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

January 26, 2020

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

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

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

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

It was a gruesome Catholic week of recriminations and regret.

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

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

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

It has been a humbling week, illuminating.

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

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

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

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

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

Letter from the Vineyard 15 January 2020 A little break…

January 15, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

January 9, 2020

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Letter from the Vineyard, January 8, 2020

A Place of Refuge…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God save us all.

 

 

 

 

Letter from the Vineyard 16 Dec 2019 Thoughts on Christmas in Edgartown and a few on history…

December 16, 2019

Letter from the Vineyard

December 16, 2019

Christmas in Edgartown with thoughts on history’s lessons…

In the mornings, I drink, usually, a cup of Irish Breakfast tea and look out the sliding doors to the woods outside.  Many mornings are Vineyard gray and, sometimes, Vineyard brilliant as it is as I write these words, wind blowing, bending barren branches of once verdant trees. And most mornings, somewhere in the process of consuming my tea and the usually dreadful news, I feel come across me a wave of happiness, as just happened, happy I am alive, sitting on a couch, looking at trees, having defied gravity one more time, climbing out of bed to insert myself into the life of the universe one more day.

I have reached a place in life where I am grateful for each good, healthy day I have on this planet, taking, hopefully, none for granted.

Saturday was the second day of the “Christmas in Edgartown “celebration; at eleven there was a parade down Main Street, somewhat truncated by the rainy weather which prevented bands from marching though Santa was there, riding joyfully atop a nearly hundred-year-old fire engine.

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            Edgartown Books is dressed up as gaily as I could manage; one of the people who liked our Facebook photo of author Jean Stone signing copies of her newest series of Vineyard books, said the store looked festive.  Thank you.

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I worked hard at it, making it up as I went along, adding things until Thursday, when I decided the storefront simply would not be okay unless I strung garlands over the windows.

Enter, garlands.

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Feeling festive after the day, I decided to go across the street to Alchemy to sit at the bar, have a drink, maybe a bite but, when I walked in, the place was overflowing, and I thought about just going home but decided as I was walking to my car to stroll over to the magnificent Charlotte Inn, have a martini in their very English evocative surroundings – think private English club in Kensington.  When I first walked in, it reminded me of a hotel across from Kensington Palace where I stayed in the aughts, when on a consulting assignment.

Sipping a martini in one of the parlors, two women entered, asked me if they could occupy the chairs by the fire?  I smiled; it was not my room and said, of course.  They ordered wine, then seemed to see me for the first time, really, and one said, oh my gosh you sold me a book today!  Which started a lovely conversation with two former college roommates off for a weekend together before the holidays, before going to another room for dinner.  The moment filled me with smiles.

Sunday was another lovely bookstore day, not as busy, though still full of “Christmas in Edgartown” visitors winding down the weekend and locals ginning up their Christmas shopping.

I will be in the store until Saturday and then off to New Orleans for Christmas, spent with my friend of longest standing, Sarah, her husband, Jim, their son Kevin, his wife, Michelle.  Restaurant reservations are popping up in my email; it will be hard not to return without a weight gain.

 

Meanwhile, in the real world, away from soft island life, the president will be impeached by Congress. There will be a trial in the Senate, virtually guaranteed to acquit him.

The Democrats will likely not heed the lessons offered by this week’s UK election.  Democrats, to their detriment, rarely learn lessons offered them.

It is time, I suspect, to read Cicero, study the rise of Caesar and catalog the mistakes leading to the end of the Republic and rise of Imperium.

Those singular rulers rode an upward trajectory; if we come to that, ours will likely ride a fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter from the Vineyard 7 December 2019 A different kind of Thanksgiving…

December 7, 2019

 

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It is Wednesday, the 4th of December, as I sit down to write this letter.  I’m pretty sure it will take me a couple of days as I am extravagantly tired after 14 non-stop days at the bookstore, stretching myself more than I usually do, amusing myself as much as usually do, and always a bit bemused at the wonderful turns life takes me.

My Thanksgiving is usually spent at my friend Larry and Alicia’s farm in Stuyvesant, NY, a tradition which has evolved from shared Thanksgivings over the last almost twenty years.  It is special and was very hard for me not to be there.

