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Letter from the Vineyard 30 June 2021 As if almost normal…

June 30, 2021
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It is a quiet Vineyard morning, broken only by the soft cooing of birds outside my window, the rustling of tree leaves in the gentle wind.  The weather is golden, promising sun and warmth; beaches will be swarmed.

It’s the end of June [how did it get to be the end of June 2021?], next weekend is the 4th of July; the island is already bursting with people, whose pent-up energy to be out and about fills the streets with palpable energy.  The bookstore is thronged.

It’s a Wednesday, and on Tuesdays and Wednesdays I am officially “off” though rarely completely so.  In the wild thrash that is this Vineyard summer of 2021, books need to be ordered every day and I am the book buyer of record.  

The other day I was up by 6:30, papers spread all around me, ordering books, happy as a clam.  It is good at my age to have intellectual demands made of me.

Like most Main Street businesses, Edgartown Books is busier than ever as the country comes sweeping out of its Covid lockdown, people more than ready to feel free once again, travel again, be in a bookstore again.  The yearning for physical books to hold, read, love is tangible as folks wander, looking for the right read for this new time.  “People We Meet on Vacation,” by Emily Henry, is the paperback beach read of choice.  Though weightier tomes like Walter Issacson’s “The Code Breaker,” are doing better than I would have thought.

It is a summer, understandably, when people just want to breathe, feel normal, act normally, live without hiding behind a mask, to celebrate victory over a pandemic that has held us in its thrall for sixteen months, grateful for vaccines setting us free.

Sometimes, standing on the generous porch at the bookstore, I watch the crowds go by, laughing, jostling, embracing, enjoying, licking ice cream cones, or spooning cups of it, almost all mask less.  But every tenth person or so is still hidden behind one, reminding us it is not all normal out there.

While we party, the Delta variant is wreaking havoc on the unvaccinated; even some who have been vaccinated, though the current crop of vaccines, a medical and scientific miracle in the speed with which they came to be in our arms, seem to be effective in preventing us from getting too sick or dying.

Down in the south, where vaccination resistance has been highest, the Delta variant is causing fresh anguish.  Republicans have shown the most resistance to vaccination. The former president, who has been vaccinated since January, has ignored appeals to encourage his followers to get “the jab,” as Brits call it.

This morning I read that traffic to news sites of all flavors of political persuasion has dropped precipitously since Mr. Trump left office, with the greatest drop amongst right leaning sites.  People of a liberal persuasion seem universally relieved to not hear the Trump drumbeat at every turn; I suspect some of conservative leanings feel the same, if not so vocal about it.

Let us remember, he is not gone.  Recently he journeyed to Ohio, met by thousands of breathless followers, who believe he is still president, many believing in Q-Anon; we’re really run by an elite group of pedophiles, and Trump really won in 2020.  While mind boggling, it is the truth for many Americans and that solid, stolid belief poses a challenge and a threat to the fabric of our country.

Obama has called it, “hooey,” but it is hooey a significant minority of Americans believe.

God save us.

In the meantime, my second cup of coffee is nearly gone, Big Band Jazz is playing.  I’m off to enjoy this brilliant Vineyard day, away from the bookstore [a bit].  With book buying to be done, I think I’ll find a spot with leafy shade, close enough Wi-Fi will work, do my ordering while sipping a glass of something cool.

“Martha’s Vineyard – Massachusetts” by David Berkowitz is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Letter From the Vineyard May 17, 2021 Lest we forget…

May 17, 2021
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Picture courtesy of Paul Doherty

Letter from the Vineyard

May 17, 2021

Let us not forget…

It is spring on the Vineyard, days have ricocheted between beautiful and sullen, though the last four days have been impeccable in their beauty — warm, succulent, island basking in springtime beauty, perfect Vineyard days, low 70’s, blue skies, sun kissed moments.  Friday, I walked out onto the store’s porch, looked up Main Street, traffic seemed like July.  Mask guidelines have been revised by the CDC, setting vaccinated people free from masks, though state guidelines vary, including those in Massachusetts.  Just more confusion in a confusing time. 

            Giddiness is in the air.  We feel we’re turning a corner, moving back to normality.  Grandparents rush to see grandchildren not on Zoom but in person. The bookstore is filled with folks who have come to the island for a respite, from Boston, New York, Washington, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut. It’s a place to which they could drive and a place that felt different.

            The island is coming to life. Flowers are beginning to bloom, trees budding green, smiles everywhere; we feel hope.

This is my second spring on the Vineyard, settling in, I guess, long term, a thought which makes me smile, unexpected, a playful thing the universe has done.

