Perception, access, resources and ability largely determine the way we approach accountability, healing and change. Initially when my mother and stepfather told us we were moving to a 20 mile long floating land mass in the middle of a giant puddle known as the Atlantic, we wailed in protest. I was tired of unpacking but mostly it meant re-acclimating to new people, surroundings and ways of doing things. Fortunately we were all untethered puzzle pieces drifting in an unknown place between two divorces and a death and weren’t particularly familiar with anything yet, except chaos and doubt. It was a bit of a clean slate moment. An island with few street lights, no high-ways and devoid of oppressive social prescriptions regarding what you should wear, say, think, listen to, do or live in was briefly intimidating, then largely emancipating. After one big defining fight we branched out in various creative undertakings like wild Banyans. In some cases this meant tending to wounds which had yet been addressed. In other cases it meant discovering our capacity to invent things, imagine, dream and experience productive escapism. This is one privilege afforded when you find yourself comfortably stranded.
Winter on the Vineyard is a long, uncluttered time perfect for spending entire days in whatever you’ve slept in; qualifying toast, tea and cigarettes as sufficient intake. The sky becomes a grey canvas of wings, clouds and uniformly naked branches. Snow rarely falls yet it’s cold enough for quilts, mittens, pink cheeks, cabin socks and runny noses. In one of our rented houses we had a fire place which was often scented with copal and frankincense. Our traditionally tumultuous brood would be forced to pause. Time offered the gifts of continuity, familiarity and safety which allowed us to learn how to be. Being-ness made room for curiosity and the kind of experiential making which forges identity. There was no audience except for neighbors and friends all doing the same thing; attempting to expand the tiny, damp space we shared and called home. Divisions were blurred especially between October and March. People came here to forget how much money they made and be defined by something other than their bank account. Houselessness was a lifestyle choice, as was the untraceable downplaying of heirloom inheritances. This made your ideas more purely visible, which allowed me to dissolve all the shameful parts of my past into watercolor statements intentionally left to interpretation.
We played dress up with whiskey, prom gowns, ski goggles and polyester suit coats from the Dump Store, cooked without recipes from found things, worked in empty shops charged with responsibility, authority and trust. We choreographed dances, wove hemp bracelets and trudged through forests up-island in white cotton nightgowns to recreate ghost stories. We sat in wooded kettle holes on Peaked Hill waiting to encounter the spirits of Wampamnoags and ravaged Educomp for willow sticks and drawing paper. My favorite were the long drives to Black Mars in the red 4 Runner with Ted, my platonic, viking soulmate. I loved him both for everything he never did to me and the nothing he asked for in return. I told him all the things I couldn’t say to anyone else, including what I held back from even myself. Ted would show up at our house like the ghost of Christmas Present exuding light and joy. He could make me laugh till it hurt and dream till every medicinal metaphor was resolved. We met in theatre class. I thought he was too self-assured to be a high school student and despite the fact that I was shrinking into obscurity, we saw each other. Theodore Alexander the Great.
If we’d had too much time inside or far away my sister and I treated ourselves to the Chinese restaurant by the A&P. It felt fancy without being expensive. Fortunes also have a way of helping you decide what to do next; Your shoes will make you happy today. Meeting adversity well is the source of your strength. Land is always on the mind of the flying bird. Among the lucky you are the chosen one. The last one I actually got. After that I started a collection which I kept in my wallet convinced it meant something very good or very bad, depending on the day. One time I was out with a friend. We’d been arguing after he jokingly accused me of excessive fortitude. “You think you can get anything you want.” At the end of our meal I cracked open my cookie and gasped. Recognizing this as possibly my one and only moment of slickness, I slid the fortunate invitation across the table. Suppose you can get what you want… Flexing confidence was a new experience the mainland hadn’t offered. I liked having permission to be bold and ridiculous. Hiding your strange is exhausting and here it was embraced. People need accepting places to be their whole, uncensored selves followed by enough space to consider what to keep and what to throw back.
Island life is ruled by ebbs and flows. Sometimes getting unstuck means waiting for the tide to rise while docking and getting home often means waiting for high waters to recede. The harvest within the wait belongs to our choices while the rest is ruled by powerful and unseen forces over which we have no control.