OK, this one’s gonna be short because I need Sunday morning to get back to Wolfie so I won’t keep the Sunday Writers in suspense about What Happens Next.
“Short?” chortles the Internal Skeptic. “We’ll see about that.”
In “F is for Family” I blogged about how Martha’s Vineyard woke me up to the importance of family not as something you run away from but as something that sustains its members and makes survival possible. So why are all the principals in Mud of the Place single?
My subconscious did it, I didn’t plan it that way, but when I saw what was happening, I wasn’t surprised.
I wanted to show something of how Martha’s Vineyard worked, from different perspectives. So Mud had to be an ensemble piece, and it had to take place mostly in the “public square,” as opposed to behind the closed doors of family homes. In the writing I learned enough about each character to sketch in their background, but if I’d done more than that Mud would have turned into a thousand-page doorstop. As it is, the print version is almost 400 pages long.
Another thing: Out in the public square, most of us most of the time move about as individuals — or so it seemed to me when I hadn’t been here all that long. In real life we actually carry our connections with us, but they’re in the background, soft focus, almost ghostly. If you’re wise you’ll keep those connections in mind in any public interaction.
Volunteering in island theater and at Wintertide I couldn’t help noticing how many of the most active volunteers were single and in their 20s, 30s, and early 40s — as was I. Single people without children or other family responsibilities; still too young to be the caretakers of aging parents.
That particular demographic has been decimated by the ongoing housing crisis, including the dearth of cheap winter rentals and safe places to crash in the summer. Many have left the island for gainful employment and/or to raise families. Those who haven’t work so many hours to pay the rent that little time or energy is left for volunteering.
These days the volunteer cadre seems dominated by those 60 and up. They have time because they’re retired and housing because they’re living year-round in what used to be their second home. The nonprofit and civic landscape has changed quite a bit since the 1980s and ’90s.
During his off-island years as a social worker and community organizer, Jay Segredo helped form a loose network of like-minded folk that call themselves the Free Radicals. This was a mischievous double entendre on my part, or maybe his. Free radicals are atoms with unattached electrons that fly around looking for other atoms to bond with. In health food circles, free radicals are a bad thing and anti-oxidants such as broccoli are advised to help neutralize them. This is why Jay’s homophobic sister Janice is seen eating broccoli in the hospital cafeteria.
Each of the Free Radicals has a tie bearing the group’s logo, an atom with electrons flying around its nucleus. When Jay’s malevolent boss, Dr. Jerome Turner — known to his underlings as Gerbil Turd — spots it, he remarks, “I didn’t take you for a fan of nuclear power, Mr. Segredo.” This is not the only mistake Dr. Turner makes.
When Wolfie opens some 12 years later, the returning characters are, not surprisingly, more settled than they were in Mud. I can’t explain the new arrangements without giving spoilers for the earlier novel, so I won’t. At the same time, the main players are once again single in that they act outside of institutional constraints, which I do believe is the only way they can learn what they learn and do what they have to do.