            Some friends feel I am living their dream, on the Vineyard, running a bookstore. Who knew so many media mavens had this fantasy?  Certainly I didn’t, until I was here; heard a chorus of colleagues say loudly: you are living my dream!

            The reality, of course, is a bit more complex. 

Currently, I seem to be the person people come to when they can’t find some book — the difficult to find, the out of print, the book which is only sold in Ireland. In most cases I can find what’s being sought.  It’s a pleasant challenge.

            Back in America, the world is riven. Liz Cheney, the oh so conservative Liz Cheney, was stripped of her position as third most powerful Republican in the House because she refuses to acknowledge that Trump didn’t lose, that the election wasn’t fairly won by Biden.  

            As someone who grew up in a Republican household, I have watched, with growing appall, as Republicans slowly swerved away from reality beginning with the election of Reagan, reaching near complete reality denial under Trump. 

Who are these people who profess “The Big Lie,” that somehow Trump won the election?  They now seem to own the Republican party.  Non-Trump Republicans are wrestling for the soul of the party, saying they will form a third party if the Republican Party does not repudiate Trump, which I doubt will happen.

            As I stare out into the almost preternatural beauty of the world blossoming green, the word on the climate change front is dire.  Each day these past weeks, there seems to be a new story warning us climate change is here; we have moved from theoretical to reality.

            Laurie David, Californian and Vineyarder, has written a new book, “Imagine It: A Handbook for a Happier Planet,” chockablock with ways to do something practical to make a difference.  It’s become a favorite of mine.  I interviewed her for the store’s Facebook page.  If you’re interested, you can see it here:

            It made me think we need a handbook for a happier political environment. The planet is toxic, and certainly the political environment here is, as in the U.K., India, other countries toxified, so much so we are not wrong to fear for democracy’s future.  

It is a fragile thing, strained here by four years of Trump’s presidency, his ongoing refusal to acknowledge he lost the election.  It is strained in India, where Modi presses down on truth.  Putin has returned Russia to the autocracy of the Tsars, even if he does not wear a crown.  Erdogan, Viktor Orban, the nascent German Far Right…

            Let us, in this glorious spring, in our celebration of a receding pandemic, not fall asleep to the challenges we need to face.

Letter from the Vineyard March 17, 2021 Reflections…

March 18, 2021

There is, I think, for all of us, a moment when sometime around now a year ago, the pandemic became real.  Absolutely real.  For me, that moment was noon on St. Patrick’s Day, 2019 when Governor Charlie Baker ordered all non-essential businesses to close until further notice.  

            The bookstore was open until noon, the deadline, a few customers rushing in to get books; the previous Saturday had been a bit of a bustle, people sensing a lockdown coming, wanting some reading to get them through the few weeks we expected it to last.

            Closing the door of the store, being alone in that space, I remember touching the front door, leaning against it, as if it could impart to me some sense of what the future would bring. Alas, it had no wisdom for me, only a truth: customers would not be coming through it for an indeterminate amount of time.

            I went home and, as best I could, did what I could to keep Edgartown Books functioning.

My vagabond life helped me deal with the strangeness of it.  

Being thrown into a pandemic felt no stranger than arriving in Delhi at 3 AM, for the first time, descending in a 747 to a city glowing orange beneath, infused with the smell of burning rubber from tires smoldering, people huddled for warmth.  There are dozens of places I have arrived in life, a stranger, a thing to do, business of some kind, not knowing people, having to make a way.  Hello, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Taipei, Singapore, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Sydney, the list goes on…

            It became common to tell customers they could pick up their books behind the urn to the left of the front door, feeling I was directing them to a Cold War drop spot.  

Bringing books to people, some to the far reaches of the island, I began to learn my new island home. 

Some phone conversations went on longer than the bounds of commerce demanded; people needed connection, someone to chat books with them, to deal with something beyond the pandemic, married as it was to political disorder, every day feeling an assault on common sense. I treasure the memories of those conversations, raw, fragile, real, an unexpected connection with someone I might not have had if it weren’t for the need to bridge ourselves to moments of sense, solidity – a thing books gave us in 2020.

The book industry as a whole had a great year though not as great for independent bookstores.  The great beneficiaries of the uptick in reading were the giants, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  Independent bookstores were down though we were not down by much compared to some.  Nancy Gardella and the team at the Vineyard Chamber of Commerce led a charge to get folks to buy local.  It worked.  A tough year was mitigated by local support in the last quarter plus.  Thank you, Nancy, Aela and group!  

It was a strange, strange summer, one of masks, hand sanitizer, rubber gloves, plexiglass, limits on numbers of people in the store, of learning how to buy books, a thing I’d never done before, learning to love the art of it, always imperfect as is so much of life.

