Some Personal History

Here’s an addendum of sorts to “Tolerant, Up to a Point,” posted yesterday.

During the discussion of the Vineyard’s lesbian and gay history at the Spectrum Film Festival, an audience member mentioned Margaret Webster (1905–1972), the eminent Anglo-American actor and theater director. Webster, a Vineyard summer resident. had at least two long-term lesbian relationships, first with Eva Le Gallienne, another theater notable; and later with the prolific British novelist Pamela Frankau.

postage scale

Margaret Webster’s postage scale

Strange but true, I have a little postage scale that once belonged to Margaret Webster. It was given to me by the late Mary Payne (1932–1996), who founded Island Theatre Workshop (ITW) in 1968 and was its artistic director until her death.

Mary recognized me as a lesbian sister almost right off the boat and within a year or so had roped me into ITW and the island’s then-vibrant theater community. True to form, it was a magnet for misfits and nonconformists — lesbians, gay men, creative types, pagans, recovering alcoholics and relatives of alcoholics . . .

My people, in other words.

At one point Mary hired me to help her clean up and paint what had been her bedroom. She needed extra money, the room had a separate entrance, and she was planning to rent it out. This involved going through lots and lots of stuff and is probably when she gave me the postage scale. First-class postage on the scale is 8¢, which suggests it was made between May 16, 1971, and March 2, 1974, when first-class postage went up to 10¢. Webster died on November 13, 1972.

We talked a lot, Mary and I, during that project. My poem “The Lapsed Archivist Attends a House Cleaning” grew out of our conversations. The “mentor” referred to in the second stanza is Margaret Webster. The “woman lover” is Pamela Frankau. I’m not sure “thirty years” is accurate; one source says Frankau and Webster’s relationship began in the mid-1950s, though they may have known each other longer. Millie Barranger’s Margaret Webster: A Life in Theater” says that Webster was devastated by Frankau’s death in 1967 and that “eventually, she returned to her beloved cottage on Martha’s Vineyard and gathered friends around her.”

This would have been when Mary was starting Island Theatre Workshop, and I’m guessing it’s when she and Webster knew each other.


The Lapsed Archivist Attends a Housecleaning

In memory of the voices we have lost
–motto of the Lesbian Herstory Archives

You are outside painting furniture, I
am working in the bathroom, sanding through
three colors of cracking paint. We
are getting ready for your summer tenant.
The diamond window frames are splintered,
gouged with previous efforts; “Sappho’s Coming!”
exults a sticker on the mirror, perhaps
announcing me, you said, a lesbian poet
making poems today with brush and scraper.

Inside you sort through piles and boxes,
deciding what to keep and where to put it,
calling me to see the glossy pictures
of your high school yearbook. You tell
me of sitting by a fire, burning letters
one by one, the letters of your mentor.
Thirty years of letters to and from
her woman lover. You honored her request.

And what if you, or someone else,
willed me to burn her letters?
I once spent hours haunted by
the voices we have lost, unfolding
brittle papers not a decade old,
cataloguing, laying each one flat
in acid-free gray boxes. Could I
consign your letters to the flame,
or would I think of living widows
dying on their husbands’ pyres?
Would I close my eyes and cast in
unread bundles, or try to take
the ones in my own writing back?
Would I hear crackling in the fire
the voices we have lost?

As I complete the second coat, golden
flames are dancing in the diamond panes:
daffodils, from bulbs your mother
planted nineteen years ago. “Sappho’s
Coming!” sings the mirror, Sappho
whose tenacious legacy of fragments
survives two thousand years of burning.
Still some say she pined for some man’s
love. This Sappho shreds all drafts
of each completed poem; each jewel forgets
being chiseled from the vein.
Purged of dross, your mentor’s life
is found in theatre files. I
would not have known had you not told me.

Published in Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, volume 10, no. 3 (1989).

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Tolerant, Up to a Point

At the end of April, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center held its first Spectrum Film Festival, featuring films with an L, G, B, T, and/or Q connection. Like the LGBTQ coalition itself, the films had an uneasy relationship with each other, but it was a worthy effort.

Perhaps the worthiest thing about it was the effort to push beyond the screen and include live Q&A or interviews after each show, usually with people who had some connection to the film.

On the festival’s opening night, The Freedom to Marry was followed by a conversation between Mary Breslauer, a Boston-based communications consultant with Vineyard connections, and Mary Bonauto, who argued Obergefell v. Hodges, the pivotal same-sex marriage case, before the U.S. Supreme Court and was featured in the film. Breslauer was live onstage at the Film Center; Bonauto appeared on the screen through the wonders of digital technology.

