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.

Letter from the Vineyard 03 October 2021 Still emerging…

October 4, 2021

Letter From the Vineyard

03 October 2021

Still emerging…

The day has birthed cool but not chill, in the low 60’s, sun glinting off windows, the third or fourth day now when summer temps have yielded to ones more like fall, the scent of the autumnal season in the air, leaves showing signs of change.  October has arrived, with its pumpkins, Morning Glory Farm selling the last summer corn, soon to be a memory, like the summer of 2021, a time when hope and joy poured out of our skins as we faced the world, mask less.

            August was a jarring moment, as the Delta variant exploded among us, a viral grenade upending our expectations, sending us back behind our masks, grudgingly, crankily, unhappily.  Most of us did, most of us had bared our arms and got “the jab,” buying ourselves some protection even as breakthrough infections broke through and afflicted friends and neighbors, who did get ill, though rarely hospitalized.

            In some parts of the country, masks are hardly de rigueur and getting “the jab” meant a surrender to Bill Gates, who had planted tracking devices in the vaccine to control us all, somehow.  Or was it, Jeff Bezos?  Or possibly the entire pedophile cabal that QAnon believes is running the country?  Or what was the point? Coronavirus is a hoax, after all.

            Unhappy fact, voters for Trump are experiencing a mortality rate higher than those who voted for Biden as Trump voters are more likely not to be vaccinated as they move mask less across the landscape of America 2021.

            The brother-in-law of a dear, dear friend has succumbed to coronavirus, after self-medicating with ivermectin, a horse de-wormer, after five or six weeks in the hospital, intubated much of the time, dead anyway.  Some of his children think he was stupid for not being vaccinated; the others blame the hospital for his death.

            This is a scene being repeated across the country.  

            And I shake my head, finding all this hard to comprehend. A horse medicine as a cure for a deadly virus? Masks work: all the data shows it.  Why not believe the data points, which, after eighteen months, can hardly be disputed yet they are argued, frequently with frightening passion.

            As I sit here, curled in my little summer place, heat on, a mug of bold, dark coffee at my side, sliding into the day, scanning the headlines of the papers I follow, the death toll from Covid has passed 700,000 known deaths.  I wonder how many we have missed.  And I wonder how we got here, how we got to this much death without rallying around the science and taking care of ourselves.

            It is the deadly signature of our fraught times, all this death and the anger surrounding us, the chasm between two countries within one country, two towns within one town, a divide I have not been able to emotionally understand while having to intellectually accept it because it exists.

            Any wonder I relish curling up with a bold mug of joe on a sunny, cool early fall morning on the Vineyard, a mostly sane place in terms of respecting the science in virus matters, grateful I have had my booster shot, from a mobile vaccination facility parked at the high school last weekend, worth the one and a half hour wait.

            While grateful, I am not smug.  How long before the virus finds a way to pierce this line of defense is yet to be seen.  Given all we’ve seen, it will.  Grudgingly, we are learning to live with this disease though by all accounts we are woefully unprepared for the next pandemic around the corner.

            Such is the nature of humans, a race still emerging from evolutionary adolescence.

            In these times, good books, real books, paper books, are comforts.  Just finished “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig, a delightful romp through time and unlived lives.  It took me away for a day or three from the madness of my fellow men.

            There are lots of good reads out there or coming out this fall.  Peruse your local paper’s book section – they’ll guide you to a winner.  Or send me an email and I’ll pop back with a suggestion, depending on your mood.  That’s what I do with customers.

            I love that part of being, as my godson says, the book monger of Edgartown, helping people find something to take home, to bring them deeper into a subject or further away from our strident realities.

            We cannot change those realities single handedly; little acts will nudge the world one way or another, but we can find relief in the pages of a book, while drinking in the peculiar, wonderful perfume of printed pages.

Photo credit: Paul Doherty, Islanders Talk

Letter from the Vineyard 09 11 2021 Reflections on an anniversary…

September 12, 2021

Letter from the Vineyard, 9 11 2021

Reflections on the anniversary…

For days, I have sought escape from thinking about today, 9/11, anything to give me a diversion from the 20th anniversary, coming just as Kabul has fallen back into the hands of the Taliban, a coupling of events hard to fathom.

