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Letter from the Vineyard 03 11 2023

March 13, 2023

Photo courtesy of Paul Doherty

The other night the last full moon of the winter lorded over the night sky; I went to the head of the driveway to soak in its beauty for a moment, basking in the white night light of our moon, overwhelmed, just a bit, by the serenity of the moment.

It is March on the Vineyard, seesawing between spring moments and winter wraiths, days clouded, days sun kissed.

For the first time in four years, I went on vacation, a Caribbean cruise, gone for two weeks, sailing from Port Canaveral, eleven days at sea, a buffer couple of days on either side, an undemanding itinerary, which is what I wanted, on a cruise line I’d never heard of, MSC, which, turns out, is the fourth largest cruise line in the world though just beginning to enter the North American market.

One of the things I love about cruises is they can be undemanding. And I ached for undemanding.

My reading was beach read level, THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO, a monstrous bestseller over the last couple of years, so much so last summer you couldn’t get a copy to save your soul.

Also read THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB, best British mystery I have read in a long time, clever, accessible, full of great characters, the first in a four-part series; can’t wait to start the second.

One of the things I like about cruises is it gives you time to think, loving the days at sea, sitting on the balcony, watching the warm waters of the Caribbean slip by while you assess your world.

My world is now the bookstore. As once other things anchored me in life, Edgartown Books now anchors me in this part of my life. Edgartown, a place where I never expected to be a resident.

These are the wonders and wonderful moments of life.

While delighted in my life here, I am aware when I left on my cruise, the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut was nearly surrounded, fighting to stay free.  When I returned, it was the same.  Every day I am astounded by the Ukrainians, who are showing so much mettle.

There was an article I stumbled upon while cruising, though attempting to avoid news, indicating we Americans are tiring of the Ukrainians. This is what Putin is counting on, we grow bored, a terrible stain on us if we did.

In the meantime, it’s getting difficult for Putin to hide the cost of his adventure; too many bodies piling up. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  Not that I see a regime change happening.  Though Putin becomes a bit more bizarre every day.  The most recent rumors have him sleeping in a pod which infuses oxygen, not unlike the one Michael Jackson used.

If you look at Putin’s face these days, I’m guessing a lot of steroids are in play.

Xi Jinping has taken China in a strange direction, cuddling up to Putin, seeing the two countries as the new balance to the west.  It’s, and I am not a Sinophile, a radical change from the direction China was taking before him.

Even if you’re having a wonderful afternoon, reading good books on the balcony of your cabin, overlooking the Caribbean, these global issues seep into your mind.

As do the bitter issues of our own politics.  President Trump keeps railing about his stolen election. It was a talking point for all of Fox’s lead hosts, except that none of them believed it. But they were worried about ratings and the stock price. Tucker Carlson, really? You worried more about the stock price than the truth. What a surprise!

Fox has been exposed. It is not a news network. It is driven by catering to an audience created under the brilliant, malevolent force of Roger Ailes, driving viewers to the right by spewing untruths, day after day after day.

It’s my hope Dominion prevails in its lawsuits against Fox as it has been unveiled in its exorable reality, a “news” organization not driven by news but by a political agenda, a propaganda machine for the right, a money-making machine for the Murdoch family.  Should I make allusions to the Krupps?

Night has settled on the Vineyard, we leap forward this evening, an annual ritual leaving most of us cranky, certainly me.  Out there in the night, Ukrainian soldiers are still cling to Bakhmut, ships are sailing, trains are running, planes land and take off, people cook dinner, we go on, because that’s what we do, we go on.  As I grow older, I understand Mother Courage more – and less.

Letter from the Vineyard

November 8, 2022

November 8, 2022

Letter from the Vineyard

Election Day Musings 

This past weekend, the sun shone bright, the wind was soft, the temperatures near 70; it seemed as if mid-September had made an island return. Leaves are turning everywhere, it seems. In my yard, green still rules. 

The streets of Edgartown are quiet, many businesses shuttered for the season, signs in windows thanking people for a great season, see you next year. 

At this moment, next year seems faraway though it’s not; it will be here before we have finished resting from this one. 

We still have Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Christmas in Edgartown, Christmas itself, New Year’s, all ahead of us before the sublime quiet of January, when the Vineyard goes to rest, everything seemingly folding into itself, the days short in every sense.  The bookstore is open from 10 to 5, almost not working at all it feels, thinking back on the twelve + hour days worked back in the 80’s, 90’s and the aughts.

I was younger then.

As I write, Chopin plays.  He has become my composer of choice for quiet, contemplative moments, of which there are many these days.

Today, November 8th, is election day, the dreaded mid-terms – generally, a referendum on whoever is currently sitting in the White House though this is such a mixed year who knows where it will go.  Roe v Wade has been overturned and many, many are unhappy. 