I was a stranger on this island, with a thing to do, run a bookshop, as I entered Covid quarantine, not sure I would survive, only knowing I had to put one foot in front of the other, with only the dimmest of promises of another side, as I have done so many times before.

Now double vaccinated, I wait with almost everyone for spring, the summer’s hope of some normality, if the variants don’t swirl out of control, resulting in another surge, such as cripples Europe as I type.  

We have learned lessons; not all pretty. We have seen the ripped seams of our society in stark detail, from police brutality, to income inequality, to our health care system nearly breaking down.  We’ve seen kindness – and cruelty.  

Gradually, we will emerge from this, find some kind of normal, perhaps in a small measure by the Fourth of July, a symbolically fitting moment.

Today’s killings in Atlanta underscore our need to heal so much. 

If we fail to address the issues, slip back into somnambulance, all this death and pain will have been for naught. We’re better than that.

Photo courtesy of Paul Doherty

Letter from the Vineyard 02 11 2021 Facing reality…

February 12, 2021

In the weeks since Christmas, I have wrapped myself in the barren beauty of the island, gaining solace from the assortment of wintry days, some sunny, some sullen, drives up and down the island, beginning to explore the place where I find myself living, having arrived for the summer in the spring of 2019, unsuspecting I’d now be facing the spring of 2021, still here.

The universe gifts us in surprising ways and the island has always been a surprising gift. The first time here, 2007, picking me up from the ferry, my friend Jeffrey said, welcome to “the land of off.”  And it was for me for all the years I visited them, before I came in 2016 to help with the bookstore.  Since then, it has been “the land of on.”

Photo courtesy of Paul Doherty

In 2018, I was muddled about the future, feeling rather like a muggle in a world of wizards.  Finally, in an effort to shrug off muggle feelings, I sold my home, sent my worldly possessions to fill the home of friends who had just purchased a large townhouse in Baltimore, set off for the Vineyard for the summer of 2018, the beginnings of what I had determined would be a vagabond old age.

It was, for a time.  

It has been a gift to be here, soothing in these stressful times, to focus on the bookstore, to have some purpose with the previous salve of travel denied me by a virus none suspected would upend the world; about one year ago the first case was diagnosed in the U.S.

What an extraordinary year this has been, a journey of wild proportions, on all fronts.

And in the last weeks, I have been clinging to the island’s beauty, immutable in the twists of time, as I have witnessed the most remarkable period in American history in my life. 

What a journey we have faced in the last weeks since Christmas.  While Trump continued to espouse his fallacies that the election was stolen from him, it seemed we were on the way to a smooth transition despite his unbased claims.

Then we found he was arm twisting Georgia’s Secretary of State to find him the votes he needed.  What?!  Senators and Congressmen intended to contest the Electoral College.  What?!

Then January 6th.  

Something feels altered.  

A mob descended on Congress, determined to interfere with the processes of American democracy, some intending to do physical harm to members of Congress, determined to prevent Joseph R. Biden become what he was, the legally elected next president of the United States.  Five people died, one stomped to death by the mob of which they were part.

Nothing like this has happened in my life. 

The President of the United States incited a mob to prevent him from being removed.

On January 20th, as Biden was progressing to inauguration, Proud Boys, Boogaloo Bois, QAnon believers, were waiting for Trump to declare martial law, cross the Rubicon, send in the troops to arrest Democrats or kill them, declare himself President for the next four years, perhaps for life.

It didn’t happen.  Proud Boys are denouncing Trump as weak. QAnon followers are in dismay, denial.

We need to be careful.  What if one day someone smarter, more determined than Trump, declares their defeat a farce, decides to cross the Rubicon, see what happens.

It is what Julius Caesar did.  Crossed the Rubicon. The Roman Republic fell.

Is it a wonder I revel in island winter beauty?

Biden has been inaugurated, a leveling hand on the throttles of government, Trump silenced by Twitter, rages, I’m sure, in Mar-A-Lago exile.  

The Republican party is torn, populists against the governing side, populists who give a standing ovation to the loathsome Marjorie Taylor Greene who has embraced QAnon with heart and soul, espouses violence against Democrats, believes California wildfires were started by a space-based laser funded by Jewish bankers.

What is frightening is she seems to be becoming the face of the Republican Party.  House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced in the summer QAnon had no place in his party; since January 6th he has claimed he doesn’t know what it is.  Mendacity.

Representative Cheney, who survived a movement to tumble her from a leadership position, has called for the Republican party to be the “party of truth.”

Good for her.  Though I fear the Republican party has a long way to go to become the party of truth when leaders like McCarthy forget the words they have spoken in an effort to pander to the political moment.  Trumpism was wounded by January 6th but it is not dead.

