I heard something disturbing recently. A person I know well has been considering making Provincetown his year-round home, but is still hesitating. “The problem is that I’d still have to go to Boston when I need mental stimulation,” he said to me. “Ptown’s a lot of fun, but I need to feed my mind, too.”
He’s not alone in that assessment and in that opinion. Over the years I’ve heard it from others, too. “It’s a great place for art… for fun… to kick back and relax… for natural beauty… but not for the life of the mind.”
As someone who lives largely inside her head, what’s known essentially as a traveler of the interior, I have to take issue. I know a lot about thought, and I can affirm that there’s plenty here to stimulate the mind.
But that’s not really what they’re talking about, is it? They’re not talking about stimulation as much as they’re talking about discourse. And while I’d agree that a lot of the discussions one overhears at the Stop & Shop or on Commercial Street is geared to the mundane rather than the cerebral, I’d argue that the discourse is here… you just have to look for it.
Just like you would in any other place, in fact.
We could do more, I think, to make that stimulation for interior travel more accessible (which I understand for many would be a contradiction in terms), or at the very least more visible. We might even have to do more to provoke it, to give it a context.
But think about the people you know here. You may have met someone as a volunteer at SKIP, or singing beside you in the chorale, or getting their coffee at the Wired Puppy, and you may never know that before they retired they were a professor, or a chemist, or a classical musician. Remember some of the thoughtful engaging posts you’ve seen people make on Facebook. Think of the occasional intense dinner party conversation than kept you pondering something new the next day.
Or think about the people we attract. Some of the finest living minds—including Junot Diaz, Naomi Wolf, and David France—have participated in public discussions at Twenty Summers. Never mind who’s coming to town—some of the finest living minds already work here: you don’t have to go further than the Center for Coastal Studies to know that.
It may not be what the town’s marketers want the world to think, but we have a tremendous seldom-tapped natural resource in Provincetown: these great minds, these brilliant thinkers, these sages. They live among us and we don’t always even know that they’re here.
Perhaps in an age of alternative facts, in an age where intellectualism is suspect, one way that we can fight back is by becoming even more of who we are: thinking, philosophical creatures.
I have two suggestions for getting started. Maybe you can add to them—or help me get these off the ground!
Let’s start a salon or three. Begun in Italy in the 16th century, these intimate forums were a meeting place for people to gather and discuss topics ranging from poetry and literature to politics and philosophy. Salons picked up steam in the drawing rooms of France in the 17th and 18th century when people gathered to talk about the most exciting issues of the day. A salon doesn’t need to take up too much of your time—the ones that I researched meet at most once a month, and several of them every six weeks.
What about a Ptown version of TED Talks? There is so much information and wisdom in this town—why not share it? The offseason is a great time for conferences that could become video presentations and/or podcasts. “We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world,” notes the organization’s website. What could our local knowledge base inspire in Ptown?
I’ve read estimates saying that we only use about 20% of our brains, which feels like a tremendous waste; but perhaps it’s time to fully engage at least that 20%! From book clubs to spoken-word radio programming, from PTV to the library, there is a lot here to engage thoughtful discourse in town.
Let’s talk more about it.