Despite his uncharismatic persona, Joe Biden has actually done a decent job but the collateral damage of the pandemic, with its disruptions of all kinds to the supply chain, which he can’t fix overnight, the war in Ukraine [kudos to Biden and team for pulling the NATO alliance together to back that poor country] has caused a global food crisis as Ukraine supplies a huge amount of grain to the world and as the war is wreaking havoc with energy supplies, weaponized by Putin.  China’s zero covid policy has shuttered plants; the world’s manufacturer has slowed deliveries of everything from computer chips to toys. 

Inflation has resulted. Biden’s being blamed.  The supply chain crisis began under Trump, who takes no responsibility for anything, anytime.

Chopin is playing because I am frightened.  If the Republicans win, we are in for a world of trouble, IMHO [in my humble opinion], as I have no idea what any of these people stand for except more NO.

Unless I have missed it, I don’t hear any constructive Republican plans to tackle inflation – it’s all about how Biden has not succeeded in taming it, which he can’t.  That’s the Federal Reserve’s job and they’re doing what they do, raising interest rates, which may, may not, lead to a recession. 

Most people have forgotten the days when interest rates for mortgages were higher than now.  I do.  The first home I owned had an interest rate of 10.75%; my mortgage broker said it was the lowest she had closed in three weeks. That was 1985.

Lots of folks have been born since then, not remembering those difficult, brittle days in the much-glorified presidency of Ronald Reagan, whose trickledown economics have been slavishly followed by Republicans since then, to no good end. It’s a failed policy. Period.

Today is Election Day and will likely herald in a time of discord – at least a hundred Republicans running for office have not committed to accepting the results of the election.  Half the Republican candidates are election deniers.  

It will take weeks to count some of the mail-in ballots, particularly in states that have prevented them from being counted prior to today.

Republicans are steering themselves away from the center, driving hard to the right, lionizing Viktor Orban of Hungary, dictator in all but name, who calls for “Christian Democracy.” Marjorie Taylor Greene swooned over the election of the rightist Meloni in Italy.  Wisconsin has been gerrymandered to the Republicans.  

Trump will probably announce his re-election campaign any day now, as much, in all likelihood, to make his growing legal issues more difficult to pursue by law officials. Mr. Trump has underscored his feud with Governor “De Sanctimonious.”

We are all but guaranteed a h*ll of a ride between now and 2024.

A crazed man mired in crazy conspiracy theories broke into the home of Nancy Pelosi, using a hammer on her husband’s head while asking where she was, threatening to break her kneecaps. 

Some Republicans, shamelessly, attempted to blame it on a lover’s quarrel, or a male prostitute trick gone bad.

Democrats can’t find a clear message to save their souls and Biden, poor chap, is no Obama or Kennedy in the eloquence category, nor is he a Clinton, who tripped himself up and out of being remembered as well as he should be.

Alas, Babylon. 

We are facing a tough time, folks.  Pray.  Hard.

Letter from the Vineyard 09 20 2022 Of travails, grief and mendacity…

September 20, 2022

Photo Courtesy of Paul Doherty

Letter from the Vineyard

September 20, 2022

Of travails, grief and mendacity…

There have been a series of lovely late summer late days; warm enough to wear shorts, warm enough to savor everything about summer, not cool enough to turn one to thoughts of fall, not quite yet.

July 24th, I left the store, developed a stomachache, woke the next morning, exhausted, thinking Covid had felled me, moved by Tuesday to fevers and chills, phoned my brother, the doctor, who advised: emergency room.

An inflamed gallbladder, gallstones and pancreatitis is what ailed me.

I was bundled onto a helicopter, flown to Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, where a swarm oversaw the beginning of a four day stay, the Friday removal of my gallbladder, days with three intravenous tubes in my arms, potassium, antibiotics, saline solution, the constant beep of machines, electronic insects surrounding me with their noise, the Friday removal of my gallbladder.

Here I am, six weeks later, mending, some post-op bloodwork wonky, so more tests though I am, I hope, on the final upswing out of this.

The world has continued while I wrestled my health.

One day, Elizabeth II was greeting another Prime Minister, her fifteenth, then doctors were concerned; then she was gone, the diminutive woman who threw a huge shadow over the globe, a result of the history she carried into her reign and the personhood she projected into the world, a character of devotion to her role, one she inherited but to which she had not been born.  She became heir to the throne when her uncle Edward abdicated for Wallis Simpson, and her father came to wear the crown.

She held an amazing grip on us, all of us, in so many parts of the world.  The American flag flies at half mast, for 12 days, longer than for any other foreign leader.  We mourn her.

