I’m no angel, but I’ve never been afraid to lift my wings and fly. I was born in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, near Detroit, a 4th-generation Detroiter. The year was 1957. The summer that I was 10, there were riots, aka civil unrest, and we couldn’t go near the city – which we never did anyway, unless it was to drive through my parents’ old neighborhoods to see how much they had changed.
As a teenager, I was intrigued by the city. As soon as I got my driver’s license, I would ask to drive the older car, and sneak into the inner city to take look around and snap photos. It felt dangerous, but also sad, and hopeless. I wanted to stop and talk to people. But I couldn’t.
After graduating from South Lake High School, I worked for a year making sailboat sails because racing on my dad’s Cal 25 sailboat, Annie Mayme, was my passion. I was a good seamstress, and I learned about sail design. I was also a good sail trimmer, and I wanted to break into the big time, racing on the big, fast (for that time) new boats. However, as a 19-year-old girl, I wasn’t taken seriously. I was expected to sail with Dad and live at home, so I wasn’t paid enough to afford my own place. And girls didn’t race.
I left Detroit in August of 1976, disheartened by the decay of that City Beautiful and demoralized by lack of hope. The winters were so dismal, I couldn’t even bring myself to stay around and go to college which I had the opportunity to do. Instead, heading south out of Michigan, I had a choice of two coasts: turn left, or turn right? I turned right, and headed for sunny California. I was San Francisco bound, leaving behind my two brothers, my sister, and my heartbroken but supportive parents.
For the next two months, I was on walkabout – although it would be more accurately termed driveabout. I had a little car, out of which I camped in national parks and forests in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, avoiding cities, and writing in a notebook. I was all alone. I terrified my mother by not communicating with home for the first two weeks. I had adventures, with both nature and people. My camping adventure came to a stop at my uncle’s house in Piedmont, California on October 8th, 1976, pulling my sputtering Datsun roadster up in front of the house. After a hot shower and a couple of nights in a soft bed, I was ready to see what life had in store for me next. My car wasn’t running very well, so I took a bus into San Francisco and then a ferry to Sausalito, where I walked into a sail loft and asked if they had a job. They did. I found a room in nearby Mill Valley.
There are many more paragraphs to be written, perhaps a book, but let’s leave that for now and fast-forward:
After 27 years in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I raised two mostly fearless kids, I now live in Gardnerville, Nevada with my second husband, Mark. We still sail in San Francisco Bay, and I still see people I met when I worked that sailmaking job in Sausalito. I’ve been a stained glass artist and a cook, and I taught 5th grade in Walnut Creek, California for 10 years. I was a conservation project manager with The Nature Conservancy for three years. I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Geography from Sonoma State University in California in 1990, and a Master’s in Geography from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2008. Those two degrees, in combination, have given me an education in both our physical and our human landscapes. I started with earth sciences because I was still avoiding cities, but eventually I realized that I couldn’t do that any longer. Now I understand what happened to Detroit, and what is happening in our cities now.
In 2011, my husband was offered an opportunity to take a consulting job in the Middle East – Abu Dhabi. I’ve imagined a lot of things that came true, but never in a million years would I have ever imagined that. Yet, there it was, and we took the opportunity.
I thought it would change me, and it did. It also brought out something in me that had been dormant for a long time – the writer. I started a blog called Wildcardtravels, where I wrote about what expat life was like in the Middle East and chronicled our travels.
And I’ve written and published my first book. Water from Heaven: An American woman’s life as an Arab wife is not about me. It’s about Cindy Lou Davis from Mocksville, North Carolina, who married a man named Mohammed Ali, from the United Arab Emirates, in 1982. My husband worked with Mohammed, and Cindy and I became friends. Her story and her life, while so different than mine, nevertheless resonated with me. There are parallels.
I’ve been writing all my life, but never sharing it. There were stacks of journals, childish, adolescent, embarrassing ones, that I burned decades ago. Yes, burned. I decided that no one should find them, my children maybe, and think things about me that I didn’t want them to think. Letting others see what you write is dangerous.
But I’m ready. It’s time. I have another book in me; perhaps this one will be taken from what I’ve already written about expat life in the Middle East. Or maybe. I’ll write the story of another woman’s life. One thing I know: I learned a lot about myself by writing about someone else’s life.
For now, I just know that it’s time to lift those wings, once again.