The English newspaper, The Guardian, encourages us to ask what was this all about?

Once, I went with my brother and sister-in-law to the 9/11 Memorial, having to leave when some artifact came too close to my heart, waiting for them above, in the sunshine and light of another day, not wounded as I was that day, a wound which has never really healed for so many who were there, who experienced it.  I lost no one; I am still healing.

It was a pivot moment in history and to be present at a pivot moment, is not a bad thing, though it carries risks.

My memories are of moments…

Being at Spring and West Broadway, the corner just west of where I lived, seeing the gash in the first Tower, smoke billowing out, knowing death was there, inevitable, unavoidable with that kind of wound. 

Riding a bus north with Wall Street refugees, all in suits, vainly working their cellphones, three African American women who noticed an old man, resting on a fire hydrant, the bus departing before he could wobble to it, stopping the bus, carrying him aboard, the bus driver working with other bus drivers to get the man home, to the Upper East Side.

Later, walking south, the night full of smoke, the smell of brimstone, trucks lining up by the hundreds to carry debris away, showing my driver’s license to prove I lived beyond the barricades set up to protect the work going on, waking the next morning, standing on Spring Street, empty, desolate, a singular living presence on a street now littered with papers blown down from the Towers, the smell of burnt rubber and plastic, reminding me of my first night in Delhi.

There is much gnashing of teeth and questioning of America’s resolve, all of it echoing the words after the fall of Saigon, which did not, as expected, herald the end of the American Empire.

Is this time different? Does our Rome fall?

Well, Rome took a long time falling, plowing on from catastrophe after catastrophe until it finally fell in upon itself, giving rise to a whole caste of historians who have plucked apart those ruins looking for reasons – was it the lead lining the amphora?  Was it the constant military expenditures draining the imperium? The rise of Christianity?  The wealth gap between classes?  The external pressure of barbarian hordes descending upon the empire? The lack of slaves after imperial expansion stopped and border defense began?

Since Gibbons we have parsed those events, more so since the U.S. has found itself internally and externally, eternally, compared to Rome.

What is true, to me, is that day, for a moment, we stood, as a country, as a world, united in shared tragedy.  In a single day, in a single spot, I witnessed the worst of humanity and its best.  If I let myself, I can emotionally be back there and when I do, the wash of emotion can almost bring me to my knees.

No, I am not sorry I was there, grateful I lost no one. 

Bu in the years since we have all lost so much. 

That moment of global of unity has been squandered, we have spent endless blood and treasure in wars that have accomplished, it appears, nothing, and while we fought “The War on Terror,” we lost focus, turning a blind eye to the massive corruption plaguing successive Afghan governments, toppling Saddam Hussein over falsities about weapons of mass destruction, allowing social injustice to flourish, surrendering bits of freedom to “be safe.”

We have watched the devolution of the Republican party to a shell of itself, mostly devoted now to the cult of Trump, and with him we flirt with our own version of Mussolini.  His brainless minions wrack havoc on the land at the local and state level.

The Obama administration bought “The War on Terror” story and played it out.  The Democratic party seems to have become the party of the elites.  And never has Eisenhower’s “beware the military-industrial complex” seem so prescient.

Twenty years later, almost universal empathy has become almost universal rage, a rage killing us with the refusal to get a damn shot, even when surrounded by hospitals overflowing with the sick and dying.

We are not Rome though, like Rome, we are squandering our future by not having a plan for it, not sufficiently evolving with the times, which are a changin, from our de facto Poet Laureate, Nobel Prize Winner, from the Iron Range of my home state, Bob Dylan.

And those times have been a changin since 1964, when Dylan penned the verse.  And what the hell have we done with the time?