My dear friend Nick, an Englishman, has lived here for 13 years, went home for the Queen’s funeral, wanting to share in the common grief of his nation.  Elizabeth had been on the throne all his life.

The line to walk past her casket was five miles long, five miles of humanity, waiting as much as 20 hours for a glimpse of the casket.  Soccer superstar David Beckham waited 13 hours to pay his respects. The queen’s children have stood vigil, as have her grandchildren.

There was a live feed available from the BBC to see the throngs passing her coffin, some crying, many bowing their heads, some doing a curtsy, often a slightly dazed look on their faces, disbelieving the Queen is no more.

All seemed a fitting send off for a woman who, regardless of our nationality, was an individual to whom we all seemed to feel some sense of fealty. On our shelves rests a book, “Queen of Our Time,” about Elizabeth.  When one heard “the queen” one knew it was Elizabeth.

She was sent off with all the pomp and ceremony Britain could muster, things of which they are masters.  She now rests next to Philip, at Windsor. 

As the queen moves into history, history is being made on the battlefields of eastern Ukraine, with Ukraine’s counteroffensive having broken the Russian lines, sending demoralized Russian soldiers scrambling, some back into Russia, some stealing civilian clothes in which to disguise themselves while fleeing.

Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida, deposited 55 Venezuelan refugees here, which resulted in the island quickly assembling the resources to accommodate them while more permanent places could be found.  My church, St. Andrew’s, became their home, the Fire Department brought cots, clothes were gathered, food was prepared, the island found itself with an emergency, handled it.

Our efforts were met, of course, with trolls.  A plane circled the Vineyard Monday, trailing a sign: Vineyard Hypocrites.  The bookstore, along with other businesses, received phone calls berating the Vineyard, its efforts, the fact the refugees have been transferred to Joint Base Cape Cod where there are better facilities, housing organized for soldiers and their families, used also for refugees from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The number of people working to get to United States, or striving to get to the EU, or into Britain, reflects a global crisis.  The Venezuelans who arrived here were fleeing the desperate conditions in their country, walking for months to get somewhere safe. 20% of Venezuela’s population is on the move, refugees from the Maduro regime and the crushing conditions in that country.

And the numbers will grow as climate change continues to exact its toll on countries like Pakistan, much of which has been a lake these last weeks because of flooding.

Trump’s mendacity continues, spiraling some days toward a kind of Shakespearean madness, though some days the sound is only whining self-delusion, a narcissist denied. He is never, ever truthful.  At a recent rally in Ohio, he appeared to be playing to the QAnon crowd, which is frightening. 

The MAGA sycophants cause me to curdle. Some Republican candidates will not commit to accepting the results of the election if they are declared losers.  Thank you, Mr. Trump, for helping upend our democracy.  If not for you…

Alas, Babylon.

Alas, the decline of the Republican Party into this hot mess of mendacity.

I like that word, lying mixed with hypocrisy, which is now the defining quality of the Grand Old Party.  A registered Republican, I voted for a centrist in the primary, who lost to a MAGA man.

Lincoln would weep.  Eisenhower would weep.  Hell, even Nixon would weep.

Letter from the Vineyard

July 19, 2022

Written July 9th

The past is not the present…

Photo courtesy of Paul Doherty

The morning has broken, Vineyard beautiful, a soft wind blowing, sun licking the waters at Oak Bluffs, where I wait for the first ferry of the day, going off island to attend a memorial service for Bill McCormick, the youngest of the McCormick siblings, with whom I grew up in Minneapolis, whose lives have threaded with mine for all the many years since then.

         Of late, I have found myself wrapping the beauty of the island around me as a protective cloak, as if it were my Cloak of Invisibility, not making me invisible but making the world outside invisible.

         One day, as I was prepping to leave for the bookstore, I was opening the windows to let in the day’s fresh air.  A doe was in my yard, she looked up and for some minutes we stared into each other’s eyes, as if seeking to understand the other.  Her dark brown eyes, luminescent in the morning light, will not be forgotten.

         Returning from errands in Vineyard Haven one day, I stopped at State Beach, spent a few minutes, watching the waves, the ocean immutable.

         Waking one morning in the pre-dawn hours, I lay in my bed and watched the black silhouettes of trees sway in the light wind against a pearl grey sky, until I drifted back into the arms of Morpheus.

The 4th of July parade in Edgartown was the longest and the loudest in my memory, albeit I have only seen a few. It was pure, unabashed Americana, bringing laughter to my lips.  Omar, who is working in the store, a Moroccan studying at the American University of Bulgaria, first time in America, stood on our porch, mouth agape at the small-town pageantry of fire trucks, marching bands, homemade floats, beautiful young people tossing candy at the crowd.

