I am happy to introduce a new writer to these pages, Mary Gottschalk. Actually you have already visited Mary’s website if you read my recent post on her blog Flying the Coop: Leaving Mennonite Land. But though she is new to my blog, Mary is certainly not a new author, having published a memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam in 2008 and just off the press her first novel, A Fitting Place (May 2014).
Mary will tell you that she and I have competely different life experiences and views of the world, but our writing shares a common theme of willingness to leave our comfort zones.
Mary’s Turn: Unlike Marian, I didn’t grow up in a religious environment or have a close-knit family. I first left home at age 13 to go to boarding school, and never lived at home again for more than a month. The love of my life did not show up until I was in my 60s. Much like Marian’s journey from plain to fancy, however, I have been perennially in search of new ideas and new perspectives. I’ve often had to lose sight of the metaphorical shore in order to find them. Ironically, the most dramatic change in my perspective came when I had literally lost sight of the shore, a day when I was roughly a thousand miles out into the Pacific Ocean, heading west along an unmarked route. That day, my husband and I were two years into a planned circumnavigation of the world in a 37-foot sailboat. Much as Marian chose to leave her natal community, I chose to abandon a successful New York career in high finance to explore the larger world.
Throughout our cruise, we’d often had to trim our sails to unpredictable winds and set our rudder to compensate for erratic currents. We sailed as close to our intended course as we could, but all too often, we ended the day someplace other than where we’d set out to go. As good sailors on a well-fitted sailboat, not much could go very wrong, but we knew that if something did, we would probably die. Life and death were pretty much out of our hands. That watershed day, a sunny afternoon with clear skies and calm seas, it struck me that sailing was a metaphor for life. I suddenly understood that I’d had no more control over my life and death when I lived and worked in New York City than I did while sailing on the Pacific Ocean. And it seemed obvious that if I couldn’t control my fate, I might as well spend my days doing something meaningful and satisfying, rather than wasting precious time and energy trying—all too often in vain—to meet the expectations of others. It seemed equally obvious that if I hadn’t decided to sail away from the metaphorical as well as the geographic shore, I’d still be living under the illusion that I could actually control my life.
It is this last concept—that you grow the most when you step outside your comfort zone—that has been the driving force behind my life as an author. My memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam starts with my decision to step out of my comfort zone from a professional and cultural perspective. It ends as I begin a new, more purposeful way of life that has sustained me for a quarter of a century.
But few people can quit their jobs and head off into the sunset. I wanted to explore the growth that can take place when a woman stays close to home. In my novel, A Fitting Place, Lindsey Chandler is hurtled out of her psychological comfort zone by the betrayal of those she most trusts. Her journey to emotional maturity begins when she begins to re-examine her entire value system, including loyalty, marriage and gender roles.
Mary asks you, “How has stepping out of your comfort zone changed your life?”
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Mary has made a career out of changing careers. She spent nearly thirty years in the financial markets, including consulting projects in New York, New Zealand and Australia. Along the way, she dropped out several times. In the mid-80s, at age 40, Mary and her husband Tom embarked on the three-year sailing voyage that is the subject of her memoir, SAILING DOWN THE MOONBEAM. When the voyage ended, she returned to her career in finance, but dropped out again to provide financial and strategic planning services to the nonprofit community. In her latest incarnation, she is a full time writer. Her first novel, A FITTING PLACE, was released May 1, 2014. She lives in Des Moines, Iowa.
Links to her Books: