Crossing into Summer

Last night I was coming home from the Cape on the 7:45 p.m. boat, the Governor—the small, open freight ferry. The sun was starting to set, the water was calm, the night cool but not cold as there was hardly a breeze. In short, it was a perfect crossing. Until . . .
Just before we entered Vineyard Haven Harbor, we stopped. Dead. Dead Calm, I thought, remembering an old horror film that I hadn’t been able to watch that was based on an even older book that I couldn’t read, what with my over-active imagination and terror of things that go bump in the night. Or, in this case, the sea. It probably didn’t help that the Fourth of July is approaching so yet another anniversary for the film, JAWS, is looming.
I didn’t know why we were sitting there what seemed like too long. (I do know I wanted no reminders that the boats had undergone their own brand of horror stories over the winter.) Rather than obsessing, I decided to study the coastline ahead, the curve of West Chop with its lighthouse that steadily blinked its welcome. It felt . . . peaceful. Not JAWS-like at all.
By then it was well past 8:00 p.m., and the orange sunset was fading into darkness. That’s when I noticed the lights. From West Chop to the harbor, lights appeared in countless windows of the waterfront homes—homes large and small, old and new, most gray-shingled and sitting high on the bluff, perhaps watching the water as I was watching them.
That’s when I knew that it really is summer again. Off season, most of those homes were dark, their windows boarded against winter’s nor’easters, their owners elsewhere, perhaps counting the weeks until they returned; off season, if I’d been on the Governor at that time of night, I’d be wrapped in a down coat and warm blanket to keep from freezing to death.
Yes, it is summer. The rhythm has changed; the island is alive again, vibrant with chattering voices and a palette of colors and the welcome sounds of music and laughter and the occasional bark of a black dog. And yes, with lights glowing in windows again. Through the bicycles and the mopeds and the long lines at restaurants, tranquility somehow remains, like the meadows up island, like the calm sea.
The Governor’s old engine finally rumbled back to life, like the rest of us who live here year-round, I supposed. Within only a few minutes, we glided into the harbor, pausing as one of the big ferries—the Martha’s Vineyard—passed. Up ahead, I saw another ferry docked in one of the two slips: apparently our delay had simply been to allow time for the Martha’s Vineyard to load up and leave.
It is summer, after all. Let the party begin!

To Plug . . . or Not to Plug

IMG_5041Writing novels isn’t easy. Back in the olden days . . . I know, haha. But seriously, things have been interesting lately. After a hundred (or more) years of writing day in and day out (well, at least thinking about writing day in and day out), I’ve slowed down a bit.

Age? Apathy? Lack of ideas? Any of those excuses seemed plausible. Until this past weekend.

I’d planned a quick, off-island visit to a friend on her birthday. But I left the Vineyard later than I’d hoped, and stayed longer than I’d intended. I soon realized I needed to spend the night on the Cape. Hmmm.

Could I do that on a moment’s notice? Really? It would have been easy when I was twenty. But now?

I had no toothbrush, no toothpaste, and, God forbid, no make-up in my purse. I did have a book to read and, for some reason, a notebook—the kind with pages of lined paper inside. Remember those?

I reasoned that it could be an adventure, and I’ve always liked those. Yes! I could do it! Surely I could find a CVS in the morning where a few purchases would allow me to be seen in public.

I texted another friend: He offered the use of his home that was vacant. He apologized that the place does not have a TV or Internet connection, but this was an adventure, right?

Feeling proud of myself, I drove up the driveway to his house, then suddenly slammed on the brakes.

“NO!” I wailed. “I CAN’T DO THIS!”

Well, of course, I couldn’t. After all, I did not have the most essential item of all: my phone charger. My link to the world of e-mails and texts, and, dare I say, Words with Friends.

I yanked my iPhone from my purse. Thirty-three-percent power. It would not last the night, let alone until I got home the next day. But it was too late to find an Apple store or a place that sells those self-charging do-dads. I sat in silence, heart lightly pounding, brain calculating. If I drove an average of 132mph and got all the green lights, I might make it to Woods Hole for the last boat back to the island. Argh. I dropped my forehead onto the steering wheel. I was doomed.

