I Should Do What?

From Penang Pilot to Palette and Pen

I’m a third-generation artist. I knew from a young age that I wanted to paint like my father. I only wish someone had told me that I should pursue writing as well. 

I  grew up in a family brimming with creativity. I never knew my paternal grandfather, a Scottish sea captain. I’ve only read of his high-seas adventures in his autobiography, Home is the Sailor: The Sea Life of William Brown, Master Mariner and Penang Pilot. After my grandfather wrote his life story, his “friend,” William Blain, offered to help him locate a publisher. It broke my grandfather’s heart to discover upon publication by Sheridan House in 1940 that Blain had falsely signed his name as the author of the book. In the early 2000s, I was able to find and purchase used copies online. My grandfather’s lifeblood was the sea and when not behind the pilot’s wheel, he could at times be found wielding a brush behind his easel, painting the sea and its massive sailing ships.

My father chose his gift of art above his father’s affinity for the sea. He painted in every medium and painted the above portrait of my grandfather. He was also a master woodcarver and had more talent in his little finger than I have in my entire body. At twenty-one, he came to the states from Dundee via Halifax, Nova Scotia with dreams of becoming a professional artist in America. He began his career drawing for newspapers across the nation. He never returned to his Scottish highlands. Instead, while freelancing for the Fayetteville Observer in North Carolina, a young waitress at the Rainbow Restaurant stole his heart. He proceeded to woo her and won her affections by sketching pictures and writing sweet sentiments on napkins. They married and had two daughters while living out his life’s dream. He died at the age of sixty-two. A brilliant talent and a beautiful life cut far too short.

Although my mother never pursued the arts professionally, she was a lover of beauty—avid reader, poetry writer, and had a creative flair for dried floral arranging. My sister is also artistic. Although she laid her brushes down after the birth of her daughter, she expresses her innate eye for beauty in a number of ways.

Shortly after my mother’s death in 2011, I was invited by a friend to attend a small writer’s conference in the mountains north of Phoenix. Although I’ve kept a journal most of my adult life, I was incurably bitten by the writing bug and uncovered my gift and love for words. My only regret—it’s taken me more than two-thirds of my life to discover this satisfying labor of love. After attending my second writer’s conference, I thought there weren’t enough years left for me to learn all I needed to know to perfect the craft, much less to become a published author.

Now, several years into my writing journey, I’ve found one thing to be true—it’s never too late to experience the joys of writing. If I write only for an audience of one, I’m worth it.

In P.S. I Love You, Jackson Brown, Jr. wrote, “Twenty years from now you’ll be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

I may be growing old, but I have salt in my veins, paint in my bones, and words in my soul that long for the freedom to sail beyond their safe harbor.

I am a writer. It’s time I act like one.

Throw off the bowlines.

Sail on!

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