Archive for October, 2019

Letter from the Vineyard 28 October 2019 Island perspective…

October 28, 2019


“It was a dark and stormy night,” wrote Bulwer-Lytton, opening his 1830 novel, “Paul Clifford.”  It has since become a synonym for bad writing, but some nights are dark and stormy, such as last night, when gale force gusts of wind bent young trees to their will, rain slashing down as I drove home, obscuring both the road and vicious puddles.  It was a night to be huddled indoors, with a good book, curled up with a blanket tucked around oneself.

On Sunday, trick or treaters invaded the store in gangs from 10 to 1, a time moved up from noon to three because of the threatening storm.  My favorite was a little girl, barely walking, dressed as a unicorn. It was, I think, her very first Halloween and she was doing her best to figure it out.  Another favorite was a very young man who had a skeleton’s costume with a mask that made it difficult to see; he literally flung himself into the store, followed by his father, guarding him from tumbles.

It was wonderful.

Good thing they moved the time as, by two, the rain was pelting ferociously and people now flung themselves into the bookstore, looking for refuge and amusement.  Some were biding time until they could get on stand-by for the ferries.  All said there were worse places to be stranded than Martha’s Vineyard, to which I heartily agreed, not stranded here though somewhat plumped here by events, for which I have no regret.

A local writer wrote “Goats in A Time of Love,” which I accepted in June.  We have now sold over a hundred copies, which means it is on the top of our list of best sellers for our bookstore and it keeps walking out the door.  It’s an island phenomenon.  I told Tracey, the author, I feel a bit like an editor who discovered someone.

Yesterday, I mentioned to a customer at the store it was a day to curl up with a cozy mystery, for which there is a category: Cozy Mysteries. And it is, because a cozy mystery is so preferable to the din of the outside world.

When I look beyond this island, I see a world tumbling in chaos.  In Hong Kong, Santiago, Baghdad, there are violent protests raging.  My friend Catherine was to have left for Santiago for a conference, which has now been moved to a time TBD because of the violence.

Al Baghdadi, head of ISIS, blew himself up, along with three of his children, as U.S. forces cornered him.  Ironically, it happened with the help of the Kurds, who feel abandoned by the U.S.

President Trump suggested an alliance with ExxonMobil, or some company, to exploit Syrian oil, which, when I saw it flash across my mobile screen, brought me to the retort in 2003, as were invading Iraq, “No blood for oil.”  It was a comment that left me staggered – though I was not the only one, thank goodness.

Currently, after that comment, the Kurds think we have abandoned them for oil.  But, for whatever reason, we have abandoned them.  The BBC reports from the region are heartbreaking.

Now, we have BREXIT, too, a drama that goes on and on and on.  When I have British customers in the store, I occasionally ask them what they think.  Most are horrified.  One lady was very much in favor of it, and I must admit, she was the first individual from Britain who has expressed support.  My British friends, and I have more than a few, are horrified.

So it is we live in a terribly complicated world which is why, in this moment, it feels so good to be on this currently windswept island, called by Susan Branch, “Isle of Dreams,” which it is to many, a place where, as a visitor, you can forget the turmoil behind, and, as a resident, rejoice there is a slice of water protecting you, a bit, from the madness back there.

Letter from the Vineyard 19 October 2019 Celebrating time…

October 19, 2019


It’s a tad melancholy at the little cottage. Last night I had dinner with Andrea, who ran the restaurant behind the bookstore, aptly named “Behind the Bookstore,” through a successful season.  Andrea had never run a restaurant before and she did it wonderfully; will never do it again.  It was our farewell dinner, at Rockfish, on North Water Street, where we dined six months ago at the beginning of this adventure.

Thursday, a lady arrived in the store; for the first time in sixty years of coming to the island, she was having to deal with stand-by, a result of the storms which have battered us.  She wanted just the right book for her stand-by experience.  We spent some minutes on it and she bought “Dear Mrs. Bird,” a delightful small book about a young woman who stumbles into being the Ann Landers of wartime Britain.  Joyce, who owns the store, recommended to me and I consumed it early in the summer on a quick business trip to D.C.

