Shortly after I returned to Vancouver, in late May of 2013, I called the landlord to find out more about the situation on Mayne, ask questions, and gather a bit of info. The building was indeed zoned commercial/residential which covered my need for accommodation on the island and gave me the possibility of opening a little business, making a little cash, and having a cool project to work on. It was a 10 acre waterfront parcel, with four additional cottages that were rented out either long-term, or for summer vacation rental. John Collinson, one of the original settlers from the mid-1800’s is buried on the property with his first nations wife, several ill-fated children, and reputedly has, growing on it, the oldest apple trees in BC – making this particular piece of land significant from a heritage perspective. Ideas for a business, although unformed as yet, were germinating. What could I do there? As I was completely bereft of skills, talents, aptitudes or business acumen my first thought was…artist studio. As I was also – at the time – completely devoid of motivation, drive, or work ethic my other embryonic idea was “self-serve coffee bar”…these two ideas would have to fall into bed together and germinate further so I could convince the landlord that I actually had a business plan, and was not just another flaky guy wanting to open up an …Art Studio Café. 🙂 I arranged to meet Dave the landlord back on Mayne in early June for mutual reassurance.
As I re-read my Journal during the early days of this exploration I am struck by two things: my wide-eyed interpretation of simple encounters as a kind of magical projection of wonderment (a woman carrying a basket of cilantro down a dusty country road would take on almost mystic qualities) and; the ongoing internal struggle between the two halves of my psyche as I weighed the pros and cons of this decision…uncertainty vs. impulsive commitment, indecision vs. strong desire, – I was having a dialogue with myself on the pages of my Journal as I sorted out my internal tendency to overthink. Problems vs possibilities…I quite literally rejected the whole concept three times before I would ultimately commit. Blessedly, magic & visceral pull would eventually win out over fear and indecisiveness…but we’re not there yet.
The June 12 meeting with Dave went well. As it turned out we had worked together as young guys in the 70’s, so there was a decent cordial recollection of being work chums from another era. Even this diminishes some of the misgivings and creates hints of inevitability. I managed to get inside the space, take some measurements and do some imaginings of what it may become under my tutelage. The cottage is petite…around 600 sq.feet with a cool front porch & ground level rancher-style access. The windows are plentiful heritage multi-plane with tons of light and stellar site lines. The best view is of Galiano Island and Active Pass through which all of the regional ferry traffic travels. The kitchen and bathroom are small but adequate, and, as an out-of-town part-time dwelling it works magnificently for my needs. It’s suitability as a business though, will be determined by the appropriateness of my ideas and the efficacy of “my plan”…(which does not yet exist, although Mr. Journal gives an early indicator of “art – cycle – website – sculpture – café – thing”…I’m good at vague.
As these are my early days exploring Mayne Island, I was still in need of further convincing that this place had what I was in need of ….what I was searching for – serenity & the muse. Although Dave’s commercial property had incredible appeal and seemed perfectly suited to my “vision dream” I needed to unearth the tranquility and unleash “the muse” – that almost indecipherable thing that would allow creative passions to flow.
After years of urban cacophony and living a life that had been turned up to “11” I was in serious need of chillout. The difference between Vancouver and Mayne is vast. Although they are only 30 kilometres and a short ferry ride apart, the sense of decompression one gets upon disembarking from the ferry onto this idyllic rock is immediate. Things slow down, noises abate, enclaves of bliss abound and circadian rhythms tap you gently on the shoulder to remind you when it’s time to eat, or whisper in your ear “lights out…time to shut ‘er down for the day”. Beaches on warm summer days offer moments of sublime delight…the sounds of happy children discovering the magic of oceanside play, while dogs run in slo-mo after tossed frisbees, bathed in a golden light while gentle breezes blow and the tides lap. Forest trails and favourite mountain vistas can provide similar moments of calm and beauty. Climbing the local peak and sourcing out a secluded spot with equal parts sun-generated warmth and the serenade of trees and birds is a fabulous way to meditate. OK….tranquility – check.
Despite my earlier indecisiveness and waffling, I knew from the moment that I saw Dave’s little commercial cottage that this quirky setting would provide a perfect tableau to unleash the creative inspirations which had been bottled up inside of me for some time. Whether suppressed or dormant, they were ready to come forth. My muse needed irony and diversity, and a boatload of new and unique experiences which the Gallery – Studio – Café , and life on Mayne Island would provide in spades. What tragedy and hard drinking had squelched, sobriety, stimulus, serendipity and synchronicity let flourish. Writing the script and setting the stage for this new play, unleashed some hidden talents, and gave creative energy to new roles I would be required to perform. As a creative generalist, they would be many….finding one’s Muse – check.
Despite the seeming perfection of Mayne Island and Dave’s little cottage business for my needs, my indecisiveness dies hard and I needed to return to Vancouver for further pondering, worry and excessive pensive thinking. In fairness to Dave, as the weeks slipped by and I’d not come to a firm decision, I called him to remove myself as a potential candidate for occupancy…but I couldn’t get the islands or the place out of my thoughts so I planned another trip in early July to do a final round-robin of my favourite island contenders…Saturna, Pender and Mayne. Unlike Goldilocks, I have to test each bowl of porridge several times.
