Shawneen Suzette (Shawn) Allen of Haines Junction never appears to be short of work, ideas or creative energy.
“I love to solve puzzles — fix things, make things or find stuff to make things work,” she says, echoing the theme of the mid 1980s television series, MacGyver.
(Television’s fictional MacGyver, secret agent, was the ultimate problem solver— he could save the world or himself using only household items such as duct tape, a Swiss Army knife, cold-remedy capsules, even a chocolate in one episode.)
“When I was creating displays for Pharmasave in British Columbia almost 20 years ago, the staff named me Mrs. MacGyver,” she says. “If I didn’t have the right materials, I would improvise from junk in the storeroom.
“If the vacuum cleaner quits working, I take it apart to figure out why and fix it.”
(It appears that the accommodating English language has adopted the word, MacGyver, as a verb. So could one say that Allen has MacGyvered her vacuum cleaner?)
Allen, wearing green for St. Patrick’s Day in keeping with part of her heritage, exudes a natural charm and friendliness as she chats with a clear, bubbly voice; her spontaneous laugh makes one think of music.
Her Irish eyes are smiling.
The flamboyant, young grandmother sips her Earl Grey tea, and says she likes solving people puzzles, too — in the sense of figuring people out.
“I used to be shy because my family moved around so much. I always wanted to be with groups of kids, but I ended up playing by myself a lot,” she says, explaining her own development and progress.
“But we never moved very far. Until I came as an adult to the Yukon in 1990, I never lived farther than 40 miles from the Chilliwack Hospital where I was born.
“Over time, I figured out that I get my energy from people, that I need people I can learn from, and have developed accordingly.”
Allen maintains that from her early Yukon days, her confidence just grew and grew and all piled together until she felt she could do whatever she wanted.
“Try it all! Why not?” she says, and giggles.
“Now I like to read about human nature and material that explains people’s everyday behaviour — the kind of patterns people develop from how and where they grew up.
“I like to know how that filters into their lives and how it filtered into mine, how it makes us react in certain ways, or do certain things.”
Allen says she likes to take that knowledge and apply it to whomever she is with. “Once you’ve understood it, it comes to you when you observe something happening.”
One could detect a correlation between Allen’s problem-solving interest and her hectic (and sometimes erratic) work schedule and artistic pursuits.
Her schedule demands creative juggling of people, times, places and resources — like a one-person temp agency.
Allen works half-time for the Kluane Park management board; she is also the relief school secretary, an on-call TD bank teller, and a minute-taker for various agencies.
As well, she accepts other contracts as they become available.
The multi-tasking Allen says she feels the need to be productive all the time.
“But,” she says, “I have had to sometimes turn people down. It’s just too scattered some days.
“I think it hit me when I walked into the school one morning to work. Charlotte (the regular secretary) was there and I wasn’t supposed to be.
“I was in the wrong place and couldn’t figure out where I was supposed to be that day.”
She laughs about that now, and adds, “A couple of the agencies I did work for have closed. I consider myself semi-retired now — only two or three jobs.”
Allen becomes animated as she explains that her work situation and her life in the Junction keep her motivated and active — always different people, different tasks, different puzzles.
She loves to do artwork as well. In her spare time, she produces pencil drawings and fashions beaded jewelry to sell at craft sales.
“I look for art courses like drawing and writing that are sometimes available in the community,” she says. “I love to do courses.”
She asserts that the office work she does is also an outlet for her artistic nature.
She brushes her hand across the smooth table and says, “I think art is one of those things where if you have the ability, it filters into everything else you are doing — even drafting letters or putting together your office.
Allen has recently had the task of arranging Kluane Park management board’s new and more spacious office.
So what would Allen change about her life if she could?
“I would like to let go of my feeling of panicking about financial security and unsettledness. It comes from my upbringing.
“The situation of moving around a lot as a child was all financially related.”
Allen agrees that it is probably only the feeling she would like to change, more than her situation.
“But I would like a little piece of land here in town to build a house, to be secure enough that way, so we’re not renting,” she says.
“I just want to know we’re set, and not wonder how long this situation is for.”
Allen and her husband, Bill, moved to the Junction in 2002 after 10 years in Burwash.
“As soon as we moved to Haines Junction, I knew I could just easily stay here. It’s a nice, friendly town, and close enough to everything that interests me.
“Lots of people here love to socialize. I love that. I love events, too, but I’m also happy to just be at home.
“I quite like my quality of life. I really do.”
And if Allen decided something in her life needed fixing, she could simply MacGyver it — could she not?
Elaine Hurlburt is a writer living in Haines Junction.