Where to Settle Down?

Photo: Pixabay
Photo: Pixabay

At some point in my life I will settle down. Part of me is looking forward to the shackles of domestic life, to the community and the routine. Over the past few years I’ve found that moving all over the place does not make for better writing. Indeed, to do your best creative work in any field, the best thing you can do is stay still.

But where to do that?

The following are the top 5 places I’d settle down for the next 10 years if someone had a gun to my head and was saying “Mark, stay here for 10 years or I’ll pull this trigger.”

(in no particular order)

  1. Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia

The Kamchatka Peninsula has long fascinated me. There are bears, snow and waves. And Russian. I desperately want to learn Russian. I feel like I won’t be complete until I do.

2) Isle Madame, Nova Scotia, Canada

This one is a bit random, but I chose it because it’s a French-speaking enclave in an otherwise English-speaking Nova Scotia and also because there’s surf. And because it would be a good place to lead the quiet life, cultivating vegetables and having tea and doing the other things one does when he stops traveling.

3) Chiloe, Chile

This one is a lack of brainer. The Island of Chiloe, in southern Chile, has a climate almost exactly like that of Washington State. And, as with all of the places on this list, there’s good surf.

4) Sardinia, Italy

If I’m going to be forced anchor my rear end on one desolate stretch of this interstellar rock for 10 straight years, I want to come out of it speaking a different language. Sardinia would be perfect for that, as I’m sure there’s little English and the Sardinian dialect of Italian is charming. Despite being in the Mediterrean, Sardinia also has remarkably consistent and (sometimes) powerful waves. Don’t they also have a delicacy there where they bury pigs? Or is that Hawaii? Hawaii would be nice, too….

5)Bainbridge Island, WA

The strangest place on this list. Why would I force myself to stay somewhere I always seem to be fleeing? In short, because Bainbridge is beautiful and I love it. I was raised there. My family’s there. And when I walk down to Eagle Harbor and sit on the shore and contemplate the ferries coming and going, Mt. Rainier in the distance, the saltwater in my nostrils, I feel whole.

I’ve also done some of my best writing on Bainbridge, because when I’m there there’s nothing else to do. And the island has a rich literary tradition: David Guterson wrote Snow Falling on Cedars there and Patrick DeWitt Ablutions, by far his best effort. With any luck, this list will continue to grow.

As of now, no one is holding a gun to my head telling me to settle down. But she might, soon. I have to meet her first. Or I have to get to a place where, regardless of what else is going on in my life, I want to settle down. It’ll happen eventually. And then I’ll have my long-coveted routine. And I’ll finally learn Russian.

The Grand Tour

I took an 8-mile walk on Bainbridge Island yesterday. I started at my parents house and worked my way down to Town and Country, the fancy local grocery store. Bainbridge Island has two grocery stores: T&C and Safeway. Safeway is the people’s grocery store. It’s not pretentious. It used to be open 24 hours (which for Bainbridge is absurd). And it’s a chain, which means it has that generic, predictable feel. T&C on the other hand can be borderline pretentious. Especially the fruit section. The mango prices are pretentious. As are the avocado prices. But T&C is nice, there’s no denying that. They have a wonderful variety of products. They have the best coffee in the Seattle region(!). And it just feels nice.

After T&C I made my way down to the waterfront. I was trying to get away from the tourists. Tourists, in summer on Bainbridge Island, are ubiquitous. They come off the ferry like short short-wearing, ready-to-consume zombies. They are funneled down Winslow Way, where they fan out into any one of the kitchy gift shop places selling imported tea candle holders from Myanmar. They then make a quick stop at Blackbird Bakery before continuing down to the Pub and enjoying a beverage while looking out at the placid waters of Eagle Harbor. I don’t blame the tourists — Bainbridge is beautiful — and of course when I travel I am also a tourist. But I do blame them for their short shorts. And their Vanderbilt shirts. And their general lackadaisical walking.

I followed the waterfront trail all the way out of town, almost to the end of Eagle Harbor, where I saw a Garter snake lying on the asphalt. I poked it with a stick to see if it was still alive. I felt like I was seven. Then I ambled up past St. Barnabus, up Finch, west on High School Road, up Sands, and towards Mandus Olsen and the Grand Forest. The Grand Forest is one of the few places on Bainbridge that (hopefully) will never be developed. The rate of development on Bainbridge is insane. You leave for two months and when you come back whole neighborhoods have sprung up where there was once forest. You see a deer timidly munching on some grass and you think to yourself, “Munch now, deer, for the area where you’re standing has a sign that says ‘Land Use Permit,’ which means in six months your grass will be fenced off with little kids running on it, screaming, while a mother looks on fondly. A human mother.”

