The captain has just announced we’re making our gradual descent for landing. As the plane sifts through the clouds, shadow and light move in the sky. The Sargasso Sea is still blue. The underwater reefs still illuminate through. I have butterflies, but I’m not nervous. There’s something about this view that sets it aside from every other landing. It’s familiar but consistently extraordinary. Closer now, as we fly over land, the panorama of the island transcends beyond my sight. The east end emerges and I quickly see the Swing Bridge followed by cars cruising along Kindley Field before we float onto the runway. The wheels meet the tarmac, and relief begins to set in.
January 2021 would have marked almost nine years since I haven’t lived in Bermuda. In 2011 I hastily left the island. A month in London, and still crashing in a friend’s spare bedroom - I wanted to stay in the big city. I had a feeling about London. Its spirit, alive and audacious. Three years and a university degree later, that feeling was unchanged. I was in love with the pace, the anonymity, and the possibilities. I was going to make home thousands of miles away from the one I knew. I stayed for an additional four years and came back to Bermuda at the end of 2017. But only for a year. This move was not meant to be permanent because London still had my heart. Sure enough, 12 months later I was back in the city where I felt I belonged.
The usual first thought of home is related to the physical. Something that is lived in and experienced. The place that we are from. The house we grew up in or the dwelling where sacred memories are shared and understood only by the people there. The traditional meaning of home is widely known as a domestic habitat and physiological connection – the place that is ours.
Architect and psychologist Clare Cooper suggested that people see the home as a place to express themselves. Cooper argued that “the house nicely reflects how man sees himself,” by the tangible objects that make up space inside the home. From the arrangement of furniture, paint on the walls, and photos on the dressers, these things become an extension of ourselves, a self-definition. We confidently show our self-image here because it is a safe space. Can the same be said when we look at the home, not as a house we abide in, but as the country we reside or grew up in. Born and raised in the parish of Pembroke, Bermuda is my home.
The physical features are easy on the eyes—twenty-one square miles of an oasis. The tourism adverts show vibrant scenery: the outsider looking in sees crystal blue water, beaches with pale pink sand, and happy people. The physicality is easy to describe, and the people, for the most-part, are easy-going. At my core, I love being from Bermuda, and so do most Bermudians. I would not replace growing up here with anywhere else. The memories many of us have here are sacred. When we think about what is special about Bermuda, it’s a lot more that meets the eye.
The little things like mandatory “good mawnins,” summertime cliff jumping off anywhere high enough above water, May 24th in the hottest gansie, our one-of-a-kind vernacular, rum swizzle. If home as a place is who we are, then what about here makes you, you? For creatives, the uniqueness of our upbringing follows us. There is an attachment to the island’s purity that influences who we are. Simultaneously, it's not a rigid attachment as specific standards do not define the psychology of Bermudian artists, photographers, writers, and singers. Although our authentic experience here influences our work, there are aspects about this place we call home that do not mirror ourselves.
Being at home is not the same as feeling at home. The former is a familiar that we do not actively acknowledge – it’s normal. Home as a feeling is to be safe, at peace and accepted. When we do not get this, it feels like erasure and exclusion. Can we belong to a place that does not develop, support or sadly rejects us?
Creatives on the island face this conflict of openly expressing themselves through art. It’s not that they are not creating - at times the small place ideology (artfully rendered in Jamaica Kincaid’s book of the same title) and the lack of resources are a hindrance. Bermuda is viewed as a paradise and tax haven. Thus, the country’s biggest industries are Tourism and International Business. As these are integral contributors to the economy, the majority of the island’s resources go towards these industries. Students are encouraged to seek professions in business, insurance, hospitality, or management. These are suitable careers, and obviously, Bermuda needs Bermudians in them. Vocationally, The Artist, is a less suitable career.
This disconnect causes many Bermudian creators to seek elsewhere to (re)discover home by creating it. We remake home through our actions, the people we're surrounded by, and the collective communities we make. The Chewstick Foundation built a home through opportunity and inclusion. Beginning in 2003 and deeply rooted in arts and culture, Chewstick was more than just a creative hub. It was a progressive movement, the epicentre for expression, learning, and discourse. Carlita Lodge, (Programme Manager at the Department of Cultural Affairs) praises Chewstick for how the space helped her grow as a creative, “It isn't always about meeting people that do the same thing as you, but meeting people that challenge you to grow, to appreciate a new way of thinking, and to talk about the realities of creating art while in Bermuda.”
I went to a couple of their open mic nights years ago, but was too timid back then to sign up for a programme or one of their retreats - I wish I did. From the outside looking in, I saw nurturing for the introverted writer, a voice for the lonely poet, or cautious singer. I know Chewstick still exists, however not at the same capacity in the past. I hope that their stalwarts continue to meet to enlighten and influence each other. I hope we see Chewstick host events and creative initiatives in the future. I hope the government sees the importance of art foundations like Chewstick or others to come. Private sector investment is all good, but the public sector's support is needed to solidify art communities' longevity on the island. Art is essential to community fortitude. It’s a powerful force of healing, unity, and rehabilitation. Government’s aid ensures accessibility and resources for creatives to have a welcoming sense of place.
