When the retina in my right eye detached in early August 2004, I’d been off-island at most twice since 9/11. In the following months, I made numerous eye-related trips to Boston: ferry to Woods Hole, bus to South Station, subway to the main location of Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston (OCB), then back again. The changes wrought by 9/11 and the panic that followed were so startling to my unaccustomed eye that over the next few years I wrote my probably best-ever essay about the experience: “My Terrorist Eye: Risk, the Unexpected, and the War on Terror.”
Vineyard people sometimes compete for the title of who hasn’t been off-island for the longest time, and I confess: I played the game, and was pleased by the astonishment and occasional horror with which more recent arrivals greeted my announcement that I hadn’t been off-island in more than two and a half years.
Well, the truth is more complicated. My body hadn’t been off-island in all that time, but my mind surely had. Island-bound I was not. My virtual self got around.
I went online for the first time in 1994. That year I chaired the jury for the James Tiptree Jr. Award, which recognizes fantasy and science fiction (f/sf) that explores and expands our ideas of gender. My fellow jurors were in Idaho, California, the Boston area, and Melbourne, Australia. They were all online, as were most of my friends and colleagues from the f/sf world — but very few of my Vineyard friends. Given the distances involved, communication by phone was expensive and by snailmail (which at that time was still called “the mail” or “the post,” depending on where you lived) was slow. So they ganged up on me and I signed up on GEnie, where all my f/sf friends hung out in the Science Fiction RoundTable (SFRT). Soon I had my own topic there too.
By 1997 my online connection and technical equipment enabled me to access the growing World Wide Web. Using the search engine of the day (AltaVista? Northern Lights? Can’t remember), I discovered and quickly joined Copyediting-L, “an email discussion list for editors and other defenders of the English language who want to talk about anything related to editing: sticky style issues; philosophy of editing; newspaper, technical, and other specialized editing; reference books; client relations; Internet resources; electronic editing and software; freelance issues; and so on.”
I can’t overestimate how essential Copyediting-L — it’s familiarly known as CE-L and its subscribers refer to ourselves as “the CELery” — has been to me over the years, as a source of free continuing education, professional development, a way of passing on some of what I’ve learned as editor and writer, friends, clients, and the most godawful punfests you’ll ever take part in. CE-L is still going strong, though I’m now much more active in the editing-related groups on Facebook, headed by Editors Association of Earth (EOE).
None of this was or is or ever will be available on Martha’s Vineyard. In addition to editing, the online world has allowed me to indulge, develop, and/or expand my passions for feminism, f/sf, Morgan horses, Malamute dogs, and grassroots politics.
Even before the online world greatly expanded my possibilities, I realized at some level that I would never be wholly of the island. It might have been during my first forays into Bunch of Grapes bookstore: the women’s section comprised mostly pop psychology books from New York publishers, women’s history was nowhere to be found, there were zero titles from the independent press, and the science fiction section looked like it had been stocked by monkeys. So from the get-go I did nearly all my book buying by mail order or during my trips to science fiction conventions, which invariably involved visits to the nearest feminist or other indy bookstore.
I’m not well traveled at all, but I’ve been a border crosser most of my life, both/and, neither/nor, body in one place, head somewhere else. In 1997 I was the special guest at WisCon 21, the feminist science fiction convention held annually in Madison, Wisconsin. Special guests are expected to give a speech, and mine was called “Notes of a Border Crosser.” My focus then was on living in the borderland between the mutually suspicious feminist print world and fantasy/science fiction world, but it applies to other things too, like living and not-living on Martha’s Vineyard.