Authors Posts by Nicole Galland

Nicole Galland

Nicole Galland
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Too many Subarus in the same parking lot.

Photo-illustration by Kate Feiffer

NickiGalland-headshotBemused 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. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com

Dear Nicole:
The other day I walked out of Cronig’s, admittedly in a bit of a daze, with four bags stuffed full of groceries. I opened the door to the back seat of a Subaru. It looked like my Subaru. I picked up a stack of papers and tossed them onto another seat,  and put the groceries in the car. It wasn’t until I was actually sitting in the driver’s seat that I realized I was in the wrong Subaru. I took out my groceries, but didn’t know what to do with the stack of papers I had moved. Any thoughts?
Confidentially Yours,
Subaru driver

Dear Driver:
You have two choices.
First, you could try to put all the papers back as they had been, but unless you have a  photographic memory (in which case you probably wouldn’t find yourself in this predicament) you won’t succeed in making the paper pile look exactly as it did before – and so the Subaru’s real owner will suspect that somebody was rifling through their stuff, which is a terrible feeling to be stuck with.

Second, you could organize the papers into impeccably neat piles, clean out all the trash from the car, shake out the mudguards in the seat-wells, and generally make it clear that, yes, this car’s interior was fussed with, but only because it was singled out for special treatment by pixies with a cleaning agenda.

This is Martha’s Vineyard – meaning people are about as likely to break into each other’s cars as they are to be visited by pixies. So go for the choice that’s going to make the other Subaru owner feel better. Go for the pixie option. You’ll feel better too.

(Disclaimer: this advice applies only to Subarus. Results not guaranteed for all car brands, especially BMWs, Mercedes, and big-ass pick-up trucks.)
That’s my take.
Nicole

***

Dear Nicole:
When you are walking along a lovely Land Bank trail with someone and their phone rings, is it okay to request that they don’t answer?
Confidentially Yours,
Cell Stop

Dear Stop:
In an ideal world, there would be weather-proof coin lockers at each Land Bank parking lot, and smart-phone addicts would get bonus minutes if they deposited their phone in one of these while walking. Since there aren’t any such lockers, and since cell phone coverage has been amped up so effectively in the middle of the wilderness in the past few years, I guess I have to answer your question.

The default ethos for walking in the woods should be walking in the woods. If somebody needs to have their phone with them to deal with a particular issue, it should be stated and agreed to ahead of time by everyone who is going on the walk together, and some ground rules should be established. For instance, if a family member is in a crisis (or is a teenager, or has dementia), you can answer when they call; if you’re doing an insider trading deal on a coveted ferry reservation –  obviously, take the call. But working through a domestic spat, catching up with an old friend, checking eBay bids – that’s pretty tacky. Also, it is never cool to log onto Facebook, Instagram or other social media sites, to check how many of your friends have “liked” the photo you just posted at the start of your walk, letting everyone you know that you’re going for a walk in the woods. In fact, the moment you took-and-posted that photo, the pixies snuck into your car and messed up all your papers.
That’s my take.
Nicole

— Illustration by Kate Feiffer

NickiGalland-headshotBemused 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. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com

Dear Nicole:
My wife has a significant birthday coming up, and she wishes to celebrate by spending a long weekend on a foliage tour in New Hampshire. The dates coincide with the best Derby fishing according to historical records, and I feel certain that I will miss out on a winning fish if I accompany her. Years ago I suggested that we postpone our wedding until after the Derby and she simply ignored the question. What is your advice about asking her to postpone her birthday until October 19th?
Confidentially Yours,
Derbyguy

Dear Derbyguy:
Answer quickly: what’s more important to you, winning the Derby or making your wife happy?

If you had to think about that for even for a nanosecond, then you are such a diehard fisherman that you might as well go ahead and ask her. (If you’re not one, don’t ask her. Really. Not for a “significant birthday.”)

