The New York Times is running a little series on islands this week, and I’m thrilled, but a little sad they didn’t call and ask me to contribute. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by islands: their miniature sustainability, the way they all seem haunted, even the jolly Caribbean ones. I was obsessed with drawing road maps as a kid, and, perhaps because islands were manageably small, I chose to plan out a million different islands, the towns or counties (depending on how big I decided to make it), the cul-de-sacs and stretch of stores. Then I’d decide where my friends would live and where I would live (always the nicest part of town, as I was a bit of a snob then.) I was also enchanted by addresses, for reasons I’ve never quite understood. Even now, when I visit a new place, I pick out the houses I like best, and imagine a card being sent to me at that address. 90 Church Street, Charleston, South Carolina. 36 Quai de Bethune, Ile Saint-Louis, Paris. Ballamona Estate, Oak Hill, Isle of Man, United Kingdom.
I’m so beguiled by islands, in fact, that I paid $500 to be a “fellow” in an artists’ commune on Governor’s Island last summer, even though I could have paid $0 to continue writing from my couch. I even wrote the above paragraph (talk about a pause in rumination) from an empty bedroom (I’m guessing) of a crumbling, plumbing-free house on Governor’s, which is full of decrepit and vacant old buildings (another obsession.) One day a friend came to visit and we wandered around the place, sneaking into buildings with the doors slightly ajar, fantasizing about writing a YA book in which all the tri-state area teens are relocated to an ominous boarding-school-type facility on the island after a nearby nuclear disaster––OR WAS IT?
The issue with loving islands is that eventually, you’ll start to want them to be smaller, more sparsely populated, more island-like. It’s like a drug, except instead of more, more, more, it’s smaller, smaller, smaller. A fondness for Ireland becomes an obsession with the Aran Isles; affection for Venice morphs into a burning desire to set foot on Poveglia Plague Island. Best of all, the Thimble Islands, the improbably adorable little specks in Long Island Sound, so close to where I lived for so long and yet I never even thought to go. With names like Frisbie Island, Little Pumpkin Island, Potato Island, Cut in Two Island, and so on. The coast of Maine? A dream for an islet junkie.
My fantasy of the ideal island home has changed a great deal over the years. It used to be Saint Croix, in the US Virgin Islands, or Aruba––the Caribbean was my jam, before I deemed it too touristy to sustain real life. More recently, it was Governor’s (they say you can’t sleep overnight, but ferry employees do, which might be something to look into.) Now, I’m kind of into islands in this neck of the woods: Isles of Scilly, Blasket Islands (only bunnies live there now), Faroes (which are Scandinavian, if you wish.) Or maybe I’ll just make like Andrea Zittel and construct my own little island and float off on it.
Robert Smithson’s “Island Project”