The week has included several good exchanges with the President of my high school senior class, Mike O’Rourke, who know identifies himself as TBHI, “the bald-headed Irishman.”  He is bald though, in high school, had thick blonde hair I envied.

It has been a time of savoring such things as reconnecting with Mike O’Rourke, of sharing texts with my godson, Paul, who is one of the lights of my life.  We’ve had a history, Paul and I. I lost him, found him, lost him. At eighteen, he claimed me, never leaving me and it is beyond beautiful to have him in my life. At eighteen, he was courageous, and demonstrates courage in so many ways today.

The world outside these personal things roars with confusion.  The dialogue in Washington is hard to follow.  Every hour brings some new crisis as we move into Nixonian times, me fears.  Except, in Nixon’s time, we did not have the constant 24-hour, day in, day out, news cycle that confronts us now.  We had moments of respite.  There is none now.

Mulvaney dazzled.  Whatever you think, whatever side of this divide you are on, it was a stunning performance, so, so ill-advised.  And that seems the order of the day.  We are watching a train wreck.  One member of the administration said the “optics” of choosing the Trump Doral as the site of the next G7 conference might not be good.  You think?

Our current politics have riven us as much as anything I have seen in my lifetime.  One recent article suggested we take to the streets and march again; I marched for the first time against Viet Nam at 17.  Could do it again.

In the meantime, I am on the Vineyard, doing things to calm myself.  When I need to go to Vineyard Haven to pick up shirts from the one island laundry, I sometimes take the longer route, up through Oak Bluffs, past the Jaws bridge, past water and dunes, sometimes witnessing sunsets of staggering beauty; slipping through Vineyard Haven, up State Road.

Ironing shirts is not a strength. I am not, I confess, good at most domestic tasks.  I have spent my life coddled by the people who’ve cleaned and fluffed for me.  What, I wonder, does that say about me?

Probably nothing I want to hear about from any of you.  Thank you for not commenting.

It is interesting; I am entering another new period of my life.  Wowza, another one?  I mean aren’t we supposed to be done by now?  No, I guess not.  I am on another new adventure and that seems to be what has kept me alive and moving through all these years.

Don’t let anyone tell you, you’re too old for new adventures, says someone who is older, on a new adventure, figuring out life as if young again.

Letter from the Vineyard 13 October 2019 A little kindness…

October 13, 2019



Darkness has slipped its ever earlier arms around the little cottage on the Vineyard; the day broke, clear and beautiful after three days of a nor’easter, whipping the seas to a frenzy, ferries unable to cross in either direction.

A bride and groom did not make their own wedding, the family of someone evacuated for a medical emergency could not reach him.  These things happen when you are on an island, not often thought of until they are realities.  The gusts of wind ripped off the gate where “the path” from the cottage meets Katama Road.  Power flickered now and again but didn’t go.  It was short term; no food or fuel shortages.  Next time, though, I will fill the tank when I hear a nor’easter is on its way.

Tonight, Baroque music plays; right for this evening.  Returning home, I wanted something light, with a soupcon of melancholy, the way I felt.

After returning from the bookstore, I have a bit of time which is my “creative time,” when I write, edit, or think deeply about something.

The news of the world repels me, yet I am drawn to it, watching this ongoing train wreck, impossible to turn away from as it happens.  We are drawn to the endless news cycle like moths to flame.

Impeachment, Kurds betrayed, a building collapsing, fires in California. Russians apparently bombing Syrian hospitals.  Typhoon in Japan.

Baroque seemed right.  We live in a Baroque time, filled with complex forms, bold ornamentation, like Versailles, with the complex politics of that court, expressive dissonance in everything around us.