After a year without wheels, I am back on the road and it does feel good. Liberating. I use my van as a camper when I am on these road trips for the convenience of being able to pull over and sleep anywhere on these accomodation-challenged islands…especially in summertime. I love all of these islands, and they each have something unique to offer, “They all have their own personality”, as they say. I start with Saturna, as it is the most remote, and will work my way back. Saturna is gorgeous and was one of my first considerations but is sparsely populated (300 people) and consequently is lacking in some key amenities. Pender is also stunning but the cycling felt so-so and I’m not fond of some of the turns their development have taken. Each island will dish out serenity and stunning vistas by the truckload, but there was only one “Dave’s Cottage”… And that was on Mayne.
Fortunately, when I returned on July 8 it was still vacant and beckoning – just like that girl I dated in high school. And the island was still dishing out its charms, despite, or perhaps because of, the uptick in people enjoying their summer vacation activities. Perfect days happen and for me, here, they occur with regularity.
It was on this trip that the ideas for the business were congealing and here that I first made reference to the “Shavasana* Chillout Project”, and also germinated the name I would give to my mask making activities, “Clay and Bone”www.clayandbone.com . My thoughts, creative energy and focus were now being absorbed by this looming commitment. It seemed there was no turning back, so, a few days later I called Dave to tell him I definitely wanted it and was ready to commit. The next day I awoke with serious apprehension & “buyers remorse” … I felt like bailing on the whole project.
But I didn’t. I continued my decision struggle debate internally and within the pages of my Journal…“march forward…explore…evolve..learn”, I exhorted myself, “this project may provide the necessary “raison d’etre” to boost creative energies & passions”…I said, and that I would “need to get in the correct mind space” I told myself, so I could “experiment with the place as an incubator for: website development, writing, creative space, playground, business, & the experience of living in a small community on an island”. I obviously required a lot of convincing, which only I was capable of doing. The two halves of my Gemini brain were fighting it out. And finally, from the Journal, “if not this, what?”. The desire to end the search and begin the creative work was strong – I called Dave to meet up on Mayne and sign the lease…I would reject the place one last time before the ink was dry.
It was all set. I was to meet Dave back on Mayne, the August 1st long weekend to sign the lease and take possession. As friends were vacationing there I came over a day early to hang out with them. Dave had given me keys to the place so I could show it to my friends and also stay there for a couple of nights. As we were all about to walk into the cottage, my soon-to-be new neighbour Billie came over and awkwardly injected herself into our group…acting, I suppose as an unexpected and uninvited “tour guide”. Unbeknownst to me, Billie was also the de facto caretaker, cleaning lady and security guard for the property – and also had a bunch of her stuff stored there for the interim. She was also exhibiting – as I would eventually find out – some old fashioned “island familiarity” (not to be confused with nosiness 🙂 ) which we city folk were just plain unaccustomed to. In a word – it was weird.
And of course, my friends, over dinner après, had to remind me of this and embellish upon it – they were British after all. “She likes you you know”…“She’ll be over all the time”…“It’ll be like Kathy Bates in the movie Misery”…“She’s going to break in and tie you to your bed” and on, and on…..and on. All in good fun.
As I retired back to the cottage for the evening, the clouds had rolled in, the wind had picked up and there was a hint of rain – it was a dark and stormy night. As I got ready for bed, there was a sharp rap on the front window “Who is it?”, I quailed, “It’s me, Billie…your next door neighbour” With trepidation I flung open the curtains and there she was, face inches from the window, wearing a bike light on her ever-present safari hat, “It’s blowing pretty hard out tonight” she said, “sometimes we have power outages and you might need…candles!” She raised aloft a couple of candles in each hand. As I absorbed this apparition I said, “Uuuuh…I think I’m good Billie…I have a flashlight – thanks though” The Brits were right…it was going to be a nightmare.
This thought stuck with me overnight. It wasn’t going to be a relaxing & chill experience…I was going to be pestered, hounded, and it would not be good. I’d be trapped in awkward encounters…badgered by Billie…I’d have to bail. Which I did. I saw Dave for breakfast at the bakery the next morning and – rather than sign a leasing agreement – explained my apprehension, and, once again, rejected the property. He completely understood. The deal was off.
We shook hands, I left, and went for a long walk in the woods and down to one my favourite beaches, and sat there, staring at Mt. Baker. And then I had an epiphany – there are going to be problems, difficulties, wherever you go. There is no escaping them. They are opportunities for growth, and need to be confronted – gently – and dealt with. I can handle this, I told myself, try it for a year and if you don’t like it you can move on. I reconnected with Dave and explained my change of heart. Once again, because Dave is a good guy, he completely understood. We met up and I signed the lease for one year…this time, I let the ink dry.
PostScript: Billie and I have since become friends and good neighbours. She’s big hearted, generous and kind. We look out for one another…and she’s right – it’s always good to keep a supply of candles handy for those blustery nights when the power can go off. I had found Shavasana.
*Shavasana is two Sanskrit words: Shava (शव, Śava) meaning “corpse”, and Asana (आसन, Āsana) meaning “posture” or “pose” and is the last position in Yoga – considered by some, to be the most important part of Yoga practice. Lying on one’s back with arms and legs splayed out, eyes closed and breathing deeply, Shavasana is intended to integrate one’s Yoga practice and rejuvenate body, mind and spirit. Although I would eventually use this Yogic term as a playful name for my Art Gallery/Café on Mayne Island, it was also a metaphoric and tacit recognition of my personal need for rejuvenation & healing after many years of pain.