Tears edged my eyes as the special needs campers of Jabberwocky were pushed up Main Street in their wheelchairs. 

Tom Dresser, Vineyard historian, in his antique Jeep rolled by the store, two delighted youngsters in the back seat, waving madly at the crowds.  It was a day made for a Disney movie, bright, warm but not too warm, sun kissed, wind blessed.

         All this beauty has been my comfort as I view the world off island, seeming to grow in darkness by the day, punctuated by dire events, both natural and unnatural.

         The west is a tinderbox, forest fires have consumed New Mexico, wildfires and earthquakes beleaguer Afghanistan, beautiful Sydney drowns, Europe swelters, Spain burns, Ukraine’s war rages.  The list goes on – and on.

         A young man [so many young men] walked into a school in Uvalde, Texas, snuffed out the lives of 21 human beings, 19 children just beginning, while the police hesitated.

         Since then, there have been more mass shootings; last count I remember there have been over 250 this year, more than one a day.  

         Roe v Wade, has fallen, slain by the conservative Supreme Court.

         Every woman I know [and I admit I do not know anyone who is celebrating the fall of abortion] is in a kind of mourning, not just that abortion is gone as a legal right across the land but feeling gender equality has been more diminished. 

         In the weeks since I have last written, words feeling stopped since the horror of the Ukrainian war began, we have seen our last president, if not actively plotting a coup, attempting to disrupt the peaceful transition of power that has been a hallmark of our democracy, refusing to concede an election he clearly lost, to this day declaring it “the big lie.” 

         It is profoundly disturbing.  Trump’s mendacity is spectacular.

         The degree to which Republicans have embraced “the big lie” is beyond disturbing.  As a registered Republican, [something I did when I registered here as a voter, a socially liberal, fiscally conservative voter, a pre-Reagan kind of Republican, which is a very small minority within the Republican party] I watch with dismay at what is happening.  

Anyone who doesn’t support Trump and his “big lie” is a RINO, a Republican in Name Only whereas I, from my minority seat, think anyone who supports Trump is a RINO, having abandoned the principles of the Republican Party.

         This drift began with Reagan, as Republicans cozied up to Evangelical Christians to win elections.  Now it’s a party more than flirting with white/Christian nationalism, making brazen attempts to subvert elections.

         These things have made me fearful.  They have also made me more engaged.  

         It took forty years for the right to subvert the Republican party; it may take forty years to restore it.  

         Every journey begins with a first step.

Letter from the Vineyard 05 05 2022

May 5, 2022
Courtesy of Paul Doherty

Outside, grey descends, rain portending, after a sun filled, almost warm spring day.  The grey fits my mood; I am not cheerful these days.  Chopin plays often in the background of my life, soothing if melancholy, which seems right for these fraught times.  We need soothing and the times are melancholy, if not worse.

In an “egregious” leak, it appears the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, a decision with all kinds of potential repercussions.  Gay marriage could go, other things, too.  While shocked, I am not surprised.  One pundit on the right said something like:  the chaos that was Trump was worth it for this.  It was all about the judges for some.

The war in Ukraine rages, changing the global dynamic in ways unexpected on all fronts.  We are in uncharted territory.  There are echoes of Spain in the 1930’s though it is possible this time the Fascists won’t win but is it a prelude to WW III, or has it already started; we just slow in noticing

Zelensky, the comedian, has proven himself the most unexpected leader of the time, an inspiration, a terrible annoyance to Herr Putin, who did not expect Ukraine to have a backbone nor an army who could fight back or a population who felt fiercely enough about their nationality to resist.

Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, claims NATO is fighting a proxy way in Ukraine without acknowledging there would be no war if Russia had not invaded. He says nuclear war is possible though Russia does not want it. He wants us to know they can, they might, if they do not get what they want.

Poland, who has warmly welcomed Ukrainian refugees and supported Ukraine has had the Russian natural gas spigot turned off, as has Bulgaria, because they will not pay in rubles the given reason; their support for Ukraine the real one.  Russia is beginning to use its great tool, energy, against those who support their feisty object of desire.  I suspect it will not work out as well as Putin thinks.

And against the backdrop of the Ukrainian war with the specter of Roe v. Wade being overturned, I have allowed myself to acknowledge how effing mad I am at the Republican Party.  I want to be a Republican, in fact, I am registered as one though I’m not nor ever could be a Trump thumping Republican.  I am effing mad because the Republican party no longer bears a resemblance to what I once knew, respected. It will not be again, at least in my lifetime.  I’ve surrendered to its death.  The Republican Party began to desert people like me back in the Reagan days, when it began making deals with the Christian Right to wind its way to power.

