When I walk in Eastsound I see someone I know every three minutes. I pass a friend on a path. I see a buddy in a truck. I run into a fellow worker in a shop. If I go to a gathering place—the library, the Lower Tavern, the co-op, I’m certain to see a familiar face or three.
It’s not possible to have a solitary walk in town. A walk becomes greeting someone you know, becomes a conversation.
I once lived in a residential neighborhood in Oakland and I would walk the streets during the day and not cross paths with another person. It had the uncanny feel of a ghost town. I worked from home (a tiny studio), and apparently, everyone else commuted to San Francisco. Fun fact: Oakland has the same land area as Orcas Island, but 500,000 residents (instead of our 5,000).
Before Oakland I lived in the Mission, the hub of 20something life in San Francisco. I also worked from home there, so I was in the Mission a LOT. I had a bunch of friends in the neighborhood but I never saw them on the street unless we had made plans. One time I saw a neighbor friend at the BART station and I remember thinking how strange that was. I saw a neighbor!
The everybody-knows-your-name effect of living on a small island is one of the nicest things about living here. To not be known is isolating, lonely. To be greeted by everyone you pass on the street gives you a subtle boost each day. It feeds the social animal in us.
People talk about magic on this island – coincidences, serendipity, good fortune – but I think they’re really talking about people power. Life doesn’t turn out to be that complicated. When people reach out to each other, when people help each other, live is easier. Good things happen (because people, mostly, are good to each other.)
I think the degree to which I have struggled here—with loneliness, with money problems, with lack of creative outlets—is matched by the degree to which I have *not* reached out. The degree to which I have chosen to be alone through my actions.
I am an introvert. It’s not that I don’t like people, I actually do. It’s that reaching out to people always requires energy. It’s always some kind of leap for me. It’s always work. And when I am already low, I have no energy. I tend to retreat, to go inward. When I need help I am less likely to ask for it. It’s not a great system, I don’t recommend it to anyone.
When I have asked for help on this island it has arrived with bells on. Like most islanders, I have struggled to find housing. The last time I was looking for a place, I posted signs on two community bulletin boards in town. Then I posted on the island’s buy-sell-trade Facebook group. Then, whenever anyone asked me how I was doing, I’d mention I was looking for housing.
This funny thing started happening. People I didn’t even know would say, hey, I heard you’re looking for housing. Then they’d follow up with a lead or they’d wish me well. A friend’s mother reached out and said, I have an extra room in my house, come check it out. I asked about a good time to meet her and she said, Oh, I’m off island. Then she told me where her key was hidden. Go check it out, she said, and give me a call.
I’ve come to realize that if you commit to this community, there’s basically no limit to what the community will give back to you. You just have to ask for it. Or in the parlance of my new age friends, you just have to put your intention out in the universe.
Here, let’s try it.
Hi, how are you? I would like to move to Los Angeles, join the film and television industry, invent a new compassionate genre of comedy, and make a show for Netflix. I would also like to keep goats and own a nice piano.
Evan Wagoner-Lynch is sponsored by Standard Rainbow