Is there something that is inherently Martha’s Vineyard that fosters the freedom to pursue our other selves — our talents, drives, and passions? The fisherman who becomes an oil painter. The investment advisor/birdwatcher. The dock builder/poet. Does it happen more here? In an occasional column, we visit with Vineyarders who venture into Second Acts. And we try to find out the why behind the what.
After medical school, Gerry Yukevich did a residency at New England Deaconess Medical Center, and for the next 20 years was an emergency room doctor in Boston. He loved medicine, but for as long as he can remember, he’s also had an interest in the arts and writing, and has been bitten by an acting bug. Every year, Gerry performed in Bloomsday celebrations, the annual June 16 commemorations of the works of Irish author James Joyce. In 1995, he and his wife came to Martha’s Vineyard for one such performance at the Katharine Cornell Theater. “We had never thought about living on the Vineyard, but we liked it, stayed an extra day, looked around … and three days later we bought a house and moved down.”
That was 27 years ago. Gerry practiced medicine here; he and his wife, Martha, raised their daughter here; they never looked back. A familiar story. Something about the Island captures the spirit — a free spirit, or an artistic spirit, or a spirit in search of home — and another Vineyarder lands on our shores.
Meanwhile, an author named Ivan Cox, who had been writing since he was a kid — poems, plays, stories, novels — an English major at Princeton, also came to the Katharine Cornell Theater to perform in a Bloomsday production that same day. And Ivan Cox moved to Martha’s Vineyard too. Because Ivan and Gerry are the same person; Ivan Cox is Gerry Yukevich’s pen name.
It didn’t take moving to Martha’s Vineyard to bring out the muse in Gerry Yukevich. He had been inspired by literature throughout his life. He recalls reading “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and wanting to be a freedom fighter in Spain. “Catcher in the Rye,” he says, prepared him for growing up. And perhaps the most salient impact was “Moby-Dick,” as he now lives in a whaling captain’s house on Martha’s Vineyard.
The Vineyard provided an environment that nurtured his dual callings, his and Ivan’s. (Why Ivan Cox? Gerry says it provided an identity separate from medicine but captured his Slavic roots.) The list of Island-connected authors is impressive: William Styron, John Hersey, Amor Towles, Geraldine Brooks, Dorothy West, just to name a few. And a litany of physician-authors is equally powerful: Anton Chekov, John Keats, William Carlos Williams, Arthur Conan Doyle, Michael Crichton, and more.
Over the years, Gerry has treated countless Island families, has performed in more plays than he can recall, and has written two full-length novels, several plays, and a screenplay. His writings are labors of love and of time. He began writing “Cruise Ship Doctor” 25 years ago, based loosely on his own experience as a physician at sea, wrote and rewrote it, and recently reprinted it with a new publisher, Fulton Books. In contrast to that comedic tale, four years ago Gerry took on a long-anticipated, highly personal project — the fictionalized story of his father’s arduous, sometimes brutal life and journey, “Blood Pudding.” And recently he wrote a screenplay, “Death Dose,” a finalist in the Boston Screenplay Awards, about an artist found dead on a Vineyard beach, an apparent suicide that her psychiatrist thinks was murder, and she sets out to find the killer.
Gerry credits medicine with a good deal of his writing ability: “It has really given me a wonderful vision into … the reality of human life. You see a lot of suffering … and you also work with people who are of high caliber … who are for the most part selfless and happy to aid their fellow creatures. I learned a lot about myself working in medicine. I think that’s helpful to the art as well … helped me develop as a soul and as a witness.”
Gerry is a disciplined writer, saying, “Every day that I’m not doing medicine, I’m usually writing. My wife is very understanding, and gives me space to do it.” Gerry does not have an agent, but not for lack of trying. “I sent query letters to 80 different agents; I got six rejections; and the rest didn’t answer.” Does he ever get discouraged? “It’s not something I can be bothered with.” To Gerry, writing “is a joyous process.”
Could he have done what he does anywhere but Martha’s Vineyard? “I think it was a stroke of luck that we moved down here,” he says. Gerry describes life on the Island as a board game. “You roll the dice, you move ahead a few spaces, you can’t go too very far, and you can’t get distracted too much. It’s very cozy and comforting. People treat each other, for the most part, in a courteous way.”
He compares it to living in Boston, “The Vineyard is like Cambridge unplugged, intellectual, artistic, but with less intensity.”
What’s next for Gerry? First, turning “Death Dose” into a novel. And then returning to a story idea from the past about baseball and a lynching in the 1930s. And he’s still working part-time as a physician: “I’m a dilettante, let’s face it, and I’m happy to be.” That goes for Ivan too.
Check out Gerry Yukevich’s books at ivancox.com.
We invite you to send us thoughts on Vineyarders who have found their other selves, the next Second Act to feature on these pages. Send ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim Dale is a nonfiction writer who has co-authored books on topics ranging from sports to business to medicine to politics, most recently the memoir “We’re Better Than This,” with Congressman Elijah Cummings.