This year, I spent Thanksgiving in the bookstore, unpacking fifty boxes which had come in, working to make the store look a bit like Christmas for the Black Friday crowds, which came, the biggest day the store has had since summer.

Misha, the barista from BTB, the restaurant behind the bookstore, swooped in to help me, cementing friendship.  He made me food so I would have sustenance; my Thanksgiving dinner was his delectable goulash, consumed while sitting at the counter, surveying the store, eating, checking off a mental list of things still needing to be done.

It was not my usual Thanksgiving; unique, not regretted.

Misha is now gone, five months of travel before returning for next season, through Europe before heading to Rwanda, his special place, Madagascar, then back to the Vineyard, readying himself for yet another summer.

Because of the bookstore, I am meeting people, learning about island writers.  The bookstore is a member of the Chamber of Commerce; I attend meetings, good for the bookstore, good for me.  At the latest meeting, a gentleman told me he and his wife had a hoot buying some books from me.  They had just spent a weekend at the Charlotte Inn, one of the island’s premiere places, and somehow the bookstore came up and my name and the people at the Inn said, oh yes, we know Mathew, he came in the other day and introduced himself.

It’s my time of introducing myself as I know very few people on the island and, while I am here, need to make a life for myself so introducing myself is the order of the day.

Janet Messineo, wrote “Casting Into the Light,” about her life as one of the island’s premiere fisher people, and we had a lovely conversation Sunday morning after she had done an event at The Grange, signing books at an author’s table, selling out all the books we had given her.

Saturday morning has now rolled around; I’ve reveled in two days, mostly, away from the bookstore, taking myself out to dinner as a reward to my own self, after raiding the Boy’s and Girl’s Club Second Hand Store around the corner for ornaments, now hanging in the windows of Edgartown Books, as well as Santa in a sleigh holding a doll and Mrs. Kringle singing in red velvet. There are still a few things to be done and I now know, I will actually get there.  The store looks festive and think I haven’t let Joyce down, who is great at displays.

The town of Edgartown is preparing for “Christmas in Edgartown,” several days of festivities drawing people back to the Vineyard.  We will have authors signing books.  Jean Stone will sign on Saturday, autographing copies of “A Vineyard Christmas,” which I read last Christmas to get me into the spirit of the season.  And, on Sunday, the indomitable Janet Messineo will be ensconced in the “Sea” section, signing her books and doing a demonstration on knots.

Life could be much worse.

 

Now, “back in America,” as islanders sometimes say, the President looks to be impeached.  Only the third time in our country’s history.  No matter what your political views, it is a sad day when a President is impeached.

It is now December 7th, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. A deep bow.

 

Until next time…

Letter from the Vineyard 21 November 2019 Reflections from islands…

November 21, 2019

It is evening as my fingers dance across the keyboard, a soft clicking sound rising to my aging ears which, for some reason, made me think of the thunk our Royal typewriter made when I struck the keys, in a day when auto-correct was a fantasy and the mother of Mike Nesmith of The Monkees made a fortune inventing “White Out.”

Freshly returned from a trip to Ireland, my mind is full of things, wonders seen in a land where, as my friend Mike O’Rourke said, “The green is greener there.”  And it is.  Arriving a day early at the god forsaken hour of 4:45 AM, I decided, on an absolute whim, to go to Belfast for the Titanic Museum, one of those happy caprices resulting in cherished memories.  If you get to Ireland, go to Belfast, see the museum, edges as sharp as the prow of the ship, rippled to remind us of the iceberg that sank it, thorough, respectful, multi-leveled, figures from the time, speaking directly to you, almost but not quite, holograms.

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Before returning to Dublin, I took a Black Taxi Tour, an overview of “The Troubles;” my friend Nick Stuart them covered for the BBC.  The multi-layered, nuanced reasons, old as Ireland and its first interactions with England, boggle the mind, leaving a sense of sorrowful regret lacking a center.  To this day, which I did not know, there is a wall dividing Protestant and Catholic Belfast.  At night, gates are closed, dividing the town, even as it ascends to being one of the safest places in Europe, enjoying a prosperity unknown for a very long time.

On that wall, with a Sharpie, I wrote:

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In Dublin, I reunited, briefly, with friends, Lionel and Pierre, spending the weekend celebrating my birthday, dinners at lovely restaurants, days of sightseeing, several museums.

