Posts Tagged happiness

Hibernation in the Fortress of Solitude

Well January passed rather quickly this year; must have been the mild weather. As February came over Martha’s Vineyard, those of us left here suddenly realized that here is a winter planned for us and we should not expect otherwise. It was too good to last really; sunny days, little wind, mild temperatures. Still, we have only had a few bitterly cold spells and the odd day or so where the mercury hits 50 still happens. The days are getting longer, but it will be some time before thoughts shift to a sunset picnic on South Beach or in Menemsha. No, this is the time of year when most of the year round residents tend to hibernate.

Now, I have been known to “call people out” when they call themselves year round residents. Their cars still wear the plates of other states, they disappear for warmer climes between January and March, and complain about needing to “get off this rock” before they go insane. Tenderfeet people that they are, they talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. If you want to call a place home, take it for all it is; warm summer days, bitterly cold winter nights, weeks of isolation. They remind me of the tale of the ant and the grasshopper; but I digress.

There are an overwhelming number of artistic and literary type people left in this vast wasteland of winter during the most desolate time on Martha’s Vineyard, and that suits them just fine. Me, I’m just a recluse; days might pass before I emerge from my house. Neighbors cannot even tell if I’m at home. I designed the house like a cocoon, insulating me from all that which I wish to avoid. The internet and the advent of social media have permeated my life, but I need only switch off the various devices to achieve seclusion once more. It can be a blessing.

Festivities do happen here, even now. The Annual Chili Fest just lured hundreds of people to the island with promises of judicious libations and spicy omnivorous delights, but it was for only several hours. Soon hundreds of ectomorphic runners shall descend upon the island for the annual 20 Miler RoadRace, no matter what the weather shall hold for them on their epic run through the course. Other, smaller events will also be held; a film festival, the odd community dinner, etc. For the most part, the people remaining here for the duration appreciate the state that the island remains in at this time of year.

The slower pace allows the smaller, more intimate gatherings for quiet dinners or discussions. For others, it is a chance to work on literary pursuits or artistic endeavors. For me it is a time to hibernate in my personal fortress of solitude and contemplate what ways I might better myself; physically, culturally, financially, intellectually. Never settle, always strive for something more because if you do not, you will miss all of the glorious things that exist in this world, even if they reside in your own mind. Understanding how to discover all that could be sometimes requires a certain time, in a special place, in a proper state of mind. I have found that to be now, on my island, in repose. Now go do the same for yourself before life passes you by.


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Once Upon An Island

It has been a short fourteen years of living on Martha’s Vineyard. What amounts to more than a third of my life has flown by at a speed that I can scarcely imagine that it actually happened. During my time living here I have been witness to so many changes; people, stores, laws, economies, fortunes. I have grown older, hopefully wiser, definitely maturing as a result. As I traverse the island on occasion, my memory recounts the changes, obvious and sublime.

I celebrated a rather subdued New Year’s Eve, swapping memories and anecdotes with a few friends. I recalled the “Get A Life Café”, Louis added that he owned what is now “Zephrus” on Main Street in Vineyard Haven before opening “Louis’”. We all commented on the bed & breakfast “Martha’s Place” just up the street, now a private residence. Yes, many of the businesses had changed hands or disappeared over the years; the Red Cat Café, The Feast of Chilmark, Bowl & Board, The Ice House, etc.

Most of the businesses changed hands, others just closed. Still others suffered from the financial downturn that currently afflicts the nation, even though we felt the pinch a bit sooner than the rest of the nation, as our economy is based on a resort economy, for better or worse. I noticed the difference back in the 2005 season. All of the numbers were down, not just with my business, but with the majority of shopkeepers I spoke with concurred. The previous five or six seasons had been so strong, there was really nowhere to go but down. The vibe of the island changed back after the 2001 season, after the September 11th attacks. The Clintons were not the summer regulars they had been, a new sobriety set a pall over extravagant vacationing, and once the financial collapse happened, the season shortened significantly.

My first season on Martha’s Vineyard, I paid $22 one way to get my car to the island. There was “guaranteed stand-by”, meaning if you were in line to get your car on the ferry, they would run ferries until the line was empty, weather permitting. Even though gasoline was not cheap on island, it was less than $3/gallon. I used less than a tank of fuel the entire season, riding my bike everywhere. I didn’t own anything on island other than my car, I was free of debt, and I was free to travel; a twenty-something with endless opportunities. The island was an idyllic paradise, an endless summer. Reality was a swift and cruel harbinger of the future; the end of summer.

