Let's face it, us island women need each other, and we have to stick together in order to survive the mental hardships (yes hardships, it's not all fruity rum drinks and rose-colored sunglasses people) that one faces by living on a rock.
Steadily it’s becoming more and more mainstream that it’s OK to branch out of the comforts of our cold northern climes in search of palm trees, year-round flip flop weather and a laid back carefree lifestyle. Between the TV shows such as Island Life and House Hunters International, which follow home purchasers into paradise, and Jimmy Buffett and Kenny Chesney selling “Escapism,” we have been convincing ourselves that our worldly problems will be solved if we pack up our 2.5 children, hop over that white picket fence and sail off into the sunset.
The trouble, however, with packing up everything and moving as quickly as Gilligan got shipwrecked on his island (no offense to Gilligan, but I’ve often wondered why the island was named after the least capable member of the entire group) is that maybe you didn’t have time to think about the repercussions of your hasty decision. It isn’t until you settle on said-island that you begin to realize there are a lot of cracks and inevitable crumbles. For example, little did I know that I had power-outage related emotional issues dating back to my childhood when I moved to my rock. I also didn’t know how much patience I actually had within me, and it’s surprisingly gotten better as time marches on (as much as time can march at an island’s pace). And I really didn’t know that finding other like-minded females on a small island would turn out to be as elusive as spotting Bigfoot among the dense forests of the Pacific Northwest (side note - I know without a doubt that I witnessed Bigfoot once, but that’s another story for another time).
When you leave the network of your family and lifelong friends behind, it’s up to you to establish new, grown-up ones, and that can be hard. Don’t get me wrong, I have made some fabulous friends in the islands, but based on my interests and choice of activities, there are very few that I tend to engage with other than slipping into a comfortable feeling of inebriation. Mostly the common-friend-denominator comes down to the ability to saddle up to the bar for a long session of stiff island cocktails. And that's OK. I like those kind of friends.
But women, on rocks scattered near and far, have begun to join forces searching for commonality. Women have an inherent need to bond at a deeper level, and oftentimes those we bond with don’t happen to live within the proximity of our aqua-barred land-masses. Thank goodness for social media and online groups these days, where you can feel connected in the most remote of areas (internet connection permitting).
I came across the website Women Who Live on Rocks several years ago and it’s become a sort of support group for the craziness that I have dealt with in island living. Because of my involvement with contributing for the site, as well as working on my own brand, I had the honor and privilege of being invited to the first ever Women Who Live on Rocks writer’s retreat a.k.a. #ROCKtreat in San Juan, Puerto Rico. All of us island gals are working on our own thing, with our own blogs, branding and motives. I’m diligently working on establishing my husband and I as Bahamas experts on island living, travel and activities (in case you haven't noticed). Being in construction and real estate, it goes without saying that we SHOULD know what’s what in these islands, but we actually DO know what’s what and we want to somehow get the word out to the universe that we're the go-to peeps. So with this pending invitation, I was excited to get some advice from a group of savvy social media women.
I will pre-cursor myself briefly. I've never been the type to have a Sex in the City group of girlfriends. I don’t like shopping, or getting my nails done, I don't keep up with the Kardashians, and I certainly never considered being involved in the University Greek system, since I was terrified at the thought of so much estrogen under one roof. You could always find me out in nature, hanging with the boys, brewing beer, island hopping on my sailboat, and doing sports like ski racing, kiteboarding and wakeboarding. Although all the guys usually thought I was pretty cool, I never felt like I really fit in with other girls except for in my sporting communities. Even on the high school women's golf team I was a bit of an outcast until I proved myself to be a top golfer. The only way I seemed to fit in was because I was good at something. I always seemed to throw my verbal diarrhea around, thoughts bumbling out of mouth without much censor. In thinking I was being clever, it usually ended with a giant question mark hovering above the head of the receiver. I learned over time that any sense of witty humor I thought I had would be best suited for pen and paper (or keyboard if we want to speak Millennial talk). That way I could think about it for a bit before it was released for public display. If I was ridiculed at that point, so be it.