I was on the panel that followed the film Cloudburst, which featured two stellar actresses — Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker — in a film written and directed by guys who evidently couldn’t imagine that anyone would watch a film about two women unless a male supporting actor was on hand to steal the show. I could go on but I won’t.

The panel was titled “The Shifting Tides of the LGBTQ Landscape on the Vineyard.” Fortunately no one asked me what that meant, because I don’t have a clue. In “Gay on MV” I blogged about my personal take on the island’s recent gay and lesbian history, so I’m not going to go on about that. It did come up during the panel discussion, thanks in part to several in the audience who were there along with me and a bunch of others. Part of that recent history was ILGA, the Island Lesbian and Gay Association.

The closet T-shirt

In the early to mid 1990s, ILGA offered two T-shirts. One featured the words MARTHA’S VINEYARD, and the V in VINEYARD was a pink triangle. I think of it as the closet version, because you could wear it down Main Street or Circuit Ave. in the height of summer and nobody knew what the pink triangle meant.

The other one was bold and blatant. NO MAN IS AN ISLAND LESBIAN, it read, across a pink triangle, and then, in smaller print underneath, and Gay Association of Martha’s Vineyard. This one I wore mostly off-island because, no matter how bold and blatant you are, at some point you get sick of noticing people trying to pretend they aren’t staring at you.

At least I did.

The blatant, in-your-face, very un-Vineyard shirt.

This is the one I wore to the film festival. It was a hit. The Vineyard Gazette story about the Spectrum Film Festival shows me and my shirt onstage with my fellow panelists. Here’s what it looks like up close ->.

The panel’s moderator opened with a bit of island history: In the last three decades of the 19th century, until fire destroyed it in 1906, a summer colony that catered to musicians and singers flourished overlooking the Lagoon. This colony was run by a gay (male) couple who were apparently quite open about their relationship.

The point being made was that Martha’s Vineyard has a tradition of tolerance that goes way back.

People really, really want to believe this. Readers of my first (and so far only) novel, The Mud of the Place, ask me if it could happen now. (Mud takes place in the late 1990s, Jay Segredo, a gay man who grew up on the island and has lived “off” for 20 years, returns and sets himself up for disaster because he doesn’t dare come out to his close-knit family.) Their anxiety tells me that they really, really want to be reassured that it couldn’t, that a young gay man today wouldn’t worry about coming out to his family.

During the Q&A at the Film Center, several people raised examples of the Vineyard’s supposed tolerance. Like Innisfail, these stories generally involved summer people, creative types, and often both. My own experience was similar. I arrived in 1985 knowing virtually no one, and within a year or two had been absorbed into the island’s grassroots theater and music scene. There, diversity ran rampant. Everybody recognized the pink triangle. Outside the scene we were pretty discreet. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was the order of the day.

Most — not all, but most — of us came from somewhere else. Even if we’d been here a while, we didn’t have extended family on the island. Unlike Jay Segredo, we had nothing to lose by being out as whatever we were: lesbian, gay, creative, intellectual, radical, or just plain weird. For many native islanders, the situation was very different. Family was key. Quirkiness was tolerated, even prized, up to a point, as long as it didn’t threaten to make you a stranger to your own family.

It took me a long time to get this. My family wasn’t happy and my town, though not oppressive, was boring. I couldn’t wait to get away. In the big city (Washington, D.C., in my case) I quickly fell in with others who’d fled their families and towns for similar reasons. We bonded around our politics, our creative aspirations, and our stories of what we’d left behind. We talked a lot about “community.” We wanted to be one. We thought we were.

In general, we didn’t do community all that well. In the absence of any containment mechanism, relationship breakups and political disagreements turned incendiary. And it wasn’t till I’d been on Martha’s Vineyard for several years that I began to understand why. Nearly all of us who had escaped to the big city were of the same generation, born within 15 or 20 years of each other. We had few elders to give us ballast with their experience and few children to give us reason to think ahead. The Vineyard by contrast was a multigenerational web. It didn’t always take care of its own, and old grudges lay just under the surface, waiting to blow up with a careless step, but it did manage to contain brushfires before they spread out of control.

The Vineyard, in other words, was the kind of place that many of us had fled from, and that some of us fled back to when we realized that unfettered self-expression by unrelated individuals did not create the kind of community we wanted to live in.

I was fascinated. My fascination grew into The Mud of the Place. And I’m still here, chafing at the restraints but unwilling or unable to leave.

