COURTNEY & WILLIAM
MUSICIANS & TEACHERS
Boston to North Haven, Maine
Courtney was only 24 years old when she was headhunted to teach on the small island of North Haven, located 12 miles off of the coast of Maine. Courtney and William (Bill for short) had been living a young musicians dream in Boston, playing in lots of bands and working odd jobs to pay the rent. The opportunity to teach and run the theatre program was too enticing for Courtney to turn down and she asked Bill if he might be interested in joining her. They had just recently started dating, after having been friends and band mates for several years, and she wasn’t sure how he would react. Bill jumped at the opportunity for a new adventure and they picked up their lives and moved to North Haven. Not knowing anyone on the tight-knit island, with a year-round population of 355, they found it difficult initially to make friends. Instead of being discouraged, they dug in and threw themselves at every opportunity presented. Bill got work assisting the island’s plumber and in the busy summer tourist season, when Courtney’s school was out, she began baking and selling bread, which eventually evolved into a little summer breakfast operation. The couple became friends with people of all ages, offering their help wherever it was needed. Courtney joined the planning board and Bill became the head Town Selectman. They saw that the island desperately needed emergency services so they began training to get their EMT and ambulance-driver’s license. Bill became the program director at the town’s community center, started taking real estate drone photos and continued to build his fine-art photography portfolio. Courtney started writing for kveller.com (a Jewish parenting blog), teaching Pilates and completed her first novel. All the while, the couple somehow found the time to record and release a full-length album in 2011. This year they welcomed their daughter Penrose into the world. By working extremely hard they have weaved themselves into the fabric of the island, they found home, friends and a wonderful community to build the next chapter of their lives. (Click to jump to their interview)
What inspired you to move to the country?
We were living in Boston, and it was getting kind of tiring. I randomly was invited to apply for a teaching job on the island and I asked Bill if he wanted to come with me and he said “Ok” so I applied for the job, got the job and we moved.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move?
It was hard in general. Everything was hard. Just moving to a place where you didn’t know anyone and having no connections was tough. Also, we had never lived together before so we were navigating that too. We went from a place where we knew everybody to nobody. In Boston we would go to a show or a bar and literally know everyone. We were pretty sought after musically in Boston and arrived in a place where, initially, there weren’t a lot of people who we connected with right off the bat. There wasn’t a contingency of people our age with similar interests that we could socialize with or work with. It seemed like drinking was the main activity in social situations and that is what we left Boston to get away from. Also, a lot of the couples our age already had kids and we didn’t have kids yet.
What challenges came later?
Making a sustainable life here. Moving a lot was hard. The ten-month rental situation was challenging (because a lot of the island rentals are summer homes in July/August and too expensive to rent weekly). Two years in we realized we had to either find year-round housing or leave and luckily we were able to buy a place. Another challenge was time management, we are used to doing lots of things but because the island is so small, there are lots of things that need to get done and few hands to do them. Sometimes we were taking on too much and not allowing enough time to focus on our own work. In the summer that is still a problem, but at least it is not all the time.
What surprised you most about country living? Did it meet your expectations?
That we decided to stay is surprising. We have now been here almost ten years. Also, how busy we ended up being, we are so busy – all the time – which has been great, but that was a surprise. I didn’t really think about the fact that we are a town and towns need people to do things and if you don’t have a lot of people to do the things than a small number of people do a lot of things, just to make it function.
What do you miss the most about the city?
Lack of takeout and convenience, restaurants and food in general. I miss our friends in the city, but people come and visit us a lot and they love it here.
Would you ever go back to an urban existence?
No. The things that are challenging here are better than the things that are challenging in a city. There are really difficult challenges here but none of the challenges are about dealing with others’ garbage or peeping toms. No one has peed on our windows since we moved – that happened several times to us in Boston.
What do you appreciate the most about life in the country?
