It’s March, we’ve been battered by the weather, and like so many of us on the Island, the ferries have Lyme disease. Tack these issues onto the already high cost of living here and near impossible housing situation, and friends of mine have started talking about leaving. It’s making me panic. I love my community of friends and I don’t want them to go, but I don’t know what to say to convince them to stay. Nicole, what are your thoughts?
I identify strongly with this situation, both as a person who has contemplated relocating someplace more user-friendly, and as a person distraught that others would ever contemplate such a move.
You write, “I don’t know what to say to convince them.” Words will not convince. Actions speak louder than words. To show your friends that you want them to remain, take actions that could contribute to life here being livable for all.
I’m not saying it’s your responsibility to fix your friends’ problems for them. I’m saying love is a verb, and in the off-season on the Vineyard, it is a verb we all need to be practicing. The best way to do that is to show up, in as many ways as you can.
There are so many things that Vineyarders do well in the off-season, so be vigilant about doing those things: Host potlucks. Go for beach walks. Show up for your church, your support group, your book club, your weekly poker game, your dog-walking clique, your child’s play group. When money is tight, the weather sucks, and the logistics of living here are more of a pain in the butt than living on the other side of Vineyard Sound, commit to the spiritual glue of the community. Show up.
Go to the art exhibits and concerts and talks and presentations and demonstrations and sports events. A lot of these things are free or very cheap — if somebody is offering something free or cheap, they’re not in it for the money, they are in it for the community (as co-director of Shakespeare for the Masses at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, which has never charged for a performance in our 10 years of existence, I swear this is true). Show up with your friends, the ones you want to keep from leaving. Remind them what makes it worthwhile.
Of course, realistically, not even the warmest and fuzziest of community events can prevent Poseidon from hexing the Steamship Authority. Nor, on a more chronic and serious note, can it resolve the housing crunch, nor can it make basic needs affordable. Feel-good measures cannot fix those problems. Those problems, too, require everyone to show up.
You have every right to say, “Hey, I have a home and I can afford groceries, and it’s up to everyone else to sort out their own circumstances.” You are not a bad person if you adopt that attitude. It’s a perfectly reasonable position to take. However, if the friends who speak of leaving are leaving because of the housing crunch or the cost of living, and you have not shown up at the table where solutions are being considered, then what you’re feeling isn’t panic that your friends might desert you, but annoyance that you might have to make an effort to help them to stay. You are not feeling the pain of helplessness, you are feeling the pain of inaction. Studies have revealed that the best antidote to inaction is — surprise! — action.
Just by virtue of being a member of this community, you have the power to show up, get involved, and work toward solutions to the various challenges of Island reality (what those are is beyond the scope of this column). You don’t have to do that. But be honest with yourself that not showing up is a choice you’re making. You have every right to make that choice, and there might be a very good reason for your making the choice. But it is a choice with repercussions that could potentially touch your own life — i.e., your friends might move away.
Just as with the good, easy, fun stuff, so too with the harder stuff: Show up.
Of course this assumes that your friends are also working on solutions to whatever makes it hard for them to live here. If they’re not doing the work themselves, and don’t want to, but would rather respond to hardship by kvetching and then jumping ship, that’s their choice to make, and you have to let them. You could become the Island’s most effective activist for affordable housing, but if they’d rather move to Kansas and buy a home for what they’d pay in interest fees on a Vineyard mortgage, that’s their call. You could find a way to eradicate Lyme disease, develop a free way to teleport produce from California in January … it’s not all up to you. Do your best, and make peace with the outcome.
Or throw them into Vineyard Sound as an offering to Poseidon, and then maybe at least the boats will run again …
That’s my take.
Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Her combined knowledge of both this Island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.