The bottom line is that we tolerate what we think we can afford to tolerate. We don’t tolerate the monsters that are breathing down our necks — do you think we’re stupid? Twenty-five years ago, the Vineyard considered lesbians and gay men alien and threatening. Now? Not so much. Brazilian immigrants are more so, regardless of sex or sexual identity.

The summer people and the year-round summer people, they can be infinitely tolerant because they aren’t part of the web. Their web is somewhere else.

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Mid-Spring on the Line

I’m not kidding: Wednesday was windy. A perfect drying day.

It was like winning the lottery: I was almost out of underwear, laundry needed to be done, and Wednesday — two-for-one day at the Airport Laundromat — dawned bright and very breezy.

Off I went, a little later than usual: the laundromat opens at 8 a.m., and Trav and I got there a little after 8:30. “Late” didn’t matter: everything was dry by 2:30, even the jeans. Not only was everything dry, even the wrinkly T-shirts et al. looked like they’d been ironed.

No, I don’t iron T-shirts. I don’t iron anything. I do own an iron, but the last time I used it was the last time I rode in a horse show — at least eight years ago.

Spring is most definitely here. The first shadbush blossoms appeared in the woods a few days ago. Now they’re in full bloom, floating ethereally in the woods before the oaks leaf out and overwhelm them.

And the grass seems more blindingly green than usual. Spring always comes as a jolt to senses grown both keen and complacent with winter, but really, this grass is green. We’ve had a fair amount of rain this spring, so I’m wondering if that’s it.

Wednesday’s laundry line was a typical mid-spring mix: turtlenecks shoulder to shoulder with T-shirts, both long-sleeved and short-; one sweater and one sweatshirt; only three pairs of longjohns (once I take them off for the season, I hate to put them back on again); five pairs of jeans; no shorts.

I’m wearing shorts at the moment, but with a long-sleeved mock turtleneck on top. Come to think of it, this is a mid-spring combination.

The Airport Laundromat isn’t a very social place. Often I’m the only do-it-yourself customer; the women who work there are busy doing laundry that’s been dropped off by individuals and businesses (the quantity of bed and table linens suggests that restaurants and inns are well represented among the clientele). But the word about two-fer Wednesday seems to have gotten around, and I generally have more company — and more competition for the machines — on Wednesdays than on other days.

I did run into a friend, who passed along the word that the West Tisbury planning board was going to take up the matter of “big houses” at its regular meeting next Monday at 5:30. As a source of gossip and local news, the laundromat is no match for the post office or the porch of Alley’s General Store, but it has its uses.

Long and short on an early May laundry line. You can see the OMG GOP WTF T-shirt I wore to the Boston Women’s March on January 21. January is NOT T-shirt weather in Massachusetts, but it was warm enough that day to wear a T over a turtleneck, so I did.




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April License Plate Report

A pretty good month, all in all: Oregon, Georgia, Indiana, and New Mexico. The gaps are filling in. Now I’m on the lookout for Washington state and the Carolinas, all of which are running late this year. Delaware is often the last East Coast state to show up, but now’s the time for them too.

The other day I got all excited because I was behind a pickup with Oklahoma plates at the four-way near the Oak Bluffs fire station. When I got home, I realized Oklahoma was already on the map: my first sighting was on a rental truck parked in a loading zone in Edgartown.

Rental trucks never seem quite legit because they’re usually here by coincidence — the driver might have rented the vehicle in New York or New Jersey and have no connection whatever to the state whose plate the truck is sporting. I count them anyway, but seeing a relatively scarce plate on a bona fide personal vehicle makes it real.

I just noticed that once again I’ve omitted to put D.C. on the map, though I’ve seen more than one D.C. plate in the last few months. I’ll add D.C. in May.

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Rise Again

Excuses first: In Write Through It, my other blog, I took on the 2017 A–Z Challenge: to blog thematically through the alphabet, starting with A on April 1 and ending with Z at the end of the month. To make it come out right, you got Sundays off (except for the last one). I met the challenge, and am pretty satisfied with my output, but From the Seasonally Occupied Territories languished in the meantime. Now I’m back. If you have any interest in writing or editing, do check out Write Through It: On Writing, Editing, and How to Keep Going.


Starter jar

At the very beginning of April, or maybe it was the very end of March, I committed a Big Stupid. I bake all my own bread. For the last seven or eight years, nearly all of it has been sourdough. I keep a starter going in my refrigerator.

The drill goes like this:

  • In the morning, take starter jar out of fridge, pour contents into big bread bowl, add cup of flour and about a cup and a half of warm water, whisk together, cover with towel, and leave out all day.
  • In the evening, when doubled starter looks bubbly, pour a cup of it back into jar and return it to fridge.
  • Add other ingredients to what remains in bread bowl — liquid, sweetener, oil, and enough flour to make a batter — mix well together, and leave out all night.
  • The next morning, or when batter is well risen (in cool weather this can be closer to noon), mix in desired additions (raisins, nuts, chopped onions, grated Parmesan, whatever), salt, and however much flour it takes to make a kneadable dough, knead, let rise till doubled, then bake.

Pouring half of doubled starter back into starter jar

My Big Stupid? I forgot to double the starter before I started mixing up the batter. It’s said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but it seems old dogs can learn new tricks without being taught, because in more than 30 years of using a sourdough starter I’d never done this before.

When I caught myself, I’d already added applesauce, water, and vegetable oil. My starter wasn’t starter anymore. I went ahead and made bread with it.

Over the years I’d given cups of starter to a couple of friends, so I contacted them to see if they had kept it going. If they had, they could double it and give me a cup, whereupon I’d be back in business. But they hadn’t.

I had, however, managed to start a starter from scratch before — when the starter I’d kept going for about 25 years died of neglect. (Aside: “And Will Rise? Notes on Lesbian Extinction,” my essay based on that experience, appeared in Trivia 10 and is still available online.) So I set to it, again following the instructions in Floss and Stan Dworkin’s Bake Your Own Bread, one of my two favorite bread books (the other is Beard on Bread).

 Step #1

In a small bowl, mix up a cup of reconstituted skim milk from the dried skim milk that had been in my cupboard for god knows how long — probably since my last adventure in starter starting at least seven years ago — cover it with waxed paper, and leave it in an out-of-the-way place. (In take 2, I discovered that skim milk from the store works just as well.)

Step #2

Wait. The Dworkins say the milk will smell sour, but the decisive sign for me is that the milk becomes a custardy semi-solid. My apartment in early April is on the cool side, which probably explains why this took several days.

Step #3

Pour the custardy milk into a somewhat bigger (but not too big) bowl, whisk in a cup of unbleached white flour, and put it back in your out-of-the-way place.

Step #4

Wait. The milk-and-flour mixture’s job is to attract wild yeast from the air. Your job is to wait till yeast is in residence. When bubbles appear in the batter, you’ve probably got yeast. Like the curdling, this seems to take longer in a cool room than a warm one. If your mixture turns blue or green, what you’ve got in residence is mold, not yeast. Throw it out and start again.

Bubbly batter

At this point, I thought I was home free, so I doubled my new starter and began a new batch of bread. However, the batter did not rise noticeably overnight the way it usually does. It had bubbles, but it wasn’t especially bubbly. Was this due to the coolness of my apartment or was the wild yeast too weak to raise my batter? I left it out another day and a half. At the same time, hedging my bets, I repeated Step #1, this time using store-bought skim milk.

Lacking confidence in my wild yeast, I sprinked a scant half tablespoon of active dry yeast on the batter before I added the rest of the ingredients, kneaded it, and made two loaves out of it.

O me of little faith! When I bit into my new loaf, the telltale tang told me at once that wild yeast were in residence and my starter was sour. Whether it was peppy enough to raise bread on its own I wasn’t sure. Hence —

Step #5 (optional)

I poured the starter out of its jar and back into a bowl, fed it a heaping spoonful of flour, and returned it to the out-of-the-way place (on top of the Rinnai heater behind my desk, in case you’re wondering), which it now shared with starter #2, which seemed to be coming along fine. For two or three days I fed starter #1 a spoonful of flour each day, along with enough water to maintain its consistency (more liquid than batter). By this point I was sure: the starter was rising up the sloping side of the bowl.

Now I had two starters. A single home baker does not need two starters. I made pancakes with starter #2, saving a cup of the starter just in case.

Sourdough pancakes

Starter #1 (right) and starter #2

Saturday morning I commenced the real test of starter #1, going back to step #1 (and remembering to double the starter this time).

Sunday morning, when I peeked under the towel that covered my bread bowl, I knew starter #1 had what it took. The batter had risen well up the sides of my bread bowl, just the way it was supposed to.

Risen batter

Before 2:30 p.m. three perfect loaves were cooling on their racks. (In my experience, sourdough takes longer to raise bread than active dry yeast, but the time was on target for this time of year.) In this case, the proof isn’t in the pudding; it’s in the bread.

