Letting Go of the Tiger.

In 2001 I made a list:

  1. Write a book.
  2. Get it published.
  3. Get married.
  4. Kiss a tiger.

I made this list because my life was in book-less and date-less rut and I’d heard that writing such a list would help me create a future where all my dreams would come true. Long story short, it worked.

I crossed off Items #1, #2, and #3 in pretty short order  (6 years) And then I had a third book published that did not top the New York Times best seller list, and then I sat next to a guy on an airplane who would not stop talking about his 9-year old grandson (he reads blueprints!) who made me depressed (the children of children of total strangers are of less than zero interest to me), and then I got a filthy nasty cold, which made me even more depressed (I’m a bit of a whiner), and then life looked once again to be as deeply dug into a deep rut as ever before, and then I threw myself a pity party and I blogged about it.

I should have known that all you Dear and Wonderful Readers would give me exactly the pep talk I needed to, in the words of that great humanitarian, Cher, Snap out of it. Oh, I’m still pretty sure that I don’t have another book in me, and I know that that basically makes me 60 years old and unemployed, which is definitely not where I want to be at this time in my life, but hey! I’m all grown up and I’ve got Ray Charles singing my new theme song and not cutting my bangs anymore!


This is me in 4th grade. I am 8 years old. This top had a matching skirt. Even at this age, I was aware that childhood sucked.

Good news: My first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam, currently “out of stock” (meaning, practically, “out of print”, the worst thing that can happen to an author) WILL go into a second printing! Copies should be available by Fall (Northern Hemisphere Fall, that is) so everyone can rush out and keep extra copies on hand for holiday gift-giving. My spare copies come in very handy as tea trays:


Cindy uses her copy as night table:


And yes, I took the time to stage two photographs because I have absolutely nothing better to do, since I’m unemployed and all.

Gooder news (for me, anyway, and this post is all about cheering me up up so it counts): Gardens of Awe and Folly is being published in the UK on July 15, which I only found out because the London office of Bloomsbury (my publisher) contacted me about it. They had been contacted by The Guardian newspaper, because apparently the Guardian cares about V. Swift and her gardens, and they want V. Swift (me) to write about the GoAaF and my 10 favorite garden books. So from hence forth my biography will read: Her writing has appeared in such name-dropping-worthy journals as The Guardian. 


Well, some people would be impressed.

And the Goodest news: I’ve got a new ginger kitty showing up for breakfast. . . 



Between me and Joanne, my neighbor, we named him Dennis Whiskabottoms.

. . . and I’m not even tired of my old ginger kitty yet!

P1070928 (1)



I have settled on being satisfied with smooching these doofus felines since they are as close as I’ll get to crossing off that last Item on my famous list of 2001, #4, Kiss a tiger, and I’m OK with that. About a year ago I started to seriously look into completing my list and soon discovered that there seems to be no ethical way to Kiss a tiger, any where in the world. I am ashamed to have ever let such a thought enter my mind: Whatever tigers might be available for kissing are typically drugged or mistreated into submission and I do not want to be a part of that, no way, no how. Here’s the news flash: tigers are not meant to be kissed. Or petted, or put on leashes, or kept in your back yard. They are meant to be left alone, in their native habitats, to be their solitary, apart-from-humans, and magnificent selves. So no tiger-kissing for me.

So what this means to me, the main character in my life, is that as of now, I am list-less, well and truly listless. I need a new list. 

That list of 2001 came to me in about 20 seconds. . . I suspect that my new list will take a bit longer. 

But, as you have read (above), it’s not all bad. Some of it is good, and gooder. Little by little, I’m finding reasons to wake up every day and say to myself, Oh, what a beautiful morning!

I hope your morning, this and every other one, is beautiful too.



22 Comments, RSS

  1. Casey

    Wow. First of all, I’m so sorry for those bangs. My mother gave me a home perm when I was 10 so I know all too well the misery of having one bad hair day after another after another after another, all because I was too little a kid to have a veto.