Historical similarities with tumbles toward Fascism abound. It is not enough to believe it couldn’t happen here.  Wishful thinking is not healthy in these strange, parlous times.

Trump’s second impeachment trial is in progress.  In all likelihood, it will fail as Republicans scurry “to move beyond” January 6th, afraid, too, in most cases to stand up to Trump who has cast his thrall across the Republican party, expanding its base to include some of the most deplorable [conscious word choice] individuals in our country, harboring the rot of white supremacism.

I have not been so politically angry since Nixon.

Yet, I am hopeful. In this strange time, hope endures. Biden plays a measured hand. The rot has been exposed; we’ll see who wins.  Vaccines have arrived; we will beat the variants, somehow.

We have seen the dark underbelly and must fight it lest we find ourselves in its thrall.  And I believe we will. 

Letter from the Vineyard 30 November 2020 Is Paris Burning?

December 1, 2020
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Letter from The Vineyard

30 November 2020

“Is Paris Burning?”

            Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Shopping Saturday, all in our rear view mirror, a Thanksgiving for most of us unlike any other, certainly for me, spent physically alone while connecting with a dazzling array of people, friends and family, people seen Zoom regularly, those I haven’t seen in years, all the while cuddled at home, cooking, sipping blanc de blanc, coffee, orange juice with the Vineyard resolutely grey, a constant drip of rain, mixed with momentary slashes.

            The island is cautious, cases up precipitously from earlier points; Edgartown and Tisbury Red Zones, the owner of Cronig’s returned from hospital in Boston just in time for the Great American Feast, to the relief of the island.  I don’t know him though admire his dedication to this place, the throwback feel of his store on State Road, shopped when I do runs to Lapel’s.

            When I discovered my traditional Thanksgiving would be missed, I grieved.

            Then I decided if I could not be physically with people, I would be by Zoom or FaceTime, the technological glue holding us together in pandemic separateness.  

            It was glorious; a morning visit with Matthew, Anne in D.C., noon coffee with Tory, Pam in Nashville, cooking prep, a Zoom with Nick over on the Cape, dashing across the country to Brentwood to “see” Medora and Henry, cooking prep, back to Nashville for Jerry and Gail, followed by a family Zoom of epic proportions, my two siblings, my brother’s children, their children.  I had not seen my brother’s Oregon grandchildren for years; they have grown into lovely young men and women.  It took me a moment to recognize Isabel and Clare, the twins, so transformed by time, now confident teens. FaceTime with Meryl and Ray, oh my!

My Thanksgiving was a tech extravaganza; at the end I was delighted, satisfied, grateful, having had a magnificent time when I had originally thought depression would ride shotgun.

            None of us discussed politics or pandemic; choosing to live in the warm bubble of the Thanksgiving moment, transformed this year to something new and different, gleaning all the happiness we could.

            For beyond our bubbles, the world is not a pretty place.

            While the stock markets break records, lines at food banks grow miles long.  Unemployment benefits will soon fall away for many; a dark winter in front of us, pandemic raging, hospitals stretched, the disease coming ever closer to us. 

            While hospitals are being overwhelmed, we can’t seem to agree masks are a good idea.

            Beyond the pandemic, we face political stress, a president who will not concede, fighting court battles with judges he appointed; rejected with scathing opinions; his appeals reflect the president’s long practice of believing if he says something is so, it will be so.

            He will step down if the Electoral College votes against him, holding hope, I suspect, his operatives will convince State Electors to vote for him, not Biden, as he is the “real winner.”

            We witness the sad spectacle of Giuliani, once “America’s Mayor,” now to be remembered for his embarrassing performances in support of Trump, including an ill-advised press conference at a Four Seasons Lawn and Care business, another during which he dripped something brown down his face.

            It seems Iraq is on high alert, fearing Trump will make some move against Tehran in his final days, to be fought on their soil.  

It appears he is rushing to cement his “legacy” of turning back environmental rules, making corporate pollution easier.

            Perhaps more myth than reality, German General von Cholitz disobeyed Hitler’s orders to destroy Paris as the Germans retreated.  “Is Paris Burning?” wired Hitler.  What is not myth, is our debt to individuals like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, and other Republican state officials who did their jobs honestly while undergoing severe pressure from the likes of Trump and Lindsey Graham, including death threats, to find fault with the electoral process.

            An Iranian nuclear scientist has been assassinated in Tehran, a move possibly limiting Biden’s options with Iran, a move suspected by some of Trump, in his White House bunker, ordering a scorched earth policy in his final days, his own way ordering Paris burned.

            This morning, watching daybreak, I offer a silent prayer of thanks to those who withstood pressure, and one of hope Trump will be surrounded by men like von Cholitz.

