Archive for January, 2020

Letter from the Vineyard 25 January 2020 “All we need is love…”

January 26, 2020


In the background, Mozart plays; his music allegedly good for helping the brain work and God knows I need help making my brain work right now.  A week ago, I woke up with what felt like a small head cold.  Home that night, it seemed to have made little progress.

Thursday morning, I defied gravity, got up, sat down and went uh oh!  The small head cold had become something fierce during the night – not quite flu and certainly much more than a cold. And there began what has been a nine-day odyssey through an illness defying definition, leaving me swirling in its misery.

Boxes of tissue have disappeared, my heating pad was clung to, a life preserver in the sea of coughs.  I questioned my sanity, my presence on the island, my life, friendships, everything swirled around me in the wicked whirlwind of not feeling at all well, when the world seems much darker and Mephistopheles finds his way to your shoulder, whispering recriminations into your ear over things you’d long thought resolved.

Such is illness and mine was such a petty one compared to what others I know have gone through or are going through and that, in itself, spurred more recriminations and self-condemnations.

It was a gruesome Catholic week of recriminations and regret.

It seemed impossible to read or watch anything; I was incapable of absorbing content.  The same page would be read three times over and I still wouldn’t know what the characters were up to, which way the plot was turning, so I sat, staring out, listening to music, a cold and miserable chap.  Streaming programs resulted in the same:  what just happened?  I got tired of re-winding.

On Thursday, when I was not to be at the shop, I was to go to New York for a business luncheon and there was no way I could do it; my body was too weak, nor was my battered spirit much willing and cancelled, then became convinced the people I was to have lunched with probably hated me for letting them down.

After days of descending into this particular circle of Dante’s Inferno, I began to have a chat with myself, reminding myself of all the good things in my world, forcing myself to whisper to the Mephistopheles on my shoulder to get behind me. Incessantly, as he did not want to yield his spot upon that shoulder.

It has been a humbling week, illuminating.

With my frailties and insecurities in full display, if only to myself [I hope], I have had to carefully pull myself back together again, to remind myself, somewhat forcibly, to be grateful.

My life has been a grand experience; it is only right I treasure, clasp that specific reality to my heart and not wander into the land of different roads I might have taken.  I took the roads I took; my adventures have been what they have been; they have been great adventures, my mistakes, god knows how many there have been, have been my mistakes and in owning them comes forgiveness, which is what I needed in order to forgive myself my trespasses.

Forgive me for this meandering.  I needed to find words for this week, which tripped me up, spiraled me down and resulted in my winging my way back toward the clouds, though with only great effort and the deep realization of the complexity of the human experience.

So, here I am, anchored on the Vineyard, back in the store, chatting about books to interested people, once again grateful for the simplicity and wonder of this moment.

As for what is happening in the rest of the world, and, in particular, our political milieu, it seems only right tonight begins the “Year of the Rat.”

Letter from the Vineyard 15 January 2020 A little break…

January 15, 2020


My life on the Vineyard has a rhythm, a predictability which has been unusual in my recent vagabond life.

Sometime between six and seven, I wake, make myself a cup of tea, usually Irish Breakfast, sit on the couch, read news, delving sometimes more deeply than other times — last week being one as we teetered on the edge of war with Iran.  I write a few personal emails, choose what I’ll wear for the day, shower, have a little breakfast and head down to the bookstore.  Days run into each other and I lose track of the days.  I called a vendor to discuss a damaged book. Only when I got a recording saying they were closed did I tick to it was Saturday.

We didn’t go to war with Iran, tensions calmed, and the focus is on them with the tragic downing of a Ukrainian airliner.

Put aside those hard things, it has been a lovely week, swinging from heavy wet snow to a high of nearly sixty degrees on Sunday.

Friday, I visited with Shirley Mayhew, discussing the vagaries of aging, she, at ninety-three, more expert than I.  On my way over, I wished I had something to give her though hadn’t a clue what, but our conversation directed me to a book I’d like to share with her, which I will take the next time I make the pilgrimage to her.

It has been hard to concentrate enough to focus on reading a book; I have started three and not progressed far on any.  If I look at one of my now many streaming services, I find it hard to want to watch anything, generally clicking off, returning to journaling, playing some solitaire.

It has been a time of reflecting, of reaching out to people who are far away, a way of comforting myself as I still know so few on the island though I sense it is beginning to change.  Twice this week I had meaningful exchanges with island people.

Sunday, at St. Andrew’s, I sat, as I usually do, in the front pew.  That way I can hear Father Chip clearly, his voice being in the range my aging ears find hard. The gentleman behind leaned in, asked me if I had lost a cap?  Mine eyes widened, I nodded; now returned to me after several weeks is the lovely cap I purchased in Ireland.  I had wondered where I had left it; never occurred to me it could have been at church.