    Secondly, I laughed out loud when I saw the Dowager Duchess giving the stink eye. Congratulation on the Guardian article. I hope it makes you famous in Great Britain.

    YAY for the edition number two for my favorite Wanderer! Just a thought, but maybe you could give us a Wanderer 2.0, all about life on Long Island?

    Always such a joy to see your cats, even the newbie. Boy, did he pick the right backyard to stray into.

    Right, no tiger kissing. I look forward to reading your new list and now that you have experience in such things, I’m sure it own’t take six years to complete. I would like to know your secret on getting all those Items from 2001 done, though. Do you think you’d care to write about that?

    I’m with Monique, and you will be fine fine fine. Yes, it’s a beautiful day.

    Hit it, Ray.

  2. SusanA

    Ah, the bangs. I have a similar photo. My bangs were not only short, but they had a decided list from port to starboard as well. I’m glad you’re finding your mornings beautiful once again, and I can’t wait to see your new list. Thank you for making me laugh, even when you’re in the “depths of despair,” as Anne-With-An-E from Anne of Green Gables would say.

  3. Yes, your life WAS definitely worse in 4th grade….
    Can quite understand the between projects malaise…
    So glad Bloomsbury UK are doing their stuff.
    Maybe you will get to go to England to look at the lovely gardens there.
    Claudia was at Buckingham Palace the other day for a tea party.
    I was at Charleston Farmhouse where the garden was splendid.
    Warmest greetings to the kittycats of which we currently have none.
    Time to retreat to Morocco
    things not that great this end


  4. Maryanne in SC

    I don’t know, ma’am.
    Items on one’s personal list can manifest themselves in the darnedest karmic ways.
    Maybe someday a tiger will kiss you.

    (I think the Universe loves Awe and Folly too.)

  5. Mo Riley

    congrats on the 2nd printing, that’s wonderful news, very auspicious!! and congrats on The Guardian, one of my favorite publications. i look forward to reading you in the UK press 😉

    as for writing, who knows what may still pop up for you … a book, a column, a series of opinion pieces. never say never, the future is open to you. whatever it is or isn’t, i look forward to whatever you choose. it’ll be wildly entertaining at the very least.

  6. Megan

    I have your books, that is a good thing, but as you say the gooder thing is a new ginger ninja coming for breakfast. Is that Taffy about to slide off the lounge cushion? Normally mine is told repeatedly, “you are slipping” but he know he can dig his claws into my leg to stop the slide to the floor. Love Dennis but Whiskabottoms? Won’t the other felines make fun of him??

  7. Dear, dear Vivian – I love your little girl self, with her chopped bangs, freckles, and smiling blue eyes. What is there not to love about that cutie pie? You look like a darling princess, with smooth, shining locks, compared to the over-permed, fried, fuzzy “do” I was stuck with at that age. Those “Toni” perms us Baby Boomer little girls had to endure by our well-meaning mothers would be, I’m sure, considered a weird form of abuse in this day and age.

    It is, I would say, inevitable to experience an emotional, physical, and mental slump, after trekking across recent mountain tops (the compilation and release of your latest book being only one). It is the way of both paupers and kings, saints and villains. Alas,we are but human. After so many months of manic activity, flying to meet publisher’s deadlines, being abused and maligned by a harsh inner-critic day after day (we all have at least one, right?), and plagued with the constant fear that the world will, any day now, declare us as a ridiculous failure (yes, this fear nags within my own heart without ceasing, so I suspect it is universal), this time of “slumping” cannot be avoided – fatigue, profound weariness, and physical vulnerability to disease swoops down upon us. Months and years of this constant level of activity requires an eventual payday. We squint our eyes at this inevitable miasma of uncertainty, and we drag our wings a bit, rant a bit, whine a bit, and cry into our corn flakes a bit. But, it’s really okay. This too shall pass. The sun will come up tomorrow, and dagnabbit, though we may understandably feel a tad blue for a season at the moment, it won’t be long, and SHAZAM! We realize the birds are singing, the sun is intensely blue (Ultra-marine? Cerulean? Or should it be Cobalt, for this particular painting?), and we see a smile on that funny face in the mirror again.

