Irene Panke Hopkins

Freelance Writer & Editor

Author: Irene Panke Hopkins (page 1 of 3)

So You Wanna Be A Writer…

When a friend asked me to write a guest post for her website on the subject of forming a daily writing practice, including techniques I use to push through and overcome obstacles and just WRITE, I was stymied.

I felt like such a faker!

Because, you know, I am not one of those writers who live, breathe and eat writing. I don’t get up at 4 a.m. and write before the day gets rolling. I don’t have cool writing support websites at my fingertips. I don’t take every class I can find and I don’t belong to writing groups.

I just love to write.

I loved writing papers in college. I enjoyed—even looked forward to—writing letters before email and instant communication were de rigeur. I was giddy when asked to draft correspondence for my bosses in my early days of employment. But until relatively recently, I never considered writing as a career choice. What a concept! Making a living doing what you love to do!

I’ve always heard that if one wants to be a writer, one must write. Right? Right! Makes sense. It’s easier said than done and I have been all too aware of the challenges: finding time to write when one is working in a demanding job; lacking a dedicated writing space; fulfilling obligations to family, friends, parents and the general stuff of life. We would-be writers are busy, schedules are hectic and life has a way of keeping you from doing what you really want to do.

Hold on. Before you snap your neck shaking your head in agreement, I am here to say, “Those are terrible excuses!”

Although we are busy and life may have led us down a different path than the one we imagined, it is still within our power to pull out our machetes, whack through the brush and forge a new path for ourselves. It may take a while, and it may be something you can only chip away at a little bit at a time. But if you don’t start then it will quite simply not happen. Ever. Continue reading

Hands Off the Wheel

If someone told me 15 years ago, that by the time I turned 60 I would have sold my Queen Anne home, moved aboard a sailboat, bought property in Panama, and begun a new career as a freelance writer I would have laughed. “That’s someone else’s life,” I would have thought. “Someone more daring, adventurous and trusting, than I.”

Home

But that is exactly what has happened. And not because I suddenly found that I was daring, adventurous or trusting. Not at all. My life, which I had fought so hard to drive in the direction I thought it was meant to go in, got sick of waiting for me and headed off on its own path without looking back. I continued to look for detours and side roads, screaming, “Wait up! You’re going the wrong way!” But to no avail. This thing had a life of its own.

The same could be said for my decision to leave New York for Seattle so many years ago. Tired of disappointing relationships, I had decided to live my life as a cool, independent, single woman in a city where no one knew me. Within a year of arriving in Seattle, I was married, living in a house on Queen Anne and days away from giving birth to my elder daughter. That was not the plan!

Or was it? Continue reading

Threshold Guardians, Step Aside!

A lot of people tried to talk us out of it. Most people, in fact.

“Too hot!”  “Too far away!”  “Too dangerous!”

These overly generic, not fully-informed responses, were offered to me by the “threshold guardians” in my life. Joseph Campbell talks about the phenomenon of the threshold guardian in his writings on the hero’s journey. In brief, threshold guardians are forces or people that stand in the way of your journey, keeping you from crossing over thresholds that they perceive as dangerous for any number of reasons. Threshold guardians can be jealous rivals – or friends, gatekeepers, or even one’s own personal fears and doubts.

We encountered more than a few when we made the decision to sell our house and move aboard our sailboat. And again when we decided to buy property on a small island in Panama. The resistance was effective in that it shook me up and created doubt and fear within myself. Most of the guardians in my life at the time were people who loved me. As well-intentioned as they may have been, they were ultimately unimaginative and fearful. I learned during both of those times, that my true friends were the ones who took the time to understand and to support our decisions. The ones who actually helped us to cross those thresholds into our next adventure.

With regards to our move to Panama, a widely agreed upon (and more informed) piece of advice was to rent something for a time before buying. Check it out for a while. Make sure we really liked it before sinking money into it.

I know we probably should have heeded that particular advice. But we didn’t. Had we listened, we would have saved ourselves a lot of trouble. But we would also have missed out on all the fun.

Dan had been looking at offshore retirement options for a while. Panama kept popping up to the top of his list for all sorts of reasons that made sense. Aside from the obvious – warm weather and lower cost of living – there were also the practical and very attractive incentives for expats such as:

  • excellent and affordable health care;
  • the U.S. dollar as currency;
  • political stability;
  • ability to own titled property
  • ease of acquiring permanent residence status and all the benefits that go along with that.

Despite this, I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes and thinking that my husband – who was driving this particular bus –  was completely out of his mind. (Hmmm… who was the threshold guardian then?!) We had fantasized about living on an island for many years. In my imaginings, though, it was in Washington State or Canada. Someplace with a fireplace. And pine scented woods all around. But Panama? No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t embrace the notion of someplace so far away, so tropical, so foreign and worried that if this idea didn’t go away soon, we’d be heading for a giant, miserable check mate.