So perhaps the question really is, how will you respond to her saying no? Trust me on this: she will say no. Her ignoring your request to postpone your marriage for Derby season implies either (a) she thought you were joking, in which case she will think you are joking again, or (b) she knew you were serious, and but had to convince herself you were joking so that she could bear to go through with marrying you.

Speaking of her marrying you: if your wedding conflicted with the Derby, then your anniversary must as well. Stop reading this right now, and go buy her a nice card. Avoid any fish imagery. Maybe get her some flowers too. I think dahlias are still in bloom.

Once you’ve done that, I guess you can go ahead and ask her about delaying her birthday. Spoiler alert: She’ll still say no. But at least you’ll have gotten it out of your system.
That’s my take.
Nicole

***

Dear Nicole:
How long should I wait between picking something up at the Dumptique and selling it at a yard sale?
Confidentially Yours,
Rags

Dear Rags:
I can only think of three reasons why you would be asking this question:

One: You are so broke that you are trying desperately, from genuine need, to literally get something for nothing.

Even if you’re that hard up, don’t rob other needy people of their chance to get decent free clothes. If you’re done with the clothes, recycle them back to the Dumptique, or donate them to one of the Thrift Shops.

Two: You’ve come up with a rather sleazy way to game the system, and get something for nothing. In which case: Boy, are you pathetic. You’re robbing needy people of their chance to get free clothes. At least confine your unethical schemes to things that don’t harm people in genuine need. Target those with disposable cash. Sell seashells to tourists or something.

Three: As a frugal Yankee, you’ve gotten due use out of an item, and want to continue to wring maximum benefit from your thrift.

In that case, wear it until it’s in tatters. And then return it to the Dumptique because really, who’s going to pay for that thing at a yard sale?
That’s my take.
Nicole

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

NickiGalland-headshotBemused 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

Dear Nicole:
I’m a recent transplant and I am fishing in the Derby for the first time. Let’s say I land a huge bass. Then let’s say someone, maybe even a good friend, asks me where I caught it. Am I ethically obligated to be truthful?
Confidentially Yours,
Hooked

Dear Hooked:
First of all, you’re not a transplant, you’re a wash–ashore.

The one inviolable Derby rule is not to elbow your way into anyone else’s turf, on the beach or in the water. That’s why people never leave their primo fishing spot for years at a time, not even to eat or sleep: as long as you are where you are, nobody else can get too close, but as soon as you leave, somebody else moves in, and then you’re the one who can’t be too close.

Anyhow, keep in mind: fish do this thing called “swimming.” They’re biting off Noman’s … until they’re not. They’re practically offering themselves up on the North Shore… until the tide changes.  Your honesty wouldn’t help your friend, or anyone else, find where the fish are – only where they were. In fact, if you send someone to a bogus spot, it could turn out to be a bonanza for him or her.

But that’s not really the heart of your question, which is: Is it okay to lie? Even to a friend? Isn’t that awful? Well, yes, generally… but as you said, it’s the Derby, so anything goes. Even St. Peter would probably obfuscate to throw other fishermen off the scent during the Derby. And as Nelson Siegelman (revered author of the Gone Fishin’ column) assures me, “During the Derby, a fisherman asked where he or she caught a fish is likely to answer with one of four locations:  up-Island, down-Island, the north shore and south shore. (Furthermore…) fishing may be one of the only sports where it may be expected that participants will lie. But just as skillful casting is a talent, lying well requires a certain style so that the person you are lying to does not walk away insulted.”  I know a man who knows a man who caught a 40-pound striper on Chappy… and immediately drove to the Squibnocket parking lot for everyone to see it. By the standards of Derby Shenanigans, that’s wicked awesome. If you’re going to BS somebody, try to top that. Worse case scenario: your friend still manages to hook a bigger fish than you, and buys you a beer.
That’s my take.
Nicole

Dear Nicole:
This is one of those Vineyard Shuffle questions. My summer landlady asked me to leave a day early because her cleaning lady is fishing in the Derby and needs to do the “moving-out clean” the day before I’m scheduled to actually move out. But I can’t get into my winter rental a day early because those summer renters will still be there. Is it ungracious or un-Vineyardy of me to refuse to leave? I want to support anything Derby-related but I have nowhere to go.
Confidentially Yours,
Stranded in Oak Bluffs