Some food and drink suggestions:  in Belfast, visit The Crown, possibly the oldest working pub in Ireland.  In Dublin, The Green Hen, a delightful place, a mix of Irish and French, Hugo’s where I had an inspired lunch, The Winding Stair, above a bookstore, deeply delicious, and let us not forget Pichet, another wonderful dinner, duck so succulent…

Museums have become hard, showing great beauty created while reminding also of the horrible ways we murder each other.  On view at the Irish Museum of Archeology are corpses, brutally killed for unknown reasons, then tossed into the bogs, which have preserved them for us to “enjoy” now.

As a result, I am almost becoming museum adverse, torn by balancing beauty and brutality.

Having left the island of Martha’s Vineyard for the Irish island, I continued to feel disconnected from events “back in America,” a blessing as those events become increasingly bizarre.

The current impeachment hearings feel Nixonian and a disgraceful mess.

It surprises many who know me, but I was raised in a good “cloth coat” wearing Republican family, as Nixon called us in his Checker’s Speech, and it also surprises many I am an Independent voter.  GASP! I have even voted for Republicans.

That said, I no longer know or own this Republican Party.  It has nothing to do with the Republican Party I once knew.

My father died when I was twelve; his older brother, my Uncle Joe, became a central figure in my life, as steadfast a Republican as you would ever find.  One day, I knew Richard Nixon was done because Uncle Joe had removed the medal received from the very badly named Committee to Re-elect the President, “CREEP.”   If Nixon had lost Uncle Joe, he had lost it all.  Not long after, he resigned.

As this current Impeachment Inquiry goes on, I have asked myself what Uncle Joe would think?  A deeply moral man, he would have been appalled, I believe, from the moment Trump descended that escalator to initiate this debacle.

 

Letter From the Vineyard 11.11.2019 Life lived with grace…

November 11, 2019

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             Sundays have taken on a rhythm, waking around seven, brewing a cup of strong English Breakfast tea, reading a little of the NY Times, the Washington Post, a summation of news from the Wall Street Journal, a few emails and then off to St. Andrew’s, the petite church at the intersection of Winter and Summer Streets, an apt location, it occurs to me, for a church, at the intersection of seasons.

There were a few minutes at the Parish House for coffee and then I drove out to West Tisbury to pick up some books from Shirley Mayhew, who, having now met her, I realize is one of the island’s living treasures, a teacher to multi-generations of children on the island, grand mere to multiple generations, as interesting as anyone I have met along the ricocheting roads of my life, reminding me in many ways of my now long gone friend, Joseph J. O’Donohue IV, a bon vivant from the time he finished his German schooling in pre-Hitler Germany to his death, nearly twenty years ago.  Listening to the Joes and the Shirleys of the world is to have a glimpse into a world we will not ever know, ever understand, but can have, through their words, a glimpse of what has been and touch, through their memories, the worlds we will never know, a past now history to us but, for them, the foundation of their memories.

That’s why she writes, to share for other generations, what she’s seen, experienced, in several books, including the wonderfully titled, “Living Life with the Grace of a Butterfly.”

The woman I met today is living life with the grace of a butterfly, a thing not easily done, accomplished only when one is infused with generosity of spirit.  Joe had that quality, also, though I could never quite find the words to describe it before.

Leaving her to return to the shop, I dawdled, wandering back roads, taking a long path back to Edgartown so I could savor our introduction before surrendering myself to whatever bustle would fill the rest of the day.

It was busy-ish, a young gentleman came in toward the end of the day; we discussed Hemingway and Fitzgerald, both agreeing, of Hemingway’s oeuvre, we both loved “The Sun Also Rises” best.

Children scurried in an unusual number through the store today, two ladies scoured shelves for the next read for one’s book club.  I was reminded this week sees the first new edition in a long time of “The Joy of Cooking,” a bible for the culinary inclined, the one book I always returned to when something in the kitchen seemed unclear.

The weather reports are being watched closely; not wishing to be stranded on the island when my plane departs for Dublin out of Boston on Wednesday.  There, I’ll celebrate another birthday, another marking of the journey called life, moving closer and closer to Joe and Shirley, where my life’s memories are mostly history being taught to those infinitely younger.