I have, we all have, friends who were Republicans long before this current mess who have become supporters of Trump. I don’t understand it.  All these people, Trump, DeSantis, Marjorie Taylor Greene, etc. are not Republicans as I understand Republicans.

The Republican Party of my father and my Uncle Joe, who was a father figure to me, is gone.

The Republicans of today have no resemblance to the Republican party I knew and which, somehow, I hoped would arise again once Trump was defeated. 

This “Republican Party” is dangerous, fascist, seeking to kill dialogue, stop everything they don’t agree with, kill free dialogue, repress books, freedom of expression, hurt me, an old gay man who thought we were moving into a better time and am now afraid, again, not so much for myself, sequestered as I am, mostly, on a liberal speck of land in the ocean, old, not too far from the grave, but for those who are young, who will be battered by these folks who want the country to continue to be run by old, white “Christian” men, who do not want to face the wretchedness that slavery has caused over the last four hundred years, who see nothing wrong in squishing anyone who is ‘other.’

After writing the above, I found this article in the Washington Post, echoing me, read it here.

We have not had this much income inequality since the Gilded Age.  It is more than worrisome.  We march toward the point when revolutions begin or dictators take control, or a Teddy Roosevelt arises, galvanizes a country, makes changes.

While I am absorbing these things, revelations abound of members of Congress and government who worked to keep Trump in power.  The malevolence and mendacity of January 6th grows.

I am concerned the fundamentals of our democracy are more threatened than they have been in my lifetime, perhaps in several lifetimes.

Let’s do something about it in November.

Letter from the Vineyard 30 March 2022 Let us do some thinking…

March 30, 2022

War in Ukraine” by tkachukphoto is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

Letter from the Vineyard

March 30th, 2022

Let us do some thinking…

Upon waking, several times since I last wrote, I have looked out, found fog lilting through the still barren branches of trees in my yard, eerie, echoing English mysteries, morning island magic, the stuff of dreams, encouraging one to imagine, to settle into comforting thoughts while sipping morning coffee. It has been luscious.

         This past Monday, the day dawned clear, sparkling though deeply chilly, a bright Vineyard winter morn as Persephone works her way from the underworld to the surface.  

It was an easy day, store closed, a morning Zoom with a young friend in Mexico City, bringing internet to those who have never had it, contemplating marriage and fatherhood, a role Isaac will fill well.  It caused me a smile when we closed down the Zoom, thinking him a father.

         Lunch followed at the home of a friend, making wraps, talking, catching up on all the little things in between then and now.  

         One of the things we discussed was we’d both taken a break from the news for the last couple of days.  

         It’s bleak out there.

         The Russians are pummeling the Ukrainians and are being pummeled back by the country they invaded, winning the Academy Award for most plucky nation since Britain in World War II, which still had an Empire behind it. 

         Russian troops are using open channels for communications [because their encrypted devices aren’t working] which then are being jammed by Ukrainians who break in once in a while to tell the Russians to go home before they become fertilizer.  

Russian logistics seem broken, their soldiers dying, some deserting, knowing they can never go home, all of which creates fear Putin will pull out “strategic” nuclear weapons to break the log jam.  

         American evangelicals are saying Ukrainian events are the beginnings of the end times, which have been foretold so many times in my lifetime, I have lost count.  Though this is as scary as the Cuban missile crisis when my father had to calm down a very scared little boy who thought the world was about to end.  

         Because I remember what it was to be a scared little boy, Edgartown Books is collecting money for a literacy foundation in Poland which is providing books in Ukrainian for the approximately one million Ukrainian refugee children there.  

In 1962, books were a comfort to me; this seemed a very bookstore kind of thing for us to do.  If you want to give, click here. Let them know, please, it was Edgartown Books sent you their way.

         A Federal judge has said Trump “more likely than not” committed crimes in his efforts to overturn the election even as Trump continues to thump his chest at rallies, while declaring Putin “smart.” 

Logs handed over to the House Committee show a more than seven-hour gap in his phone logs on January 6th. I accept that about as much as I did Rose Mary Woods and her 18-minute gap in the Watergate tapes. 

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark…”

SCOTUS Judge Clarence Thomas’ wife encouraged Mark Meadows to fight to keep Trump in office, which has resulted in calls for him to recuse himself from anything to do with that day.

         Speaking of SCOTUS, the Senate hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson were an embarrassment for both parties, Republicans especially.  Josh Hawley, you have earned Big Daddy’s [“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”] award for mendacity.  

Lindsey Graham, when did you check your intelligence at the door?  

And Ted Cruz, fresh from having law enforcement called on him at a Montana airport [“Don’t you know who I am?”], has propelled Ibram X. Kendi’s book, “Anti-Racist Baby” back onto the bestseller’s list with his asking is a baby racist?