Dear Stranded:
Legally, of course, you have a right to stay till the end of your lease. And while it would not be ungracious of you to refuse to leave, it would be very gracious of you to agree to the arrangement. If you want to “do the right thing” by old-school, Vineyard Shoulder-Season standards, consider this:

Anything involving the Derby gets instant street cred. That’s how the Island is wired. If your only hesitation is that you need a place to stay, consider the ultimate form of Vineyard Shuffle: staying on a friend’s couch for one night. Looking unkempt because you’ve been fishing gets the highest marks, but looking unkempt because you’re facilitating someone else to fish is also pretty good.

I don’t know why the cleaning lady had to change her schedule for the Derby, but given that she did, it was pretty cool that your landlady said yes and it would be pretty cool if you said yes, and so by extension, if you need to crash on someone’s couch or guest room and they say yes, that makes them cool too – because it’s the Derby. The more people are involved in the great Derby Chain of Roughing It, the greater the collective Insider Cool factor is.
That’s my take.
Nicole

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

NickiGalland-headshotBemused 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

Dear Nicole,
My only daughter has left the Island for college and I’m having a hard time letting go. (I suspect I shouldn’t be driving by her elementary school every day and repeatedly downloading the ferry schedule.)  I am trying not to text and call her too often. It’s a struggle and my waistline is expanding because of it.  But what makes it even worse is all my so–called friends who keep saying their kids call and text and, isn’t it so great they’ve  even skyped with their child’s roommate. How can I get them to stop talking?
Confidentially yours,
Empty-nester

Dear Empty–nester,
You can’t get them to stop talking. Even if there was some way to get them to stop talking to YOU about it, they’d all be talking amongst themselves, without you, and you’d know it (it’s a small Island), and then you’d feel like a pariah.

So the real problem to tackle here is either your own rate of texting/angsting, and/or your expanding waistline.

I haven’t seen your waistline so I don’t feel qualified to comment on it, but maybe it’s a good time to mention that many Island yoga, dance and Pilates studios and gyms are moving into their autumn schedule — as are you — and it might not be a bad time to sign on. Or at the very least, when you drive obsessively in front of your child’s school, do it on a bicycle to burn some extra calories. Or better yet, whenever you feel the urge to drive by her school or call her, divert that energy into something you can now do that you could not before you were an empty-nester. Go skinny-dipping in the afternoon. Take a nap. Watch Jerry Springer. Throw a gourmet potluck.  Get overly–invested in town politics. Go out dancing. Fall in love (all over again with your spouse, if you have one). If none of these appeal to you, look to your childless friends or friends with long–grown kids for inspiration.

You’re preoccupied with your absent child mostly because you love her very much, but maybe also just a little because you’re the Helicopter Parent Generation, and you’ve probably invested more energy and self–identity into your kid than your parents’ generation did, so you don’t have that generation as a model for how to cope. How to cope is: see above.

And keep the long view in mind: Congratulations if your kid isn’t constantly checking in with you! Let your friends gush over how effectively they are prolonging their children’s dependency on them. Proudly let them know you have a child who is self–sufficient enough that she doesn’t need to check in with her parents on an hourly basis. Some day soon, when your friends’ kids have also attained that level of independence that yours has already achieved (I’m guessing second semester freshman year), all your friends will look to you as a model, and that will feel awesome. It’s a win all the way around.

That’s my take.
Nicole

***

Dear Nicole,
It’s picking season and I found the beach plums. Must I ask the property owner on whose land I found them for permission to pick?
Confidentially yours,
Oak Bluffs

Dear Oak Bluffs,
There are two schools of thought on this topic, neither of which I agree with.
One of them says: Of course you have to ask! Otherwise it’s stealing! And also trespassing, which is always illegal and immoral!

