This afternoon i chose to indulge in some nostalgic activities (as opposed to an activity that provoked nostalgic sensations) here on Martha’s Vineyard. The island has an extensive range of memories for me spanning my whole life, as I’ve undoubtedly mentioned before, and, at this point in my life, it offers a larger array of memories than the area of Massachusetts where I officially grew up. If asked, I say I “partially grew up” here on the island, which isn’t an exaggeration.
I am noting this today because it seems that each time I intentionally go back to a particular area of the island that has a number of memories for and with my paternal side of the family, there is a gradual but noticeable curved sensation of enjoyment. Initially being in that area provokes something like a warm fuzzie: “hmm, yes, there are many memories here and I’m glad to acknowledge and recall them…” which then carries itself on with a familiar mix of past and present. That feeling gives way to one that’s more rooted in the present, like an “okay, here I am, and I’m going to stop what I’m doing and JUST BE for a few minutes, because the present moment involves what feels like lots of running around.” Or something like that. And then, there’s an abrupt shift, which could be provoked by something like a phone call or seeing another person, or it could take the form of a sudden realization, to the tune of “OK that’s enough to look back on for now. Don’t get lost in the past.”
I didn’t really realize that those sensations have been chronic, but something about this particular activity today made me recognize that the cycle has played itself out before. And maybe it will again. While I will continue to think that it’s good to be respectful and acknowledging of the past, it’s possible that if the desire for nostalgia comes up in the future – as it probably will – I will be more mindful of how much time and thought I wish to spend with it.
Last week I had the pleasure of seeing my “childhood idol” Carly Simon in person again, right here on Martha’s Vineyard not far from her home. Carly makes few public appearances these days, so it was not surprising that the event was sold out. I expected to be among the youngest in the audience, but, there were a certain number of people in the room who appeared to be at least a little younger than me. The event was held in the one room schoolhouse style Chilmark Community Center, a key gathering place for the “Up-Island” community on the Vineyard, and part of a series of author talks on the island this summer.
At first there was sort of a nervous energy in the room – was Carly here yet? why was the event starting late? After a while her son Ben Taylor appeared from a side door with a guitar, clearly a cue that there would be some sort of included musical performance, and I wondered if Carly and co. were hiding behind a small divider that masked one area of the stage. But when Ben and his sister Sally appeared again from the other side door, this time accompanying their mother, there was no more doubt and wondering. A gradual silence descended as people noticed the woman of the hour’s arrival, though she did not immediately proceed onstage, instead waiting for an introduction from the event coordinator.
Once onstage, Carly proceeded to be unusually forthcoming in her responses and anecdotes to guided questions from local radio host Barbara Dacey. While she’s always been reasonably open to a point in her public life, it seemed that the process of writing a memoir (published last year and the precipitating force behind this event) enabled her to have a new sense of release over her personal history and reflections. I particularly appreciated the focus on her impressions of Martha’s Vineyard – and hearing her anecdotes right there, live, in her own voice – over a nearly lifelong array of memories living and experiencing different parts of the island. She briefly quoted her iconic returning to the island song Never Been Gone and impressively (in quoting the first verse immediately from memory) brought up a more obscure song called We Just Got Here, written as a reflection of the “end of summer” feeling that arrives on the Vineyard after a certain point in August.
The connection to her family members was strong and clear at two poignant moments in the evening. First, son Ben and daughter Sally were invited to comment on childhood memories of the musicianship of Carly and their dad James Taylor. In Sally’s answer, her reflections spontaneously led into a duet lullaby with her mom (Sally sitting in the audience with a microphone and Carly onstage) immediately bringing up a treasured song from memory. As the finale of the evening, Ben, Sally and Sophie Hiller joined Carly onstage to perform her song Rainin’, a perhaps lesser-known Martha’s Vineyard focused composition about what to do when a family faces a rainy day on the island. Carly had noted earlier that they’d premiered the song in the same Chilmark Community Center space in the early 1990’s, so it was clearly meaningful for her to reprise it. And when she was briefly alone onstage after the song, she gave a spontaneous “victory” type gesture with her arms, showing a reflection of her “rock goddess” (as one audience member slyly phrased in the Q&A session) past.
To conclude the evening, I joined a modest line of attendees queueing to have Carly personalize a copy of her memoir. (She’d actually pre-autographed them a day or two beforehand, and chronicled it on her Instagram account.) When my turned rolled around, about halfway through the line, I had an idea of what I might say, as you have to do in those types of situations, but still ended up being a bit more nervous than I needed to be. I thanked Carly for being a Vineyard ambassador (where did that phrase come from?) and then decided to thank her again for a particularly special childhood memory of seeing her at another Island bookstore where she sang a few bars of her song The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of, which was a particular favorite of mine during those younger years. She smiled in her classic wide grin and went right into a few words of the song again, providing a cheerful bookend and modern day version of another great memory.
Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse (aka “The” Vineyard Playhouse) does many things well in its continued year-round operations, and one of the highlights to me is their summer series of Monday Night Specials, a one-off staged reading of a new script at some stage in its development. This summer I could only see one of the offerings, and so this past Monday I was in the audience for the large cast staged reading of A Month in the Country, newly adapted by playhouse artistic associate Carol Rocamora.
A large cast of at least 12 actors in a wide range of ages gave life to the story. The Playhouse often brings back actors who have been seen in fully staged productions for their readings, so not only did I know 5 of the featured actors, I had seen a few more of them in other projects, and there were a few that looked familiar from one thing or another.
In a staged reading, sometimes the presence of the script and accompanying music stand can serve as a distraction to the audience, along with the additional actors sitting and reading along. That was not the case with this evening. A subtle attention to detail and character moments, coupled with some quick thinking on account of the actors, ensured that I (and hopefully other audience members) quickly left the “real” setting behind and felt instantly transported into the character’s world.
In the second act, it became even more clear that the actors were comfortable with going the extra mile, as the play included not one but TWO rather passionate kisses between characters, along with implied other entanglements. Relate-ability was key here too, as it was clear that the actors were having fun with those big moments! (as opposed to possibly getting swept up in the heightened drama within a fully staged production.)
The Monday night specials continue to well represent some of the hallmarks of creative live theatre and dynamic in the moment adventuring that often leads to the most rewards.
Wrote this last week without a direct internet connection back on Martha’s Vineyard.
Today brings the pleasure of being the second consecutive Memorial Day where I do NOT have to leave Martha’s Vineyard. This is significant as this holiday often serves as a “back to reality” type of day after the long summer teaser weekend, and that was particularly the case for me growing up, so much so that I continue to associate Memorial Day with “leaving the Vineyard” even on years when I have not been here on the island.
So, how has it been to be back at “The Family Homestead” as I fondly call Martha’s Vineyard on social media? Pretty smooth and pretty comfortable, like falling right back into the best type of routine. This was exemplified on my first day back when a short, spontaneous walk along Main Street in Vineyard Haven (one of the island’s main drags) led to random greetings with several familiar friendly faces, culminating in seeing my godmother from a distance and walking towards each other as if in the celebrated finale of a film.
Visits to the island’s other primary towns have also generated senses of comfort and familiarity, although they have also been mixed with thoughts like “I wish this was less of a rich playground” and “I can’t see myself relating to that particular activity.” I guess what those thoughts mean is that I’m increasingly (but not surprisingly) taking the local position on how various activities impact the Vineyard. That’s not a new perspective for me, but it is refreshing to know that it’s still present and active.
It was such a “wow” moment when Peter Pan/Bonanza bus first introduced wifi service on their buses around 2010, and it was also quite glitchy. Now in 2015 I’m enjoying it without a second thought, and an expectation that it will be smooth!
The computer distracts me from the extremely familiar sights along this Boston —> Martha’s Vineyard bus ride. I was trying to determine in my head how many times I’ve taken this bus ride in my life, and would go for somewhere between 50 and 100, not as much as I might expect, but if you add in private car trips of that same route, the number might go into the thousands.
I remember feeling disappointed when the character of the final stretch of highway (I-495 and MA 25) changed around ten years ago with a switch from side of the road to overhead signs, making it seem to me less like a rural route and more like a standard American highway or freeway. There was also a time when I was a vocal pre-teen passenger and encouraged my parents to vary the route since this stretch of road seemed too boring and repetitive to me, so we’d go via Providence RI and then loop back to it, or join the road at a slightly northern point of the usual onramp in Raynham.
But in the present day, with my not based in Massachusetts life, traveling along the highway – along the whole Boston to Martha’s Vineyard route, really – is the equivalent of an eager mental checklist, and it continues to get me every time.
Exited Boston? Yep.
Turned onto Route 24? Yep.
Curved turn onto 495? Yep.
Transition to 25? Yep.
still to come: cross the Bourne Bridge, go through two rotaries, a few small towns, and one ferry ride…
I’ve found a conveniently located hotel in downtown Boston to kick off my Thanksgiving homecoming swing. It still tends to feel odd, when I first arrive, to be experiencing my home city on my own terms of adulthood, not rushing to a particular commitment, get-together with a friend, or traveling around with another family member. But that’s been a continually gradual adjustment since 2007 when I last lived full-time in Massachusetts.
The long day from Michigan to here brought many memorable little moments, and now that it’s the end of the day, I’m a bit perplexed by an aggressive theme that ran through the day … perhaps some sort of travel anxiety coming to the surface? Some examples of this included going through several yellow lights on the way into Detroit this morning, deliberately taking a small shortcut in a parking garage (and then talking back to the attendant who called me out on it), and, later, having a protracted back and forth with a car rental company – both on the phone and in person, at the same time – when they weren’t listening to the adage that “the customer is always right” and making me dance through several hoops to make a (what would be) seemingly simple change to a reservation.
Until the customer service agent at Logan Airport suddenly said “hey, you can just do it this way!” in a total coming to your senses manner, but with more than a hint of the runaround approach that car rental salespeople often employ. And I took him for his word, so I hope the result will be smooth when I see its effect on Friday.
