…I came to myself in a dark wood where the direct way was lost.” —Dante
I last updated my website about nine years ago and, for the first time ever, tried ‘blogging.’ I made three posts, then...vanished.
While it seems a bit laughable to imagine anyone noticed, much less wondered why, I have long been a man deeply invested in ‘the long shot.’ So, on the off chance that someone you know has wondered why my quaint little website was left to molder like Dorian Gray’s interweb portrait in some cyberspace attic all these years... Well, where to begin...
Ten years ago, I too had lost my way in a dark wood—of which I will speak in some future post, perhaps, but not now. Nonetheless, I’d been working hard to find my way again, and had conjured up some pretty big plans. I had quit my day-job at last to spend several years, and all my savings, writing a new novel, and ramping up my art presence before going off to teach English in Japan for a few years while all that newly minted creative product back home went viral and raised my visibility sufficiently to equip an even more ambitious creative empire upon my victorious return. After years of waiting for permission from gate keepers who were never going to give it—who were, I’d finally figured out, not there to give anyone such ‘permission’ in the first place—I was going to spread my wings, without permission, and see what I was really capable of! That was the big plan, at least. As some of you may also have noticed, ‘big plans’ often draw the universe’s attention—and its bigger guns.
Having been a freelance artist and sometime fiction writer for years by then, mere adversity had come to seem mother’s milk to me, and the Universe was too smart to waste time throwing chaff like that into my path. No, what the clever little fox of fate aimed at me was an intelligent, creative, funny, independent, fabulously attractive woman. After 52 years of monastic discipline, (read: ‘way too nerdy and confused to date.’), having become entirely comfortable with the fact that I was simply not cut out for ‘love’ of any kind, and fully committed to the daily creation of a rich, purposeful, creative and adventurous life SOLO, I was introduced to Shannon Page—who seemed curiously blind to the obvious fact that I was not relationship material. Trust me, there’s no better way to lose your way—or find it—in a dark wood than love.
I told Shannon right off about all my big plans—and explained—repeatedly—that while we would make marvelous friends, she REALLY should NOT want anything to do with me ‘romantically.’ She invariably smiled, and nodded, and said, “Take all the time you need.”
I kept right on talking about those plans, and she kept listening very supportively—while we did other things. She lived in San Francisco then, a block or two from Golden Gate Park. I lived in Seattle, a block or two from the I-5 bridge over Lake Union. I traveled with increasing frequency to her city to continue our discussion of my big plans. She traveled as often to mine—which seemed suddenly full of better and better things than my big plans to share with such a singular friend. Soon, she moved to Portland, Oregon, and, oddly, instead of going to Japan, I moved to Portland too. The very same address, by some improbable coincidence. This adventure had begun to seem potentially even more important than Japan—or my new novel. Who would notice, I thought, if that novel arrived a year later? Or even two? I hadn’t blogged for quite a while either, which bugged me more than you’d have cause to imagine. I really did intend to fix that—sometime very soon.
But two weeks after I moved to Portland, Shannon and I were headed to London—for a convention. And two weeks after that, to Orcas Island to run a bed and breakfast there for three months in mid-winter while the owners traveled. That’s when the island tangled us for good in its net. We returned to Portland that spring to find the ‘weathered’ deck behind Shannon’s 100-plus year-old house slumped into the garden. Turns out the whole structure was a death trap. Miraculous we hadn’t already killed some guest in the collapse of a pleasant outdoor brunch. The contractor told us we could save a lot of money if I were willing to do half the labor, so I spent the next two months on my hands and knees, screwing and screwing and screwing. Not nearly as fun as it sounds, guys. Be careful what you wish for. By the time that deck was finished, I was well behind schedule on some demanding freelance jobs I’d taken to help pay for all the money screwing instead of working (on art) hadn’t turned out to save us after all—oh, and for the wedding we were also going to be paying for! Have I forgotten to mention that while on Orcas Island I’d given Shannon a ruby in a box on Thanksgiving day, and asked her whether she would mind permanently forgoing a new cat, given my allergies? (Yes, I know. My romantic instincts seem the one thing about me unimproved by this adventure.) To my continuing astonishment, she chose me over Schrödinger’s cat! Who’d have guessed?
Even though I spent literally every day thereafter planning and preparing for our wedding without involving a single pricey professional, it was not as cheap as we’d hoped. Most of our friends and family were in California, and so many of them had built large chunks of their core-cosmologies around the bedrock certainty of my life-long bachelorhood, that news of my engagement proved pretty traumatic. The outpouring of bewildered disbelief on Facebook made it clear that literally hundreds of my friends would need to ‘see the body’ as it were, for closure. So we whittled our guest list down to 300 people I simply could not NOT invite, and picked a gorgeous location in California for the ceremony, sufficiently inaccessible that only two thirds of our invitees felt able to get there—which helped. But I still came home with lots of VERY LARGE bills to help my wife pay—on an illustrator’s income.
Happily, I was soon invited to do background art for Thimbleweed Park, Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick’s hilarious retro point-and-click adventure game. But as the project went from Kickstarter lark to X-box console title and retro-gaming cause-célèbre, everyone on our little production team went from six months of part time side-work to a year and a half of avalanche surfing, often 200-plus hours a month. Other freelance work and commissions were halted in their tracks. Both Shannon and I had books slated for publication by publishers that suddenly went out of business—before publication, but after all the work was done. Family and friends began to die in alarming numbers—my uncle, aunt and father among them. One weekend we had to choose between two memorial services in different states. We found ourselves traveling like Brownian (go back to your high school physics book) bottle flies. It became impossible to remember the last time Shannon or I had taken a day off—or eaten—or bathed... Little did we know that our real adventures were still ahead.
