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So I've always had this thing for islands. Maybe it was because I grew up in Indiana, which is kind of land-locked (well, except for the Great Lakes, but whatever, they were like a 5 hour drive from my house).
Because of my island fixation, Swiss Family Robinson was always one of my favorite movies. The treehouse at Disneyland was always one of my favorite “rides” (even though technically it isn't actually a ride, as my brothers frequently pointed out to me). I even loved that movie The Blue Lagoon—not because it was so racy (well, back when I saw it, it was considered pretty racy. Now it's just considered dumb) but because of that cool tropical island.
I think what I've always liked about islands is that if you're on one, you're kind of out of reach. I mean, not now, with cell phones, and stuff. But I like that, that feeling that you're cut off, a little, from the rest of civilization. It's just always seemed cool and very relaxing to me.
Because sometimes, everyday pressures can get to be too much, you know? And all you want to do is go somewhere where no one can find you. I mean, I can see how you'd get tired of solitude after a while…Tom Hanks was on that Castaway island WAY too long.
But to disappear from the mainland for SHORT time…that seems like bliss to me.
My yearning for the island life (and by the way—I HATED Gilligan's Island. Too many people. ANNOYING people. What was WRONG with them? And there was never a romance between the Professor and Mary Ann) caused me to behave in what might be perceived in odd ways through my school years. When I was a kid, I used to hide in my closet a lot, and just pretend I wasn't home when people came looking for me. At recess, sometimes I would go sit behind this big tree. By myself. To get away from it all, you know?
Later, in high school, there was this stairwell nobody seemed to know about, where I'd go sit. Some people skip class to smoke or make out or whatever. I skipped class to sit in a stairwell to the roof of my school…by myself. Away from the mainland.
The first time I ever went to REAL island (with palm trees and a beach and stuff) was one year when I was supposed to be attending this writers' convention in Anaheim, CA. My husband's uncle, who lived in Santa Monica at the time, met us for dinner, and I mentioned my island fixation.
And he immediately insisted we leave the next morning for Catalina, a small resort island off the coast of California. I was all, “Dude, I have to go to my conference.” But an invitation to go to my first real island? How could I resist? Also, considering the fact that I was SUPPOSED to be somewhere else…
We caught the 8AM ferry the next day, and as I sat, huddling in the fog and cold, thinking I'd made a horrible mistake, the clouds broke, and—I kid you not—this bright shaft of sunlight beamed down from the sky, directly onto this green mound in the middle of the sea…a real island, with palm trees, giant gold fish that swam right up the ferry as we docked, and people rushing over to give us strawberry daiquiris as we stepped onto the sand….
I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
We've been back to Catalina a few times since then, and even talked about moving there. You can get around the island by golf cart, which totally grooves with my total inability to operate an automobile. And there are buffalo there, roaming free, leftover from the days when Hollywood used the island to film Westerns. A famous writer, Zane Grey, built a house there, that you can stay in, because it's a hotel now.
But sadly, Catalina's a little too far from my other island, NYC, for my taste.
I guess it isn't that weird that I ended up living on an island. Not the kind I WANTED to live on, but an island, just the same. And Manhattan is GREAT, don't get me wrong. I will never, ever live anywhere else. At least, not year round.
But if there was ever place you need to take a mental break from now and then, it's Manhattan. It's CRAZY here. Great, but stressful.
So I've been looking around for another island to live on for part of each year. I'm pretty picky about my islands. I want an island on the East Coast—but warmer than Manhattan. Warmer than the islands off North and South Carolina, too. An island like Martha's Vineyard is out of the question—I need a TROPICAL island, so I can go there for my birthday in February and be warm.
And I want an island within the Continental US…but still in the same time zone as NYC.
And I want an island where I can still get the stuff I really need, like Tab, and deliveries from Clinique.
And I need my island community to be a hip, fun one…not filled with retirees who drive 5 miles an hour, like some other islands I've been to.
And I want the island to be small enough for me to be able to get to places on foot, or on a bike.
And I ESPECIALLY want an island that can be reached without ever, ever having to set foot on the one thing I hate above all others, excluding tomatoes and Hollywood Squares: a boat.
Well. You might have noticed I haven't been blogging a lot recently. And that's because, after extensive research, I am happy to say that I have found my island at last.
It's an island a lot of writers have lived on, including some pretty big name ones. It's got all the things I listed above, in addition to cruise ships that dock right up at shore, swaying palms, crystal blue water, and some characters you would swear come straight out of the movie Pirates of the Caribbean—parrots on the shoulder and all.
