Grey Matters Notes by Sam Low
Friday, November 19th
Attending: Gayle Stiller, Zelda Gamson, Helene Barr, Sam Low, Phil Cordella, Genevieve Abbott, Lanny MacDowell, Corrine Delangevant, Keren Tonnesen
We spent about half an hour introducing ourselves to each other as there were several new members in the group. We are a diverse lot, a kind of microcosm of the island as a whole. Among us are painters, writers, a long-term town employee, college professors, a real estate broker and former Union organizer, a dancer and choreographer, a designer of clothing, gardeners, a floral designer and more – a diverse body of experiences that led to a lively discussion.
One of us introduced the concept of “sense of place,” as defined by Wendell poet Barry’s famous statement, “if you don’t know where you are you don’t know who you are.” This led to a lively discussion. How do we define ourselves on an island where you have, among many other possible definitions – “wash-ashores,” “summer people” and “native islanders”? One of us revealed that she is defined by her native islander friends as a “year-round summer person.” Another is a member of a well-known island family who has lived here all her life. Many have family here. A member who had been a summer person in Harthaven, in Oak bluffs, read a poem about the sense of security and joy he experienced growing up in a neighborhood of relatives. Some of us experienced long stays on the island then left and returned. We find the island a place to explore our ethnicity, life histories, relationship to our ancestors, future goals. It turns out that most of us came here to answer the question of “who” by seeing if MV was the “where.” And it turns out it was. We were unanimous that the island seemed to draw us all to it. We shared that wonderfully relaxing moment when you finally get on the ferry and head across the Sound to our island homes.
Our experiences living on the island are multi-hued. We appreciate the unusual diversity of our population – white, Afro-American, Brazilian, Wampanoag and more. We enjoy the wildly different personalities of our six island towns. We all had stories of delight in the pristine nature of the 50% of our island that has been preserved for our enjoyment. When things seem to get beyond our levels of tolerance, most of us have learned to get outdoors and let the natural beauty of Martha’s Vineyard soak into our skins. All of us shared concern for overpopulation, increased tourism, the influx of very wealthy people and the rising property values that are pricing many out. One of us was not so sanguine about continuing to live on Martha’s Vineyard. The “busyness,” the constant noise in her neighborhood which is being invaded by commercial enterprises have rendered daily life so difficult that she is considering leaving (she will be a great loss if she does).
At the end of our conversations one of us, who kept largely silent, spoke about the interesting nature of our stories, and revealed that he was practicing a kind of deep listening – “the only way to learn about others is to keep quiet about yourself.” It was a delicious ending to our discussion and food for thought, especially for this writer of our minutes who tends to be very loquacious.