Whose Blinker?

The other day I blogged about psychic maps, specifically my psychic map of Martha’s Vineyard. My psychic map features certain places that glow with color because of my experiences there and my feelings for them, but my psychic map isn’t strictly a personal thing. Psychic maps have political implications: because of our varied psychic maps, we see different things and have different priorities, and when we sit down at a meeting we may find ourselves with very different, even contradictory, perspectives on an issue. I’ve been trying to come up with a way to illustrate this.

Well, duh, a perfect example was staring me right in the face: the roundabout that has been proposed for the blinker intersection. You know the public hearing I wrote about all of two days ago? That roundabout. Some people love the idea; quite a few of us hate it. Some people think the intersection is working just fine as it is; other people don’t.

Our diverging, sometimes clashing opinions have a lot to do with our psychic maps. Let’s go back to my psychic map of Martha’s Vineyard — new map, new colors, but it’s got the same basic shape as the one in “My Martha’s Vineyard.”

My blinker intersection

The red dot sitting on the chartreuse line marks the famous intersection. Barnes is the road that goes through it north–south. The unmarked road approaching from the north is the Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road, which we think of as an east–west road (for reasons that will become clearer in the next map). The rose dot slightly left of center is where I have lived since March 1, 2007.  The chartreuse line marks one of the two routes that I usually take to Oak Bluffs, where I buy all of my liquor and most of my groceries. Notice that this route takes me through the intersection south to north or north to south.

Until 2003, the intersection had lights that blinked red in the north–south direction, the less heavily traveled route, and yellow in the east–west direction. People who customarily traveled east–west loved it: they could fly through without slowing down. People who traveled north–south had to wait and wait and wait, then risk pulling out into oncoming traffic. Understandably they tended to hate it.

The institution of the four-way stop in 2003 was a huge improvement for the north–south travelers. For those going east–west — not so much. At peak traffic times in the summer, traffic on the Vineyard Haven side might back up as far as the electric company and it could take 10 to 15 minutes of crawling forward before you finally got through the intersection. Grumble grumble grumble.

Here’s a hypothetical someone else’s psychic map of the intersection:

Someone else's blinker intersection

This hypothetical someone else lives in Vineyard Haven and works in Edgartown, or the reverse (the blue dots). The heavy black line is the Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road, and once again the red dot is the intersection. Looks different from my map, doesn’t it? Barnes Road barely exists for this person. She rarely goes up-island, and she’s got better ways to get to Oak Bluffs from both Edgartown and Vineyard Haven.

Not hard to see, is it, how people with these two psychic maps might hold differing opinions on whether there’s a problem and what the solution should be?

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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4 Responses to Whose Blinker?

  1. Hal Davis says:

    Your comments in reply deserve expansion. The “religion” and “family” discussion could be fruitful.

    Liz Peterson and I, who married in 2007, are each on the outs with our respective families over various aspects of religion and politics. (Hmm…”religion” and “family” and “politics.” The trifecta.) OK. “Outs” may be strong. There are still bonds of love, but as Susanna pointed out, some things are better left unsaid.

    Liz and I each regard aspects of our spouse’s family and religion to be fascinating, in part because they are new to us. We didn’t grow up with the other’s exposure.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts, if you wish to express them, about your changing views of church and family as you moved from a big city to a small town.


    • This is one of those questions that if I grab one end of it I’ll still be talking six months later. 😉

      When I was a young adult (up to the time I moved here, age 34), most of my peers had, like me, run away from their families of origin as fast as they could. Our families were not supportive places. My family looked OK from the outside, but my mother was alcoholic, depressed, and not happy. This was Feminine Mystique stuff. Some women I knew had had horrendous experiences growing up: incest, families committing them to mental hospitals because they were lesbians, etc. Religion wasn’t a huge deal in my family (I “aged out” of the junior choir after 8th grade and stopped going to church), but it had been a squelching force for other women I knew. So feminist theories and rhetoric emphasized critiques of the patriarchal family and patriarchal religion. Marxist and socialist theory had been doing this for many decades, generally (IMO) scanting the patriarchal angle in favor of the class one.

      At the same time we talked about “community” all the time. We’d fled the communities we grew up in, but we wanted community. We said we wanted community, but every disagreement turned into a blood feud if not a blood bath. This was a big part of what made me leave. I loved my job, but “the community” was blowing itself apart with the sex wars (etc.). I landed on Martha’s Vineyard. Like most new arrivals, I didn’t know what I was seeing, and plenty of things I didn’t begin to glimpse till I’d been here awhile, but since I arrived with this “community” preoccupation there were some things I knew enough to pay attention to from the beginning. Community needs bedrock, a foundation, ballast; history is part of it. The women’s community had no such thing. (Neither do most utopian experiments. I think that’s why most of them don’t last.) Yes, it’s conservative, and that’s good. Ballast is good. Strong foundations are good. If you’re different enough, you may chafe at the restrictions enough to leave — or maybe you’ll make your accommodations. (Jay in The Mud of the Place is a gay island native who leaves and then comes back 20 years later.)

      What I’ve learned here is that without family, plenty of people here would have fallen through the cracks and over the edge, and the closer you are to the edge economically, the more important family is. Religion is more important in some quarters than others, but (from the outside, anyway) it’s hard to separate Sacred Heart parish from the PA (Portuguese American) Club from the interrelated families that make up Oak Bluffs. (This ties in with what I blogged about in “Benefit.”)

      The short version is that an awful lot of progressive, socialist, and feminist rhetoric has been assuming for four or more decades now that families and religion are bad news. Now imagine that rhetoric falling on the ears of people whose heads would not be above water if not for family and/or church. Now some of the rhetoric is coming from people who seem totally clueless about the role of churches in the civil rights movement, or religious people in the antiwar movement, or liberation theology. I cringe when I hear it. I hadn’t been on MV long before I realized just how urban the movements I’d been part of where, and as the years have gone by I’ve felt less and less included in their “we.” The right has done a great job of exploiting all this for more than 30 years now, and I’m afraid many urban liberals and progressives still don’t get it.


  2. Now if we could just persuade everyone in the Middle East to read your post…


    • When my mind tries to deal with that level of complexity, it blows a circuit and shuts down.

      One thing I seriously did not understand till I moved to Martha’s Vineyard was that “religion” and “family” appear differently on different people’s psychic maps. Fall in with radicals, feminists, and gay people, most of them under 40, and you get the impression that religion and family are like natural disasters. Move to small town and you start seeing that though some families and some religious bodies are screwed up, on the whole family and church are what hold the community together, i.e., necessary for survival. By then I’d said and written a lot of stupid shit that I couldn’t take back.


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