There have actually been very few people throughout my life that really “get me.” I’m quirky, goofy, and sometimes a bit awkward. I've always felt as though I was different. Which is most likely how I ended up on a nearly deserted island several years back. Being seen as different has been a difficult pill to swallow, and there have been unending moments of loneliness throughout my life. I found at a young age that if I just recluse myself to my room or bury my nose in a book, I didn’t have to think about the fact that I wasn’t always included. It probably didn’t help that I lived on 5 acres out in the country, 30 full minutes away from school and other children that might be playing together on any given afternoon. I always longed for childhood friendships. We didn’t have play dates and endless social outings like I witness with children today. I ended up spending the majority of my time with my sister and my cousins, the closest in age to me was 4 years younger. Which is probably why I am so close to my family to this day. They get me.
So, to say that I was nervous about this trip would be understated. I felt like it was the first day of kindergarten. 10 females (including myself) were to meet in San Juan, Puerto Rico for 5 days of eating, drinking, touring and round-table meetings of the great island minds. I didn’t know what to expect. Would I feel the same outcast person as I have in so many situations throughout my life?
I arrived in San Juan and was due to meet Lizzy from St. Thomas and Sherri from Key West so we could arrange a taxi to our villa. Luckily for social media, I was already fairly familiar with all of the girls, as we had been in connection on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp for weeks and months prior to this trip. I waited by the taxi station until I saw a girl who resembled someone I'd seen on Instagram. I took a deep breath and ventured closer. She looked up and I tentatively asked ”Lizzy?” She responded that yes, in fact she was Lizzy and gave me a big smile and a welcoming hug. First hurdle down. Now socialize. Don’t say anything stupid.
She was gorgeous, wearing a casual jeans and t-shirt outfit, but she carried it like a super model. And I was mucking in with my over-sized pineapple graphic-tank and tartan hat that attempted to cover up the fact that I had rolled out of bed at 3:30am that morning. If all these girls looked this glam, I was in for some trouble. But in an instant, she expelled a vibe that was not ego-driven. Yes, she was beautiful but her beauty didn’t consume her. She was someone very sure of herself and I could tell instantly that there was a whole lot of depth beyond the exterior. It was starting off good.
Sherri was delayed so Lizzy and I decided to take a cab together. We were dropped off at the villa and were immediately greeted by Brittany, Jen and Chrissann (the organizer) who had been sipping on Proscecco all morning. Giggles and shrieks and high-pitched chatter ensued. The decibels reached a perilous level and I began to get overwhelmed, slipping into my solitude and standing aside in the corner. Coming from a family of noise, I have always felt comfortable with expressing myself (loudly) among them, but here’s where I’ve struggled with unfamiliar women, finding that I usually end up being the one shrieking about something un-shriek-worthy. Meanwhile crickets serenade the uncomfortable silence that follows. Best to avoid those situations and not shriek at all.
Anyways, it turns out, it wasn’t anything that a few cocktails couldn’t handle. As soon as Brittany started handing out tequila drinks, any walls that any of us may have been holding up eventually crumbled.
The girls trickled in, and with each arrival, more common ground was found. I carefully analyzed and evaluated throughout the weekend and in the weeks since then, but I have struggled to put my finger on the reason that we all bonded so quickly. Because it’s not often that you can throw 10 women together under one roof and expect them all to get along. And I wanted to know how, and why it happened. And how I could recreate it where I live, because I'm sure there's others out there that feel the void of having a group of solid girlfriends. After much humming and hawing, here's what I came up with.
1. We are all well-traveled and took a big leap to move somewhere outside of any *normal* person's comfort zone.
Every one of us was originally from somewhere else, and we all felt a calling to move to an island, far removed from first world amenities in most cases. Many of us have seen a good portion of the world. We are all open-minded, ready for new experiences and ready to embrace people with different ideas and who come from different backgrounds. When you share a sense of worldly-ness with others, your connection goes beyond superficiality. It also takes cojones to pack up and move to an island in the middle of the ocean. It's not like packing up the family station wagon and moving to the next city if things get rough. You've invested in that shit when you move to a rock.
