WHAT A LONG STRANGE TRIP IT'S BEEN: INVENTION AND REINVENTION
What a Long, Strange Trip it’s Been: Invention and Re-invention
“You’re never too old to set another goal
or dream a new dream.”
New Year’s day is a time for reflection. While I no longer make New Year’s resolutions, I do take time at the beginning of each January to consider—in the immortal words of the Grateful Dead—“what a long, strange trip it’s been.” On my journey over the last seven decades, I have changed my identity and my place in the world more than once. Like the Island I live on, I have reinvented myself in response to the personal, economic, and intellectual demands of a constantly changing environment. And now I believe I am ready for one final transformation.
The island of Nantucket is the original “shape-shifter.” She has invented and reinvented herself several times. A strong and lusty woman, Nantucket knows that when her world changes, she needs to change with it. Originally called the “faraway land” by the native Wampanoag Indians, Nantucket was a quiet and bucolic community where natives fished, farmed, hunted, and herded sheep. It was not long, however, before this identity was no longer viable, and Nantucket was faced with the need to change. Responding with her characteristic resilience, Nantucket became a whaling community—and for a while this new persona was very successful. But this life came to an end as well. In the 1830s whaling products were no longer lucrative; the harbor silted up; and Nantucket men lost their lives in the Civil War or left the Island for better paying jobs. The population of Nantucket fell to less than four thousand. It was time for Nantucket to once again find a new identity. Resilient and creative, Nantucket donned new clothes. Dressed in gray shingles, she acquired tiny shops, inns, and restaurants. Now she is courted by thousands of tourists who love her newest reincarnation.
Like Nantucket, I am the queen of reinvention. I've chaged who I am and my place in the world twice so far—once when I was nineteen and again when I was thirty-eight. Now, at seventy-two, I am ready for one final new identity.
I started life in Appalachia, Virginia where I ordered my clothes from the Sears Catalogue and barely graduated from high school. When I met and married a man who would later become a Wall Street lawyer, I dressed in new outfits—clothes from Bergdorf Goodman’s and Bloomingdales--and I played a new role. I was a Greenwich, Connecticut housewife, belonged to the Junior League, was President of the Parent-Teacher Organization, and spent most of my time at the country club. I acted my new part perfectly. No one imagined that I had grown up in poverty and did not have an education
When I divorced and left Greenwich, I went back to school and became a student, an academic, and a teacher. I dressed in academic robes, taught at a prestigious East Coast boarding school, and at various colleges. I earned a PhD, published articles, and traveled nationally and internationally.
Now I am retired, and I believe that I have one more life transition. Nantucket has a long tradition of change that inspires me to start fresh, to take risks, to experiment, and to continue in the process of becoming. I want this last phase of my life to be a creative one. Luckily, I am on an island that invites its residents to create and that supports them in the process. Nantucket provides the rich history and the beauty that inspires artists in every field, and it provides opportunities for a novice like me to engage in the work of creation. Here I get to write articles each week for the Nantucket Chronicle. I belong to the Moors Poetry Collective where I work with talented Island poets and do readings at Meursault and the Athenaeum. While I am clearly not yet a visual artist, I have an artist's cottage where I paint, and the occasional chance to show my work even though I am not a working member of the Nantucket Artist's Association. I may not write and publish the next great American novel, but I have the time and inspiration, and support to at least try. Here I have wonderful, interesting, stimulating friends. I have dinner parties and literary dinners and brunches. I sell ACKFresh juice at Bookworks where I am surrounded with great readers, intellectuals, and a variety of interesting people.
I hope to spend the next two decades of my life as a creator rather than a consumer, and I can’t think of a better place than Nantucket to discover who I am in this new and exciting last life transformation.