At the entrance to the Grand Forest there was something typically Bainbridge: a passive-aggressive note. It was from dog owners, and said something like, “Dear Horse Owners, we will respect your rights to the trail and handle our dogs how you’ve requested around your horses, but in return please pick up the waste left by your horses so it doesn’t befoul the trail.” They actually used the word “befoul”! I love when people write things they would never in a million years say in conversation.  I do it all the time. But mostly I liked the sign because I imagined Jane, age 13, out for a Sunday ride on her favorite mare Tulip, stopping every four seconds to shovel Tulip’s shit into a burlap sack she’d brought along expressly for that purpose. Honestly.

After the Grand Forest I walked past Murden Cove, climbed a hill, took a right on Ferncliff, and was almost home free. The walk was starting to take its toll on my body. My left big toe hurt and I had a healthy sheen of sweat. But I felt wonderful. I had gotten in the zone I get in when I walk at a vigorous pace for any time over 30 minutes, and realized some fundamental things about my life. I know I realized some fundamental things about my life because just before the Grand Forest I was walking as fast as I could, grinning, and saying “Yes! That’s it!”

 I got home at 4:49pm, just in time to watch a boring match between Chile and Argentina, and make myself a mate. It had been a grand tour. Walking is good for the soul.

I’m Sitting in Starbucks

starbucks bainbridge island
Jade Citrus Mint.

I’m sitting in Starbucks on Bainbridge Island.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I start a lot of blog posts with “I’m sitting…,” followed by what I’m doing and where I am.  This is because when I write I’m usually sitting somewhere, drinking coffee or tea.  And even if I’m not drinking something, I’m still sitting.  And because your immediate surroundings are tempting to write about, I usually end up writing about them.

Anyway, I’m drinking tea. I gave up coffee when I got back home, and it’s been a tremendous decision.  I feel much less anxious.  I can genuinely say I feel happier.  Happiness, I once read, has to do with being relaxed.  It makes sense: If you’re not stressing about stuff you’re probably happier.  And since giving up coffee I’m more relaxed, and thus happier.

I’m typing on the MacBook Pro my friend Andrew lent me.  It’s an amazing improvement on the the computer I usually type on.  Well, let me qualify that. The computer I usually use, a hand-me-down from my dad, is perfect for what I need.  All I usually do is type.  But the Macbook Pro, for example, doesn’t need to be plugged in.  My dad’s computer’s battery is fried, which means as soon as you unplug it it shuts off.  This has made for for than one disappointing occasion.  Recently when I was in Chile, at the farm I wrote about, I was upstairs working on said post about said farm when Marcela, my hostess, brushed past me and knocked the charger out of the wall.  The computer screen went black.  I sighed and cursed the gods.  Marcela was never the wiser.  For 0.2 seconds I wanted to throttle her but of course it wasn’t her fault, and in occasions like this you have to be Zen.  Losing a rough draft is an opportunity.  It’s a blessing in disguise.  Ninety-nine times out of a 100 the next draft will be better.  Try it sometime.  Work really hard on a first draft, or even a second draft, and then just as you’re finishing throw your computer into the lake.  I guarantee the next draft will be better.

Starbucks is not my favorite coffee shop on Bainbridge Island.  That honor goes to Blackbird Bakery, for their exceptionally priced americanos, cozy interior, and the fact that they’re not Starbucks.  But I do like Starbucks for one reason, and that’s anonymity.  You can come to Starbucks, post up for seven hours, literally buy only a banana, and no one will ever look twice at you.  No one will judge you.  You won’t be made to feel uncomfortable or as if you’re imposing or as if you should purchase a raspberry scone to make your prolonged presence more justifiable.  I like coming to Starbucks because you can disappear.  You can work in peace.  Or type in peace.

I look around, and everyone is on their devices.  There’s four people on computers, one old guy looking at his phone, and me.  The old guy appears to be reading something.  One of the other guys is writing an email on what looks like Outlook or some other email software that only old people use, and the high school girl is brushing her hair and attempting to connect to the internet.  I can’t see what the other people are doing.  Part of me wants to rant about how people spend too much time on their devices, but that would make me a hypocrite.  I do have a new rule, however, where I’m not allowed to do anything internet-related besides this blog until 10am, and next week I hope to push that back to 11am and the following week till 12pm.  I’ve also stopped eating in the mornings.  This has proven for massive upswings in productivity.  When you don’t eat, you’re not distracted.  The only thing you do is work.  Granted if I was a miner or a ditch digger I’d probably have to eat in the morning, lest I collapse from lack of nutrients.  But I’m not a ditch digger.

The music that’s playing is cool but and unoffensive.  Starbucks plays it safe in every sense of the word.  The seating area has filled up with more high school kids and one dad who’s trying to talk like a high school kid.  “Oh, you’re gonna love it at TCU,” he says. “Their dorms are, like, five star hotels.” I try not to judge and sip my Jade Citrus Mint tea.  It’s April, and I’m sitting in a Starbucks on Bainbridge Island.