2. We all have fallen madly in love with our adopted rocks.
Just like any relationship, there are good days and bad days, and goin' half mad days. There are days you want to walk out the door (slamming it behind you for good measure) and never come back. But we haven't. We've stuck it out, for better or for worse. Liz from Bonaire would be the first to say that her island was a desert scrappy rock, it’s hard to get there and doesn’t offer much. She really didn’t inspire any of us to travel to the ends of the world to visit her, except that the kiteboarding is supposedly spectacular. But she fell in love with it, for her own unexplained reasons. Jen from Puerto Rico moved from the mainland US a year and a half ago and vows to never return. As a Canadian, Sherri spends every day that she is legally allowed to in Key West, FL, her adopted home. Riselle, the only true island girl among us, was born in Curacao, relocated to Europe for a period of time, but longed for island life and eventually found herself in St. Maarten. For me personally, something deep within these rugged limestone islands of The Bahamas spoke to me years ago, and I listened.
There is something of a siren’s call that brings us to these places. Some of us listen, some ignore it out of fear, or because of priorities we believe are more important. Those that listen will feel a strong sense of being in the right place. It’s hard to describe until you experience it for yourself, but I feel as though it was a true underlying connection among us.
3. We are all creative minds.
That's kind of a given, since we were on a writer's retreat. But I had to touch on it at least. There is something to be said for the creative right-brained type. Oftentimes these personalities are introverted and have a difficult time communicating with others (as my hand shoots up in the air). If any of us exhibit these traits back home, we didn’t show it on this weekend trip. We also all love words, and expressing ourselves through a thoughtful and eloquent use of words is true communication, in my mind.
4. We are all strong, adaptable and willing to embrace the craziness that our rocks throw us on the daily.
It takes a certain type of person to live on a rock. Although the rum flows as freely and steadfast as the mighty Mississippi, it’s certainly not all about lounging in a hammock all day. It’s real life. And it’s real life with insurmountable hurdles. Most of us have horror stories about just renewing our driver’s licenses. But we all know that you gotta let those types of things slide immediately, otherwise you'll be the one walking around with permanent resting bitch face.
So that's my list, how about yours? I feel as though it's important to really sit down, write it out if you must, and figure out what your core values are (it helped for me), and then find a group based on what is important to you in your local community or online. Other than a commonality with other women writers who live on rocks, I love yoga, so I've become involved in the local yoga community. One of my favorite events is the monthly Goddess Circle, just for women. This month was an arts and crafts session where we created a vision board, but oftentimes we discuss challenges, strength, and health & wellness. It's a safe place for women to get together and share thoughts and feelings with each other. If you delve into it, most communities offer women-only events and gatherings. So the key is finding them.
The thing that I took away from this weekend is the dire need for women to connect with other women. An integral part of traditional tribal villages was the segregated roles of men and women, and in turn, the connection. We seemed to have lost that somewhere along the line of evolution. So often in life we are consumed with our husbands, our children, our dogs, that we don’t take time to gather with other women. It is an important part of our growth, our involvement in community and our local "village," and let's be honest, as much as we love our husbands, no one really gets you like your best gals do. I feel as though it's even more important island communities, when you may be raising children away from your family and you aren't able to see them as often as you might like. If you're going to make a life on a rock work for you, you need foundations. Living on an island has it challenges, but with the right group of girlfriends, it can all be tolerable...and downright fun!
To find out more about these wonderful ladies that I will forever know as friends and soul-sisters, here is the link to each of their websites
Chrissann Nickel, Virgin Gorda, BVI; Women Who Live On Rocks
Jennifer Legra, Dominican Republic/Mexico: Drinking the Whole Bottle
Riselle Celestina, St. Maarten: The Traveling Island Girl
Brittany Meyers, Tortola, BVI: Windtraveler
Claudia Hanna, Cyprus: Live Like a Goddess
Liz Wegerer, Bonaire: The Adventures of Island Girl; Island Girl Writing
Lizzy Yana, St. Thomas, VI: Island Lizzy
Jennifer Morrow, Puerto Rico: Jen There Done That
Sherri DeWolf, Key West: Deeply Creative; Island Jane