St. Andrew’s is working on revitalizing itself, as was Christ Church in Hudson, as is probably every mainstream church in North America, and there was a potluck brunch and group meetings after church.  As I had joined St. Andrew’s after the process had started, I belonged to no group and was invited by Chris, a customer at the bookstore, to join hers, outreach, which is what I would have chosen.

It has been a blissfully mundane week, spared from the world angst which assailed me last week.  We need these weeks more than now and again to survive the rub of everyday life, challenging in so many ways these days.

As my fingers tap on the laptop keyboard, New Orleans jazz is playing on that modern marvel, an Echo, better known by her name, Alexa.  Alexa, play me some [whatever you want].  These parts of the 21st Century I enjoy; they help revitalize me for the other challenges of 21st Century life.

The Industrial Revolution is over and we’re entering another challenging epochal transition period which will challenge us all to the nth degree – what will Artificial Intelligence do to our lives?

Given a little rest, some good jazz, a good night’s sleep, a bit of good food, good companionship, and some natural beauty, which this island provides, we can better face our challenges and they are many, personally, nationally and globally.


Letter from the Vineyard 01 08 2020 A Place of Refuge…

January 9, 2020

The birds 2

Letter from the Vineyard, January 8, 2020

A Place of Refuge…

“Well, here we are, ready and willing to go to the birds, and we can’t even find the way!” is the opening line of Aristophanes’ “The Birds” in a translation by a high school classmate, Jeff LaCount, performed my junior year in high school, playing Euelpides [Good Hope] with Greg Harrigan as Pisthetaerus [Trusty Friend], a play lightly skewering the politics of the time [450 BCE, 1960’s America, 2020 America?].

Both are middle-aged grifters who con the birds, led by a man transformed into a bird by a magic potion, into creating a kingdom for them, outwitting the gods, becoming the envy of other men.

It is a play about the folly of men, gods, their ambitions, the most fantastical of Aristophanes’ plays, permeated also by his sense of doom, as Athens had set out on an expedition against Sicily, ending up ill-fated as could be.

When I performed it in high school, I hadn’t a clue what it all meant.  I had good lines; I got good laughs; the director was happy.

Three years later, Greg died in the rice paddies of Vietnam.  I was at his funeral, shaken that that good man was dead even before he lived. Jeff LaCount died sometime later, no one seems to know why or where.

Our lives have been cluttered by our country’s ill-fated military expeditions. Vietnam.  Afghanistan.  Iraq.  None of them have turned out well for us.  Are we not all, who were alive at the time, a bit haunted by the photo of the last helicopter leaving Saigon while those who helped us were left behind, clawing at the embassy gates?

Shortly after we invaded Iraq, I was having a perfectly civilized lunch with a friend, ex-CIA, at Le Bonne Soupe on 54th Street in Manhattan, who asked me what I thought of the invasion?  I responded: Rome came a cropper there; I feared we would, too.  Over a magnificent pate, the reason we were there, he said he agreed. His area of expertise at the CIA was the Middle East and could have taught Carlos Ghosn a thing or two about getting in and out of countries.  My friend had more than once been smuggled into and out of a middle eastern country in a packing crate.

Afghanistan, the forever war, clogs on; after eighteen long years, we have started to talk about having lost.

Couldn’t we have learned from Alexander the Great? The Romans? The British? Or the Russians?

The Mideast is a quagmire vexing the western world forever, it seems.  The Brits, who owned the world in 1918, partitioned it to serve their purposes; we have all paid the price since.

While things have deescalated a little, we could be moving toward war with Iran, a thought which does not help me sleep well at night.

Sometime in the last years, I read some Evangelicals support Trump because they see him as facilitating the Second Coming, helping bring about events foretold in the Book of Revelation.

War with Iran might look a bit like the Book of Revelation.

And to my ex-CIA friend, with whom I have lost touch, we have come a cropper in Iraq; they are asking us to get out.

Peter Simon was the epic photographer of the island; god rest his soul.  Yesterday I looked at the 2020 Peter Simon calendar; it rings in January with this thought of his:

“I have traveled to exotic places, and have lived various lifestyles in the past, but have never felt so at peace as I do as a Vineyarder. I feel as though I have escaped the craziness of the ‘real world’ and am living out some dreamy fantasy, where the elements I value most are all anchored firmly on this sea and soil.  The Vineyard is the last resort for me.” – Peter Simon, “On the Vineyard,” 1980.

Like Peter, I have traveled to exotic places, lived various lifestyles, and there is a peace I find on the Vineyard.  It may not be my last resort and it is a place of refuge as the world grows mad.

God save us all.