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Reading, writing, and reflecting in the time of social distancing

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Illustration by Kate Feiffer

By Kate Feiffer

Remember when there wasn’t enough time in our overscheduled lives to sit down quietly, for even an hour, to read, write, and reflect? As the impact of self-isolation, social distancing, and self-quarantine sink in, the days and nights will begin to loom long, giving many of us what we claimed to be lacking — time to read, write, and reflect. 

 

Now’s our time. Pick up that book, the one you’ve been meaning to read for years. Get started on that writing project, the one about that great idea you had. Sit quietly and think, because, who knows, maybe we do actually still have attention spans. 

 

Beware, though. Time to yourself can all too easily turn into a routine of cycling through the news cycle every few minutes — as if the news will actually be different and better on another network — or getting sucked into the latest round of who is incensed with whom on Islanders Talk.

 

Reading suggestions

We highly recommend these three new books by Islanders Write authors. Islanders Write, which is sponsored by The MV Times, is still scheduled for Sunday, August 2, and Monday, August 3, at Featherstone Center for the Arts.

 

The Falcon Thief: The True Tale of Adventure, Treachery and the Hunt for the Perfect Bird, by Joshua Hammer (Simon & Schuster) 

Venture into the world of high-stakes falcon-egg thievery. Hammer, a seasoned journalist and bestselling author, knows how to spin a good story, and he stumbled onto a great one after reading a short article in The Times of London about Jeffrey Lendrum, a fugitive egg thief. Hammer employs his significant reportorial skills, even managing to track Lendrum down in South Africa, to piece together a tale of obsession, criminal activity, and ornithology. Reviewers have heaped praise on the book, and the New York Times characterized it as “Meet the Pablo Escobar of the Falcon Egg Trade.” Hammer, who is based in Berlin, has been coming to the Vineyard since his early 20s.

 

Our Revolution: A Mother and Daughter at Midcentury, by Honor Moore (W.W. Norton & Co.)

Other people’s families can be fascinating, especially when their stories are revealed in such capable hands as Honor Moore’s. Her latest book is an intimate portrait of her mother, Jenny. (Moore’s previous book, “The Bishop’s Daughter,” was a memoir of her father, Bishop Paul Moore.) Jenny died at the age of 50. “It was a catastrophe, her sudden death,” the book begins. Jenny Moore was a child of privilege who married the future bishop of New York, Paul Moore, had nine children and a complicated marriage, and broke through social conventions of the day to become a writer, activist, and feminist. She even made it onto Nixon’s Enemies List. When she died, Jenny bequeathed her writings to Honor. Decades later, Moore decided to revisit those writings. As a reviewer in the New York Times wrote, “Now in her 70s, she set out to understand how Jenny became the woman she knew — and to understand their relationship over time — searching for clues to her mother’s interior life in the writings and papers bequeathed to her at Jenny’s death.” Moore is a celebrated poet, playwright, best-selling memorist, and longtime Vineyard seasonal resident.

 

Light Headed in the Dark Ages, by Arnie Reisman (Somerset Press)

Reisman, a former Vineyard poet laureate, wrote these poems before the very dark ages we are currently in, and boy, is a little lightheadedness and smart humor appreciated right about now. “My poems aim for the heart, mind, and funny bone,” wrote Reisman in a recent email. A stanza from one poem, presciently titled “A Season in Limbo,” reads: 

What I needed was what I now have

A smaller hive where buzzing becomes singing

Where the honey is easier to taste

 

Writing suggestions

 

  • This is a no-brainer for a writing prompt. Set a timer for five minutes and begin:

You’re on an Island. There’s a global pandemic, and you …

  • Having just spent the past two months taking a playwriting class in New York, I think we should put out a call for 10-minute plays about life on the Vineyard in the time of COVID-19, and have online readings. Please email me at kate@mvtimes.com if this is an idea that interests you, and we’ll make it happen. 
  • The Chilmark Writing Workshop’s Nancy Aronie is the go-to woman for prompts and inspiration, and her latest blog post suggests trying this exercise: Take a bunch of photographs of your immediate life. The kitchen table, your bed, the stack of books you are reading. The sink. Don’t stage the pictures. Don’t gussy anything up. The idea is to see how you are living, and a little bit of insight into who you really are. Then choose one and write about it. (Thank you, Nancy, for letting us share this.)

 

Reflecting suggestions

That’s right — you’re on your own for this one. Look out the window and go …