They say that all good things must end. On Martha’s Vineyard many feel that happens at the end of every season. Others feel that the end of the season is just the beginning of another season. The only real constant, in my opinion, is change. Time waits for no one, but in our memories we cherish all that we hold dear. Living on this island I have gathered memories of people, places, and things that I will never forget, both happy and sad. To be a part of a place where so many others travel to just to be a part of for even a short period of time is very unique.

What are your memories? What was something that you remember so well that no longer exists? Whether it involves the original Humphrey’s location up island or a romantic weekend at an inn that is no more, the memories are yours to recall and share.

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That Was Then, This Is Now

As I type this blog, a full moon beams down through the large windows of my living room, Cassandra Wilson and Jacky Terrasson provide the music, and I think of an approaching anniversary. On January 14, 2006 my life was interrupted. Not just a minor annoyance like a traffic ticket or a failed romance but a slam into the wall, dead stop. A house fire took all of my possessions and destroyed them. Worse, it took my canine companion of six years, Dabo. Things can be replaced, companions not so much. What could not be measured at that time was what other elements of my character would be altered by the event, which lessons would be learned, and how long it would take to recover and to what degree, because I have come to learn you never completely recover from certain aspects of such a tragedy.

The fire started at a wood stove that got too hot and ignited what surrounded it, as simple as that. I had gone to work a few hours earlier and returned home for lunch. All appeared normal until I opened the front door to a wall of smoke. From there it was all just a matter of calling 911 and waiting for the emergency responders to arrive. A call to my insurance agent brought him to the scene shortly thereafter. After a few hours there was nothing to do but leave. I went to my office and made some incoherent phone calls. I had a place to stay for the night and that’s all I knew.

The days and weeks that followed were tough. Being January, the island was a quiet place and I called people to let them know what had happened. There was no social media back then; no face book, no twitter, no smart phones. I can count on one hand the people that helped me rummage through the remnants of my life and acted as a support system outside of my immediate family. My story was a blurb on the radio, a couple of paragraphs in the local paper, not much else; life went on. After a month or so, rather than repeat the entire event to people that asked “how are things going”, I simply replied that things were fine. I didn’t know if they knew what had happened and I didn’t really care if they did. I just wanted to move on at that point. Most of the people asking that question were clients that asked as casual banter, not of genuine concern.

Rebuilding my life, both physically and mentally proved to be challenging. The financial crisis hit just as the cost overruns for the house went 30% over the estimate. It nearly bankrupted me and my family; the banks cut my lines of credit, my income diminished, the house was not completed. It should be noted that the insurance companies give you two years to either repair or replace all that had been claimed or forfeit the full value for reimbursement, including the house itself; not very realistic.

Now, nearly six years later, I still have yet to even come close to where I was before the fire. Obviously I am not the only person facing financial difficulties, but considering the trials I have faced, I think I am holding my own quite well.

Last weekend, on New Year’s Day, a friend of mine also had a house fire. She was lucky to escape with her life. She had no insurance of any kind. She lost all she owned, quite literally; it’s gone. But she has friends, lots of friends. We are all going to help her through this tough situation. We are organized on face book, twitter, and through blogs like this one. This is how it should be, a community coming together in a member’s time of need. One friend at a time, doing whatever they can to help her out; because it’s the right thing to do, because she would do the same for any one of her friends. Do YOU want to be a part of the Martha’s Vineyard community? Start by helping my friend, Paola Fuller.

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Hitting Your Marks

With the holidays winding down, it might be a good time to address the different things in our lives in order to insure that we are where we need to be, when we need to be there.

From the time on a clock, to the steps for constructing some new object that we might have received as a gift there are methods to the madness that permeates all of our lives. As I elucidate below, see if you recognize any in your daily routine.

Living on Martha’s Vineyard, anytime I need to leave the island (I never really WANT to leave the island) the issue of transportation looms large in the plans. I have never taken a plane to or from the island, nor do I ever plan to. That leaves transportation via the water and which of the few passenger vessels would be most appropriate. If I plan on taking my car, I have only ONE “choice”. The Steamship Authority can be difficult to deal with from the perspective that you should always TRY to make a reservation for travel in order to prevent either being stuck in stand-by for endless hours or finding out that there is NO stand-by on the day you wish to travel. That being said, you will need to decide which boat you can have your act together in order to be AT the boat on time. Miss that mark, and all hell could break loose. Trust me, even if you THINK you are ready, think again. I refer you to a December 23rd reservation that was prey to the ravages of the wind, canceling ALL boats, including mine.