“World Trade Center 9/11/01 attack memorial photo” by cattias.photos is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Letter from the Vineyard 15 August 2021 Shadows in the sun…

August 15, 2021

Letter from the Vineyard

15 August 2021

Shadows in the sun…

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Photo credit: Paul Doherty

As I begin to write, a bright day is fading, a soft wind rustling the bushes out my windows, a good beach day ending.

            My summer world is circumspect; I travel to and from the bookstore, an occasional foray to Stop & Shop for essentials, a weekly trip to Vineyard Haven to drop off and retrieve my laundry at Lapel’s, the island’s sole dry cleaner.  Rarely do I move beyond the confines of Edgartown.  One Wednesday I determined to explore the Chillmark Flea Market; made the journey through a grey day, came away with a small piece of art from Walker Roman, island born.

            Ella Fitzgerald lilts through the cottage, complemented now and again by the great Louis Armstrong, Ella my go-to when undecided about what music I want to hear.  It seems impossible to me, who cannot carry a tune, that a human being can create such beauty with the human voice. 

            We have entered the last two weeks of August; Labor Day is within reach, the official end of “the season.”  Normally, the island’s life becomes frenetic with summer revels, sailboats racing, beach parties, laughing groups dining al fresco, bus tours aplenty, small cruise ships docking, disgorging passengers, wearing nametags on lanyards, eloquently coiffed ladies shopping for jewelry in shops along Main Street, families and individuals scooping up books, Tom Dresser’s “Martha’s Vineyard: A History” marching out the door in the dozens.

            That is a normal Vineyard summer.  And it almost seemed that way.

  But now, ladies and gentlemen, the Delta variant is marching across our summer stage, changing the tune of the music playing in the background.

Dukes County has issued an advisory telling people to wear masks again inside, advice now mostly followed, but not at first.

You cannot come into the bookstore without one.  Last week, I had to tell someone they couldn’t be in the bookstore unless they were masked.  We provide them.  They left.

            Cautious people, including me, have worn masks all summer when negotiating the summer crush at Stop & Shop.  Cronig’s up in Vineyard Haven won’t let you through the door without one – they suffered a cluster last winter, are taking no chances. 

            The feel on the streets has changed.  From a laughing, unmasked world, feeling liberated, we have returned to a place more like the summer of 2020.  Retail ebullience has faded, people feeling threatened. According to reports, consumer confidence, especially among the vaccinated, has plummeted.

            The Delta variant…

It is also the crushing “Code Red” report from the UN on climate change; we may have passed the point of no return on some things.  There is still time to mitigate the worst, but will we?

            A heat dome has returned to the Pacific Northwest, fires burn, Europe is experiencing record breaking heat, Greek islands are aflame. Siberia has been burning.

            Haiti broken by another earthquake.

            Kabul is falling to the Taliban, echoing the humiliating end of Saigon. Helicopters are lifting people out of the Embassy in Kabul. Remember, if you are old enough, those photos from 1975 at the end in Saigon. If not old enough, google them.  We are facing another heart break.

We’re negotiating with the Taliban to agree to spare the Embassy.  How did it get to this?  How did this even begin?

Afghanistan has broken the back of every western power since Alexander the Great.  No one learns the lesson.  Pity the poor people of Afghanistan who must live, again, under the Taliban.  Pity the women, girls already being forced to marry Taliban soldiers.

Not sure about you but I am clutching for good news.  And there doesn’t seem to be much.

Nestled here on Martha’s Vineyard, I feel both separated and in the middle of what is happening.  

Obama’s birthday party, even scaled back, was still big.  I fell asleep listening to the fireworks erupt.  Friends who lived not far from his home said they heard the crowd long into the night.  Stephen Colbert, Henry Louis Gates were disinvited.  Ah, the Delta variant.

I am discouraged this sun-kissed evening.

The fall of Afghanistan echoes the pain of Vietnam.

The climate crisis has come home to roost.

The pandemic is still raging while we are caught in an insane politicized conundrum about vaccines and masks.  

Our summer of freedom has turned its back on us; doors seem to be closing faster than they are opening. 

Alas, Babylon…

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
A flat screen tv sitting on top of a television

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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.