My Love/Hate Relationship with Orcas Island

1532051_399300353545516_7454625721567562924_n(Originally written on September 6th, but I forgot to finish and post)

So, I’m back on the rock. Some might call it Orcatraz and these days, I might be among them.

What I’ve been wondering a lot lately is if there is a danger in staying somewhere that is too small and safe too long? I feel like I’m living out some negative consequences of having done just that. It’s like staying in the womb too long and then not knowing how to breathe in wide open spaces or something.

When I first moved here, life on a small Pacific Northwest island was exactly what I needed. It felt like a port in the storm that was my life. It’s also one of the lushest, most beautiful places I have ever encountered. And not in a “oh look at that honey, isn’t it pretty?” sort of cheesy way, but in a deep, sacred sort of way, with thick forested areas, fog, and the ocean. Perfectly contemplative. Before I got here, while living in Seattle unable to find work and stressed out all the time, I had this constant daydream that somehow, someday I would be living somewhere where I could see the ocean, somewhere quiet and dreary and maybe even a little melancholy.

And somehow, that incessant daydream that felt like an impossible imagining came true when I came up here (which was six and a half years ago). I lived on the camp property and could see the ocean from my window. I’d wake up to go to work early and see the moon reflecting on the water, or look up and see constellations, and take walks through thick trees. I wrote in detail about this once before in this post. So yeah, for awhile, Orcas was an idyllic haven.

But then I moved off of camp, and started to feel a little suffocated by the smallness of the island, the difficulty and time-consuming complications of getting off the rock while not being able to drive, started to feel extremely intellectually frustrated, and wished there were more people my age, and missed seeing live music more frequently, and (shit I really hope I don’t offend anyone by saying this) felt frustrated about writing on Orcas, in terms of, I felt I always had to censor myself, b/c I was always the youngest in any local writing circle I’ve been in on the island and while some people really welcome the kind of irreverence I would bring to the table, some people really don’t. A lot of times it felt like people were writing about flowers and sunlight and sweet memories and so I’d ask them to skip over me as we all read aloud in a circle, b/c I’d written about something less delicate, like say, porn. I started to feel like I had to watch my language in these circles, and my topics, and just felt uncomfortable being myself. I felt like I had to suppress my fire.

Last winter I had cabin fever so bad I thought I would explode, and then I went to India, and when I first came back to my apartment I felt the realization as clearly as if it had been painted on my walls, I was done with Orcas. It was too small. I spent most of my summer thinking of how to get out of here sooner. But it also was a nice respite. I mean India was so intense and overwhelming all the time, sensory overload at every moment, and sometimes it felt really fucking scary. And even after getting used to that and not feeling as afraid, there was still the intensity. So it was nice to be somewhere totally safe, somewhere where I would never think twice about walking home at all hours of the night, sometimes more than a mile walk, sometimes completed while drunk or high or both and feeling totally safe while doing so. It really was nice to come back and just rest a bit, be in familiar surroundings.

And then I went to Chicago and Portland and was kinda freakin’ out. I mean this usually happens when I’ve been on the island a while, whenever I first go to the mainland, it’s overwhelming, and big stores and getting around by myself seem insurmountable. Actually I usually get cranky when first off-island as a reaction to feeling a bit out of my comfort zone. It’s like clockwork. But I’ve noticed that it’s definitely gotten worse over the years, not better. I feel more overwhelmed and more rusty on travel skills every time I leave the island.

So yeah, Chicago, I was mostly with a group for the whole time, but when I split off to meet up with two girls from my India trip, I was freaking out, terrified I wouldn’t meet back up with my group. It ended up being fine, though we did get lost trying to find the right metro station and train track. Still the whole time I was there I was just like, this city is fucking huge and it made me feel kind of lost. And then when we got to Portland after the road trip I felt the same way. I was just so out of practice of living in a city of any size, and didn’t know my way around, and felt really overwhelmed. For the first few days, I just wanted to be back on my safe little Orcas. I didn’t REALLY want to, but was craving safety, familiar territory, only three main streets to navigate, relief. My friend Elynn had to talk some sense into me. As someone who’d recently left Orcas herself, she knew what I was going through and that it would pass. She gave me a stern little talking to, something like, “EJ, on Orcas you have no prospects for getting laid and you only have two people to hang out with year round.” And I thanked her for the reminder, b/c I needed that, and then all the reasons I was sick of Orcas came flooding back.

After that, while still in Portland, I decided to venture out and go take the bus to Portland State, which was a complicated venture. The internet where I was staying wasn’t working that morning, so my friend Rachel helped me out. She worked hard looking up bus routes and a local bank b/c I was trying to open an account. It ended up being a really unsuccessful mission at the time. I wasn’t able to open one (though later in my second week in the city, everything totally came together swimmingly), and it turned out that where I had to catch the bus to go back wasn’t all that near where I’d been dropped off, and I got kind of lost, and had to call Rachel again and work it out. The weird thing was, after that bus adventure, after I got back to my friend’s place and all, it’s not exactly that I stopped feeling overwhelmed, but it lessened immensely, and I had zero more thoughts about wanting to be on Orcas. I stopped freaking out, like somehow crossing that hurdle made all the difference. And from then on I had a blast and loved being in Portland.

But it did make me really feel that staying on the island for as long as I have has had some detrimental effects. I can’t imagine I ever would have felt all overwhelmed and shit like that before I lived here. I moved to Seattle not knowing one thing about how to get around the city, and not really knowing anyone either, and yeah it was kind of scary at first, but after a few weeks I was answering other people’s questions about which buses to take to go where. So it’s like, I know I can do it, I just have been horribly out of practice. And that brings me back to my original point, that staying somewhere that’s too safe and small for too long has its dangers.

And I must say, I’m hoping not to be here too long. I have been back for not even 48 hours and I feel the same way I did when I first got back from India, I am done with this place. There are lots of people I love, and lots of things I love about the island, but I am just done. I am afraid of being pulled back into the nest so to speak. I want to be free and Orcas feels like Orcatraz right now. I hate saying that b/c there are sooo many great things about the island, I’ve just had enough. So I’m keeping myself busy.

I spent a day in Seattle on my way back up North and it was a good reminder that I can be fine in a city, b/c I felt pretty at home there, partly b/c I know its layout and it’s familiar. It just reminded me that even if I go somewhere where I don’t know anyone or where anything is, it will eventually feel totally navigable.

Currently Listening:
“Paper Planes” – MIA – already did this song once before so I won’t bore anyone w/reposting the lyrics. Am loving it though! Love the very beginning the most, “I fly like paper and get high like planes/If you catch me at the border I got visas in my name…” She’s cool in a badass way.

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2 thoughts on “My Love/Hate Relationship with Orcas Island

    • Orcas is pretty awesome, and for my first few years in Portland, I really missed it a lot, but I also was really ready to leave by the time I did, and now, I don’t miss it so much.

      It’s beautiful but was definitely limiting in some ways. Even going back to these older posts, it sometimes feels like a different person wrote them. I’m glad I got out.

      But it was a great place to be for awhile.

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