My little sister is interested in film and screenwriting. When I google “Screenwriting in Bermuda,” the first result that comes up is for a screenwriting workshop from 2015. The next one is a Royal Gazette article about a three-week course held by a Bermudian screenwriter - this was in 2016. Bermuda International Film Festival has a couple of education initiatives; one is a filmmakers workshop fall mid-term break. The Department of Community and Cultural Affairs hosts art programmes, one is their annual Writer in Residence programme where students are taught by an award-winning writer of a specific genre. While these kinds of initiatives are a step in the right direction, fostering communities cannot be one-off events that happen once a year.
Replace ‘screenwriting’ with photography, videography, songwriting, music production, or poetry - will I get the same results? Community is lacking for Bermudian creatives, a haven where we can be mentored, sustained and challenged, the home for us to be our true selves. This looks like after-school programmes or extracurriculars for students. It is a centre for like-minded people of various ages to have workshops, masterclasses, and live events that promote development and identity.
There seems to be an awakening of Bermudian musicians at the moment. Artists like Da’Khari Love, Sinead the Flower, Buzby and Derek G., are bringing a quality mastering of craft. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have their own hub supporting and working with each other. The quality of their work is evidence of collaboration and support. It’s refreshing to see how these artists are distributing their own resources amongst their peers. Obviously financial backing will be an asset, however having somewhere to go is critical - the space's importance depends on the feeling and these artists show what can be done when we come together.
The beauty of art is how it unites. It's not ironic that it is mostly the artists or community workers who take action in building a home for themselves. Yet I often wonder about what our public institution can do to make a difference. The Department of Community and Cultural Affairs has recently set up a creative resource www.creatives.bm, Ms. Lodge tells, “Whether it is for creatives to connect or for someone trying to hire, it exists as a place to browse all the very talented people that exist on-island.” I hope this helps to facilitate more artists coming together and thriving from being at home in their element.
In Bermuda, this home community could be a regular jam session with fellow peers coming together to meet new people and share their work or projects they're working on. As a neutral space where feedback is given, where the next person asks questions that challenge you and offer a new perspective. Or, in the vein of MFA Writing Workshops, something as simple a weekly creative hour where everyone brings something they’ve been working on. Creating in the midst of others.
If we do not find home in Bermuda, we leave the nest entirely and choose to live beyond the parameters of what we know. And we’re intentional about it; going means being specific about the city, the neighbourhood, and the surrounding people. I chose to move to London because it has all the elements of a thriving creative capital. I knew the diversity there meant it would offer a range of concepts, opinions, and experience. I wanted to be inspired and provoked.
It took me about two years to make a home in London. The first years I spent learning myself in the city. I’d explore different boroughs, wander in museums, and go to live shows or open mic nights alone. Immersing in the unknown pushed me to find places that would inspire perspective. Although I was alone, I didn’t feel lonely; I felt invigorated. My community formed organically, and in my last year of university, I lived with two people with whom I felt most connected. I remember being adamant about us all living together, and I’m glad I was because I learned a lot from them. A few years later my best friend would start law school in London. It was also that year when I really saw myself as a writer.
I’ve restarted a lot in London, moved houses yearly, lived with other people, lived with friends, lived on my own. The physical place was not as important to me as the sentiment was. I knew I could continue building a home through people, connection, and encouragement. The saying 'home is where the heart is,' literally means it is wherever we are - but we can be in many places and still not be at home. I'm permissive in using this phrase.London had my heart because it stirred me as a writer, I loved the city for that. A lot of my memories are led there because I connect to a time in my life where I was impulsive, curious, and fearless. I felt at home in London because it added to my sense of identity.
A nomad rejects the traditional definition of home. Bermudian creatives are nomads in the sense that we are on a constant search for the ‘communities within communities.’ The homes within a home.
When proposed with the question “Where is home for you?” The answer is not quite straightforward. It requires reflection on how the self is affected by surroundings. I say Bermuda is home for the reason I feel emotional when getting off of the airplane after living away for so long. It’s more than the country where I’m from. It’s where I love the sun but hate the humidity, where I wake up to the sound of the ‘kiss-ka-dee’ chirping and fall asleep to tree frogs whistling. Where manners are mandatory, or holidays are culturally holy and also a fashion show, where social media is not needed for news to travel fast, or where we all ‘know dat bie.’
I’m fortunate to have a place to return to. I can always come back to Bermuda and my intention is to be here for the foreseeable future. Yet I wonder about my need for a permanent base and why I come back here. Is it the familiarity or consistency of the building? The reinforcement that the home will always be here, even if I’m not.
Cooper, Clare.1974. The House as Symbol of the Self. Berkeley, CA: University of California.
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