How to Live in a Small Island Community

Dear new comer, later comer, and all those who think they've got it down about this island living, by the power invested in me by absolutely no one, I welcome you. 

As I approach my ninth year here, yes NINE YEARS, I've decided to offer all of you curious about small town island living some unsolicited advice, the best kind of advice there is. Kidding kidding. But, after nine years of living and listening I do have some perspective, and kinda wish someone older and wiser than my soon-to-be 25 year old self back then, had sat me down and said, honey, here's how it is, and here's how you do it. However that DID not happen, and many hard lessons were learned, and learned again.  

ahem... not our ferry landing!

ahem... not our ferry landing!

Do not expect people to be direct here.
If anything you will hear word of your situation long before you have added a dot to the sentence of the story you were telling at the bar. If you get pregnant, cheat on your spouse, or heaven forbid decide to move off the island, you will be the last to know. Accept this. Stop caring. Seed a slanderous rumor about yourself and then have a good laugh. Here heart breaks happen in public. You can either turn into a bitter hag or lighten up and move on; having lived through it, I suggest the latter. That being said learning to hide out for you own protection is good self care, and given that so many of us are introverts here, no one will notice you missing for a while. 

Keep going. 

If you are "white," semi-good looking, look slightly smart or "outdoorsy," have kids who are free range, have money, work in tech but consider yourself a "hobby farmer," willing to work several 21st century feudal jobs to make ends meet, you will probably do ok here. Meaning people will invite you to their potlucks, share their joints with you around the fire, if you do not marry rich, come into a sizable inheritance, eventually you may be able to own some overpriced scrub land where you park a trailer, or move into a not so affordable land trust house, either option you will have to work several part time jobs if you are not a lucky one to have full time work, to keep the roof over your head.  (side note, this island is not really for "poor" people because what poor person has $18,000 to buy into an "affordable" housing neighborhood? That being said, it IS an option for many, and a good quality of life, if you compare it to what you'd get on the mainland. The bigger issues at play here are for another post, another time. I do not mean to denigrate, just to point out the obvious that systemic issues of affordable housing, economic viability and creation of a middle class are tremendously tricky when much of our economy is driven by seasonal tourism).

If you scowl, are poor, and I mean poor where you never learned to cook,  speak properly, or grew up in a terrible home situation and had absolutely no hand outs or hand ups, are of "dark" skin, especially, lets be frank dark skinned and male, look "different," dress unconventionally, do not fit the monogamous/hetero/gender binary/nuclear family gig, did not grow up here, thereby, you have a foot in the door to land access, free child care, free friends, family labor support, cheap rent, infrastructure, etc. it may take you some time. You are different. We do not understand that hard work does not always mean a roof over your head. We do not yet understand that our so called right to an air-b-n-b when our neighbor doesn't have a stable place to live, yet our pockets keep getting deeper, are intertwined, and their poverty is actually not their fault. "You cannot be rich if your neighbor is poor." I still swallow hard every time I remember how I told a friend in an off hand way, judging some folks with a rundown home, "oh they must have a poverty mentality." It's not quite so simple is it? But I was in full infatuation trying to fit in with my new age friends who talked blissfully about manifesting whatever they wanted, confident that their dreams would come true, speaking as if there are no limits. I knew better then, and am better informed now. Anyone who talks about universalism or "no limits"  raises a red flag now, as those new age words are thin veils for mono-theism and growth economics- both systems of homogenization, destruction, and oppression.

So if you "look" different, remember your struggles reflect back what we don't want to face. We might not know how or admit we need to check our misguided ways at the door. 

If you are in a circle holding hands and someone says "we are all one," and you feel queasy inside, because this statement is clearly bullshit given the millions and millions of diverse organisms that populate planet earth, know you are not alone. 

I have heard this island called the land of the black sheep or the home for misfits and broken toys.

Welcome. I lived in South Carolina as a vegetarian and grew the hair out under my arms and buzzed off all my curls, rode my bike to school, and attended protests about the School of the Americas- and THAT was considered radical. Radical means getting back to the roots. There are lots of ways to do that but it all comes back to food. If you want to keep living something has to die so you can keep going. There are a lot of good farmers here. Get to know them.

You found your way here by some strange winds and many other forces. Remember that the wake of your wave reaches the shore BEFORE the actual boat you are coming in on, arrives. 

Meaning the locals (and by this I mean the non-human ones as well) pick up your scent long before you land.

Do not be alarmed by this. This is simple physics. Make offerings to them and ask for their guidance. All the old trees were killed long before you got here, but you can still make offerings to them. Take your concerns to the sea- she will accept you in any state- buoyant or broken, you find yourself in. Even if you can't be right by all your human neighbors, you can do right by the cedars, or the cooper's hawk. 

Do not expect introductions, or return invites from folks. There are so many hermits and self professed introverts, and so many people we COULD have dinner with. Many people are also self-employed and focused on keeping their livelihoods going.  

It will take you a while to find your groove. Keep going. 

Assumptions, first name basis, loose boundaries, and rumors rule here. Do not expect to hear about how you crossed someone or stole something from someone until many many years later. Instead of calling you and asking you to clarify your FB post about said issue, they will tell on you. Learn to develop a keen sense of intuition- that way you can determine who has got your back and who doesn't and promptly unfriend them. 

I was incredibly lonely my first year and when I confided that to someone I had just met, she glibly said, "oh we all come out in the summer." Did she soften and say, oh I know how it is? Did she invite me out to meet new people? No and no. There is no newcomers welcome. Do not confide your loneliness to just anyone- your loneliness is a precious well to be shared only with those who can understand that well. There are some of those here! (I have found them after many years of looking). May you find your way to them. 

Those who do extend their hospitality to you unconditionally need to be taken note of and praised accordingly. There are plenty of them here! Ask for you what you need and there will be plenty of those willing to step up and help. But we can't read your mind. Learn to make yourself vulnerable without feeling sorry for yourself. 

The people who are actually going to be there for you are probably the ones you least expect it. Some times these people will be ones that others in the community readily slander and gossip about. Never you mind, just make your own judgement. It is especially important to sing the praises of these marginalized, off the beaten track ones. 

Here, there are really good people disguised behind beards, terrible musty fleece jackets, cranky attitudes, hot pink fingernails, white collars, massive age differences, poor social skills, terrible pasts, and well earned wrinkles. It takes some time to recognize them, and once you develop this skill keep honing it and don't take it for granted. Also, and this is hard earned lesson, don't let your seeing wreck someone else before they are ready to be wrecked.  

The soul finds its own companions. And I expect that your soul has found its way here for something it is needing, but also something this little community is needing from you.

Don't let anyone else tell you otherwise.

After some time the wake of the boat on which you rode in on will settle back into the sea, but in the meantime remember you are still arriving. It is proper that your arrival is causing a ripple. Bow down to that, knowing you are a person of consequence.

It's right that it will take some time to settle in here. Don't give up so soon. 

Yours truly,
your neighbor
Eleanor Burke