After a few seconds of feeling sorry for myself, I pried my face up. For some reason (there’s that comment again), I glanced at the passenger seat. There was the book I could read. But more importantly, there was the notebook.

I used to write that way. With pen, paper, and nothing but quiet. No pings, no chimes, no alerts. Just me. In my thoughts. In the quiet. I’d written 17 novels that way.

I put my foot back on the gas and drove up to the house. I found the key and let myself in. Four hours later I had outlined twelve chapters of a new book. I don’t know if anything will become of it, but it sure felt good. Great, in fact.

I think I’ll stay unplugged for a little while longer. And see what happens when I have no more excuses.

Sign of My Times

IMG_5005I love this road sign. Every time I see it on a back road on the Vineyard, I slow down. Even if I’m walking.

It no doubt has been put there to remind island visitors that they now are on vacation, that they have left their busy lives, their hectic jobs, their daily stress back on the mainland. They’ve crossed off the days and have finally made it to the picture-perfect place that they’ve stared at on their laptop screens since the year before. Martha’s Vineyard is their haven; their place to slow down.

But what about the people who live here year round? What the heck do they do when they want to get away? (I know. It’s hard to believe, right?)

Well, some hop the Patriot Party Boat across Vineyard Sound to Cape Cod, then take the shuttle to Falmouth Plaza where they have big stores like Christmas Tree Shops and T.J.Maxx. Some take the bus out of Woods Hole and head to Boston to savor special exhibits at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum or the Museum of Fine Arts.

Others leave for the entire winter: Florida, usually, though some go skiing in places like Colorado and Utah. Others do springtime in Paris, lucky them.

Okay, get to the point, Jean.

Next week I will be on vacation. I will be returning to America, to the place of fast cars and crowded shopping malls, of chain restaurants and gas stations on every corner because everyone is busy going somewhere, doing something in a hurry.

Sigh.

The bottom line is this: Don’t look for a blog post from me next week; not until the week after, when I’m back in the place where I slow down.

Independent Gulls and Darned Good Movies

IMG_4785Does anyone out there recognize this little guy? I’ve been told he rides the ferry named the “Martha’s Vineyard,” perches on the deck outside the snack bar, and waits for folks to share the oyster crackers from their quahog chowder. I saw him the other day when I went over to Cape Cod and, sure enough, he consumed at least a dozen crackers right out of a woman’s hand.

Of course, he reminded me of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Remember that book? If I’m allowed to quote amazon.com here, the story, by Richard Bach, is about “people who follow their hearts and make their own rules . . . who know there is more to this living than meets the eye.” Jonathan becomes symbolic of “the joy of finding one’s own way.”

If it’s true that this gull rides the Martha’s Vineyard, he’s headed in the right direction. This, after all, is a place where free-thinking is applauded, and following one’s heart tends to go without saying.

One terrific example of this will be later this week at the 16th Annual Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival. Started one winter by a man named Thomas Bena who, together with some friends, was “desperate” for some good movie entertainment, the festival has grown and grown. It now showcases award-winning films from places like Sundance Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival, and has a terrific board of directors that includes Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. This year’s line-up includes 30 documentaries, thought-provoking feature films, and comedies for adults and kids.

Packed into four days from March 17–20th, the festival often is a sell-out. If you’re lucky enough to land a ticket, I might be the enthusiastic volunteer who takes it at the door of the Performing Arts Center in Oak Bluffs or at the Chilmark Community Center. (Films will also be shown at the Chilmark School and the Pathways Gathering Space.)

So come on over for the festival. If Jonathan is on the boat, be sure to feed him crackers.

Sea Glass and Other Stories

One of my favorite books for writers is Lawrence Block’s TELLING LIES FOR FUN & PROFIT, which taught me it’s okay to make stuff up.

So I do. Take my novel, TIDES OF THE HEARTIMG_4707. Early on, we see an odd young woman named Karin, dressed in a long sarong, aimlessly strolling the beach at West Chop on the Vineyard, picking up colorful bits of sea glass—lots of sea glass—that she later click-clicks whenever she remembers the awful thing she’s done.