When I was training for marathons, I had to maintain a certain cadence to insure that I was “on pace” to make the most of my training. If my heart rate was not high enough, I was not working hard enough, which would tend to negate the purpose of training altogether. If it was too high, I would burn out too soon and not have the stamina to finish the training session, if not the race. So keeping my heart rate in the “zone” allowed me to hit the marks, or splits, during the run. These days my running has diminished to what I refer to as “junk miles” that entail maintaining a pace that allows me to finish the workout before I have to start walking or hitch a ride.

Whether for business or for personal, we all have appointments and commitments that require use to meet with people at a given time, at a certain place. On island you might have to deal with a drawbridge that randomly goes up, even when there are no boats waiting to pass through. Or perhaps a couple of moped riders feel the need to ride side by side from the Aquinnah Lighthouse all the way to the Steamship Authority Lot as you are rushing to make your reservation. Then again, there is always the excuse my clients tend to have most often when they arrive late, there was no parking available. I have always found that it always best to be early than late, but sometimes fate deals you a cruel blow and it just cannot be helped. If you cannot be prompt, be gracious when you arrive. Everyone will appreciate it, trust me.

Dealing with a seasonal economy requires everyone involved to obtain a certain amount of seasonal wealth to carry then through the off season. The most important aspect is to understand that this fact exists before the season has passed; otherwise your options for independence dwindle rapidly. Consider working every day, for long hours, until the business slows to a crawl or until you can no longer function at the given, whether you like it or not. That will be the new “normal” unless you just come to the island to work seasonally, as a parasitic worker, in which case you can be on your merry way whenever the urge strikes you. For those of us with a mortgage, taxes, and a business to maintain, we continue to toil away for fear that it will all end too soon, leaving us short of what we need to pay the bills until the next season arrives. This has been an ever more difficult mark to hit, given that every season seems to be shorter than the last.

As the year comes to a close, I look back and see that I have hit almost all of my marks. Perhaps I could have set the bar a little higher, but given all that I encountered over the past year, I have to be happy that I made it this far. How about you? Here’s to next year!

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Here we are, scant hours before Christmas, and the anticipation is building. Like some reading of the lottery numbers for which you have bought a dozen tickets that you are sure has the winning combinations, every person waits for that special moment that we release all of the joy and love that we have spent hours preparing for. If only that moment could ever fulfill all of the expectations that we hope to realize; so seldom it does.

This is actually the time that I cherish most, the time before the actual event. If only we could have this energy for every day; without the gifts, without the bother of formalities, without the restrictions of a day that ends the joy. I rise every day hoping that the day that awaits me is better than the last. Now I know that is about as likely as every day being a holiday of some sort, but at least I hope and carry on with that in the back of my mind. I will always work to improve whatever I can, just so that I have made an effort to feel some sort of satisfaction of an accomplishment. I look forward to the challenge, in fact.

So it goes with every aspect of every life, we either look forward to or dread what awaits us; a new job, a new relationship, losing a job, ending a relationship. This time of the year concentrates the joy of various celebrations; Hanukkah, Kwanza, Christmas, Festivus. It also brings us the end of one year where we look back at the year that we leave behind and allows us to look forward to the year that awaits us. The cycle perpetuates with our formal calendar, even though they are simply a series of single days strung together to form that calendar.

How do we determine that these days are those that must be celebrated with so much build up and to what end? If we were to look back in time, we can see how these holidays have become some marketing ploy; from Hollywood with the shows and movies, from Madison Avenue with a never ending ad campaign, from the religious faction looking to guide the lives of their followers. There are aspects of these days that must be noted as being commendable, they almost will us to spend more time with friends and family. Without such wide acceptance and expectation for all of us to spend time this way, it is doubtful that any of us actually would, opting instead to go skiing or travel to a tropical climate, as we tend to do during any other vacation time.

But I digress, as I think that we should want to spend time with our friends and family and that this holiday season does tend to bring out the best intentions from almost everyone. What I wonder is why can’t we do so more often? I mean there was that informal “truce” in the First World War where the soldiers organized their own sharing of rations and actually had a friendly game of soccer between combatants. While it lasted only until the superiors back at headquarters found out, the fact remains that this time of year holds magic. Unfortunately, this spirit quickly wanes when the bills arrive in January. I can only hope that this spirit could extend throughout more of the year.

Until the people of the world can stop and consider the futility of their nefarious deeds giving them spiritual fulfillment, I will enjoy the feeling that I get from the impending festivities. The anticipation feels more real than the actual event; and it lasts many days or sometimes even weeks.