There are no kudos for the Democrats either, except, perhaps, Cory Booker, who acknowledged what a show it was.  And confirmations have been a show since Clarence Thomas.  Have we come full circle?

And, at the end of the day, it all circles back to Ukraine, where there is a real war with real human suffering, capturing our attention, reminding us of horror in a way nothing has, not Iraq, not Afghanistan, which should cause us to do some thinking.

See the photos:

War was not supposed to happen in Europe again like this…

Letter from the Vineyard March 1, 2022 Realizing what matters…

March 2, 2022

As I have been sitting here, contemplating the world, determined to begin writing a ‘letter’ though taking a while to find the way from thinking to putting fingers to the keyboard, dusk has become night.  In the background, Chopin plays on Alexa, a composer I find soothing, playing him much these days when the need for soothing is so high.

I’m home from a day of “book mongering,” as my godson Paul calls what I do, a day that was good, inventory time.

Last Wednesday night, I opened my laptop to start writing and didn’t; the world was pregnant with grim possibilities, realized the following morning when Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, justifying it with the most specious of reasons while warning the west if they defied him, he might rain nuclear hell on us.

Last night, I donated to Doctors Without Borders, a little more than I can really afford, because I know they are there, working to help.  Please do something, anything, to support Ukraine. It’s more important than a new sweater.

Out of this are coming stories, evoking memories of other moments of great bravery.  A Russian warship approached Snake Island, demanding its surrender.  The contingent of Ukrainian soldiers, a mere thirteen, responded, “Russian warship, go f**k yourself.”

Those words will resonate for a long, long time.

Zelensky, president of Ukraine, is a former comedian who played a president.  When offered evacuation by the US, he said, “I need ammunition, not a ride.”

These are stories that remind one of World War II, of England, when it was bleakest.

Germany, whose stance has been a bit wobbly, responded with a rush of military aid, upping the ante in the last few days, agreeing to increase its defense commitment to above what NATO requests, a first.

What is going on in Ukraine is a reminder that democracy is worth fighting for.  Ukraine is fighting for its right to be free from a man who is attempting to rebuild the Russian Empire, to wrest back what was once controlled by the USSR or by the Tsars.  He controls the news the way they did.  Nothing is said without his permission. 

Putin rules Russia with the iron fist of a Stalin or Alexander III.  And has their kind of ambitions for his country.  He seethes with resentment over the breakup of the USSR.  He sees Ukraine as Russia’s, which is a simplification of a long history of the country.  I suspect that’s the way he sees Poland, Latavia, Estonia, Lithuania.  He has warned Finland, a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire under the Tsars, not to think about joining NATO. 

Putin wants it all back.

We all thought we were beyond this but we’re not.

What also is frightening are people like Tucker Carlson, who, by the way, knows better but panders to the crowd, saying things like, well, what has Putin done to you?  He has been so outrageous one might wonder if he is on Putin’s dole.

Or how about former President Trump who calls Putin “smart” and “savvy,” encouraging his base to side with Putin in this conflict?  This is a sad, sad commentary, reflecting how far the Republican Party has strayed from its roots under the guidance of Trump.

There has always been a part of America which has yearned for dictatorial rule [reference the Madison Square Garden gathering in 1939 of the Bund, an American Nazi coalition].

Ukraine is reminding us, if we are willing to be reminded, of how important freedom is.  Ukraine is reminding the European Union it is fighting for their ideals.

As I send this, a forty-mile-long caravan of Russian military vehicles crawls toward Kyiv, while rocket attacks hit the city center. Kharkov is being shattered by Russian missiles.But the Ukrainians are fighting back with ferocity, shocking the Russians, driving Putin to distraction as his forces have failed to bulldoze over a country he thought would topple in a minute.

It hasn’t. 

Zelensky is the Churchill of the hour.

God’s speed, Ukraine.

I will do what I can to stand with you.

Letter from the Vineyard February 1st, 2022 Fresh fallen snow should remind…

February 1, 2022
If Edgartown Books is closed, it’s because Mathew can’t get out of his driveway…

Letter from the Vineyard

February 1st, 2022

Fresh fallen snow should remind…

            From my living room window, on the 29th, I looked out to trees, a clump of holly bushes, all dappled with white, the wind blowing the still falling snow horizontally to the window, some of my windows whited out by clinging snow; ten to twelve inches, at least, sat on the patio table. 

            A nor’easter, a bombogenesis, a storm for the books, roared onto the island during the night.  Before leaving the store on Friday evening, I left the sign above on the door in case it became the day it did become.  I didn’t attempt to leave my driveway.  From my vantage spot just out my door, it didn’t look like anyone attempted leaving their drives either – Hamblen Way was unmarked by vehicles.