And now a morning return to “The Family Homestead” awaits… can’t wait!
my current internet living situation is one where there is no connection in the house. so I have resolved that this summer’s blogging will be down to one post per month.
The summer has brought a welcome continuation of being directly involved in theatrical productions – this time here – and I’ve been able to keep up my filmgoing in a slightly modified form, given that most films reach this small island (especially this year with two additional cinemas reopened after an unfortunate hiatus) but some do not.
The best film of the summer so far for me was easily Love and Mercy, an intimate and sharply focused biopic looking at the life of erstwhile “Beach Boy” Brian Wilson. Actors Paul Dano and John Cusack shared the lead role, playing Wilson at different times in his life, and were supported by a game team of skilled actors. Elizabeth Banks appeared in Cusack’s timeline as a new girlfriend who becomes increasingly important in his life, and Banks rose to the challenge well with thoughtful dramatic depth.
My most notable film experience of the summer came about by attending a special sneak preview of the new film Southpaw, which went on general release this weekend. Actor Jake Gyllenhaal was in attendance for the screening, and in addition to giving a question and answer session about the film, he ended up sitting directly behind me for the entire length of the film. Definitely the first time I have ever had the star in the audience and in such proximity while watching a film.
And what else? I kicked things off with Mad Max: Fury Road, quickly followed by Tomorrowland, and then it was… an encore screening of Ex Machina, followed later by Ted 2 and then Inside Out and most recently Trainwreck. So, not as many films as I might think – but a good selection of product.
As for the theatre, we’ve been having a very full summer. Most of my time is spent on an ongoing outdoor production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged (Revised) – and if you’re reading this on Martha’s Vineyard, you should come by.
Singer, erstwhile Martha’s Vineyard neighbor/charitable resident, and all-around accomplished artist Carly Simon starts a new decade today, which makes it an appropriate moment to re-post an entry I wrote last fall about her enduring appeal.
I’m also glad to be posting this while on Martha’s Vineyard!
I’ve never posted about the #WCW (Women Crush Wednesday) social media trend, but this seems like an appropriately random time to start. The natural starting point for me at least is the enduring appeal of singer – songwriter Ms. Carly Simon, whose music I grew up with, and was semi – fixated on for a time in my younger years. (I acknowledged that in a solo performance a few years ago and was surprised by the warm reaction.)
Anyhow, Simon recently posted a picture on her Instagram account that exemplified her continued aura of beguilement, at least for me. The picture shows her on Lambert’s Cove Beach on Martha’s Vineyard, not far from her home. That beach is also a favorite destination for my family members and I when we can get in – usage is generally restricted during the high summer season. In the picture, Simon seems to strike just the right pose of slight amusement and satisfaction, clearly enjoying the moment but not gloating in it. (It would be a perfect album cover shot for her if she had an upcoming release waiting in the wings.)
This picture perfectly fits Simon’s role in my current musical tastes – someone whom I “come back around again” to from time to time, to paraphrase one of her well – known lyrics, but don’t fixate on with regularity. Nonetheless, her music and persona continue to be emblematic of Martha’s Vineyard, the family homestead, for me, and presumably in a similar way for others. I didn’t shy away from occasionally watching her 1987 concert at Menemsha if I’m feeling homesick, and her song Never Been Gone remains the most iconic example of being home in Massachusetts. A handful of her songs have additional family or home region associations for me.
So that picture brought a brief resurgence in my appreciation of her work, which has been more on the periphery recently as she has maintained a lower public profile over the last several years. Her children Sally and Ben now take the lead in the family business, which she often supports during their Vineyard shows, and I last saw her join Ben onstage three years ago in Edgartown.
Her music remains emblematic of a certain special or cherished time and place, and I’m sure it will always be that way for my family members and I.
The recent death of Mike Nichols, well-chronicled in various newspapers, but most notably to me in a Vineyard Gazette article, reinforces a feeling I’ve had over the last few years.
Martha’s Vineyard’s celebrity gatekeepers – those who come to the island and value their privacy, aren’t intruded upon, but are also willing to stand up for community causes and events when they choose – are disappearing. In his passing on, Nichols joins Art Buchwald, William Styron, Mike Wallace, Katherine Graham, Walter Cronkite, Patricia Neal and others of the literati/glitterati set who were known for their visiting/residing and support of the Island.
To me as a lifelong part-time Island resident/visitor, these were all people who appreciated what the Vineyard has to offer. More importantly for the locals, they weren’t shy about using their cache to improve the life and resources of those who are there on the Island full – time, which was and is perhaps best seen in the long-running Possible Dreams Auction for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services.
But who will take their place? Others remain, with Carly Simon perhaps seen as the primary standard bearer.
But there aren’t really many people my age, or a little older than me, who are taking up the mantlepiece as the celebrity statesman. I don’t know if that’s a pro or con for an island that values its own individual community. But I do know that it’s a change that will continue to be subtly felt.