Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Island Time 2

Waiting in the Mukilteo ferry line

A friend of mine tells me that there are three main reasons that Californians don’t last in the rural northwest. One, of course, is the weather. Secondly is the lack of culture and diversity, and thirdly is the inconvenience of shopping. Well, Amen to that. It’s not easy being spoiled, and I find that I constantly have to bite my tongue to keep from sounding like a California snob. Never say the following, for instance:
“You call that a burrito?”
“Is it Summer yet?”
and, "Can’t we just hire a Mexican to do that?”
But you must adjust, even if it means giving up ethnic food, wearing long underwear well into spring, mowing your own lawn, or learning how to shrug when the yellow ink in your printer runs out in the middle of a big project and no one on the island carries it. When the list of stuff you need gets long enough you just take the ferry to the other side for a shopping frenzy. Also known as The Mainland. Off-Island. The City. Amerika.
Waiting in the ferry line, that fragile link to civilization and passage to another world where freeways and stores and art galleries await, is like a purgatory between two worlds. Half the time you miss it and have to wait for the next one, spending the time cleaning up your car, taking a well deserved snooze, quaffing beers at the nearby alehouse in Mukilteo or talking to people you know on the Clinton side about when the weather may or may not clear up.
There are people who live here and never cross over, are happy to live amongst the trees and the cows and small shops and have no contact with the frenzy of civilization. Some people live here for the community, but most seem to live here to retreat from civilization altogether.
I thought I would be one of them, and have discovered to my surprise that I am not. In fact, I am a cultural snob, whining for a sushi bar, an art opening and good movie.

Here on Whidbey they proudly refer to “Island time” which sounds like a romantic vision of slowing down. It’s a kind of manana mentality with the sense that you are always waiting for something to happen. Like a sunny day, for instance.
But it’s not as easy as it seems. Because when your “to do” list is narrowed down to one or two things and you can’t remember what they are and don’t care anyway, and when it occurs to you that maybe you should at least read the newspaper from time to time to see what is going on in the world and then you forget to buy one, you wonder if you are missing out on the important things of the world, though what those might be you cannot say. After all, do I have a responsibility to know how many more innocent people are getting killed in senseless wars? I look outside the window at the prancing bunnies as I wash the dishes and listen to news on the radio about the roadside bombs and American idol and wonder how all of these worlds can even exist simultaneously. It makes me crazy to even think about it.

So after hanging out where life is quiet and slow and simple and there are less people, surrounded by silence and empty roads leading to nowhere, suddenly I find that I am restless for action culture and a calendar of events to choose from. So I go over to the city for a day and fight the traffic and crowds and return with a sigh, remembering why I moved away.
A few weeks ago I attended a local play called Three Sisters, by Chekhov. It was long and drawn out and for the most part awful and painful to sit through. In it a family longs to move back to Moscow, knowing that when they move there everything will be perfect and life will be full and good. Of course they never make it to Moscow and end up resigning themselves to ordinary compromised lives. The end.
Because as we know it’s not where we are but who, not the stuff we leave behind but the stuff we carry with us everywhere, inside our own heads that keep us dissatisfied.
It is possible that I will always have a Moscow to long for that I may never find. I can come to terms with that. It’s the idea of a compromised life that scares me the most.