            Gave me a day to cuddle into the house, do a load of laundry between power surges, listen to music when the internet was up and revel in silence when it was down, to have a couple of good phone conversations, read a couple of magazines, cook myself a simple meal, pull something from the freezer for dinner Sunday, do a little thinking, moments not often found when the world hasn’t stopped.

            The world hadn’t stopped anywhere but here, in my little corner of it, giving me a chance to catch up on it.

            Ukraine’s president urges the US to tamp down its war talk about Russia invading his country, while Russia is stockpiling blood near Ukraine’s border. It seems to me, Putin is attempting to reassemble the Tsarist Empire or the Soviet one, wanting everyone to know he is a big deal.

            Caused me to ponder why Xi, Putin and everyone who runs a country won’t start thinking less about territorial ambitions and more about human needs?  I know, I know…

            Boris Johnson is still Prime Minister.  Will he be by week’s end?  Let the betting pools begin. Oh, wait, they already have!

            While I watched the snow fall, my stomach did too, as there seems to be a new Omicron variant at play, more virulent than this one.  At my age, I suspect I’ll be wearing a mask until I meet my maker.  For those who take covid seriously, there is a sense of following on in the British tradition of “Keep Calm, Carry On,” with our N95 masks rather than gas masks.

            Anti-vaxxers are as virulent and vocal as they’ve been, which means quite virulent and very vocal.  Robert Kennedy, Jr.? Really.  Well, the performance of a parent isn’t always a good predictor of the behavior of a child.

            As I watched the snow swirl, I read it was expected Tom Brady would retire after 22 seasons.  Or not. While not a member of the cult of football, I am respectful he is one of the greatest athletes of our times. 

            Judge Breyer is retiring from the Supreme Court.  Let the games begin. 

            And while watching the snow swirl, fall, blow, accumulate, I thought of long-ago Minnesota winters. During one, my 7th grade year, in the weeks after my father had died, my friend of longest standing, Sarah, showed up at our backdoor one night, her brother John in tow, to get me out sledding.  It had been a hard day.  Sister Jeron, our Benedictine nun teacher, had whacked me with a Gregorian Hymnal for what I thought was no good reason during the school day. 

I can still see Sarah’s face in the storm door glass, white snow glistening outside, the silence of an evening after fresh fallen snow. We sledded my pain away.

Such was my Saturday night, filled with the silence of fresh fallen snow, my immediate world quieted by necessity while beyond this world, the madding crowds were doing their worldly work, mucking up the planet with wars, rumors of wars, politics and punditry, grift and greed, plundering, pillaging, literally, figuratively, flaunting the rules one has made [Boris?], spying, being spied upon, all the messy things humans do and who should be reminded not to do them when contemplating the perfect purity of fresh fallen snow.

Letter from the Vineyard January 10th, 2022 Huddled and cuddled…

January 10, 2022

Photo courtesy of Paul Doherty

Letter from the Vineyard, January 10, 2022

Huddled and cuddled…

The island is huddled down these January days, snow fell last Thursday, mixed with rain, made a mess of the day, stores didn’t open as shoppers weren’t shopping, though the bookstore was open for the five people who came in, looking for books and such.  

Covid cases are at an all-time high, more people reporting positive in the last month than in all the time since Covid began, right here in River City.

            The anniversary of January 6th is now in the rearview mirror.  I listened to President Biden when I went to the post office, staying in my car to listen.  My ears couldn’t believe what they were hearing – Biden denouncing Trump while never saying the name.  Good on you, Joe.  Good on you.

            Thank you for calling out your predecessor for his unprecedented actions.  His refusal to accept his defeat has tainted democracy at home and abroad.  

The storming of the Capitol will be remembered in the history books of the distant future as an important moment in the story of our country, a moment from which our country will move in one direction or another.

Here on the ground of the history being made we don’t know what direction it is going to take.  We are watching it unfold and it’s not looking terribly promising from where I am sitting.

Despite all those “audits” not one substantive shred of evidence of mass manipulation of votes has been found though we have discovered a couple of instances of voters in The Villages in Florida who double voted for Trump.

            How is it that Donald Trump, fodder for the tabloids, reality TV star [the proceeds from which, by the way, probably kept the House of Trump from falling in on itself] has managed to be the person to almost break American democracy?  That, in itself, says some not very good things about where we are.

            In the meantime, I am here, huddled and cuddled on the Vineyard, doing my best not to become a Covid statistic, writing with my laptop on my lap, sipping a martini and relishing the joys of island life.

            While I write I am listening to Big Band Jazz, the glow of my Christmas tree, soon to be gone, shines.  