The other one says: Of course you don’t have to ask! It is set down in the Constitution of the Republic of Martha’s Vineyard that we’re all allowed to forage for beach plums!

If we were anywhere but Martha’s Vineyard and it were (almost) anything but beach plums, I’d easily side with the first position. Actually, I do side with the first one — but because it is Martha’s Vineyard, and beach plums — a certain karmic grandfather clause applies.

If you have discovered (either from trespassing or use of easements) beach plum bushes on the property of someone (a) unfriendly (b) with an enormous bounty of beach plums, who (c) has never shown any interest in harvesting said beach plums, it really doesn’t matter what anyone says about it, we both know you’re going to go get those beach plums, so why are you even asking me?

If you choose to tread that path, however, maybe offer beach plum jelly to the property-owners, with a note saying, “If you like this, I’d be honored to keep you in a steady supply in future years, and here’s how you can help me do that…”

That’s my take.
Nicole

— Illustration by Kate Feiffer

NickiGalland-headshotBemused 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

Dear Nicole:
What do you do when you mistakenly break into the middle of the Presidential motorcade? Should you stay with it or try to veer off?
Confidentially yours,
Clutching the Wheel in Chilmark

Dear Clutch:
First, the official response: I have no idea. I’m sure there is some official caveat but nobody bothered to inform me. Second, the practical response: It’s true that you won’t get held up in traffic, but tourists will gawk and locals will roll their eyes, which — if you’re a real islander — are two of the few things worse than getting stuck in summer traffic. So there is no net benefit to staying with the motorcade. If you can get to your destination some other way, divert.

Third, my actual response: To quote a professional wise–guy friend: “The value of any life experience can be determined by how good an anecdote it makes.” So, in the interest of having a good story, stick with the motorcade as long as you possibly can. Forget about your actual destination; just go with the flow. Eventually, some member of the Secret Service or the police escort will question you. Depending upon whom the President is hanging out with, this is the perfect opportunity to pitch your television series, request a puppy playdate (“Hey, I also have a Portuguese Water Dog!”), or offer your helpful and well–informed views on the situation in Iraq.  I have no idea what will happen, but I bet it will make a better anecdote than simply driving away.
That’s my take.
Nicole

Dear Nicole:
Some people seem to manage the whole Presidential Visit thing just fine without any headaches or inconveniences. What is their secret?
Confidentially Yours,
Stuck in traffic

Dear Stuck:
They vacation on Nantucket.
That’s my take.
Nicole

Dear Nicole:
I think it’s rather nice that President Obama and his family vacation here, however I am sick and tired of hearing about all the Obama sightings. I really don’t care that my friend’s friend’s houseguest saw the President golfing. How can we put a stop to the incessant chatter about Obama sightings?
Confidentially yours,
Edgartown

Dear Edgartown,
There are a number of ways to stop “the incessant chatter about Obama sightings.” One option is simple honesty. Say, for example, “You know, I must admit I’m tired of hearing about all the Obama sightings.” But that seems rude, and we all know nobody is going to do it, so let’s move on to other options.

The tried and true Vineyard MO is (as I have perhaps suggested in earlier columns) passive aggressiveness. If you want to be passive aggressive as a form of politeness, you could simply pretend not to have heard or understood the statement, and respond with a pensive silence or perhaps a bland comment such as, “Hm, hasn’t the weather been lovely lately.” If you want to be passive-aggressive as a form of contempt, the best approach is, “I bet people who talk about Obama sightings have really boring lives,” (or some other demeaning remark). But I won’t like you very much if you go that route.

Or you could be more pro-active in your refusal to engage in such banter. Distraction is a good way to do this. If, for instance, somebody says, “My mother’s best friend’s dog-groomer saw Obama at the package store,” a recommended response might be: “Look! A raccoon!” This should be followed by a lively narrative about a raccoon cub you took into your house as a child, who ate through both the linoleum and the insulation in the kitchen. It’s almost certain that somebody else at the gathering will have a story about raccoons, insulation, linoleum or kitchens, and so you will have successfully diverted conversation, at least for the nonce.
That’s my take.
Nicole

— Illustration by Kate Feiffer

NickiGalland-headshotBemused 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

Dear Nicole:

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?