Portland had been a relatively calm, quiet, comfortable city to live in when we’d moved there just three years earlier. But while Shannon and I were distracted, 40,000 people a year had started moving there! ( I mean, besides us! ) Overnight, traffic became nearly as insane as it is in Seattle, road-rage became a thing in Portlandia. SEVEN construction sites sprang up within blocks of our home. Charming century-old farmhouses torn down and replaced with 3 or 4 blocky condos per lot. Two hundred feet from our garden, EIGHT houses were being built where there had been none at all. Nail guns and skill saws, cement trucks and pile-drivers, weed-whackers, leaf-blowers, hedge-trimmers, barking dogs and undulating carpets of rabid squirrels; the garbage trucks all got air-horns and sirens. Bicycles got sub-woofers and bladed wheels like those chariots in Ben Hur. We got a PO box when mail started disappearing from the box on our porch—along with random cement garden sculpture—because who doesn’t grab that in a hot midnight moment when no one’s looking, right? Just stepping out into the garden was like stumbling into scenes from Saving Private Ryan. Shell-shocked and embattled in our own home, we found ourselves talking with potential investors about a beautiful old hotel we hoped to buy on Orcas Island. Oh yes. We had big plans. Because renovating and running a HOTEL seemed saner and more restful than life in our Portland suburb did. For better or worse, that plan was scrubbed as well upon the discovery that Shannon’s mom in California had bladder cancer. We would clearly need to spend our time down there now—not in Washington.
Nonetheless, we had known for years by then that ‘someday’ we were going to live on Orcas Island. Now, ‘someday’ seemed to be looking at us down the barrel of an urban-growth gun. There were some lovely homes for sale on Orcas--one in particular that we had been watching for years. They were all just a tad more expensive than we could afford. Portland’s growth blitz had a silver lining: breathtaking appreciation in the value of homes like ours. Our house in Portland now seemed likely to get us closer than ever to that line—but not quite close enough. You see, even though Shannon owned our house free and clear, and we were more than solvent without any other debt at all, being freelancers without W-2 tax forms to reassure the banks we would remain solvent, we had not been able to qualify for even a small home-equity loan, much less a mortgage. Anything we bought would have to be for cash. And we didn’t quite have it.
Sometimes though, the universe turns its big guns on your obstacles instead of on your plans. Just for a lark, I’m sure.
While in pursuit of that hotel, we had just happened to become friends with a banker on Orcas Island, who looked at our tax returns from the year before—which just happened to be way fatter than usual because of that insane load of work for Thimbleweed Park the previous year—and told us that our strong tax return did, in fact, qualify us for a mortgage loan just large enough to do the job. Fortune leads us along the windiest routes sometimes, doesn’t it? We would not have qualified for that loan a year earlier. We knew we would likely not qualify for it a year later. If we were ever going to make this move, it was right now or never. So...
During July and August of 2017, we sold our house in Portland, bought a marvelous house and lot on Orcas Island, and moved all our worldly possessions by storage locker and truck and ferry to an island at the edge of Canada—where miles of open water without bridges might at least slow down the world’s pursuit. We stayed for one night among our stacked boxes before driving to California to accompany Shannon’s mom through chemo and major surgery. Then we began helping my 85 year-old mother move from her home in California’s ‘gold country’ to a new apartment in Anacortes, Washington, a ferry ride from our new place.
For most of last summer, when not with Shannon’s mom—as she declined, more gracefully than I’d have imagined possible—we helped my mom ready her California house for sale. In July, Shannon’s mother died. There were services to attend and grieving to navigate. Then more work at my mother’s house, which closed escrow in August.
This fall, Shannon and I came home to stay for a while, finish moving in at last—and repair a lot of things. Now we’re finally getting time to breathe—and making big new plans! New novels and new art to equip an ambitious new empire of creativity! Sound familiar? It’s not just about staying on the horse, you know. It’s about getting back on after the falls—over and over and over again. For most of us, at least. This time, though, we mean it! Really! ... Stop chuckling back there. We’re serious this time.
But the other morning, I turned to Shannon over breakfast. “Honey, with everything that’s been going on, it’s just hit me… I don’t think I’ve ever updated my website!” Both of us paled at the implications, then ran upstairs to my office, and opened my site for the first time in...well, about nine years. “It’s dead, Jim,” Shannon murmured sympathetically. “Is that moss...or just cobwebs on your blog page?”
I shook my head in dismay. “It’s...spam, I think. There have been…distractions.”
“What’s that big gray square on your Home page?” Shannon asked.
“Flash video…I think. It showed pictures once, back in the day.”
She turned to me with an expression of exquisitely tender admonishment. “Well, you’d better fix this, buster. We’ve got big plans now, and a website in this condition could throw a real wrench into every last one of our monkeys.” My wife is very clear-sighted about strategic stuff like this.
Which is how I come to be here, nine years after vanishing in Seattle, trying, once again, to blog. Shannon and I appreciate your patience, and your persistent faith.
Next week, something shorter. But something. … Really. This time, I promise.