Letter from the Vineyard October 25, 2020 Staring into the winter to come…

October 25, 2020

Letter from the Vineyard

October 25, 2020

Staring down the winter to come…

A series of preternaturally beautiful days slipped away as blue skies grayed, in what seemed just a brief moment, while out running some errands, mostly for myself, a few for the store, as if the gods pulled a grey curtain across the world in one quick swoop of hand.

            Warm days, brilliant colors, a mix of warm and cool in one wind, all together the best Vineyard fall days, perfection you want to hold; our inability to do so a harbinger of our mortality, the lonely ache of being human, knowing nothing can be stopped from changing even if you want, as I did, with all my soul to hold on to the day, its beauty, the scent of fall, days not harboring the cold whispering of winter, just its own season, fall, complete, whole.

            In those two days of bucolic beauty, it seemed hard to think anything unpleasant could be happening anywhere; the Vineyard nestled securely in beauty, nothing out of order, people wandering, biking, walking dogs.  

Except everyone is in masks.

            Masks, the constant reminder nothing is fine right now.  One of my errands was to drop a couple of bags of food at St. Andrew’s for delivery to the Food Bank; my cupboards had been stuffed to overflow from pandemic buying to my usual habit of wondering as I am wandering the aisles of Cronig’s or Stop & Shop if I have this or that, decide I don’t, buy it, find three at home. 

            Hard to believe on a jeweled day on the island there are those who might be hungry; there are. 

            Masks, the reminder we are living in pandemic times, with enough other ugliness in the world, to make us think we are in the end times. Though, a commentator on NPR did knock a bit of sense when he reminded us, if you look at the broad strokes, we are better off than we ever have been, despite the pandemic. 

It’s true, a fact trumpeted by my friend, the amazing Howard Bloom, an “omnologist,” a man whose brain should be uploaded, had we the capability.  He sees the world uniquely; we’ll be talking about Bloom into the next century and beyond.  [Read any of his books; there are many, glimpse his brain’s beauty.]

            It is the masks remind us times are not normal despite the world being normally beautiful; because it is, so often it makes our hearts ache, of which we are acutely aware on this island, as this island is more beautiful than most spots, blessed in so many ways.

            However, a pandemic does rage, Europe buckling again, curfews declared, we’re probably a few weeks behind the old world, more cases now than any day since early on.  We’re crawling quickly to a quarter million dead.  

            It is easy to push the dark away when the sun is bright, playing with the changing leaves, wind whistling through beach grasses; not so easy when the sky shades grey, the wind blows chill.  Then, we look out our windows, see the prophesized dark winter ahead, when, pandemic exhausted, we might lower our vigilance just when it needs to be highest.

            It is year when traditions will be upended out of need.  

For more than a decade, a core group has gathered for Christmas; this year cancelled; we’re spread across the country; no one wants to board a plane.  

Thanksgiving will be Zoom/FaceTime events with friends and relatives scattered across the country with whatever I decide to whip together for myself.  Turkey for one sounds a shade forlorn though somehow Beef Wellington does not. 

I will eat, Zoom, live the new normal until it is not, while holding close the thought, thank you Howard, thank you NPR, we are, despite all the grey and gloom, really better off than we’ve been, as a race, though it hardly seems so as we enter the drear winter of 2020, annus horriblis.

Letter from the Vineyard October 12, 2020 Indigenous Peoples’ Day aka Columbus Day…

October 12, 2020
Photo Credit: Creative Commo

Letter from the Vineyard

October 12, 2020

Indigenous People’s Day aka Columbus Day

The Sun Also Rises

Summer has departed; fall has arrived.  This last week has been spectacular; warm, not hot, morning clouds burned away by mid-morning sun, a slow turning of leaves, a day of wild storm, hinting something wicked this way comes; an island slouching toward winter, this morning grimly grey, the first hint of bone chill days to come.

Reading Erik Larson’s “The Splendid and the Vile,” a grand insight into Churchill during the Blitz.  I’ve mentioned it before; it has sold like a beach read this summer as we parse the qualities of leadership.

Since last I wrote, Justice Ginsburg has passed, in death continuing her ability to be first, first woman to lie in state, first Jew.  A wonder in death as in life, mourned by many, her death adding fuel to the fire of woe in this annus horriblis. 

2020 is a year history books will mark, a pivot in time, place, way of life.  The world will be different as we walk or crawl forward.  

In a year shaped by coronavirus, we have seen the President recently afflicted, taken by helicopter to Walter Reed, treated with all the drugs that could be thrown at this elusive disease, as if he were in the final throws of the fight.  