Confidentially yours,

Seasonal

Dear Seasonal:

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.

Nicole

***

Dear Nicole:

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?

Confidentially yours,

Exed out

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.

Nicole

— Illustration by Kate Feiffer

NickiGalland-headshotBemused 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

Dear Nicole:

I’m hiring employees for a seasonal business. My friend’s kid just applied but I don’t want to hire her because (between you and me) I never liked her. Naturally my friend doesn’t know this. Aside from personal issues, I also don’t think she’d be a good match for the job. But I feel obligated to hire her. What should I do?

Confidentially yours,

Vineyard Haven

Dear Vineyard Haven:

You’re not obligated to do something that goes against your own interests unless perhaps her father is in the Mafia. If she’s not a good match for the job, don’t hire her. That’s an easy call. The harder call is figuring out how to break the news to both parent and child with minimal damage.

First, how harsh would honesty be? What kind of “seasonal business” is it and why don’t you think she’s a good match? If she has lots of body piercings and you manage a restaurant with a very conservative clientele, that’s probably an easy out. If she has a DUI and you run a cab company, ditto.

But if she’s relatively presentable and your business is pretty much anything except running marijuana bales, it will be hard to justify not hiring her. Is your concern more about her attitude or her aptitude? In either case, try to use the kindest possible euphemisms for rejecting her application. If you find her, for example, hopelessly self-absorbed, say that she is an introspective young lady and the job requires a level of extroverted superficiality that is beneath her. If you think she’s a space shot, express admiration for her ability to multitask and see the big picture, but explain that this position requires somebody who is tunnel-visioned with obsessive attention to detail, and she’s just not that nerdy.

You could, of course, default to the passive-aggressiveness that is common to most island nations. Pretend her application fell through the cracks and that you never saw it. Claim you thought she was applying as a joke. Find out who her worst enemy is and confess in a tone of concern to her parents that you’ve already hired that person (note: try to actually hire that person, so that you are merely being weasely and not actually dishonest).

That’s my take.

Nicole

Dear Nicole:

I recently joined AA. Yesterday, someone I know only from AA greeted me in public – in front of members of my family, who wanted to know who he was and how I knew him. I wanted to tell him off, but I was so shocked I couldn’t say anything. Now I’m avoiding the meeting that we both go to, because I feel like I should say something to him but I’m really uncomfortable confronting people. Plus I’m sure he thought what he did was harmless, and I don’t want to upset him. What’s the right call to make here?

Confidentially yours,

Dry

Dear Dry:

I’ve never been to AA but I’m pretty sure that second A stands for “Anonymous,” not “Acknowledged” or “Attendees” or “’Allo!” I’ve noticed among friends both here and off-Island that there’s more openness here than elsewhere, but that’s an outsider’s casual observation.

Because I’m not with the program (so to speak), I’m not in a position to speak with authority on this topic. There’s a difference between giving my opinion, and speaking on behalf of an organization that I’m not a part of. So I asked a 12-stepping friend (who will remain anonymous, because that is still what the second A stands for), who kindly furnished this response:

It’s my experience that on-Island, people are pretty open about all this; other members I run into around town often give me big hugs hello. That’s not so normal off-Island, but I know from past experience that people off-Island greet each other as well, at least sometimes. AA breeds intimacy, and it would seem almost rude NOT to at least nod at a fellow member in passing, no matter where you live.

If asked, by non-program friends witnessing your encounter, who your greeter was, there are plenty of easy responses. “I met him through friends,” is a good one. If asked where: “At some gathering or other… can’t remember exactly when or where…” (Nicole’s suggestion: “At a potluck.”) If asked for his last name, “Well, you know me and names; it’s amazing I could remember his first name,” or simply, “I’m not sure I ever got it.” It would be totally bizarre for someone who had no idea I was in AA to immediately jump to the conclusion that I MUST be in AA, and that MUST have been a fellow member greeting me. They might just as well conclude that the person was a secret lover of mine that I was pretending not to know.

