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. Nicole’s latest novel, “Stepdog,” has recently been published. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.
It seems like people around here like to wear their politics on their sleeves. That old adage of “don’t discuss religion or politics” seems to work in reverse around here, at least in regard to politics. I should know, because I got the freeze-out at a dinner party recently when the topic came up and I suggested we stay away from it. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, there was a cold silence. A sinking ferry of a dinner party, or at least of this dinner party guest, was sunk. Was I so wrong to suggest we talk about something other than politics?
There are so many details missing from this question, any of which would inform my response. But overall, it comes down to context and tone. There’s a big difference between the Dowager Countess played by Maggie Smith on “Downton Abbey” suggesting a change of topic, and affable Kermit the Frog doing so. Where would you place yourself on that spectrum? Chances are, the closer you were to Kermie, the less egregious it was.
I wish I knew if by “the topic came up,” you mean somebody said, “Hey, let’s talk about something political!” or if they said a-thing-that-happened-to-be-political, such as perhaps, “That special town meeting they called to create town-specific hunting regulations, what a terrible idea!” or “I’m voting for Marco Rubio because Bernie Sanders is a socialist and Hillary is a corpocrat” (or whatever term they’re using this week), or, “I have been studying Trump’s speech about overhauling the health care system, and I think it would make a great rap song.” It might have come across as if you were trying to shut down a specific conversation, as opposed to discouraging general-conversation-on-political-topics. So the cold shoulders you were sensing might not have been about your discouraging political chitchat but about your trying to shut down a particular conversation, thereby suggesting you had a suspect position on said conversation — i.e. were the one who called a town meeting, or were carrying Bernie Sander’s love child, or had written Donald Trump’s speech. In this post-Victorian era, social censorship usually masks shame or fear.
Finally, when you suggested that a change of topic was called for, did you offer one? In the future, try using distraction by redirection as a more productive MO than mere obliteration. There’s a big different between taking something off the table and bringing some shiny and new to it.
That’s my take.