Authors Posts by Nicole Galland

Nicole Galland

Nicole Galland
35 POSTS 0 COMMENTS

– Illustration by Kate Feiffer

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

Dear Nicole:

I was in a public restroom on the Island the other day, and someone in one of the stalls sounded like they were crying. This being the Vineyard, I thought there was a decent chance that I would know — at least by sight — the person in distress. Should I have lingered and offered to help a potential friend or acquaintance, or should I have done my business and deserted?

Confidentially yours,

Concerned

Dear Concerned:

As a general rule, I’d say anything that happens in a bathroom stall is happening in a bathroom stall because the person wants privacy. That’s especially true if we’re talking about a men’s restroom, but I’m guessing you, dear Anonymous, are a woman, speaking of another woman’s tears. So it might be a tad more nuanced.

How public was this restroom? Was it a place likely to have a broad cross section of people (SSA terminal, movie theater, bakery/café/restaurant), or someplace with a more specific demographic (yoga studio, Aquinnah Town Hall, the basement of the courthouse)? Having an attack of the sobs while out in public is probably always unnerving and uncomfortable — but for some people, it will be more so when they’re in the middle of the general population, while for others, it will be worse if it’s around people they’re likely to know. Don’t hazard a guess about someone else’s Personal Mortification Scale, because the outcome could be mortifying for the person if you guess wrong.

That said, the impulse to be kind is always a good one, and it would be sad to squelch it. The trick is how to actually be helpful (as opposed to simply well-intentioned) in this circumstance. So if you feel overwhelmingly compelled to be helpful, consider this. When you say “Are you all right?” or even “Can I help?” you are actually putting a burden on the person in distress — you’re asking them a yes-or-no question that they might not have a clear yes-or-no answer to. If somebody definitely doesn’t want to talk, saying no might be easy, but there’s a chance a question like that will trigger a deer-in-headlights, feeling-trapped-and-confused response. Instead, try acknowledging that the person is upset in a way that makes it totally OK for them to ignore you if they don’t want to talk. Something like: “Crying in public can be uncomfortable — I’ve been there,” or, “I find taking a deep breath sometimes helps.” Make it obvious that you are not awaiting a response — if they want to respond, they’ll respond. Wash your hands, and if the person has not spoken, leave.

This will only work if you are genuinely OK with being ignored; if you are not OK with being ignored, don’t try this. Also, don’t try anything else. Just give them space, because your impulse to help them is actually more about your wanting to feel good about yourself than simply being useful to a person in need. The most generous thing you can do for a person in need is to make it all right for them to reject your offer to help them.

This is especially true if you are dealing with Yankees.

Not that Yankees would be caught dead crying in a public restroom to start with, of course.

That’s my take.

Nicole

Teens just want to have fun.

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

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

Dear Nicole:

I recently had this conversation with my teenage daughter, a high school senior:

Me: So, my friend’s son is in your class. His name is K. Do you know him?

Her: Do I know him? On Saturday, he had the party of the year! EVERYONE was there!

Oh dear. I know for a fact that my friend was off-Island. Far, far off-Island.

Here’s my question: Should I tell my friend that her home was just the scene of the party of the year among the Island’s 18-year-olds? I’d certainly want to know if it were me, but I don’t want to cause any family strife, if, ultimately, all turned out well.

What should I do?

Confidentially yours,

Party-Pooper

Dear Party-Pooper:

So … this “party of the year” your daughter speaks of: Did your daughter go to it?

I see three possible answers to this question. Your answer determines my answer.

One: “No, my daughter did not go to that party.” In this case, she doesn’t know anything about the party except what she’s heard, so she’s just gossiping. If you repeat what she says, you’re just gossiping too. Don’t gossip. Do talk to your daughter (see below).

Two: “I have no idea if my daughter went to that party.” (Variation: “No, my daughter did not go that party” — but, oh dear, perhaps you are mistaken?) If you’re not keeping tabs on what your kid is up to, then I don’t think you’re in a position to keep tabs on what other people’s kids are up to. Talk to your daughter (see below).

Three: “Yes, my daughter went to that party.” In this case, if you were paying attention you must have already known that there was a party taking place in your friend’s home while she was away. For some reason, you didn’t notice this before or even during the party, just afterward. How interesting.

It is the Vineyard in winter, so we’re all climbing the walls looking for things to get excited about. Is it possible that your friend knew her son was throwing this party in her absence, and that there is not, in fact, any kind of dilemma or crisis here? Just asking. Your daughter was pretty casual about sharing that information, so maybe it’s common knowledge even to your friend. Sorry if this takes the wind out of your sails, but maybe, just maybe, this is a nonissue.

