more than once, I drove through branches of tall trees ripping off the antennae and whatever else was on the roof. With the camper on the back of the truck, I no longer had use of the rear-view mirror. I had to use the side wing-mirrors to maneuver. Twice I smooshed the hand railing on the back of the camper while backing up. Another time, I forgot to plug in the camper while I was visiting with a friend for a few days and ran the battery totally flat, all the food in the freezer thawed. On another occasion, the stove stopped working. It took me a few days to realise that the propane tank was empty. There’s more but you get the idea.
I thought it would be the mechanical break downs that affected me most but it wasn’t. The biggest challenge for me was not knowing where I was going to sleep each night. Where could I go that was safe and legal to stay the night? In the beginning, I thought I’d go to camp grounds until I discovered they cost about $50 a night.
As I embraced this challenge, I reached out to a women’s group on Facebook. I posted a photo of me and my camper, told them my story and asked if anyone would let me sleep in their driveway. 6 women put their hand up, all of whom I stayed with. I found out that some Walmart stores let you spend the night in their parking lot and that truck stops also accommodated over nights. In the United States, the national forests are free to camp in and my intuition led me to some magical, deserted and safe places to stay.
My most precious moments were with the people I met along the way. The people who didn’t know me, who opened their home and their heart to me, we will be friends forever.
I learned so many life lessons during these 12 months. I learned to ask for help, right away. I learned to trust and to pay attention to what my intuition is telling me. I learned to keep my heart open no matter what is going on. And the biggest thing that I learned was—I can do this.
One Saturday in 1942 my Dad, Eric – an industrial chemist - took me to his work at a freezing works. We walked past trucks filled with sheep and cattle, and he explained they were to be killed on Monday or Tuesday. I looked inside. The animals were motionless, heads bowed. They had no water. I could smell urine scalded with fear, and I have an everlasting memory of the total, eerie silence.
I declared that I would never eat meat again.
This was the start of a lifelong journey to learn, explore, analyse and build up insights into the world we live in.
A voracious reader of books that expand the self, I’d say that Women Who Run With Wolves, Iron John, along with the works of Jung, Dawkins, Nietzsche and similar, are books that helped shape my thinking.
Once a friend asked how I could refuse meat but eat fish. I replied that I couldn’t imagine being friends with a fish.
This changed when I went scuba diving and would rest in a sand saucer. Each time the same fish would come and interact with me, exhibiting the same patterns of behaviour. It was as if it were communicating that fish could be friends. I stopped eating fish after that.
Around then, I attended the U.S conference of the Farm Animal Rights Movement, whose goal is to spare animals from abuse and slaughter. I’d come home.
Since then I have been vegan, in order to aid the better treatment of animals, our own health and the health of the planet.
I’m troubled by the viewpoint that 2000 years ago a religious saviour stated humankind was created in God’s image and that humans are more important than anything else. Instead I identify with the view that it is not a hierarchy, and that we all play our part of the great web of life.
We are trained to be intelligent in ways that get us a job, status and spending power, but are not trained to understand how the mind works, to search and explore, and move beyond limiting beliefs to know who we are, where we belong, and what is important to us.
Words of advice
Never, ever stop exploring, being inquisitive, seeking information, insight and an interim answer. Don’t think you have ever arrived. If you are still questioning when you die, you’ll have had a full life and will leave a legacy that encourages others on the same path.
Postscript from Alastair
I’m always happy to hear from you. Email me on email@example.com
Alastair is 81. He lives in Te Horo, New Zealand.
I am a Transgender woman, I have had and continue to have a varied life, however the Trans part is the one that seems to fascinate people the most. I grew up in the 60’s seemingly your typical suburban boy. My inner life started to change around the time of puberty. Growing up in New Zealand back then allowed no scope for being different in almost any way, I felt different but had no idea how to express that and there were no avenues then to even learn. So, what does one do? One hides the most important part of you, your true self. I hid it very well, through my first marriage and several relationships.
It was not until my second marriage that I was able to share my secret and I was pleasantly surprised when I was not met with ridicule but understanding and support. In trying to find out more, as a couple, we established a support group that over time grew into a sizeable organisation and through that and meeting many, many, people I began the journey I still travel. At age 39 I reached the decision that I could no longer live a double life and my 40th birthday present was a visit to the doctors to start the hormone process. It was for me exciting and exhilarating, I was becoming the person I believe I was meant to be. In becoming that person, one cannot expect to travel unscathed, there were losses - my marriage, my daughter and almost my own life.
If one survives those losses one can truly emerge as oneself; scared, yes, but able to face the world as a whole person.
My transition and subsequent life have probably not been typical of other trans people’s lives. I have been lucky; I have had minimal abuse, have never been physically attacked as others have. Perhaps it has been a range of factors. When we started the support group we made a conscious decision to be open and not hide which meant I became a spokesperson, and for a time was prominent in the media. When talking about our issues I spoke from the heart but also with sense and knowledge, and even now, many years later, I think that goodwill that was banked back then has remained. It also helps being tall.
Trans people are like everyone, we age, and our bodies are often no longer capable of doing all the things we did in youth. This is a concern that younger people do not yet have to consider. What will become of me when I am old? Right now, despite a few issues I still work but someday that will end, what becomes of ancient transwomen? Our aged care system has trouble dealing with gay people, and they have no idea about the needs of elderly trans folk. I do not pretend to have the answers, but they will need to start asking the questions.
People wonder about my sexuality which is completely separate from my gender identity. My primary attraction has always been toward women. Every Trans person is different and has their own sexual preferences. However, while mine has been for women, with age comes a relaxing of many aspects of self that one has always taken for granted and so other possibilities can now co-exist.
Work has never been important as a money-making prospect. I spent much of my life as an artist, which was never a path to riches - at least not the monetary kind. For me it has been a portal to a life “I” could understand. I no longer paint. I work as I can and do not stress, I have a roof over my head and food to eat. What more do I need?
Well ... clothes! I want clothes, I love clothes. I have a fridge magnet with a quote from Thomas Fuller: “Good clothes open all doors” which may or may not be true but by god, when you dress well you carry yourself well.
Words of advice
At all times be true to who you are, only fools do anything else.
Claudia is 63 and lives in Lower Hutt, New Zealand