All that being said, AA is chock full of people with totally different views on just about everything, so I’d guess that you could ask five members about this issue and get five different responses. Maybe the best advice is ask your sponsor how to deal with this.

Thanks, A.

Dry, I hope that’s helpful. Given how small the Island is, and how strong the AA family is within it, you’re unlikely to successfully avoid this person indefinitely, so I’d consider going back to that meeting if it was otherwise a good experience for you.

That’s my take.

Nicole

— Photo by Kate Feiffer

Bemused readeNicole-Gallandrs 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

a community

processes grief publicly

in amazing ways

-Beckie Scotten Finn

There were a couple of questions (and answers) ready to go for this week’s Ps and Qs. But something horrible has happened. On the other side of the continent, a random act of violence resulted in a tragedy that touches much of the Island. A lot of us, including me, are struggling to make sense of it.

Between social media and the close-knitness of the Island community, much of that struggle is happening not only publicly but communally. We’re collectively constructing an ongoing eulogy. On Facebook, on blogs, in comments posted to both papers’ online sections, on a board outside the Educomp building, in flags flying at half-mast and lilacs left on beach rocks and black ribbons pinned on jackets.

There is a difference between public grief and private grief. Nothing that I’m writing here is about private grief, which is intensely personal and largely defies words anyhow. The family’s private grief comes before anyone else’s; as long as we respect that there’s not really much else to say publicly about private grief.

But existing parallel to all the private grief is a unified collective loss felt by the community. Such a broad-spectrum extended wake, especially in the aftermath of a homicide, is a powerful and healing thing. It also engenders stuff that isn’t par for the bereavement course.

Phebe Bates created a ribbon tribute icon on Facebook and invited people to use it as their profile picture; Educomp has provided actual ribbons on the front stoop of the building for people to wear. Other artists shared artwork online. In some case it was created to mark the event; in other cases it is presented as a symbolic offering.

In a Facebook group called The Haiku Room, a number of Vineyarders including me (and Ms. Finn, see above) have been distilling sorrow and fury into 17 syllables.

Some examples: Lara O’Brien: “a sun filled weekend,/bright with youth’s energy, fell/dark with a life stolen.”

Mine: “Earth’s orbit wobbles/when a man made of goodness/dies of savagery.”

Samantha Chronister Greene: “Iron Canyon trail/Iron Canyon… I can’t move/past this empty place.”

(Here’s another of mine because I needed a little dark humor: “Dear Mathematics:/I only ever liked you for/His sake. We’re through.”)

Some people also find comfort and inspiration in others’ work. Becky Cournoyer posted a central passage from Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird because it captured for her the essence of the wrong. It resonated with a lot of people (made me cry – still does):

“Atticus said to Jem one day, ‘I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’ That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. ‘Your father’s right,’ she said. ‘Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.'”

As anti-technology as I sometimes feel, I’m very grateful that social media has allowed this kind of communal keening. That said, my favorite instance of transformative collective mourning is necessarily real-world.

Last Sunday evening, on very short notice, a group of several dozen long-time Islanders came together on Lamberts Cove Beach to be sad together. Although I hadn’t been formally invited, I happened to show up when it began and was immediately embraced by Susan Goldstein, one of the organizers and (more years ago than either of us will admit to) my Jr. High School English teacher. The gathering was beautiful, simple, sad and moving. After it was over, elements of it found their way into social media; people posted photos, the papers ran articles.

Many participants had brought flowers, especially lilacs; some of these remained behind on a large rock near the path back to the parking lot. The flowers were still there Monday, starting to wilt and sere in the salty air. They were still there Tuesday morning.