But let’s assume otherwise. Let’s go with the premise that you know for a fact that your friend does not know about the party at her house, which your daughter attended. In that case, you could alert your friend to the fact of the illicit party, but she will, of course, ask you why you didn’t tell her about this before the illicit party took place, when presumably you knew about it because you were giving your daughter permission to go to it.

And what will you say to that? Offhand, the only answer I can think of is, “Look, watch me put my foot in my mouth.”

If your daughter lied to you about the party, or you know that the son lied to his mother about the party, then there is something specific and concrete to discuss — but start with your daughter, not your friend. As with the previous two scenarios: Talk to your daughter.

If your daughter didn’t go to the party, talk to her about the dangerous power of rumor and gossip. If she did go to the party, ask her what made it “the party of the year.” If something untoward or inappropriate happened (drugs, Tea Party recruitment), then bring it to your friend’s attention, perhaps this way: “I did not realize what I was giving my daughter permission to do. I am concerned that she was in an environment like that, and I’m telling you about it in case you are concerned that your son is creating an environment like that.”

Whatever you ultimately do, it began with a passing conversation with your daughter. Continue that conversation.

That’s my take.

Nicole

How quickly can someone demand his stuff back?

– 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. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to AnIsland@mvtimes.com.

Dear Nicole:
A friend has been doing the so-called “Vineyard shuffle” for the past, well I can’t even remember how many years. When he first lost his year-round housing, we told him he could store his stuff with us. We put his boxes in the basement and have been using his furniture, which includes a dining room table and a couch. Here’s the issue. Our friend just got housing and wants his stuff back, which is understandable. But he wants it right away! I asked him if we could have a transition period so we have time to replace the furniture we’ve been using. But he said he wants it right away. I feel he should treat this this the same way he would treat quitting a job — you give two weeks’ notice, or enough time until your employer can find a replacement. Nicole, what’s your take?
Confidentially yours,
Couchless

Dear Couchless:
Not sure from your question: Have you two discussed this at all, or did you leap to the nuclear option (writing me) as soon as you realized there was a conflict? If the latter, stop reading this right now, call him up, and say, “Can we talk this over?” And then — this is so crazy, it just might work — talk it over. Find a compromise. Maybe you go to his house for dinner and couch-related activities until you, with his assistance, have found replacement furniture. Or something. Work it out. (Did you not have a table and couch before he left his with you? Maybe you’ve got some furniture of your own gathering dust in the basement?)

However, if you have in fact asked for a compromise and he’s not budging — let’s say he wants to call Trip Barnes and come by tomorrow afternoon — there are two different answers to this.

First, the answer that matters most among humans: You’ve done him a favor, and it’s exquisitely inconsiderate of him to repay your kindness by leaving you abruptly couchless. While it’s inconvenient to have a house without furniture, it’s even more inconvenient to have furniture without a house, and you helped him out when that was his situation. It doesn’t reflect at all well on him if he’s not willing to work this out with you.

Second, the answer that would matter most in court: Legally, it’s his stuff and he’s entitled to have it when he wants it.

Second-and-a-half: that said, possession is 9/10ths of the law. If you really wanted to make things inconvenient for him (change the locks and go antiquing off-Island until you find a better dining table, etc.), you could. But I don’t recommend this for two reasons. First, it makes you a jerk. Second, it’s winter on Martha’s Vineyard, meaning there are too many people with too much time on their hands who might helpfully leap to abet either of you, potentially escalating this into one of those tawdry stories that ends up on the front page of the paper, prompting readers to say, “Wow, it must be winter on Martha’s Vineyard.”

Of course, since it’s the Vineyard, and the Vineyard shuffle never ceases, maybe the simplest answer is to put a shout-out to see if anyone else needs a furniture sitter for the next year or two.
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. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to AnIsland@mvtimes.com.

Dear Nicole:

I was recently on the bus to Boston, and the people in the seats in front of me were talking about the private lives of a certain couple on the Vineyard. I didn’t want to hear it, and I felt like they should show more discretion, so I asked them to lower their voices. They did, but they continued to gossip. I know this because I could still hear them, even sotto voce. Should I have interrupted them for a second time?

