Thursday, May 21, 2009
In the Beginning, there was Confusion, Personal Misdirection, and a General Lack of Preparedness
In retrospect, I may have taken on a little too much.
But as it was, within a time period of no more than eight weeks I had quit my job, packed up my apartment, moved a 14-hours drive from Manhattan, unpacked my apartment, decorated a house, shopped for a roof estimate, shopped for a car, started a freelance business, and nailed down a wedding venue to host about 150 people near some natural body of water. The result being, I had no time or opportunity to plan one of the most important trips of my life: a trip to find out the truth behind the existence of faeries.
At this point, I don't know how I could possibly catch you up on what had put me on an airplane, flying across the Atlantic ocean in search of a supposed winged creature that most adults have ceased to believe exists. So I'm afraid I'll have to be terribly annoying and suggest you read the book when it comes out next May, in which I promise I explain everything, down to the Mexican troll I may or may not have seen in an outdoor bathroom in the middle of the night. But for now I can only tell you that on Monday May 18th, I found myself on a plane, shooting over the Atlantic ocean with dimmed cabin lighting and a choice of either gluey pasta or gluey ginger chicken, which would be landing in London at 7:00 AM Tuesday morning. My original plan seemed like a good one: for two nights I was staying with a pair of brilliant authors in their guest room in North West London -- one of whom, Rebecca Campbell, I'd been lucky enough to edit during my time at Ballantine Books, and the other, her husband, Anthony McGowan, a fantastically talented writer of both YA books and adult thrillers. From there, after two brief nights, I was going to head into Dartmoor National Park, or perhaps down to Cornwall, before heading over to Devon England on Sunday to meet the magical, mythical Brian Froud and his incredibly talented wife Wendy.
Now I've gotten ahead of myself.
But what I've already discovered is that here, everything is different. And sometimes, even when you try to end up somewhere, you end up someplace else, but it is exactly where you need to be. My first morning in West Hampstead, I looked up directions online to visit Hampstead Heath, a 790-acre park that Becky mentioned was quite beautiful. And knit my brow in confusion as I read the directions through. They might have well said, "Wind your way up the hill, when after a certain point, the hill will slope and then rise again. Make a slight left and then your first right, but not the immediate right, as the road splits, the third right, that's really more of a veering than anything..." and so on. I knocked on Tony's office door and told him about my dilemma. How could a place that was only about 15 minutes away be so hard to get to? He began to give me his own directions, which were, regretfully, equally vague. Seeing my utter bewilderment, he smiled and said, "How about a nice day of shopping in the Hampstead town stores instead? It's reaaaallly easy to get to."
I was disappointed to be missing the park, but the directions Tony gave me to town seemed beautifully straight forward, and I set off with confidence. The streets that go uphill toward Hampstead are lined with tall stone walls bursting with color -- shiny green ivy, purple and pink and yellow flowers. Behind the walls peeked grand homes disguised as quaint English cottages, with old fashioned paned windows and secret gardens buzzing with life. I felt the welcome stretch in my legs as I walked up hill, repeating Tony's directions over and over in my head. I was going a great job, surprisingly -- everything looked just as he said it would, and I knew I was on the right track.
I just knew... eventually... if I continued climbing this steep road... and oh no, here's a branching... I don't remember there being a branching in the road... left or right? Left or right? Um....
My stomach began to tug with hunger but I pressed on. I'd find an adorable little coffee shop just at the top of this never-ending hill, I just knew it. A coffee and a snack would be so perfect, and I'll have one very shortly, I promised myself. At a total and utter loss, I resorted to following people who seemed to be walking with some sort of purpose. Well, wouldn't everyone be going to Hampstead to get coffee and a snack? Or perhaps to do a bit of shopping? Acquire some new candles or perhaps a small container of "b-AH-sil" or maybe some "oreg-AH-ano." I managed to stay about 30 yards behind a young woman wearing workout pants and a pony tail, who kept turning around to look at me, as if I was following her. At long last, we reached a traffic circle at what felt like the top of the world.
Fantastic. Now where the hell am I? I looked around as small cars with large license plates zoomed by me at mock speed. There were no shops.... only houses. Damn it! Suddenly I noticed that to my left there was a beautiful grassy green space.
As I walked past, I stopped to read the sign.
"WELCOME TO HAMPSTEAD HEATH: You are here."
They say that when you go walking in the woods in the United Kingdom, one must be careful not to get "pixie led," meaning, the pixies, who are apparently a terribly tricksy bunch who delight in toying with mortals, will jumble your head, leading you this way and that, until you end up exactly where they want you to be. And exactly where you don't want to be. It seemed that, for reasons yet unknown, I was meant to be in the park, for the park certainly found me -- despite my very best efforts.