Two nights ago, I used my creative time to write a note to a high school classmate, who I learned is fighting a serious disease, which, from what I could parse, is brain cancer.  His family has invited friends to share memories and so I did.  We carpooled mornings our senior year with four other classmates, mornings I remember vividly, in an older green car called by Steve, who owned it, “the Whorenut,”which, when he placed the name on the side of the car in a subdued decal, resulted in it being banned from the parking lot of our Catholic high school.

Mike was senior class president, popular, able to, in a single bound, leap over and through the complexities of our high school, which brought together Catholic boys from all over the Minneapolis area. He has a laugh that unites, not divides.  He enjoys and does not mock.

In the note I wrote him last night, I told him:  Also know, I am so very, very appreciative you were kind to me back then.  It mattered.

And you see, that was long ago, and I banged my way through adolescence, not very well, but Michael was kind and that has reverberated across the decades.

Be kind, friends.  It will reverberate across decades.



Letter from the Vineyard 5 October 2019 Island perspective…

October 6, 2019

This past week, the New England Independent Booksellers Association held its annual meeting in Providence, Rhode Island. I attended, experiencing a book buyer’s life, coming away with un-proofed galleys of many books, including “Find Me,” by Andre Aciman, the follow-up to his wonderful, “Call Me By Your Name.”

Ocean Vuong gave an acceptance speech for the award he was given for his stunning debut novel, “On Earth, We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” lyric, mesmerizing, reeds rustling in the winds of time, pain and joy delivered in sound; more feeling than meaning.



Driving home, in daylight, I could see leaves changing, yellow and orange displacing summer green, the harbinger of winter, at least part of which I will spend on here, on the island.  Today, the wind blew, strong and cool, the earth sighing, opening its arms to autumn.

In the al fresco restaurant that is “Behind the Bookstore,” morning patrons wrapped themselves in warm blankets against the chill, sipping warm teas and coffees, breakfasting, while clustering around heaters.  In another week, the restaurant will close, one more season gone, the courtyard empty, lonely, waiting for next year’s summer.

With the arrival of Columbus Day, Martha’s Vineyard will begin to curl in upon itself, restaurants shuttering until next spring, seasonal residents departed, perhaps to return for Thanksgiving, perhaps not.  The island libraries will fill their calendars with winter events, residents will sigh in some relief at the absence of the summer people, delighted to find parking on Main Street once again, able to navigate “the Triangle” with ease.  The island has not a stoplight, which makes summer driving reliant on motorists having both sense and courtesy, not always present.

Mail here is always inconsistent, to be sure.  A package from my godson, Paul, was signed for at my post office on the 16th but did not find me until today.  The Vineyard is notorious for postal nonchalance.  He sent me a framed picture of himself with his son, Noah, at hockey camp.  The two of them are more than briefly gorgeous; I am so lucky he is in my life.


           There will be a brief island resurgence come Christmas and then the long, quiet, winter days…

I will see fall become winter on the island, and probably winter to spring, a rotation of the earth, experienced from a base on this island off the cost of Massachusetts, one of the first spots touched by what became a flood of Europeans following Plymouth Rock.

Peggy Lee sings in the background, night has clustered around the little cottage, and I am enjoying being here, confronting the flashing cursor, putting some sense to events around me, most of which have no sense.

It will be interesting to watch this all, reading, thinking, being island detached from the circus unfolding in Washington, over on the mainland.  Whatever the flavor of your politics, it is a circus.  No more to be said on that topic, tonight.

There are mystery writers and books to be ferreted out for our denuded mystery section, new thrillers to be discovered, young writers found to be placed on our “Great Reads” shelves, classics to be replenished.  It was a great year for Herman Melville and “Moby Dick.”  We have had a run on “Fahrenheit 491,” “Brave New World,” and “To Kill a Mockingbird;” all big, apparently, on school reading lists this fall.

Halloween is coming; tomorrow, pumpkins will be carved.  Ghostly lights need to be found to drape the front window. Thanksgiving must have its moment and I have to find a theme for Christmas.  Important things. For me, in this moment of time.