Mid-day Tuesday, I was walking on the beach when I noticed an unfamiliar young woman picking through what remained of the flowers. She was finding sprigs and weaving them into a beautiful, fragrant garland. I stopped to talk to her. She hadn’t known why the flowers were there, and expressed concern that I’d find her actions disrespectful. I didn’t. She had taken the saddest part of our sadness and literally transformed it into something new and innocently beautiful. What a perfect metaphor for the purpose of communal grieving. If I’d had a camera with me, I’d have taken a photo of the wreath and sent it Susan. I didn’t so instead I’m sharing this story.

As communities go, we’re very good at this: the impromptu gatherings, the Facebook message threads, the moments of silence held by the many groups directly touched by this great loss. It’s a garland we should continue to weave.

— Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Nicole-GallandBemused 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

Dear Nicole,

Going out to dinner is always expensive here.  More than once I find myself with a group of people, some of whom are on a Linda Jean budget, while others are more State Road types. The State Roaders just assume we should be going to State Road and the Linda Jeans type are usually too embarrassed to say otherwise. I’m sort of Offshore Ale material myself, but I feel like I’m the only one in a position to mediate the socioeconomic gulf. What would you recommend?

Confidentially yours,

Oak Bluffs

Dear Oak Bluffs:

I’d recommend you mediate the socioeconomic gulf. (Good for you for doing so, by the way. Everyone is so strange about money, especially on the Vineyard.) To use off-Island terminology: encourage the State Roaders to appreciate the street cred of slumming it.

That’s just one take, of course. There are so many variables you’re not including, any of which could change my answer. If there’s great mutual affection and regard among all parties, try saying something discreet to the State Roaders; if it’s more of a casual acquaintanceship, perhaps encourage organic opportunities for the State Roaders to congregate amongst themselves at other times — at State Road. The one thing that’s never OK is to willfully contribute to the Linda Jeaners’ sense of not-belonging due to financial stress. That would not be okay anywhere, but it’s especially not-okay here. Why? Glad you asked.

A few words about Living In The Economic Spectrum of Martha’s Vineyard. It’s generally considered poor taste to talk or write about money, but money is weird on the Vineyard in ways that it isn’t weird most other places. There is often zero relationship between one’s income, class, educational/cultural/financial background, social standing and innate hipness. It’s part of our cultural make-up that people from totally different financial realities casually cluster together and feel good about it. So it’s not surprising you find yourself in such a cluster.

That said, it can make for certain kinds of awkwardness, especially of the sort you’re describing. I’ve surfed those waters pretty thoroughly. I’ve found myself on or near the bottom socioeconomic rung and also on or near the top socioeconomic rung of different but equally enjoyable social groups on the same day, in the off season. Part of what made them enjoyable was that nobody gave a s**t which rung I was on. I’ve been a Linda Jean’s, a State Roader, and an Offshore Ale. I was not better company, nor was I in better company, at one place over another.

OK, rant over. Thanks for listening.

Short answer: If the State Roaders are worth their Vineyard salt, they’ll understand about the Linda Jeaners.

That’s my take.

-Nicole

***

Dear Nicole –

Celebrity sightings… selfies okay?

Confidentially yours,

Off-Island Shutterbug

Dear Bug –

If you were actually from Martha’s Vineyard you’d already know the answer to that. It’s no. Oh, you can ask them if you want, and they’ll probably be gracious, maybe even say yes, but that’s only a mark of their graciousness, not of how bodacious you are. Celebrities come to the Vineyard because we had (or used to have) a tradition of letting them just be regular human beings. Are you a regular human being? Would you take kindly to a stranger running up to you and asking to take their picture taken with you? Well, there you go, then.

Besides, selfies are so ten minutes ago.

That’s my take.

Nicole

***

Last column, as some readers noticed, I failed to provide an actionable response to a certain question. I apologize, and to make amends, have reprinted the question below, with a real answer this time.

