In my last blog, I strongly implied that I rarely go out in summer. This week I’m making a liar of myself: having just got home from Spirituals Choir rehearsal, I’ve now been out five nights in a row.
Liar, liar, pants on fire? Maybe not. Maybe this week is “the exception that proves the rule.” I’ve never been sure exactly what that means. Maybe it means I’m not a liar, I’m just exceptional.
Monday was Jemima James’s annual variety show at Featherstone Center for the Arts. Featherstone is a hub of year-round creative activities: gallery shows, readings, lectures, classes in all sorts of arts and crafts. Summer’s Monday night performance series always draws a crowd, not least because the setting is idyllic: a natural grassy amphitheater with some majestic trees on it.
People come in ones, twos, and family groups. Admission is $10 at the “door,” and anyone under 14 gets in free. Some bring picnics, or pizza, or soda and beer. Kids have a blast chasing each other, blowing bubbles, and rolling down the gentle slope, close enough for adult supervision but far enough away that they don’t interfere with anyone’s listening to the music.
Even dogs are welcome. For the second year in a row I brought Travvy along. It takes him a while to settle down amid the kids running and the music playing and the people clapping, but he likes people making a fuss over him. A couple of times he woo-wooed along with the music. One guy told him he sang better than some of the singers.
Tuesday night it was off to the Vineyard Haven Public Library, which hosts excellent programs all year round, thanks in large part to programming director Betty Burton. (Travvy stayed home.) Tuesday the speaker was one of Betty’s two daughters, Grace Burton-Sundman, a 2006 grad of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. She’s been living and working in Rwanda since last December.
All I knew about Rwanda was that in 1994 it was the scene of a horrendous genocide in which an estimated million people were killed, many of them gruesomely. Why would a young white USian with many other options decide to take up residence in such a place? I was, in a word, curious.
Rwanda, it seems, has been making a remarkable comeback in the ensuing two decades. During her short time there, Grace has had a variety of experiences and gotten to know an impressive array of people, Rwandan and expat alike. She’s an intelligent observer of both big developments and personal connections, and she organized her material so well that her audience — most of whom knew as little as I did about Rwanda — came away informed but never overwhelmed.
Five nights out in a row: On Saturday, The Moth, slick, professionally produced, including stories told by three Vineyard residents, for an audience most of whom paid $40 a head. On Sunday, my writers’ group, where we read our own writings and listen to everyone else’s; no charge for admission, but you do have to write. On Monday, the Jemima James Variety Show — good live music for $10 and the chance to hang out in a beautiful spot and watch kids and adults all having a good time. On Tuesday, a fascinating glimpse into a world I knew nothing about, no charge. And tonight the weekly rehearsal of the Spirituals Choir, 20 or so Vineyarders, some summer residents and some year-rounders, learning songs the slaves sang all so we can offer other people a glimpse of their lives.
We tell each other our own stories, we sing each other our own songs, we lay out our own skills and wares and whatever else we’ve got. If I had to identify one, just one, thing that makes the Vineyard a good place to live, a place worth saving, that would probably be it. Summer residents and occasional visitors are welcome, and welcomed, at these events. I bet they absorb more of what the Vineyard is about than those who spend all their time and money on events that happen on the Vineyard but could easily be taking place in Boston, New York, or the Berkshires.
It’s flattering that high-powered outsiders think our stories — some of our stories — are worth listening to, but let’s not get carried away. We aren’t telling our stories primarily for them. We’re telling them for each other.