Last Sunday, he did a joy ride around the hospital to acknowledge his unmasked supporters cheering him, exposing his Secret Service detail to the disease, forcing them into quarantine after exposure to someone with an active case.  The mind boggles.

More than thirty around him, so far, have also been diagnosed with the coronavirus; we might well be just at the beginning of the Trump super spreader moment, certainly more in his circle infected than in the entire country of Taiwan that week, though we will probably never know, contact tracing not allowed by this White House. 

The play witnessed since his diagnosis, surreal even by the surreal standards of this administration, approaches theater of the absurd.  

The Joint Chiefs of Staff are in quarantine; the White House Chief of Security hospitalized with the virus. Back in May, we discover, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows threw an indoor wedding for his daughter with seventy or more in attendance when local guidelines limited gatherings to ten.

We’ve seen the Vice Presidential debate.  Kamala, you avoided questions.  So did you, Mike Pence; you also lied, not very well.

President Trump seems erratic post hospitalization, whipsawing from one position to its polar opposite in hours; witness his decision to stop negotiations on a relief package one night to wanting a “really big deal” the next, now “signing off” on a $1.8 trillion deal.  My suggestion: watch McConnell.

Mr. Trump, a surfeit of steroids, perhaps?

Thirteen have been arrested for allegedly wanting to kidnap Governor Whitmer of Michigan so she could be “tried” by a group of White Supremacists. This is a bad movie plot. And real. 

We have gone back over 50,000 new cases a day.  New York is locking down areas of Queens and Brooklyn. Wisconsin is on the edge or in the red zone, the Dakotas are battered. Boston has risen above a 4% infection rate, resulting in pushing back school openings.

Sunday morning, I wandered through the restaurant behind the bookstore, bumped into a couple of people I knew, one an ex-Marine, who championed the theory we will only be safe with herd immunity, having to accept the inevitable millions of deaths to get there. He seemed ready to sign up.  

I’m not. Just for the record.

Researchers have found 24 planets that maybe more habitable than earth.  Might be a good thing.  The lungs of this planet, the Amazon rainforest, are about turn to savannah.  

In the meantime, I’ve experienced some picture-perfect Vineyard fall days, sweater cool, windblown, possibly perfect for a sail, ones to contemplate a good fall meal, perhaps squash soup, a hearty steak, a good stew.  Days to savor if you’re alive, sentient, despite the idiocy of the world; the kind of beauty to inspire poets, give flight to dreamers, even when the world crumbles, days to instill hope, even when it seems lost.

Letter from the Vineyard 09 17 2020 Running off a cliff?

September 18, 2020

Letter from the Vineyard

09/17/2020

Running off a cliff…

Last Thursday the ground greedily drank an afternoon torrent, so loud I wondered what machine was at work outside my door, looking up, saw slating rain pound the small deck outside. 

On Friday, 9/11, the 19th anniversary of 9/11, the island huddled under more grey skies.

Back then, on a sun kissed extraordinary morning, sky Virgin Mary blue, I lived in SoHo, two blocks north of Canal, later the demarcation line for evacuation, a day scoured into me, memories still sear; I can be back there in a moment, standing at the corner of Spring, West Broadway, witnessing the unbelievable smoking gash in the first building hit.

“Kids” who work for me at the bookstore not yet born that day, a historical event spoken of by their parents, listened to them, I am sure, in the manner I listened to my parents describe Pearl Harbor; in other words, not very closely.

As gratefully happens, time slides on, another day, not feeling seared or scared, just lucky, a hazy golden afternoon light floating across the field out my window, the first leaves yellowing, jazz playing, a day away from the bookstore, doing some errands, including a flu shot, a prophylactic against flu, winter, coronavirus, that I am older — something I experience but do not feel, quite, in my soul.

The American West burns, fires in every state.  California’s Governor Newsom and L.A.’s mayor point the finger at climate change, which is a factor, deny it if you want.  The earth is changing, does all the time; we’re doing our best to make it worse.

To look at headlines is to invite the goddess Miseria to visit, she who gave us the word misery. 

Fires in the west, a pandemic across the world, locusts eating Africa’s harvest, racial and religious strife everywhere, novichok Russia’s poison of choice for political foes, triple digits in Colorado one day, snow the next, Michael Caputo, a top HHS official accusing scientists of sedition while warning “leftists” are planning an armed uprising if Trump wins [he’s now on a “leave of absence”], the air in Portland, Oregon worse than Delhi, an uncertain economy, a divided Congress, Britain possibly blowing Brexit, Beirut in ruins.  The list could go on ad infinitum.

The stress of life right now shakes us all; experiencing a pandemic, a financial crisis, political instability, racial unrest, all squeezed into six months.  No wonder we have sold so many “beach reads.” We seek summer bliss.