Ready to rise



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March License Plate Report

You wouldn’t have trusted a report I posted on April Fool’s Day, right? And yesterday was another one of those ridiculously crowded Sundays: We Stand Together at 1, Messiah rehearsal at 2:30, campaign mailing at Richard’s at 4, and writers’ group at 7. Between #3 and #4, I nipped home to go walking with Trav and print out my pages for writers’ group. My big regret was having to leave Richard’s before the pizza was ready. Serious bummer. I’m doing my first-ever stint as an election worker from 4 to 8 p.m. in the town election on April 13 and I’m told pizza is one of the perks. No way am I leaving early.

As predicted last month, Pennsylvania did show up in March. My other predictions — “D.C., both Carolinas, Georgia, Oregon, and maybe Washington state” — weren’t worth the ether they were printed on. However, the March haul was respectable enough. Idaho was outside the West Tisbury post office, attached to a pickup that was attached to a long flat trailer hauling lumber. I spotted Kentucky in the airport’s long-term parking lot while doing laundry last week. I can’t remember where I saw Wisconsin, but I did see more than one of them.

Unlike March 2016, with its record-breaking 12 sightings, this March wasn’t exactly spectacular, but the year-to-date total is currently 24, only 3 behind last year’s pace. Not bad.

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Candidates’ Night

There are only two contested races on West Tisbury’s town election ballot, and so far the buzz is not exactly overwhelming, but the turnout for Candidates’ Night on Wednesday was respectable enough.

The event was organized and moderated by the League of Women Voters. The time-keeper sat in the front row with two signs, one announcing a one-minute warning and the other (red, of course) saying STOP. Candidates in contested races were allotted five minutes each, those in uncontested race got three, and no limit was imposed either on questions from the audience or the responses to them.

Candidates spoke in the order their offices are listed on the ballot. Those running unopposed gave a capsule description of what their jobs were about, which made the evening a short version of the “What Makes West Tisbury Tick?” forum that was held in the same room in early February.

Dan Waters, unopposed candidate for moderator, led off. As the one who runs town meetings, the moderator is one of the most visible town officials.

Dan had never expected to hold the office: his predecessor, Pat Gregory, first elected in 1991, seemed tailor-made for the job. Then in May 2014, just a month after town meeting, the whole town was shocked by news of Pat’s murder while he was hiking in California.

So Dan — artist, poet, printer, muscian — stepped up to the plate and was elected to the position that fall. Part of his self-education for the job involved watching videos of 11 town meetings that Pat conducted. His main task is, he noted, “to make sure that everyone feels free to get up and speak,” especially newcomers to town, new voters, and anyone daunted by the prospect of speaking before 300+ of their townsfolk.

One of the two contested races this year is for selectman. In West Tisbury, as in many New England towns, town meeting is, in effect, the legislature and the board of selectmen is, more or less, the executive. In a year there’s always one annual town meeting and maybe one or two specials. The three-member board of selectmen meets weekly. It’s not hard to figure out that much of the day-to-day business of running the town falls to the selectmen. Selectmen are elected for a three-year term, and one seat comes open each year. Turnover is not great, and contested elections are not all that common. This year incumbent Richard Knabel is being challenged by Kent Healy, a civil engineer who’s served the town in various capacities.

At the table, candidates for selectman Richard Knabel (left) and Kent Healy.

In the interest of full, or semi-full disclosure, I have to say that I’m not remotely neutral in this one. I like Kent Healy, but I’m also on Richard’s small but valiant campaign committee. So I’m not going to go into the blow-by-blow of who said what — just read whatever campaign literature comes your way.

Katherine Triantafillou, running for re-election to the finance committee, spoke about what the fincom does: basically they review every article that appears on the town meeting warrant, and if it involves spending money (as many warrant articles do), they examine its implications for the rest of the town budget and the tax rate. Gary Montrowl, also running for re-election, wasn’t able to be present. Since there are two seats open, they’ll both be re-elected.

There followed unopposed candidates for the board of assessors (Maria McFarland), tax collector (Brent Taylor, represented by a written statement), and town clerk (Tara Whiting).

The other contested race on the ballot is for library trustee, where three candidates are vying for two slots. Candidate Rob Hauck spoke for himself, and a statement from candidate Wendy Nierenberg was read to those assembled. They both sounded well qualified for the job. I’d heard some interesting stories about why the third candidate was running, but that individual neither appeared nor sent a statement so I’m no wiser than I was at the beginning. I believe I’ll vote for the other two. This race did elicit the (to me) most interesting factoid of the evening: 85% of West Tisbury’s residents have library cards. Yay us!

