For years I’ve had this desire to somehow borrow, lease, or own a small cabin on one of the islands in Penobscot Bay, off of the coast of Maine where I grew up. I was and am a mainlander, but the time I’ve spent on various islands in the bay has only ever increased my longing to stay there, surrounded by water and possibly a few other houses, with a boat that will allow me to go see people on the mainland when and if I want to. The purpose, of course, would be to live alone with my writing and a room full of books. It would be something like this little place on Vinalhaven:
I’m aware of the dangerous level of romanticism in a desire like this. It’s nice to think about living in solitude and taking a ferry to town for necessities, but I know it’s another thing to live it. The roof might leak and the windows might need fixing. It might be excessively cold even in the summer, or I might have to board up and sit through a Nor’Easter all alone. I might even actually miss other people. My sisters, who are also writers, know about this fantasy of mine, and while one stamps her foot and claims it was her idea first, the other rolls her eyes and says I’m already enough of a hermit without making it that official. My boyfriend, A, was down with staying in my dream cabin together until he realized how far off the grid I want to be.
None of them will likely ever have to worry about me living by myself on an island, real estate in Maine (even one-room shack real estate, and especially one-room-shack waterfront island real estate) being as expensive as it is. Besides, the true desire has less to do with the actual island and a lot more to do with finding the solitude to write for a longer period of time.
At the beginning of June, I left Fort Collins in search of my private island. My stress over graduating, moving, and finding a job had culminated to a point where I just had to get away. I booked a short yoga retreat outside of Boulder, told A that I would be spending the rest of the week in New Mexico, and drove off. Every day I meditated, did some yoga, read and wrote, and spent time outside. To my surprise, seven days of alone time was more than I needed. I came back home a little calmer, with a notebook full of writing ideas and a new resolve to continue my daily writing and meditation practice.
The truth is that the private island is not actually a yoga retreat in the mountains or a campsite near Taos, although sometimes we need to go somewhere else to rediscover it. The private island is the time you make to consciously enjoy solitude, turning your phone off and stopping the internet to write, taking a walk or a hike, gardening. Et cetera. Although writer’s residencies seem like a wonderful way to get some work done among other inspiring artists, I’ve found that if you have a tent and some peanut-butter sandwiches, or even just a door you can close, you can make your own writing retreat. There have been other times when I told A, “I need three days,” and bless him, he left me alone to work all weekend until I was ready to turn on my phone and venture out of my apartment.
Tomorrow is the summer solstice, when the sun moves into the sign of Cancer, and in the Northern hemisphere we have the longest period of daylight in the year. It’s no surprise that people choose to take most of their vacation time during our hottest season, wanting to get away from the heat and intensity to cool down. While the sun and a host of other planets light the sign of home, privacy, contemplation, nurturing, and sensitivity, it’s the perfect time to retreat to your private island. Drag your rowboat on to the beach, set yourself up with your novels and your notebook, and write like you have nothing else to do.