Anonymously yours,
Passenger

Dear Passenger:
Sounds like you had two discrete issues with your fellow travelers: first, that they were speaking audibly; second, that they were gossiping. Their speaking audibly has an impact on your immediate environment and comfort, so asking them to lower their voices was perfectly reasonable. You — or anyone — might have made this request even if they were simply talking about something of public knowledge, like the inferiority of the Yankees or the need to storm the SSA offices in protest of rate hikes.

But once you know somebody is talking about something you don’t think they should be talking about, of course you’re going to be acutely tuned in to whatever they’re talking about. So I suspect you would have “heard them” even if they were communicating in sign language. While it doesn’t speak well of them to be gossiping, you do not have control over other people’s actions, only your own responses to them. If you don’t want to hear what they are saying — if you truly, really, absolutely don’t want to hear what they are saying — then don’t listen. Move to a different seat, or hum to yourself, or put on a set of headphones and listen to James Taylor or Willy Mason or somebody who’ll made you feel warm and cozy about the Vineyard, and wrest your attention from how gossipy and backbiting the Vineyard population can sometimes be in winter.

Now, maybe — just maybe — you don’t want them talking because you’re actually burning with an unacknowledged desire to hear what it is that they are saying. You wish them to stop talking because you suffer from an overwhelming urge to listen in. In that case, be your best self and wrestle your own base impulses: Move to a different seat, or hum to yourself, or put on a set of headphones and listen to James Taylor or Willy Mason, etc. (Or, admit to yourself that you want to hear the gossip and listen in. I hope you won’t do that, but at least it’s more honest than just passing judgement on them.)

There are two details you left out in your question, the inclusion of which could change my answer. Do you know the gossips? Do you know the people they are gossiping about? If either of these is the case, that’s a different story. If you know them, feel free to be as critical on this topic as you would on anything else that might come up between you in a disagreeable manner: the Yankees, the SSA, etc. And of course, if you know the subjects of the gossip, and the gossip is in any way demeaning, you have every right to speak up protectively on your friends’ behalf. But don’t expect the gossip to stop just because you request it. At the end of the day, you may just have to move to a different seat, or hum to yourself, or put on a set of headphones and listen to James Taylor or Willy Mason, etc.
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. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to An Island@mvtimes.com.

Dear Nicole:
Recently I told a friend, let’s call her Blanche, that I was driving to New York in a few days. A few hours later I got a call from someone I had never met, saying, “Blanche gave me your number and said you are driving to New York. Do you think I could grab a ride with you?” It’s a long drive and, to be honest, I didn’t feel like sitting in the car with someone I didn’t know, but I also realize it can be complicated and expensive to get to New York. I was upset with Blanche for putting me in this situation, but I didn’t want to tell her that, because I’d sound like a heel. I don’t even want to tell you what I decided to do, as you might think poorly of me and I don’t want you to think poorly of me, even anonymously. What in your opinion would have been the right thing to do?
Most anonymously yours,
Driver

Dear Driver:
Before I answer, I beg you to meditate on the following three things until you can see through their apparent similarities to their essential differences.

One: A thoughtful, kind, generous person willing to extend themselves for others in a meaningful way.
Two: Somebody painfully preoccupied what other people think of them.
Three: A doormat.

Your question qualifies you as a Two who is browbeating herself toward being a Three. Which is a shame, because your intentions seem to be genuinely One-ish in impulse. You are letting your own insecure need to be known as Good get in the way of your actually being Good in the larger sense — the kind of Goodness that includes being good to yourself. If you can’t manage to do that, then all the rest is smoke and mirrors.

This isn’t about whether you gave the ride seeker a ride or not. The “right thing to do” would have been to handle Blanche very differently than you did. How very uncool of her not to ask for clearance to send a ride seeker your way! Failing that, she might at least have given you a heads-up that a stranger would be calling asking for a significant favor. She’s a heel for putting you in that position — you are not a heel for pointing out her heel-ness to her. The right thing would be to confront Blanche. It’s the right thing for you, because you clearly need to practice standing up for yourself. It’s the right thing for Blanche, because she is either amazingly clueless (and could therefore use a wake-up call) or has a worrisome lack of boundaries (and could therefore use a wake-up call).

As for giving the ride seeker a ride or not: Do what’s comfortable for you, but you won’t actually know what that is until you’ve resolved things with Blanche. You’re upset with her, but repressing yourself from telling her so; that is going to spill over. Don’t say no to the person because you’re upset at Blanche, but don’t say yes because you feel guilty for being upset at Blanche. Deal with Blanche first. Then do what feels right with the ride seeker. While it would be a great act of charity, and a classic Vineyard do-gooder sort of thing, to offer somebody a ride to New York, you’re not a bad guy for not doing so. They have these magical things called buses nowadays. Anyone with mettle enough to ask a ride from a total stranger probably has mettle enough to survive Peter Pan.