Dear Nicole:

I was recently at the MV hospital  for a procedure, the nature of which I’d prefer not to mention. I don’t particularly want people know about it. While I was at the hospital, I ran into four people that I know. Each of them, without fail, asked me if I was okay and why I was at the hospital. I prefer not to lie, but my procedure is my business. I know people will be even more curious if I say I’d rather not tell them why I was there, so I told them I was there to visit a friend who is sick, but each of them, without fail, asked me who my friend was. So I panicked and blurted out my neighbor’s name. Nicole, what should I do? Do I need to tell my neighbor about this?

Confidentially yours,

Oak Bluffs

Dear Oak Bluffs,

Of course you need to tell your neighbor. Immediately. I recommend showing up and delivering the news with a rather nice bottle of wine, or, if they do not drink, with some artisanal bread and cheese. If they have an incredibly good sense of humor, they may find it amusing and laugh it off. If they don’t, proceed to the next paragraph.

In the most unassuming way, ask if they will help you with a small carpentry project. Go to Cottle’s, buy some wood, and make a Colonial-era public stockade. Set it up at Five Corners and ask your neighbor to lock you into it for a few hours.

I don’t actually expect you to do that, but perhaps having contemplated it, you’ll consider contacting the four people who now believe your neighbor is in the hospital, and setting the record straight. Alternatively, your neighbor could call them and explain the situation directly. But in that case, you risk coming off as more of a fool than you would in the stocks.

That’s my take.

Nicole

— Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Nicole-GallandBemused 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

Dear Nicole:

In the winter my dog and I like to stroll around a certain beach. The signs saying, “Keep out of this area, plovers nesting,” have just been put up, but I know this beach very well. I’ve been combing it for years, and I know that there aren’t actually any plovers here yet. My dog is obedient and sticks beside me; even if there were nests, he wouldn’t be disturbing them. But there aren’t nests yet. The other day I caught hell from some other beach-combers for being on that part of the beach. Wouldn’t you say it’s okay for me to be in the dunes until I see plovers start to nest? Isn’t this a little like hanging out on a private beach in the off-season?

Confidentially yours,

Curious on the Shore

Dear Curious:

NO, IT’S NOT.  If the signs are up, GET OUT OF THERE. Of course the plovers haven’t started to nest— the area is being regularly disturbed by human and canine presence. I’m not an ornithologist but I doubt the birds will casually return to a place where they sense the intrusion of Man, and certainly of Dog.

Let me give you the benefit of the doubt for a moment. I’m going to presume that you and your dog do this every year, and that every year, despite your presence, the plovers return, and as soon as they do, you leave. Let’s say that you know the timing even better than do the naturalists who are responsible for posting the signs. In fact, I’ll go even farther: let’s say you and your dog have a special mystical relationship with the plovers and they actually consider you a part of their tribe. They have asked you, during a vision-quest, to please walk around the dunes with your dog at the start of their nesting season.

Even then: don’t do it. Respect those signs. They are not put up there as a dare to you; they are an invocation to the entire community to collectively respect the seasonal rhythms of our ecosystem. To disregard the signs is to say that not only do you not consider yourself a member of the community, you don’t consider yourself a member of the ecosystem.

You yourself might know how to finesse the use-of-dunes, but other beach-walkers might see you — confident in your certainty that it’s okay to be there — and assume it’s okay for them to disregard the signs as well, even if they weren’t invited in by the plovers. You’re setting a terrible example. Please don’t do that. I’m sure if you explain it to the plovers, they’ll understand.

That’s my take.

Nicole

***

Dear Nicole:

I was recently at the MV hospital  for a procedure, the nature of which I’d prefer not to mention. While I was at the hospital, I ran into four people I know. Each of them, without fail, asked me if I was okay and why I was at the hospital. I don’t like to lie, but my procedure is my business. I know people will be even more curious if I say I’d rather not tell them why I was there, so I told them I was there to visit a friend who is sick, but each of them, without fail, asked me who my friend was. So I panicked and blurted out my neighbor’s name. Nicole, what should I do? Do I need to tell my neighbor about this?

Confidentially Yours,

Oak Bluffs

Dear Oak Bluffs:

Oh my God, they don’t pay me enough to answer these questions.

That’s my take.

Nicole