Talking it over
Maybe it's our sense of community or propriety, or simply the solace of our winter seasons. Whatever the provocation, Vineyarders have earned our reputation for the ability to form and express opinions, to engage in animated debates, and to revel in sharing intellectual considerations.
As testimony to those pastimes, the Island has nurtured long-standing conversations groups that inspire fidelity among their participants, who meet weekly to discuss books, politics, Island concerns, and academic questions. It is not always an objective intellectual exercise, often becoming very animated and passionate.
But after months, sometimes years of engagement, the regulars learn what to expect from each other, and the group takes on an almost family-type of atmosphere.
For many years, between 15 and 25 people have been meeting in West Tisbury at the Howes House on Tuesdays from 9:30 to 11 am. (Attendance drops during winter months.)
It's not a strictly formal arrangement, but the first half hour is usually a presentation by a discussion leader from among the attendees, sometimes by a guest speaker. Speakers who have a lot of material may continue longer. The last hour is left for questions and open discussion.
Retired attorney Isaac Russell, a long-time participant, serves as the convener, the person who books speakers. He mentions some of the distinguished former conveners - Arthur Wortzell, Larry Harrison, and Stanley Gabis, who lent their scholarly talents to the discussions.
"The less direction, the better. I'm not elected or tolerated to do more than convene the meeting," he says. "Occasionally if there's spirited discussion, I would probably point to the person who's had his or her hand up, but mostly people just interrupt."
"We've had members from opposite sides of the political spectrum," says a Chilmark resident and long-time attendee who prefers to remain unnamed. "Unfortunately, many are not with us anymore. Now everyone sort of gets along." She pauses, then adds, "It's not as much fun."