September 4, 2006

Homage to Seaside, Florida

About fifteen years ago, I lived what is every writer’s dream: waking up in a windswept villa by the sea, writing, having breakfast while watching whitecaps, then writing some more after lunch and a bike ride along the beach; finally, dinner and delightful conversations with friends who were also writers, musicians, painters or dancers.

The dream happened in Seaside, Florida (the film location of the Truman Show) when I was an artist-in residence in the “Escape to Create” program at the Seaside Institute. For one whole month, we were given a small stipend and allowed to live free of cost in one of the multi-million dollar houses, and all we had to do was give a reading or showcase our work at the end of the month. It was a time of deep introspection and there were several challenges: our families could not be with us during the month. This was a source of anxiety, especially for the newlyweds and first-time parents, but we all had family reunions at the end of the month. It was also a time to rediscover ourselves and our commitment to our vocation.

It was a glorious month. I met other artists/writers from all around the world and many of us are still in contact with each other and some of us are even friends. But it didn’t all begin that way.

After the initial meet-and-greet, we retreated to our mansions to begin work on our paintings, poetry, fiction, music or choreography. That lasted for about a week until Phyllis McEwen suggested that we have a party at her place. When we got there, Phyllis had laid out a modest meal of cheese, bread, olive oil, and of course, wine. We talked and hashed things out, especially the notion that we knew was lingering in the back of the heads of some of the artists/writers that Phyllis and I were the “minority” babies. Phyllis and I had been in similar situations where we first had “to prove ourselves,” but we realized that to get what we wanted, we had to play by the “rules of the game.” As Jimmy Carnegie, my history teacher at Jamaica College, used to say, “It hot, but hush.”

After we “proved” ourselves to each other (they now had to “step-up” to us), we all decided to make our meetings a weekly habit, so every Friday after picking up our stipends, we’d go the grocery store, buy our contribution to the meal and meet down by the beach or in the houses along the beach, especially the ones with lookout towers where we could see the entire town.

It was a time of happiness, but there were also moments that I felt excluded from the “American Dream” because of class, race, history, and country of origin. I sometimes asked myself, Why can’t we do this in the Caribbean? The poem, “Seaside, Florida” from hurricane center grew out of those feelings.

Few artists/writers achieve the fame or recognition or earn the money that we think we deserve, and the ratio of success to failure (rejections) is about ten to one. But there are those times, like the ones I experienced at Seaside, that if we can enjoy them in the moment, then as the song says, “Every little thing” is all right.



Stephen A. Bess said...

That does sound like a great place! It's an experience I hope to share one day.

Anonymous said...

Great article, I have been following you since you left a note on Francis's blog,but this was way cool. Having attended Univ. in the US where I had to prove myself each semester, then on each job, I do understand.
I am currently having to recreate myself in Jamaica, and what a struggle, as I am not originally from ahh yard. I am Trini by birth and grew up in NY and wow.
Keep writing.


Geoffrey Philp said...

Yeah, it can be a pain. Francis also writes about other important differences between the uS and yard. I especially like the poem--I dong this from memory--"no more smalling up myself..." The pull of yard is great and I just wish things would cool down a biton the rock.


Anonymous said...

what a fresh post.
Wish I could live something similar...

Geoffrey Philp said...

Me, too, Roberta. Me, too, all over again