Everything, the people that we have met and the creative things we have been able to do. Being able to write and record our own music for free, we aren’t paying for studio time we aren’t paying an engineer; we aren’t using someone’s horrifying “bathroom studio.” Also, having people to work with, we have been so lucky in the last six years, finding musicians to play with. I think also just the freedom to take on new things. If we were still in Boston we would have never bought a house, started a restaurant or had a kid. The things that we do here are not the things we went to school for, like town government or teaching Pilates or opening a bakery or becoming an EMT, none of those things would have happened in our previous lives. There just wouldn’t have been a reason.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving out of the city?
Be patient and DO things. We have had friends that have moved here and haven’t gotten involved in the community, on boards, doing extra stuff, and they don’t end up loving it. But if you do that stuff then you get integrated into the community, you meet people who are established here, which is very helpful. I’d had never been on a planning board before I was asked to join but I did it and it was really important to the community and I gained special skills that I didn’t have before. I have a deep knowledge of how that works now and it put me in good standing with other members of the community, which is really important. And work hard. Work hard. There is not a rural community that doesn’t value hard work.
When you go back to visit the city, what are the first three things on your to-do list?
Thai, Japanese and Indian food! We go to eat food sometimes even before seeing our friends.
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
Courtney: The kids that I work with, sometimes they are amazing, sometimes they are challenging, but all the time they are inspiring. Also, the island itself, a lot of my writing is about living on an island, about parenting on an island. The island has almost become a facet of our personality. A lot of people we meet, no matter where we go, have some sort of connection to this place. It is kind of amazing. When writing my book, the island is a character not just a place.
William: The geography of North Haven is really inspiring for both of us. We live out in the middle of the ocean. It is a really nice and beautiful place to live.
Have you noticed a change in yourself and/or your work since moving away from the city?
Courtney: We have definitely watched one another grow up. We were only 24 when we moved here and now we are 33. We bought this house when we were 26, and we decided we were finally ready to put down roots.
William: When I was writing music in Boston everything was sort of dissonant and noisy/loud; even chamber music. It might sound cliché but I have definitely relaxed musically. It is less about the technique and I have mind space here. Everything is very calming and inspiring.
Walk us through a typical day in your country existence? How does it compare to the day to day in the city?
Lately, I wake up and shovel and then shovel some more. Do some chores. Get firewood. Transfer firewood from one place to the next. Firewood is one of those things that kind of surround our life. We are cutting, splitting and stacking in the spring, summer and fall and then Bill moves it around all winter. It is an integral part of our lives. After work, we usually always have something going on, meetings, etc.
Are there things that you are able to do here that you wouldn’t have dared to try before moving from the city?
Yes, all of the things.
So much of my life in Boston was about planning music or grad school. Moving here I finally had a job that paid me enough money to survive and gave me free time to fill with new interests. In the summer I didn’t have school so I thought I would try to bake and sell a couple of loaves of bread. That did so well that the next summer I baked more and then it transformed into a breakfast operation. There are the same people we are encountering over and over again so marketing and developing these little side businesses was easy. In Boston, we were trying to sell our band and the market was flooded with bands, we spent all our time marketing and advertising our work. A lot of the things we have taken on have been just filling holes in the community. I got on the planning board because I was asked; in Boston I would have never sat on a planning board. Bill was headhunted for the Board of Selectmen. With emergency medicine, there was a need, so we pursued that. In Boston, that is someone's full time job. There is just more stuff that needs to be done here, so we just started doing things that needed people because we were capable and we had time. If you are a childless couple, people are like, “You can be on every committee!”
Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired?
Our house is very inspiring and all the work we have done to the landscaping and the gardens. I do a lot of writing in my head while walking around, or stacking wood, because it doesn’t take a lot of brainpower. We love just driving around the island, it feels really zen, finding places to photograph, etc.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?
It is not boring. We are busier here, in a better way, than in the city.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
Courtney: Edit my book, get an agent, finish my EMT license, raise a baby and I want to actually be in a play this summer, I haven’t been in one since I was in college.
William: We have projects to make our house better. Keep making the community better. Keep finding ways to make it work.