Life in the Fishbowl
Year-round life on this island isn't relaxing when the economy's like this, and perhaps the neighbors have a lot to say, but some of us like it here just the same.
I haven't written as often as perhaps I should have lately. I've been tearing around off-island being the parent of two high schoolers (one in Bethel, Maine, one in southern New Hampshire,) and an amateur blacksmith, a Common Ground Country Fair volunteer, an EMT with meetings and training to attend (though the biggest part of being an EMT is being available, and in that department I often fail this time of year,) an individual lucky enough to be happily married for 19 years and wishing to go out to eat on occasion of the same (though a decent brick-oven pizza is elegance aplenty for me,) the occasional-freight-and-garbage truck driver (as you already know,) the auntie of a two-year-old (Aviendha lives in South Thomaston and I do not see her enough,) and someone in need, perhaps, of a dentist. It seems I've been off-island more than home the last few weeks, and here, people notice. Some like to keep mental track of their neighbors' comings and goings. When somebody with a known illness is away a lot, folks worry. In my case, they probably just figure I'm signed up for another darned class. Bizarre.
Maybe it is for the best. It's hard to know what to say. People on line at the grocery store ask, “How are things out on the island?”
Hmm. I'm fine, thank you. We'll probably have one heck of a celebration when 2008 is over. A palpable anxiety exists here, it has been a year with many crises, many headaches, and we are not immune to the impact of the larger economy. I have been here long enough to remember the days when guys dumped boxes of nails in their neighbor's driveways when they were in a bad mood. This economy will sour a lot of stomachs. Lock up the ten-pennies.
Oh, well, I do not go with “Oh, pity us,” and I resent those journalists who do. I do not believe we in some aggregate form need to be bailed out. We do not need to be fixed, improved, arrested, cleaned up, rescued, given handouts, re-educated, shown the light, saved, taught a lesson, fed a line, sprinkled with sugar or adjusted with a big honkin' wrench. Heck, we're not even really “we,” we're a bunch of private individuals, families, and small businessmen. Life is still better here than on Wall Street.
Anyway, with perhaps way too many reasons to go to the mainland this fall, which admittedly are mostly enjoyable (not sure about the upcoming root canals of course, but the dentist is from Monhegan, maybe I'll ask him a bunch of questions for a change,) I have been grilled by a couple of neighbors about why I leave so much, as if I were being intentionally disloyal.
Sometimes that question comes from the same folks who wonder how I can go so long without seeing my kids, away at boarding school.
“What? You won't see them for over a month? That's so long!”
Next minute, as I ready to go to Gould Parents' Weekend or the Exeter Christmas Concert: “You're leaving again?” Just smile; you can't win. They don't mean any harm. It's life in the fishbowl.
I like it here. That statement may well be an act of defiance, or indicative of genuine mental befuddlement. Too bad, if you like to think so. No, I am not one of those who say (and people do actually say this,) “Oh, if I could live on an island, I would never, ever leave!” Baloney. A few really do stay put pretty much all the time, but that isn't the healthiest option for most.
I am grateful that I can climb aboard the Robin R. or the Jackie Renee or the PIA airplane and be involved in some things off the island, and yet still call Matinicus my only home. I am stuck on the wrong side of the bay more often than I can travel at my convenience (which is Island Life 101,) it is not at all inexpensive to cross the water no matter how you do it, and my husband's work does not allow him nearly as much flexibility as I have myself. I am very fortunate. In the worst snowstorm of the winter, the northeast gales and the blizzards that take out power lines and block roads, I am very, very happy to be on this island (where I'm not even trying to commute, the woodstove is hammering and the lineman lives right here.) In the heat of the summer, with my hot-kitchen job and little if any beach time, I am likewise glad to be here…it's still cooler in August than most places this side of Labrador, there are fewer of the high-maintenance types here than in most of the rest of the coast of Maine, and my friends are just as busy as I am.
With all the wrath and ire, stomach-churning and pot-stirring, hand-wringing, insomnia and just driving too damned fast that goes on when a small town feels a strain, it is a big deal to be grateful.
There are rough times afoot in Maine; lobsters are nearly worthless this week, investments likewise, people are not particularly relaxed. I am not relaxed. Still, I am grateful. Some people are unreasonably, almost foolishly in love with this place, syrupy and cloying (they usually have never been here in March.) Some others are bitter and disgusted; they make their feelings known readily enough. I figure I love it here about 51% of the time. That's what it takes. It's not a bad fishbowl.
Eva Murray lives on Matinicus more often than not — really!.