And I bought a house there on Friday.
Yes, this past Friday.
Okay, the house needs a little work, but whatever. I've met lots of great people down there who are willing to pitch in and help make my dream a reality (sadly, it's not a treehouse. I tried to find one, but no luck. It DOES have a rooftop terrace, though). Obviously, I have to pay them. But that's cool. I am glad to be contributing to the island's economy.
BUT WAIT: I'm not giving up my NYC pad. I'll still live on my OLD island for part of the year.
But during the really cold, unpredictable months, like October through March—and the really hot, unbearable months, where all you want is a pool—I'll be on my new island.
And OK, a few people, when I told them where I'm going, have reacted with a kind of horror, because they've been there, and feel differently about it than I do.
But maybe they've only been to the places you can get to when you step off the cruise boat (12 cruise ships a week dock there). I will admit, there are some skeevy T-shirt shops and bars. There is an actual NAKED bar there, where patrons are encouraged to hang out in the nude, called Garden of Eden. And people actually do. Hang out naked.
For reasons listed in a previous blog, I will not be going there often.
But the people who think I'm crazy for moving there HAVEN'T been on the rooftop terrace of my house at night, with the palm fronds swaying all around, and the sky stretched so huge overhead, the moon shining down, no sound but the wind rushing, like a scene out of Wide Sargasso Sea (um, not that I read or saw this…but I heard about it).
And they HAVEN'T watched the sun sink down over the horizon of what is the southernmost point of the Continental US—Mile 0 of US 1–and heard people applaud, as they do every night, for the pure beauty of it.
And maybe they haven't spent time, as I have, with some of the cool locals down there, like my realtor Bob E
lkins, who is an actual spear fisherman in his spare time (yes…in a scuba suit. Underwater. He supplies fish to a lot of the restaurants in town) and who showed us some of the cool bounty he picked up from the sea floor, including an ancient brass telescope that looked as if it came straight out of POTC (Pirates of the Caribbean for those not in the know). Bob worries a lot about the health of the island's coral reef, and he and his wife invited us to a block party our very first night in town.
No one in New York City has ever invited me to a block party.
But I guess the thing that freaks out people the MOST about my new island is the thing I like the MOST about it:
The place is CRAWLING with cats.
I'm not kidding. They're EVERYWHERE. Not just cats, either, but chickens, too. Roosters and hens, their little chicks trailing after them, run free in the streets. The cats, meanwhile, rumored to be the six-toed offspring of a pet of Ernest Hemingway's, lounge on every rooftop, and are spayed and neutered—and fed and watered—by the island's “Cat Lady” and others like her (there's a “Chicken Lady”, too, who helps relocate troublesome or injured roosters and hens—not to be confused with the town's recently appointed “Chicken Catcher”, who does the same, but not out of the goodness of his heart. He gets paid $20 per chicken).
And okay, Henrietta IS going to freak. But she has never expressed a desire to go outside anyway, even when we've taken her on occasional field trip. So maybe she'll just stay an inside cat, since I don't think she'd be much of a match for the local cats.
The thing is, there were people who, when I told them I was moving to Manhattan fifteen years ago, were all, “You'll hate it there. You'll be back in Indiana in three weeks.” They thought—just like some people now—that I'm crazy to move to an island. Especially THIS island.
And I'm not saying living in New York as a new college grad with no steady source of income at first was a cinch.
But I proved all those people wrong, and ended up not only staying, but loving Manhattan Island.
And I'm pretty sure I'm going to love my new island, too.
Anyway, knowing what you know now about my new island, can you blame me? I HAVE to move there. I have no choice.
And thankfully, my husband is coming along for the ride.
And now, as I have given you a LOT of clues, I am going to hold a contest:
I will give a free autographed advanced reader copy (the ones sent out to reviewers) of
Princess in Pink (not due in stores until March 23)
A free sneak peek of the first 30 pages or so of Princess Diaries 6
to THREE randomly picked readers who write in to tell me which island I am moving to. Send the name of the island, along with your snail mail address, to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will announce the winners (first name only) AND the correct answer in my next blog. Get your answer to me sooner than later or you might miss out.
And hey—wherever you are, or how down or harassed you feel, remember: There is an island out there waiting for you.
And until you find it, you can make your OWN island anywhere you want, just by turning off the cell phone, closing the door, and taking a little mental break from the mainland for a while. Believe me, you'll feel much better afterwards.