    When I first read “When Wanderers Cease To Roam,” I thought, “My goodness, this woman lived an incredible life! She has been everywhere, and experienced so much! How blessed! What an amazing life!” I still think this exact thing whenever I think on you and your life. Sure, life tosses us an occasional sulfurous stink bomb, and things suddenly seem to be so weighty and burdensome. But, before we know it, we regain our strength, suddenly realize just how blessed we truly are (and always have been), and we’re ready to jump back up on our high-horse and gallop head-on into our personal arena of life. Every one of us has sorrows, regrets, mess-ups, and scraped knees – our own slumps, fears, prickly reactions, and foibles. And sometimes we feel, “I’m through with this rat race! I’m hopping off this crazy merry-go-round for cryin’ out loud!” But, whether it’s after a year, or a day – we wake up one morning to find ourselves feeling that old zing – that old hankering – and off we go! We’re back in the race and smiling wide like a nut-case. Because, we are, after all, so very blessed. Three incredible, wonderful books published … thousands and thousands of fans … your very own Top Cat … artistic talent … a way with words … an intense sense of humor … and a long-running series of world adventures to call your own – Yep! you’re going to be leaping back up into the glorious playground – being the Phoenix you are, Vivian. Maybe not a book, but then again, who knows at this point. And I suspect, that sweet new ginger-cat is yet another “angel unawares” – and he is already spreading his own sweet influence. Oh, and how I love his name, by the way! That name alone made me smile and chuckle to myself.

    If you make a new list or not, who can tell … but no matter what, I have no doubt you will continue your awesome life, while counting your blessings, making a difference in all our lives, and wowing the world with all that is YOU! You, our dear Vivian, are simply amazing!

    • Janet Lea

      Deborah, I am going to print out your comment and keep it on hand for the inevitable days when nothing feels right and life feels way too burdensome. I so appreciate your superb writing and spot-on observations for our dear Ms. Swift (and the rest of us).

  8. Kirra

    Vivian, I still think you are awesome even if you are unemployed! I currently have a cold and am feeling very sorry for myself, I think some of us just don’t deal with being sick very well. That guy on the plane sounds self centred and imposing, yuck.

    Out of the list of four I think kissing a tiger is probably the best, and safest, one to have not completed. People in the UK should love your book, good to have you writing something for The Guardian. I love WWCtR, I will remember to buy it as presents for friends now it’s on its second print!

    AND you’ve just managed to inherit another cat, I don’t even have my own cat (I want one…..it’s the only thing on my list……need permission from landlord).

    All the best writing the next list!

  9. gretchen

    I always find that when I face a block of time with no goals insight to work towards that eventually, despite my fears of the artistic muse having left me for good, that an idea will pop out of nowhere when I least expect it. Thing is, I must not seek it – it has to find me, however long it takes. I must not sit and wait for it but move on to other things and simply trust in the knowledge that it will happen… someday.
    On a more selfish note, I for one think that you already have 3/4 of your next book done: I would love to see all your tutorials put together into one glorious volume with all your delightful commentary included. Just a breadcumb of a thought to peck at…

  10. Deborah Hatt could not have said it more eloquently and or more beautifully. You are a treasure. I wonder if it is the tiger you are kissing right now, at this time in your life?

    Our moms must have been related by the way. My football shaped head has not changed much but I wear my bangs longer now!!

  11. I think my life would be complete if I had comments like the one Deborah wrote. Everything she said, yes!

    And actually, from where I sit, Top Cat seems to have a bit of the tiger in him or I’m not sure you would have chosen him in the first place. So perhaps instead of crossing Kissing a Tiger off you list, you should reconsider your definition of what a tiger is.

