A few years ago, when I first read . . . and fell in love with . . . and was deeply moved by. . . Journey Into Solitude, I saw a life clearly bifurcated by a single decision author Ann Petre made in 1976 at age 52, a decision perhaps some of you are thinking about right now. I want to tell you more about her life-changing decision; how it shook her physically, emotionally, and spiritually; how it reverberated through her own life and the lives of others, and how she courageously navigated the bumpy road of unexpected consequences that followed. But first I want to tell you where --if you are lucky enough to be in Soho TONIGHT October 4 from 6pm to 8pm at Meg Cohen Design Shop, you can hear this extraordinary voice read from her works.
Ann Hales-Tooke (that's her married name) will be reading from her upcoming book, The Family That Flew, at the Meg Cohen Design Shop, 59 Thompson Street from 6pm to 8pm this Thursday, October 4. The work, to be published next year is a non-fictional account of her uncles who were early aviation pioneers. A 100 years ago this Christmas eve, her uncle Edward died attempting to make the first flight from London to Edinburg . Her uncle Jack died in his plane during the First World War. Her uncle Henry flew during the war in Mesopotamia and survived to share more adventures with his race-car driving wife.
I had a chance to sit down with Ann at my home earlier this week shortly after she had flown in from home in Cambridge, England. Having graduated form Oxford in 1947 with a degree in Modern Greats, Ann has lived an extraordinary life. She has been a daughter, sister, student, wife, mother, lover, friend. Professionally too, she's had many roles: newspaper columnist writing about child development, teacher of sign language, pyschodynamic counsellor, university professor, watercolorist, painter. Through it all ran "a strain of writing", she says. At age 80, she wrote her an"intensely personal" book: Journey Into Solitude, a mythic tale of her own life, decidedly "not a memoir" but a story that mixes facts with dreams, imagination with hard-won truths.
Ann Petre--(she uses her maiden name as the byline for "Journey")--will tell you that she has had three or four lives. How we define and measure our time is always subjective and mostly arbitrary. Here at Second Lives Club, we search not only for meaning but sometimes demarcation: to discover what begins when something else ends. We continually search for signposts and footsteps to guide us on our own uncertain paths. And, we are always looking for road-tested wisdom and trailblazing truth-seekers who are willing to share what they learned.
Signposts for a Second Life
In my next post, I'll share with you some of what Ann told me about the decision that shaped the second half of her life. She also talked about losses and gains ("A loss is not necessarily a disaster."), about mothering adult children ("I try to remember sometimes with difficulty that there is a boundary where I end and they begin."), about what she learned in 86 years ("Protect your life.") and what she looks forward to (quite a bit but she also hopes for the "courage to take whatever happens") and--I saved this for last--why she didn't like one particular classmate at Oxford. That would be Margaret Thatcher.
If you can't wait for the next chapter of the fascinating Ms. Petre's life here at Second Lives Club, why not order her book? I warn you it can be hard to find and often expensive but I'll find out from the author how you get a copy of this book if you leave a comment. By the way, her son, Hugh Hales-Tooke, took the cover and author photographs and opening picture on this post; Meg Cohen, who is hosting the event at her store, is his partner. If you ever are in New York City, you absolutely have to go there. I'm sure Meg carries the book along with the cashmere items she is known for and the hand-selected--and sometimes made-by-hand-- special pieces she and Hugh have found in their world travels.