It’s my hope, I will not be derided by some millennial, finding my actions ante-diluvian, accosted by the meme: “OK Boomer!”  The youth of the world are looking at us, of grandparental age, as generational failures, worthy of disrespect for our oh so many deficiencies, particularly in fighting climate change.  “OK Boomer,” was the riposte of a twenty-something New Zealander to a senior legislative colleague in Parliament as she was delivering a speech on climate change, with which he found umbrage.  “OK Boomer.”

Jazz plays, I write, savoring the joys of a simple though very rich day, probably not lived with the grace of a butterfly but enjoyed, nevertheless, playing now with words and looking forward to sifting through, “Living Life with the Grace of a Butterfly.”

 

It is now Monday, November 11th, Veteran’s Day.  A long, deep bow to all Veterans, a holiday started as Armistice Day, to mark the end of World War I, when, at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, the guns of the war to end all wars, were to fall silent.  If only it had been the war to end all wars…

 

 

Letter from the Vineyard 4 November 2019 Autumnal Dreams…

November 4, 2019

 

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Three perfect fall days, fulfilling wishes for such autumn days, with the light sharp and focused, drawing perfect shadows on the ground of trees still surrendering leaves; occasional fierce winds scattering fallen leaves, an autumnal dream when there are no bad things, and nothing wicked this way comes.

So, it has been here on Martha’s Vineyard, called by author Susan Branch, “Isle of Dreams,” after several lashings from storms and days so drear it almost felt as we were all living in Narnia, when it was always winter but never Christmas.  Then came these glorious days, banishing the drear and raising the spirits of everyone from visitors to residents.

Sitting at the desk at Edgartown Books, there has been a slow but steady stream of folks who visit the island now, specifically this time of year, because it is quiet, the crowds are gone, the air is crisp, enough restaurants open, hotel rates down, and islanders relieved of August stress.

Today, is the first day people announced they were Christmas shopping, a grandmother buying gift certificates for each grandson, another woman buying books by Cynthia Riggs to give as presents to her mother.  I’ve put leaf lights around the store to give it a fall festive feel, featuring some cookbooks on the center table, with other “fall-ish” items.  We have most of the current bestsellers on our shelves.  While I am here, I tend to play jazz with a gentleman yesterday declaring: there is nothing like big band jazz.

At my side is “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” which I am currently reading, by Ocean Vuong, a poet’s first novel, worth the read. When I am dust in the wind, he’ll be a Nobel Laureate if he keeps writing like this.

Next week, I’ll be off to Dublin to celebrate my birthday with Lionel and Pierre; Lionel has already made dinner reservations at some of his favorite places.  Today they leave for Delhi, which is worrisome as the air there is so, so bad, as if you were smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.  Not joking, I told them to wear gas masks.

Settling in, I have joined St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, pastored by Father Chip, which made me think he was from a long line of preppy people but, in fact, he is Canadian – though preppy might well be a thing there.

Preppy has been on my mind since Lisa Birnbach was in the store, co-author of the 1980 bestseller, “The Official Preppy Handbook,” having met her in that long-ago, when she was interviewed by Gary Owens for his show on KMPC Radio, where I worked.  We were nostalgic over him.

Two other customers, island natives, were in, chatting about the books on our “Great Reads” shelves and discussing what was “happening back in America,” as if ‘there “was a different country from “here.”

It is what being on an island does, separates you from “there,” wherever there is from here.  People come here to escape, rest from the turmoil of whatever there they are from, devouring our local newspapers as they are filled with stories of the Vineyard Derby, a month long fishing contest won this year by a ten year old, six years away from being able to drive the Grand Prize, a new Subaru.

Those kinds of things feel more real, more tangible than all the confusing who-ha that is coming from almost every other place, seeping into the soul like the noxious fumes of Delhi air.

There are upsides and downsides to island life; I am sure I will discover them all but here I am, on Susan’s “Isle of Dreams,” doing what several friends have told me is their dream – to be on the Vineyard and in a bookstore.

 

Letter from the Vineyard 28 October 2019 Island perspective…

October 28, 2019

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

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

It was wonderful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letter from the Vineyard 19 October 2019 Celebrating time…

October 19, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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