In an attempt to mitigate the tension that was building, I suggested we go down there and look around, secretly believing that a brief trip would rule it out.

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Ngobe Bugle women in Western Panama

With one caveat.

“This will NOT be a real estate trip,” I stated. “I won’t be able to tell if I like the place if all we do is look at houses.”

Dan resisted. “But we’re going to be there,” he reasoned. “It’s a long way to go and not see what’s for sale.” I folded my arms and stared him down. “Who knows when we will get back down there again?” he said, ever relentless. “We should take advantage and look at a few places.”

When he finally agreed to my conditions, I unfolded my tightly crossed arms and booked our tickets. We researched for months, planning our two week trip to be as efficient and informative as possible. Roughly the size of South Carolina, seeing a good chunk of the country is relatively easy to do but we kept things simple, dividing our time between Panama City, El Valle de Anton, Pedasi and the Azuero Peninsula and, finally, Isla Taboga.

DSC07453We chose Isla Taboga, the Island of the Flowers, despite what the guide books said about there being nothing to do there. Usually we like places like that because they are more authentic. And this instinct proved correct. One needs to be someplace, to settle in, to build time for wandering, discovering, spontaneity. To allow the place to call to you and see what it has to say.

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Arriving on the island the first day, the ferry bounced off the dock a few times before the men tied off the lines and began helping to unload the boat. A cacophony of voices greeted one another and shouted instructions to the guys on the dock. Dogs barked and ran happily up and down the pier, happy to have their owners back after a day in the city. The island taxis – all three of them – circled around the area by the pier and people lined up to wait their turn. We ended up in Segundo’s truck, a rickety old thing with a sign on the door asking customers not to slam it. “No tire la puerta, por favor!” Flowers were blooming everywhere, kids were playing in the streets, one or two jumped on the back of the truck and rode with us for a bit. The place was completely and utterly charming. And so the adventure began.

We began to meet people immediately, some of whom invited us for a beer at their condo complex…

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I think I knew from the minute I stepped in the gate that the no-real-estate agreement we had made was about to be broken. Especially after Dan started asking the manager/owner pointed, specific questions and then began poking around in the condos that were for sale.

There was no denying that they were well-constructed and so, so pretty. That the neighbors were lovely. That the island was sweet and relaxed and, a truly authentic, small Panamanian village. Roughly 1,000 folks live on the island, 30 of whom are expats.

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See the place on the far, lower left? Red roofs? Blue awnings? That’s us!

Had we found our island home? No fireplaces, and no pine woods. But the price was right and this was one of those “meant to be” moments. The threshold guardians were nowhere to be found…

And so, here we are. Island dwellers for part of each year. In Panama. On Isla Taboga.

Island culture is unique. It must be experienced and felt to be understood. A friend who also lives on Taboga recently sent me this which, in part, explains it:

The specific of islands is not escape, but return.
They are no longer so much a means of getting away from it all, 
 as of getting back to it all,
Of returning to man's natural measure, free from things
  
Too big,
          Too fast,
                      Too material.                  

William Sanson
Staniel Cay Yacht Club
Exhuma, Bahamas
1988

The Threshold Guardians didn’t stand a chance on this one. Not even the one named Irene Panke Hopkins. Dang it.

I've got my eye on you...

Watch out threshold guardians. I’ve got my eye on you…

Season of Mists…

Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall. – F. Scott Fitzgerald

It’s fall in the Pacific Northwest. I can still break a sweat on my daily power walk. And my t-shirts haven’t been filed under “T” for Taboga quite yet. But the chill mornings and snuggle-under-a-blanket evenings are here. The leaves are turning orange and red and yellow and dropping to the ground. The fog lingers a bit longer into the day. School playgrounds are filled with the sounds of children at recess.

Fall has always felt more like the beginning of the year to me than January. There is a feeling of excitement in the air, like something is about to happen.

Something is about to happen. Sweaters are being resurrected from their summer hibernation. Soup and stew recipes float to the top of my recipe book. The holidays start peeking in the windows and whispering ideas for this year’s celebrations. As sorry as I am to see the summer end, I surprise myself with how ready I am for the coming season. Continue reading

Musing… From A Laundromat…

It was a rainy, August day on the British Columbian coast, where my husband and I had been cruising since early July. We were docked on Malcolm Island, a favorite spot from the 20 plus years we cruised the coast between Seattle and Prince Rupert. Washing clothes at the marina’s tiny, immaculate laundromat, I wrote my column and smiled as I recalled a day, some years back, in another marina laundromat, when I chose its title. Having moved from our home of twenty years to a 42-foot sailboat, obviously without a washer/dryer, I was feeling resentful about the hours I would now be spending in laundromats. Seeking a way to turn my negative attitude around, I decided to use the time to write, packing my laptop along with the dirty clothes, laundry soap and quarters. I resolved to write a column for a local paper and call it what it was: Musings From the Laundromat. Continue reading

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