Town clerk Tara Whiting oversees all aspects of elections and issues dog licenses, among several other duties. She’s running unopposed this year.

Next came the Parks and Recreation Committee and the Planning Board, and the town’s representative to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission. Binnie Ravitch is running for the latter. Vote for her.

John Powers, the town’s retired former health agent, hadn’t known exactly what the constable’s duties were, but he did know that of the town’s two constables, one had retired and the other moved to another town. Turns out the constable mainly serves at the direction of the town clerk, helping oversee elections. It’s the constable who sits by the imposing ballot box at the polls and makes sure that it’s only one ballot per voter. So John decided to run, and since he’s unopposed it looks like he’ll be elected.

No one was there to make a presentation about either of the two ballot questions — one resolves to ban moped rentals in town and the other is a non-binding referendum about whether to establish a housing bank to support affordable housing. So we adjourned a little early and went into the night at the still-respectable hour of 8:20.

NB: You find find out almost anything you want to know about West Tisbury town government, including the Annual Town Meeting warrant, at the town website. To find out other stuff, you could hang out on Alley’s porch, at the library, or in the post office parking lot and listen to people talk.

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Calendars Rule

I used to pride myself on being able to keep all my engagements and deadlines in my head. My memory isn’t unusually capacious — it’s just that my engagements were few, and because most of my editing jobs are book-length or close to it, it’s unusual for me to have more than a couple of deadlines in a two- or three-week period.

“Dogs of Martha’s Vineyard” is the title of my chair-side calendar, and the resident malamute is the March poster boy. Google Calendar can”t beat that.

The 2016 election changed all that. Now, if I don’t write all my commitments down somewhere, I either blow some of them off or double-book myself. My chair-side calendar does not compare with the impressive day-at-a-glance books that some of my new colleagues carry, but I’ve become dependent enough on it that when it disappears under a stack of papers and folders and books I get anxious.

For a backup I’ve got Google Calendar. Google obediently emails me a reminder a few hours before every event I’m supposed to be at. My chair-side calendar doesn’t do that.

However, my Travvy is the March poster boy in my Dogs of Martha’s Vineyard calendar. Google doesn’t have that.

So Sunday morning it dawned on me for real that I had four — count ’em, four — commitments on Sunday, starting at 1 p.m. and continuing till 9. OMG, OMG. Before the election, four commitments in a week was my idea of a full schedule. If I’m supposed to be out three nights in a row, I can generally be counted on to fink out on one of the three.

But on Sunday I made it to all four, and pretty much on time too.

International Women’s Day at Five Corners

At 1 p.m. it was the weekly meeting of We Stand Together / Estamos Todos Juntos at the charter school. First everyone meets together in the main hall, then we break into smaller committees: civic engagement, environment, and so on. I’ve been meeting with the women’s committee, which organized the “Women Stand Together” rally at Five Corners on International Women’s Day. My hopes for this group have been dwindling: it’s more interested in playing to the big-name summer people and getting mainstream PR than in trying to organize on the year-round Vineyard. As you can probably guess from reading this blog, this is not a high priority with me.

I left the committee meeting a little early in order to make it to Vineyard Haven for my 2:30 rehearsal at Grace Episcopal Church. A pickup chorus is rehearsing Part III of Handel’s Messiah for a performance at Grace toward the end of April. Last week’s rehearsal, the first, was a total wash for me: I was the only alto present, and the only chorus in Part III that I halfway know is the “Amen,” which I last sang 15+ years ago. I spent more time lost than not, but during the week I’d practiced a lot with my score and Cyberbass, an amazing website that features a gazillion vocal works broken down into their component parts so you can practice your part with the other parts in the background.

This week there were two other altos, and it was the sopranos who were not only short-staffed but missing their strongest singers. My practice had paid off — this week I actually knew what I was doing — but now I realized that I’d been cueing off the sopranos for several alto entrances, and when the sopranos were inaudible, I didn’t come in. “Worthy is the Lamb” and the “Amen” are both very fugue-y, which means that if you lose your place it can be really hard to get back in. So this week I’m paying more attention to what the tenors are doing, and to counting time independent of the other parts.

I’d already figured that the only time Travvy and I could get in an afternoon walk was between rehearsal and Richard Knabel’s party (reception?) to kick off his campaign for re-election as West Tisbury selectman. It started at 5 and I didn’t get there till about 5:20, but this isn’t the sort of gathering where you have to show up on the dot. Showing up on the dot is not a Vineyard specialty. “Vineyard time” can mean as much as an hour late. This becomes less amusing the more meetings, rehearsals, and other events you’re supposed to go to.