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Open Water

Every once in a while, somewhere in our busy lives, we suddenly realize that something is not quite right. It might take a period of time before we notice or it may happen all at once, but happen it does. I remember watching this movie, based on a true story, of a young couple went SCUBA diving off a chartered boat while vacationing in the Caribbean. It was a lovely time, with all of the brilliant under-sea beauty, until they surfaced to find that their boat was no where in sight; only open water. Needless to say, they were in a bit of a bind, as all they could see was open water; no other boats, no other people, no land at all. Well, sometimes life can seem like that; nothing to use to find your bearing and chart your course. Hopefully, you can do it before the sharks arrive. (Spoiler)

Living on an island can often give life a unique perspective that only other island residents can relate to. Personally, I take comfort in the seven mile buffer of water that keeps Martha’s Vineyard from being just another place to wander onto and exploit. On the other hand, to reside here you must understand that all of the rules apply to you; hostage to the ferry, limited employment opportunities, housing is a premium, partners should be imported unless recycled. I have covered most of those issues in past posts, but there still remains the open water as a metaphor for so very many things.

Recently a very prominent piece of property sold on the island for more than $22 million. Yes, million. The house next door to me was listed at $585 thousand and sold for less than $500 thousand. While the properties are not even in the same neighborhood, pun intended, it demonstrates the vast disparity of class that exists on such a small island. Chatting with another business owner recently, we both expressed bewilderment at the dramatic swings in the on-island business economy. We both have secondary employment to fall back on, but that could not easily reassure either of us given our primary interests in our businesses. But what to do in a community that is isolated in so many ways, other than make the best of what you have to work with.

I also spoke with someone in my profession that has a business off island. They could not understand the unique business dynamic of an island resort economy in an economic downturn. There are no easy answers when the off season population is hurting from an anemic season where profits will only last so far into the winter months. Getting new customers from a ‘captive community’ is like getting blood from a stone; less than likely.

So in the final month of the year, I try to regain my footing; professionally, personally, financially, and mentally. Planning, scheming, hoping, and striving to not just get by, but to also chart a course, in any direction. I’ll try to make my choice with as much information as intuition, but given the recent turn of events over the past year, any course of action is better than simply waiting for the sharks, right?

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Go Vineyarders

So this past weekend was very special for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Athletics Program. Yes, for the first time since 2004 both the Boys and Girls Cross Country Teams ran in the Massachusetts (MIAA) All-State Cross Country Championships  at Franklin Park, just outside of Boston. Oh, you thought I was referring to the football game? No, that sporting event did not interest me. After all, I attended and graduated from one of the high schools were the rivalry dates back to 1875. The earliest known game between the two schools was played on May 12, 1875. I never attended a football game in high school, however.

My view of athletics is one that establishes a love for the activities in the individual that will remain with them throughout the individual’s lifetime, promoting a healthy lifestyle that endures. I watched a movie about the American distance runner Steve Prefontaine, where the actor portrayed the runner speaking to a group of kids. He asked them if they liked football. They yelled “yes” and he replied that football wouldn’t be much without running, right? He did the same for several other sports, getting the same response from the kids. My point is, running might seem pretty mundane, but we tend to take it for granted as a sport, for the most part. But I am biased, as I am a runner and I coach runners.

Here on Martha’s Vineyard, I know runners that have run more than 100 marathons, compete in the Boston Marathon year after year, and run road races well into their 60’s. People clamor from all over the country to run in the Chilmark Road Race every year. Every summer residents and visitors alike take to the roads, paths, and trails of the Vineyard to resume running programs lost since the previous season. Running spans the confines of generations like few other sports do. I have been running for more than 25 years, including marathons.

Yet, the weekend the Boys and Girls Cross Country Teams both qualified for the Massachusetts State Finals, a few lines appeared in the local papers; nothing more. The fact that there where kids that stepped up when their team members faltered, enabling the entire team to advance to the next level of competition, well their names and times were not listed or noted. The next Saturday, when the Steamship Authority lot in Vineyard Haven was overrun with people clamoring to board the boat toNantucketfor the football game, the Cross Country Team quietly boarded the boat bound for Wood’s Hole.

The island’s radio station broadcast the football game live. Island businesses had signs posted in their windows cheering on the football players. When the Football Team returned to Vineyard Haven, victorious, they were greeted with a hero’s welcome, or so I was told. Pictures and video of the players and the game were all over the internet. Oh, and the runners on the Cross Country Team made it back to the island, too; just in case anyone was wondering.

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