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December 30, 2008
From the outside Martha's Vineyard looks small, simple even. From the inside -- forget it. When I started writing The Mud of the Place my driving goal was to show how complicated the place was. Hah. Compared to the real thing my picture looks like a kid's stick drawing. Comparing it to the real thing sooner or later would make me give up writing, which sooner or later would drive me mad, so instead I compare my picture to other people's pictures. In that contest it stacks up pretty well if I do say so myself.
Anyway, in recent weeks I've been reminded how Martha's Vineyard contains worlds that I rarely visit and am only dimly aware of. The particular world I'm thinking of is Martha's Vineyard Hospital. For about five years I attended a weekly meeting in the doctors' waiting room, but that ended around 1990. Since then I doubt I've crossed the hospital's thresholds more than a dozen times. Now a new hospital is a-building and the access roads keep changing. I'm not even sure where the doctors' waiting room is, or whether it still exists. I do know how to get to ward 4 from the parking lot outside the emergency room entrance because I've been paying regular visits to Cris, who's rehabbing with her new hip. (I also know that the sign at the entrance to that parking lot identifies it as the place to park for, among other things, CARIAC/PULMONARY. I wish they'd fix it but I'm not holding my breath. A few years back another sign identified this as SHIPPING AND RECIEVING. They only got around to fixing that because a friend of mine kept bugging them about it.)
I take my signs seriously. One sign says that the main ER entrance is for emergency use and wheelchair access only, so being neither an emergency nor a wheelchair user I walk around the outside of the building to the appropriate door, then proceed down one corridor, hang a right, then hang a left, and there's ward 4. Along the way I pay attention to the posters and flyers tacked to the bulletin boards. These aren't the sort of handbills I see on the walls at say, Cronig's or Alley's General Store: that's one way I know I've entered another world. Still, I did a double-take at the gray-green flyer that asked ARE YOU AN ADULT WITH MENTAL ILLNESS? My first reaction was "Damned if I know." My second was "Aren't you missing an indefinite article there? Would you ask ARE YOU AN ADULT WITH COLD? or ARE YOU AN ADULT WITH TUMMY ACHE?"
I've passed that flyer quite a few times now, and each time I take the opportunity to ask myself anew: ARE YOU AN ADULT WITH MENTAL ILLNESS? On day 3 of no Internet access, the answer was "Very possibly," though by day 5 I was pretty sure that what I was experiencing was withdrawal, not a psychotic break. Other days I'd ask myself if writing a novel about Martha's Vineyard and trying to promote it might be a sign of mental illness, or perhaps a cause of mental illness, and if I could answer yes to either question, did I want to be cured, or at least to manage my condition with medication and/or therapy? The answer to that was "No, at least not yet." On still other days I'd be paraphrasing Patrick Henry as I strode (usually in my big-foot Muck Boots) down the corridor: "If this be madness, make the most of it." Patrick Henry said "treason," but the distinction between madness and treason can get pretty dicey, and whether you get tossed in the loony bin or sent to the gulag for resisting the existing order is pretty much an accident of time, geography, and just how seriously the existing order takes you. Nowadays we say with assurance that Patrick Henry was sane and George III was mad, but round about 1775 it wasn't all that clear.
I've tentatively decided that I'm an adult on a mission, and that adults on missions often appear nuts to most people in the vicinity. Until they find their grails or reach their destinations, that is -- and sometimes even then. If this be madness, what the hell, it's a fascinating trip.