The food at Richard’s events is always excellent, so I figured I could safely forgo supper. I was right. The company was congenial, and I got to talk with people I already knew pretty well, people I had only a nodding acquaintance with, and people who knew me from Facebook but whom I’d never met face to face. West Tisbury candidates’ night is tomorrow, March 22, at the library, so I’ll blog more about the upcoming election after that. Town meeting is on Tuesday, April 11, and the election’s two days later, but you knew that already, right?

My last Sunday engagement was the 7 p.m. meeting of the Sunday Writers, which, as you can guess, meets on Sunday. This is the most important meeting of my week and the one I won’t blow off without very compelling cause (like a musician friend performing in Woods Hole, that sort of thing). I’d wisely tucked my manuscript pages into my satchel, guessing that I wouldn’t make it home between Richard’s reception and my writers’ group meeting. I don’t wear a watch and I didn’t see a clock, but my internal time-keeper gave me a nudge, whereupon I realized that two of the other Sunday Writers at the party had already left, and the third wasn’t going.

When I got to my car, the dashboard clock said 6:55. The internal time-keeper had nailed it again: it takes five minutes to drive from Richard’s to Cynthia’s, and I got there on time.

Trav spent most of Sunday out on the deck waiting for me to come home, which I did several times.


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Women Stand Together

Poster by Chris Pettit

Across the country and around the world yesterday, women and our allies rallied to celebrate International Women’s Day.

In some places, women refrained from work and/or shopping in order to demonstrate women’s significance to the community and the economy. On the Vineyard we decided to make ourselves visible in another way: by rallying at Five Corners in the late afternoon, 4 to 5:30 p.m. Five Corners is probably the single most visible place on the island.

Morning rain gave way to bright if brisk afternoon sunshine. An estimated 70 turned out. As at the demonstrations and marches on January 21, day 1 of the Trump administration, the signs were plentiful, creative, and inspirational.

The rally was organized by the Women’s Committee of We Stand Together / Estamos Todos Juntos, a multi-faceted grassroots action group born out of the shock and concern that greeted last November’s election results. Its first public action was the successful rally at Waban Park (Dennis Alley Park) on November 19. Since then it was gone on to do really stellar work promoting safety in the schools and around the island for those threatened by the new administration’s anti-immigrant policies. It also co-sponsored, with the M.V. Hebrew Center, the hugely successful “legislative forum” with State Rep. Dylan Fernandes and State Sen. Julian Cyr on February 5.

To find out more and to get involved, WST/ETJ meets at 1 p.m. every Sunday at the M.V. Public Charter School. It also has a page on (where else?) Facebook.

“Be Bold for Change” was a theme of the day: note the sign on the right-hand side of the lower photo. The crowd was spirited and convivial, as Vineyard gatherings tend to be. We greeted friends, introduced ourselves to people we didn’t know (some of whom we knew on Facebook but hadn’t met in person), and went around reading each other’s signs.

I picked up a few tips about effective demo signage.

  • If the sign has to be read from a distance, a few big words are better than a lot of small ones.
  • When the wind is blowing, the bigger the sign the harder it is to hold. (The wind is often blowing on Martha’s Vineyard, especially at Five Corners.)
  • Foamboard is your friend.

Being a novice sign-maker with minimal graphic skills, I balked at the price of foamboard when I stopped by Edu Comp, the computer, office, and art supply store in Vineyard Haven. What if I had to fumble my way through several drafts to make a decent sign? As it turned out, I did it in one take and now have three sheets of posterboard left over. Foamboard is definitely in my future.

Pussy hat by Sarah Vail, words by Judy Grahn, sign by me, and photo by Albert Fischer.

Here’s me peeking out from behind my sign, courtesy of Albert Fischer, a man of several trades, including photography, who also lives in my neighborhood. For a close-up of the sign, read on.

Thinking about what to put on my sign, I thought immediately of Judy Grahn’s Common Woman poems, especially the one that includes the lines “the common woman is as common as the best of bread / and will rise / and will become strong . . .”

I’m a bread baker after all, right? So this is what I came up with. The rose was added at the suggestion of a Facebook friend, in homage to “bread and roses,” a slogan that originated in the Lawrence (Mass.) textile strike of 1912.