Who would have thought the “Civil Rights” section would become so huge? “White Fragility;” Isabel Wilkerson’s marvelous “Caste” have been as popular as most beach reads.  

If last September you had told me I’d be selling books, wearing a mask, vinyl gloves, behind plexiglass [feeling a shade pawn broker-ish], I would have asked you what dystopian dream you were having?  Now it is our dystopian reality.  

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced 25 years of advances have been wiped away in 25 weeks.  The enormity of what is happening has not sunk in; a whole new world is emerging, change driven by an airborne virus we don’t yet understand, touching some lightly, others with a heavy hit, killing or leaving them debilitated for god knows how long? Children, according to Trump are “basically immune.” Eli Lipman, nine, is a “long hauler,” fighting Covid-19 for six months. A six- year-old died in Florida, youngest in that state.

We are fighting for our lives.  Still people refuse to wear masks. Not just here; other places in the world, also. We have politicized the virus, the financial crisis, politicized everything.  The Trump campaign just released an ad exhorting us to support the troops, except if you look carefully, the jets flying above are Russian jets, the soldiers are Russian models; a badly chosen piece of clip art.

Hurricane Sally is inundating the Gulf Coast, smoke from the western fires have reached the Vineyard, Europe, too. Yelp data shows 60% of Covid closed businesses will not reopen. And, gosh, we’re down to about 38,000 new coronavirus cases a day.

Any wonder we feel we’re running off a cliff?

Letter from the Vineyard 21 August 2020 Out there, there be dragons…

August 22, 2020

Letter from the Vineyard

21 August 2020

Out there, there be dragons…

It has been a month since I have put fingers to keyboard to write a missive; I have been avoiding doing so, easier to sink into the pleasant rhythms of my island life than to think too much about the world. 

It is a softer summer than last; air conditioning barely used, mostly sunny days, soft winds, blowing right this minute, meals with sweet summer corn, grilled things, steak, chicken, frosty cocktails, Zoom visits with far off friends. Jazz or classical music my constant companion.  

On waking, I look at the field in front of my door, feel a flush of gratitude, thinking I am lucky to be here, this moment, having something creative to do, a sense of purpose, a morning reason for an afternoon.

It’s not been a summer to avail myself of beach pleasures; too busy seeking beach reads for the bookstore; Sunday mornings curled up with the book section of the NY Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, burrowing in to find what should slip onto our shelves. Weekday mornings, some time with books, a splash of news, all I can bear.

Yesterday, in a conversation with a friend, safely ensconced in a lovely Georgian home near my old house, he recounted similar feelings, staying in the quiet comfortable moment, lovely dinners, flickering candlelight, a good glass of wine, enchanted in soft semi-solitude, good conversations with his companion, the world at bay.

Outside my island life or my friend’s stately redoubt, the world is burning, the empire falling, barbarians at the gate.

The world is giving us multitude reasons to feel this way.

A pandemic still rages, numbers down to only 50,000 new infections a week in this country. Only 50,000…

We have bookstore customers, wearing masks, gloves if wanting to touch books, hand sanitizer stations, plexiglass shields at the counter, a retail world I could not have imagined last summer.

A little over a year ago, I spent two amazing weeks in Lebanon, made some friends, want to sit again in Chez Pepe in Byblos, the most ancient place in the world; wander again through the ruins of Tyre, visit again the towering Blessed Virgin of Lebanon, sit over a cocktail with my friend Joey. When might that be possible now the country teeters on collapse after an enormous blast ripped apart Beirut?

In the last few months, it has been a task to source books people want relating to Black Lives Matter. “White Fragility,” impossible for a time; demand for “Caste” overwhelmed Penguin Random House, who apologized profusely for our missing order; couldn’t print them fast enough, arriving, finally, yesterday.

Front and center at the bookstore we have a display of BLM books.  A customer came to do a special order of Sean Hannity’s new book, “Live Free or Die.”  He said to a young associate: my, you have a lot of Marxist books here!  

I was not on the floor; when told, I echoed Lord Byron, “If I laugh at any mortal thing, ‘tis I may not weep.”

The Post Office is a source of ire for Trump, not wanting it to work as he thinks it will help Democrats; his minion, Postmaster Louis DeJoy, is throttling it to death, blue boxes disappearing, sorting machines hauled out in the name of cost cutting.  

DeJoy will stop doing more though not undo what’s been done; has darker plans after the election.  [You’re messing with us, making media mail more difficult!]  