It was not the Christmas I imagined as I had planned to be in D.C. with my nephew of choice, Kevin, his wife, and his mother, who is my oldest friend, her husband, etc.

            But I chickened out, looking at photos of Logan airport, which I would have had to traverse, was too much.  I canceled, hid out at home, alone, made a wonderful pot roast in my new Dutch oven [thank you Joe and Deb], watched some video, held the world at bay.

            It’s what we’re doing these days, holding the world at bay while attempting to live our lives, best we can.  I had a five-minute panic attack [thank you, God, only five minutes] over the holidays because every day I am in the store, interacting with people.  

            But then think of all the people in the medical profession, many of whom have reached a breaking point after two years of this.  Several friends in the medical profession vibrate with anger at the unvaccinated.  I understand. 

            Part of what our former president wrought.  And, apparently, can’t undo.  When he told a crowd at an event with Bill O’Reilly he had been vaccinated and boosted, they booed.  

My god, what a different story it would have been if Trump had acted presidential when Covid marched onto our shores.  But that is not what happened.  Instead, we have more recorded deaths than any other country on earth.

            And that, too, will be covered in those history books in the distant future when most of us will be distant memories, if remembered at all.  

In the meantime, in the lovely third act of my life, I run a bookstore in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard.  Not a bad third act at all.

Letter from the Vineyard 12 10 2021

December 13, 2021

Lusciously contemplating a winter of discontent…

A body of water with buildings along it

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The harbor at Vineyard Haven, 12 09 2021, photo by MJT

Letter from the Vineyard 12 09 2021

Lusciously contemplating a winter of discontent…

It has been a luscious day of getting errands run, a flu shot obtained, laundry picked up, a lazy brunch at the Little House Café on State Road, a haircut, returning to the smell of a pot roast slowly cooking in the Dutch Oven presented to me by my brother and sister-in-law as a house warming present, sitting on the living room sofa, lapping up back issues of the Vineyard Gazette and MV Times which had piled up while too busy doing other things.  A day away from the bookstore, well spent.

It has been a time since I’ve written a letter, a period filled with events, packed with passages.  It appears I am here, probably for the duration.  The housewarming present was triggered by my purchase of a home on the Vineyard, not too far from the bookstore, especially in the off-season months [we’ll see how navigating the Triangle goes come summer].  It is a Vineyard Saltbox, two bedrooms, two baths, an office, a basement, a great room that hosts the living room, dining, and kitchen areas, a loft space destined to hold my books, nestled back from a little dirt road, hidden a bit from the world – I can look out my windows, see no one else.  Outside the front window is a holly bush, the largest I recall.  I am at home.

Since last I wrote, the house was purchased, I had cataract surgery on my left eye [the right one was done 5 years ago], moved into the house [with relative ease as I purchased it furnished] had Thanksgiving at the Keene Farm, the miracle of a place crafted by my friend Larry, hosted in the loft space above one of the barns, splendidly prepped and served by Lizzy, Larry’s daughter, surrounded by the core group with whom I have had Thanksgiving for most of the last twenty years. It felt sweet.

In a necessary nod to the times, heading into another Covid winter, we all took quick result Covid tests before joining the festivities.  We were all negative.  If it had been different, it would be “you are welcome but not allowed” The stakes were too high with at least two guests immunocompromised. 

This flurry of events would be enough to cause a pause in my exegesis of life though that wasn’t all of it.  

My weariness and wariness of the world has grown since last I wrote, finding myself worn by the last five years, saying last night to my friend Michael, a high school friend whose renewal of our friendship as we march through our third acts has brightened my life, that I am more troubled by events in the body politic since the Viet Nam era.

At the store one day, I picked up Jill Lepore’s “These Truths: A History of the United States,” a work to help me find context for what is happening, not to mention our history has had a share of would-be despots [Andrew Jackson comes to mind].  I desperately need context to hold on to hope we will navigate this divide, feeling as if I am sometimes watching our democracy fray in front of my eyes.

Not to mention we are living through a pandemic, witnessing the relentless effects of climate change, while Russia is massing troops at Ukraine’s borders, as China is determined to be a nuclear power while practicing genocide against the Uyghurs, silencing a leading female sports star for exposing sexual assault by a Communist Party leader, relentlessly attempting to control virtually every act of its populace.

“Now is the winter of our discontent” opens Shakespeare’s RICHARD III, an allusion to a temporary state before a restoration of peace and joy.  

This feels like the winter of my discontent, a restless, wary, worried feel about the drift of events happening not just here but everywhere, with hope it is just a transitory state as we work our way to the spring of our hope, struggling to find equilibrium.  It is what I will pray for come Sunday, and every day while I still live, sensing it will take longer than I have this side of paradise to work through all this.