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Bills to Watch Out For

This is the post that “Into the Mud” was supposed to be the introduction to. You can read it first, but you don’t have to. Here’s the key line: “many, many of us have only the shakiest grasp of how government works and how to influence it.” Not surprisingly, we have a hard time evaluating a candidate’s qualifications for a particular office. So we get swept up by grand promises with nary a thought for whether the candidate has the ability to deliver on them. Demonstrated competence is widely seen as a liability. This makes me crazy, and look at the mess it got us into.

So I’m doing my bit to get some of the very useful nitty-gritty out there. Lucky for me, since I’m basically lazy, the guy my district (Barnstable Dukes Nantucket) had the good sense to elect to the state house of representatives makes this easy. State Representative Fernandes, better known as Dylan, has already made several trips to the Vineyard to hear from us and tell us what he’s up to. He’s also one of only about five members of the House (membership: 160) to be sending out a regular e-newsletter. (To get on the list, use the email address on his legislative web page.)

dylan fernandes at Howes House

State Rep. Dylan Fernandes (left) hosts a legislative update at the Howes House, West Tisbury, on February 28, 2017. Constituent Paul Doherty listens.

Dylan’s most recent visit, this past Tuesday, was billed as a “legislative update” and so it was. The focus was on bills that he’s sponsoring or co-sponsoring, but I learned a few things about how the state legislature works. For instance, nearly 6,000 bills have been filed in the current session (the 190th if you’re keeping track) of the state legislature. Since every bill has to go to a committee before it reaches the house or senate floor, this should give you an idea of why things do not happen overnight. Dylan noted that it can take on average four or five sessions before a bill garners enough support and attention to come up for a vote.

Another thing I learned, because Dylan had paid a call on the M.V. Chamber of Commerce earlier in the day, was that thanks to the current administration’s policies international travel to the U.S. is down as much as 14 percent. This has major implications for our region and for Massachusetts as a whole because both rely significantly on tourism. One challenge for our state is to dissociate itself from the hate crimes and general hostility to “foreigners” that seems rampant in some areas of the country. For more info on the national picture, see “US Tourism Experiences a ‘Trump Slump'” in The Guardian, or Google the keywords for more stories.

Here are capsule descriptions of some of the bills that Dylan is involved with. My not-so-hidden agenda is to suggest how many issues affect one little state house district (ours!) and emphasize that they’re dealt with step by step, not by giving stump speeches and promising the moon. For more details, including their bill numbers (I told you I was lazy), visit his web page.

  • Along with 24 co-sponsors, Dylan has refiled a bill originally filed by his predecessor, Tim Madden, to study the causes and suggest remedies for ocean acidification (HD 2519 — see, maybe I’m not as lazy as I think). Because this has major implications for the commercial fishery, it’s supported by a coalition of business and environmental interests, not to mention the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).
  • A bill in support of the Paris Climate Agreements recommendations on greenhouse-gas emissions (HD 3089).
  • A bill to establish a commission of academics, frontline practitioners, and legislators to review the literature on long-term treatment for heroin/opioid addiction and make recommendations for how the state should spend its money (HD 2386). The heroin/opioid epidemic is a huge issue on the Cape & Islands, and more data are needed on the effectiveness of various long-term treatment methods.
  • A bill to make implicit-bias training mandatory for law-enforcement officers every three years (HD 1963). It’s currently optional. Studies have shown that such training is effective at reducing the biases that we often aren’t consciously aware of. Dylan noted that the island’s police chiefs are behind the bill. One attendee said that such training should be extended to teachers, social service workers, and others. Dylan agreed: “In my ideal world,” he said, “every government employee who interfaces with the public should have it.” This is a first step, and law enforcement is a good place to start because officers carry lethal weapons on the job.
  • An act authorizing the town of Nantucket to impose a real-estate-transfer fee to support affordable and workforce housing (HD 3792). This fee would only be imposed on real estate changing hands for more than $2 million, but the real estate lobby is still dead set against it. The Vineyard, like Nantucket, is in the throes of a major housing crisis, and there’s considerable support here for doing something similar, so we’re all watching to see how this bill fares.

OK, is that enough civic education for one day?

No, wait, one more thing: Here are Dylan’s committee assignments. He got all the ones he asked for, unusual for a freshman legislator, but he also had compelling reasons for all of them. Lucky for us, the house leadership agreed. (“Joint” means that the committee includes members of both the house and the senate. On Dylan’s web page you’ll find links that explain what each committee does.)

  • Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture
  • Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery
  • Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government
  • House Committee on Redistricting

And, as promised, here’s a photo of the resident malamute on the campaign trail last fall for both Dylan and our new state senator, Julian Cyr.


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