This post was written for ‘Islandness’ a new website where myself and Jane Walker will share and develop ideas from our respective islands.
Please visit https://islandnessart.wordpress.com to find more information and follow along.
I wake up early on a cloudy Bonavista morning, feeling a bit groggy and too warm. I listen to hear if Jane is busying herself in the kitchen, * silence * feeling happy that she also isn’t ready to start the day, I check my social media notifications that have accumulated overnight. Twitter is its usual never-ending scroll of politics, tongue and cheek remarks, anger and GIFs when I happen across an article someone has shared from the BBC with a boasting headline stating “These Scottish islands may hold the secret to happiness”. My mind is immediately engaged again in the reason I am here in Jane’s home, in Bonavista a picturesque yet working town in Newfoundland. For our collaborative project islandness, a multidimensional project seeking to engage in ideas of island life and contemporary rurality. I skim read the whole article. They are talking about the Outer Hebrides, where apparently the people who live there are amongst some of the happiest in Britain. The article discusses (in no great detail) the landscape, the fact that those in nature are happier than those in a city environments, the darkness and light, the beaches, the people. I agree with many points in the article and also agree that islands personally make me happier but there was a very clear angle to this article that I have a huge problem with, romanticism.
As I continue to read and scroll past the picture-perfect images and quotes from residents about why they are so happy I stop on one quote “It sounds quite romantic, but as Hebrideans we always carry the place in our heart”.
I finish the article, pause to reflect before noticing another article in the footnote, this one is of my home island, Fair Isle. This article shows an aerial view image of the South Lighthouse, where I lived with my mum and siblings, it looks bright and dramatic. The heading: “The tiny island that enchants the world”. Another fairy tale statement for a working island. This article pulls on the usual generic Fair Isle topics of birds, jumpers and the Shipping Forecast but does however seems to be more realistic, it talks about the hardships and struggles of living somewhere so remote. But that headline, that over romanticised headline is meant to pull on our heartstrings and appeal to our ideologies of life.
I do a quick google search of ‘News article, Scottish islands’ expecting to see a full page of heavily descriptive, dreamy words instead I’m a bit repulsed that they are mostly about ownership:
- Daily Mail Online: Scottish castle with two islands on sale for £3.75m
- Financial Times: The ups and downs of owning a remote Scottish island
- Daily Star: You can buy this Scottish island for less than a flat in London – but there’s a catch
- Mansion Global: Historic Scottish Island Hits Market for £4.25 million – Mansion Global
Are people now becoming so obsessed with island ideals that they want to own it all to themselves? For me, being an islander is about relationships. It’s about sharing a place equally with the people around you to make it a functional, supportive community.
The people that live in a remote place year-round are the only ones that truly know the reality of inhabiting such a space. That seems like an obvious thing to say but many people that visit a place instantly feel like they understand it. In one sense that’s great, we want people to feel happy and at home everywhere they go in life but when that person decides they want to permanently take a chunk of that place on the basis of an ideological understanding, there is an issue.
Is this hinting toward island gentrification? In the future are all islands going to be holiday home villages for those in urban areas to escape to and feel more ‘authentic’ in their life… #liveauthentic.
Since starting islandness, Jane and I have been asking people what it means to be an islander. The overwhelming response has been that people feel proud to be an islander, they acknowledge that they work hard at it, embrace the joys and work through the challenges and from that position they feel an enormous sense of freedom. That isn’t something that can be bought. To be an islander you need to be a collaborator.
What does being an islander mean to you?