The virtual Democratic convention has finished, a mélange of strange bedfellows, all determined to dump Trump, progressives, moderates, Republicans who can take no more, Colin Powell, Kasich among them, Bloomberg, too; the sitting president eviscerated by the last one; a ninety year old vet, lifelong Republican, 2016 Trump voter, declared he’ll vote for Biden, wanting someone to do their duty, as he did; moved to tears by a young stutterer, Brayden, friended by Biden on the stump, Biden who manages his own stuttering well, as he has managed grief, more times than life should give. 

The pandemic and the protests over the death of George Floyd have exposed economic as well as racial divides.  

We are living in a new “Gilded Age,” where “coronavirus is for the poor.” Read about it here:   

[https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2020/08/luxe-quarantine-lives-of-silicon-valley-elite]

Is it any wonder I snuggle into this island, focus on the bookstore?  

Out there, there be dragons.

Letter from the Vineyard 07 21 2020 Far from the madding crowd, unabsolved…

July 21, 2020

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           Sunday was grey, foggy, warm, windows all open, catching a light brush of wind mid-morning; essentials needed handling, some grocery shopping, other errands to tidy the threads of life, doing them at a leisurely pace, the first day in a long stretch not in the bookstore.

Hydrangeas nestle summer porches, bookstore included, a flower never appreciated until I was on island; bloomed beautifully this year, providing me joy, beauty in the midst of pandemic.

The island bustles but not to bursting; mostly people wear masks, mandatory in downtown Edgartown, a rule not always followed, better since the order. Lucky here, the count is low; I suspect many feel safer here to be unsafe, a disastrous plot line elsewhere. Let’s not repeat.

As many do, I get unanchored in time, days always nearly the same, up, a little exercise, off to the bookstore, home, dinner, read, repeat.  In the middle of a night, I woke, realized it was Wednesday, meaning I had missed something scheduled for Monday. All I could offer were apologies, thankfully, to someone who understood, as he’d done the same.

Likely, most of us have similar stories in this age of coronavirus, dreaded rising numbers, cases, deaths.  We are looking to the runes for economic guidance, all bets off on how this will go.  Extra benefits, a lifeline for many, run out this week.

When I signed on for a Zoom with the Center for the Digital Future a few minutes early, its founder, executive director, Jeff Cole, also signed on, in his home office in California, where he has sequestered now for months, a lucky city, state turned coronavirus unlucky, low numbers rocketing; telling me I was in one of the safest places he could think of, praising me my intelligence to have settled here, now.  Unconscious competence is all I can claim; who knew last November this future we were marching into?

Fall is facing us, meaning school should start.  It will, though not normally in many places, with some going full digital in the fall, waiting to see what pandemic landscape evolves in winter. Other schools are busy raising plexiglass barriers, creatively seeking social distancing, warmer states looking to parking lots for classrooms.

Kayleigh McEnany, White House press secretary, said this past week, “The science should not stand in the way” of school openings.  It was a double take moment; if not science guiding us in a pandemic, where should we look?  Tarot cards?

Pandemic still raging, the president seeks to slash health coverage, remove funds for testing from forthcoming stimulus packages, to my astonishment though not surprise, this current president seems determined to hurt the nation he is governing; in the process, wounding his chance for re-election. Polls show him trailing Biden badly though 49% of whites want Trump.

2020 will likely be all about Covid-19, who we think will steer government in such a way to bring to hand a disease not disappearing despite all of Mr. Trump’s statements and hopes, which are approaching delusional.  This is not a case of “the sniffles.”

Simon & Schuster, the venerable publishing giant owned by ViacomCBS, has the two hottest Trump books, Bolton’s “The Room Where It Happened” and presidential niece Mary Trump’s, “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.”

Both are flying out the door; Mary Trump’s exceeded all expectations. We’re waiting for more, backordered as no one expected a million copies to go in a day.

On the streets of Portland, Federal officers are deploying against protestors, in clashes which have turned violent.

This is what was said by a first-time protestor, “It’s just us normal people out there. There were a whole group of pregnant moms standing out there linking arms and they got gassed. You hear people like [President] Trump say it’s just a bunch of wacko fringe people in liberal cities who are out there, but no way. We’re all just normal people who think what’s happening is wrong.”  Christopher David, graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, former member of the Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps, wanting to know what the officers involved thought of the oath they had sworn to protect and defend the Constitution.

Two bones in his hand were broken for asking the question; he was gassed, beaten, he offered no resistance. *

What a strange world it is when Federal officers leap from unmarked vans to attack protestors and a president is unsure he will accept an election result he doesn’t like.**

My faith in America is tested as my comfort in summertime hydrangeas grows, grateful to be away from the madding crowd, though unabsolved from the call to change.

*Washington Post, July20, 2020

** Interview with Chris Wallace, “Fox News, Sunday,” July 19, 2020

Photo credit:  Alexander McMullen