I lied. Aside from the fact I never met such a young woman, I knew that the act of her collecting colorful bits of sea glass on an aimless stroll simply would not be possible.

Sea glass is hard to find! Wampum is a dime a bucket but sea glass? Oy.

Over the year, my beach-walking has turned up only three or four pieces, all about the size of a pinkie fingernail: one blue, a few green, one clear piece that was bigger than the others but turned out to be a rock.

Yesterday, however, was a different story.

It was a warm-for-February afternoon. I chose Bend-in-the-Road Beach for its relatively flat surface and its views over to Cape Cod on a clear day.

As I walked, my head, as usual, was bent, my eyes grazing the sand for wampum because as I’ve said before, I can’t help myself. (An ad in the MV Times for C.B. Stark Jewelers of Vineyard Haven says they’re buying wampum; maybe I’ll make my fortune there!) Anyway, I’d brought a bag on my outing because I’m sick of trying to remove grains of sand from inside my pockets. Besides, like with eating chocolate, I usually end up with more than I intended.

So there I was, walking along, eyes peeled, when suddenly . . . suddenly . . . a powder-blue-colored round thing—almost the size of the bottom of a jar of peanut butter—was at my foot. It wasn’t moving, so I decided it wasn’t a living organism. I leaned down for a closer look; I saw that it was frosted, often a telltale sign that what once had been an ordinary piece of glass had since been tossed and tossed by salt water tides and transformed into . . . yes! . . . authentic sea glass!

I said something out loud. I quickly scooped it up. Holy cow, it really was a magnificent specimen! I didn’t dump it in my wampum bag but instead held it safely and kept walking. Not ten feet away was a slightly smaller, but equally lovely, pale aqua piece of sea glass. Then a dark green one, followed by a bright green one, which was the tiniest, but still thumbnail size.

What a day, huh? Karin would have been elated.

I snapped this photo as proof. I put a quarter in the shot to show what my engineer friends would call “spatial relationship.”

I went back to the same beach today, walked almost an hour, bagged a bunch of wampum. I thought I saw a small piece of red sea glass (the rarest, I’ve been told), but it turned out to be plastic.

And that’s the truth.

A Boatload of Words

Sometimes you get to leave the island for an adventure, like to the Cape for a dentist appointment. Of course, you can make it more fun by adding stops at the Cape Cod Mall, the Christmas Tree Shop, Marshalls, or any number of chain stores and/or restaurants that aren’t on the Vineyard. Yay!

None of which can be accomplished without the help of the ferry and its tireless workers.

I stayed on the freight deck the other day, exhausted from my trip abroad. Parked in the back, the last car on the boat, I’d watched the workers in action. They have a system, or so ‘d like to believe, of knowing which vehicle to direct into which lane. (The big boat holds 60 cars, 76 with the hydraulic lift deck.) Trucks tend to go in the middle; SUVs front, rear, and center; VWs and Coopers in the narrow lanes on the sides where it’s tough to open the doors without banging them against the concrete walls. Loading the boat is a ballet of sorts, with each vehicle having its place, creating the right balance for a smooth voyage.

As I watched that day, the process reminded me of writing a novel. There are a whole lot of words of different sizes and colors, different horsepowers (or is it horses power?), different things the author wants to convey. The fact that I drive a VW might mean I prefer short, simple words (I do). Perhaps the BMW driver in the next lane uses more impressive words like prepandial or ubiety. (I have no idea what they mean.)

IMG_3783When all the vehicles were in their proper places, we were underway. I sat in my car, pondering the similarities between novelists and ferry workers, when I glanced to my left and saw this: One of the workers parked himself by the window, picked up a magazine, and took a well-deserved break. The sun was shining, the surf was gentle, and he, indeed, had the best seat in the house.

I knew the feeling. It’s how a novelist feels when he or she finishes another scene or a chapter, having choreographed a (hopefully) perfect dance of words.