    We should have a fourth grade photo contest. Do you know anyone who would look at their fourth grade photo and go “I was the cutest girl in the class.” I don’t. But I’ll tell you one thing. You have me beat in the fourth grade photo department. Oh, do you have me beat!

  12. ann

    I always love your cat photos. One of my favorite Vivian blogs was on your cat Taffy? demanding to be fed.

    I saw my best friend this weekend. I noticed she had several copies of “When Traveler Cease to Roam” in a stack for gifts. It is a great book. I always enjoy rereading it.

    I’m also red headed and went through the bangs stage. I used to cut them myself, the thicker the better! Then I tortured myself with large rollers and wore my hair in a flip.

    I hope you will write more books. I would love to see an art book on trisket watercolors!

    Don’t be sad, we appreciate you!

  13. Judy Jennings

    Oh, Vivian, hooray for the reprinting of “When Wanderers Cease to Roam!” That’s my favorite because it was the first and “how I met you.” There’s a lot of YOU in that book with your needlework and kitties. When I first saw it I knew I wanted more. And now, The Guardian!! Congratulations! Also, I think you could do a book about New York for those of us who don’t know the area but dream about it. I have a book about Charleston (by Gessler) and I saw one about New Orleans. And you could always do beautiful Seattle. Your career isn’t over. You’re just taking a well-deserved rest. Best wishes. 💕💗

  14. Laura

    Echoing Gretchen – I’m all for a Swift Schooling tutorial, compilation of what you’ve shared already. Professor Swift?

    The public library at the end of my block held the annual summer stock up book sale this weekend. Surprise, delight then quandary in finding WWCTR on the shelf. The “self-help” shelf to be exact! (?) Who would get rid of this book? Was it because a puppy nibbled the corner of the spine? My husband bought your book for me when it first came out knowing correctly that I would love it. I didn’t need another one, or did I? Surly this book couldn’t be appreciated by a good “friend of the library” if it was misplaced in self-help instead of with the art or even travel memoir books. I just HAD to rescue this book.
    I put the book in my bag ($3 per bag Saturday) with the justification that I need this copy for school. We’re watercolor painting en plain air this week and I’ve referenced your work more than once. Although you work from your own photos and not necessarily from direct observation, your compositions and canvas sizes are very good examples for students to access. Triscuits, squints, themed sets of objects…so much instructional value.
    And darned funny, too.

    Maybe the self-help placement wasn’t all that absurd. It has brought me to develop a watercolor painting practice and examine my skills through your tutorials. It has helped me frame my own experienced world and life with beauty, awe and folly, too through your own blogged life. It has helped this self greatly, weekly.
    Vivian Swift – now available in the self-help section. Whaddya think?

  15. EEK – I had those bangs, too. I call them my Mamie Eisenhower bangs, since I can only assume that was my mother’s inspiration. Since I have the forehead that ate Chicago, those shortie bangs were NOT an attractive look for moi.

    Love all the kitties and The Dowager Countess, both capable of being full of piss and vinegar.

    Another list will come to you. Seems that you checked off some pretty great things on the last one – tiger-kissing notwithstanding. They probably have REALLY bad kitty breath anyway.

  16. Bunny

    First off, I like the picture of Helen back in the olden days, it reminds me of Goldie Hawn, back in the day of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh in.
    Now, on to the new post! Time for a new list, a new destination. You have such a great catalogue of life that you have described to us dear readers/fans lo, over all these blogs/years. Its nice to take a short break from the daily routines, which I do realize sometimes stretch for years on end. And, sometimes that the yin of life, the daily grind, and sometimes its the yang, where you are free to roam about your mind, and be listless.
    But, as we know, all ships eventually must return to port, to set out on a new journey, so the decks will be swabbed, the tank refueled, and the shelves stocked with provisions.
    Do go forth in awe and gratitude, and choose a new destination.
    And congrats on the new addition to the family. Herding them kitties is hard work in itself.
    Oh, and I love your pic. Very cute!

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