Early on New Year’s Eve, I made my way up-island to Pathways, a winter happening at the Chilmark Tavern. Pathways is now, I’m told, in its sixth year, but this was my first visit.
Chilmark and, beyond it, Aquinnah aren’t on my psychic map. On my psychic map, Martha’s Vineyard dwindles and disappears soon after you cross the West Tisbury town line.
When a place isn’t on your psychic map, there’s no way to get from here to there. There’s no there there anyway, so why bother?
In the afternoons Pathways is a drop-in space. On occasional evenings it hosts performances musical, literary, dramatic, terpsichorean (sorry about that — I couldn’t come up for a shorter adjective for “dance”), dramatic, and multimedia, usually by island-based musicians, writers, dancers, and artists. To my mind this is about as close to heaven as it gets, so why did it take me five years to get there?
Long story. When Pathways started, my novel, The Mud of the Place, had sunk without trace on its home turf. Writing and performing were barely on my psychic map. I was looking for other ways to make my life meaningful, or at least bearable.
On top of that, the whole idea of Pathways reminded me of Wintertide Coffeehouse, in which I was heavily involved as all-round volunteer and occasional performer from the mid-1980s to the mid-’90s. Wintertide’s long dwindling and eventual closing left a huge gap not only in the Vineyard’s life but in my own. One of my life’s little ironies is that Wintertide’s closing freed up time and energy to write my novel, then its absence made it next to impossible for my novel to find a local audience — and for me to believe that a local audience existed anymore.
So Pathways sounded too good to be true, and too good to last. Best not to get involved — it would just go belly-up and leave me bereft again.
What put Pathways on my psychic map was a chance encounter at the post-Thanksgiving Artisans’ Festival. I was selling Mud of the Place alongside my writer buddies Shirley Mayhew, Lynn Christoffers, and Cynthia Riggs. Keren Tonnesen stopped by our table, introduced herself, and asked if I was interested in having copies of Mud for sale at Pathways. Well, yeah, said I. I hadn’t realized that Pathways sold stuff.
This led to an email exchange, which eventually led to my venturing over the town line and making my way up-island all the way to Beetlebung Corner. It was dark. I wasn’t sure where the Chilmark Tavern was, exactly — what if I passed it and found myself at the Gay Head Cliffs?
Note to off-islanders: There aren’t all that many paved roads in Chilmark. Getting lost on the unpaved roads is easy. Getting lost on the paved ones is almost impossible.
What I discovered is that Pathways is too good to be true. The music was fine. George Davis and Mait Edey were followed by David Stanwood on piano, who was followed by singer-songwriter Kim Hilliard and her guitar.
Books by other island writers, including Cynthia and Lynn, were for sale. So was artwork by island artists. Evidence of island creativity was everywhere. I picked up a brochure for Fae Kontje-Gibbs’s “Words and Pictures” workshops.
In exchange for selling books, Pathways keeps 30 percent of the retail price and returns 70 percent to the writer. This is a much better deal than you’ll get in a bookstore. And both the wine and the coffee were free. Was I hallucinating or what?
When Thomas the Rhymer returned from a place like this, he discovered that seven years had passed and everyone thought he was dead.
When I got back to West Tisbury, it was still 2014 but 2015 was already off to a good start.