Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Interested in Nicole’s take on your messy Vineyard-centric ethics or etiquette question? Confidentiality ensured. Send your question to OnIsland@mvtimes.com
I am what you call a seasonal resident, which is, in my opinion, a resident without any of the perks. Yet, I buy locally, donate locally, volunteer, recycle, etc. I feel like I’m actually a better “community member” than people who flash their Islander Club card at Cronigs, and everywhere else they can, and get excursion rates on the ferry, yet still whine about how expensive everything is. I find it’s unfair that aside from the gift of just being here, seasonal residents don’t get any additional perks. Don’t you?
You’re absolutely right. It’s unfair. It’s also unfair that seasonal residents don’t get the unspoken burdens of year-rounders. Feuds, grudges, shared tragedies, dysfunctional town politics that cause neighbors to give each other the cold shoulder for years. We’d really love to hand some of that off to you. If you figure out a way to earn year-rounder status while enjoying your winters elsewhere, please feel free to write again and explain it to us. Have a nice day. Don’t forget your bok choy!
That’s my take.
How do you negotiate group gatherings where you have to share the space with your ex-husband, your ex-in-laws and your ex-teacher whose class you used to cut and everyone else you’ve spent a lifetime avoiding?
Dear Exed out:
If you have successfully avoided them for this long, I am really impressed. But I’m not sure why you want my advice – I have no idea how to avoid them, and you do. I’d love to know your secrets!
Perhaps you mean that you’ve avoided them by being a hermit (or their being hermits), or the rare fluke that somehow small-town life has not caused your paths to cross for years – until suddenly one day (at the Artisan’s Festival or the CSA pickup or a potluck wedding) you find yourself in a perverse version of This Is Your Life.
It’s true; this can happen on the Vineyard. It’s one of the karmic quirks of living here a long time, so don’t rail against it. If you can’t actually walk away from the face-off, then consider it a fantastic opportunity for self-reflection. Literally. Vineyard society can be like a funhouse mirror – it often brings out one’s more distinctive qualities, sometimes to an exaggerated level.
For instance, if you tend toward loner status, it’s pretty easy to avoid humanity completely for nine months out of the year. On the other hand, if you lean toward overcommitting yourself to too many worthy causes or social opportunities, that’s easy to maintain here, too. Hold grudges? C’mon in, we have an aisle just for that. If you’re a name-dropper, you will never have more opportunities to drop names than while living here. You can also mix and match all of these qualities: for instance, I know a loner who has an Arya Stark-like List of all the famous people he wants to kill, which he brings out whenever he crashes fundraisers that his civically-minded overinvolved cousin is hosting. Otherwise, nobody ever sees him. So we think of him as crazy, but we know he isn’t really: it’s just that he lives on Martha’s Vineyard.
All of which is just to say: when you find yourself having to face people from your past whom you’d rather not face, just be chill about it. They’re either equally uncomfortable (which allows for mutual magnanimity) or else probably oblivious to your awkwardness. They’re probably not sitting there thinking, “Ha ha! That person is so uncomfortable with the fact that I’m here! I win!”
If they actually would think that, then, by default, they’re sort of losers anyhow, aren’t they?
That’s my take.