That’s my take.
Nicole

Who should bear the cost when your electric bill doubles — you or your landlord?

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

Dear Nicole:
Gasp, our electric bill was huge this month. We are renting a house that has electric heat. The landlord told us what the cost of heat had been in past years, but our electric bill came in at twice that number. It’s cold out today, and we’ve got our coats on inside because I’m scared of what may happen next month. Is it fair for us to ask for a reduction in our rent because we were told the cost of electricity would be half of what it actually is?
Confidentially yours,
Cold

Dear Cold:
Let me preface this by saying I am not offering legal advice; I’m not qualified to do that. I just gab about interpersonal dynamics, so my response reflects that and nothing more.

I wouldn’t begin with a request for a reduction, because that implies a subtle accusation: “You misled us, so you owe us something.” There is no way for you to know if (a) they deliberately misled you, (b) they made an honest mistake, or (c) some external factor is responsible for the spike in expenses. For instance, electricity rates in general have risen — with little notice —  about 30% regionally (but not 100%, as seems to be your situation). Try starting with a discussion that presumes everyone is well-intentioned and wants to look out for everyone else’s well-being.

For example, “We’re concerned by the severe discrepancy between what you told us to expect and what we’re experiencing. Is it possible something is wrong with the heating system, or that the house is somehow structurally compromised and there’s heat escaping somewhere?” Either of these could in fact be true — but the primary reason to start the conversation that way is to encourage a sensibility of “us” as opposed to “you vs. me.” There’s a mystery going on that you all need to solve together.

If there are no such problems, then you can say, “Hmm, then why do you — who knows the house much better than we do — think the heating bill is twice what you told us to expect?” This doesn’t sound accusatory or blaming now; it’s a natural progression in the conversation that “we” are having about “our” heating-bill-discrepancy-mystery.

The landlord’s response will give you a good idea of how helpful they’re going to be, before you’ve actually asked them for something. They will respond differently based on many variables, including: their preexisting take on the landlord-tenant covenant; how much they like you; how stretched they themselves are financially; and of course, if they are part-owners of whatever store you’re buying your sweaters and coats from.

I simply can’t advise for such a complexity of variables. It’s very complicated on a psycho-social level, regardless of the legal issues, and there will be a “yes, but,” to any specific premise I invent.

But in the broadest strokes, here’s what it comes down to: If you were deliberately misled, you have a right to recourse. It probably won’t come through legal channels, though; you may have to rely on either the court of popular opinion, or, if you don’t mind long-term solutions, karma. If there was an honest mistake, or it can be mathematically explained away entirely by the sudden spike in electricity costs, then you are not entitled to anything, but perhaps you and your landlord can find a way to cooperate in everyone’s interest. For example, maybe some of your rent is commuted to sweat equity (shoveling their walk in the snow, baking dishes for them to take to potlucks, making their kids hot cocoa after sledding, etc.). That way it feels like everyone is helping everyone out, instead of anyone trying to take advantage of anyone else. A subtle but enormous difference.
That’s my take.
Nicole

by -
0
– 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. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.

Dear Nicole,
Sometimes I wonder if people on the Island are confused about the difference between a library and a community center. I know that libraries serve a variety of community functions these days, and the days of tiptoeing through the stacks lest one incur the wrath of the steely-haired librarian are a thing of the past, but shouldn’t people know that lengthy cell phone conversations, running children, and screaming babies are not appreciated? What’s a polite way to ask people to shut it off, speak softly, or take it outside?
Confidentially yours,
Shhh

Dear Shhh:
Here’s the most effective way I’ve ever seen to end an unpleasantly loud cell phone conversation: Sit next to the offender and act as if you’re the person they’re talking to — respond to their comments, make eye contact, give them a comradely nudge, etc. It will completely freak them out. They will get off the phone fast. But then they will (understandably) light into you, and cause more disruption than their original phone call did. So don’t try this at the library/community center. Wait for summer and try it at State Beach.

(I just wanted an excuse to remind everyone of summer, since it is January on Martha’s VIneyard.)

Here’s a more appropriate answer: Even though the nature of libraries has evolved recently, they still contain remarkable beings called librarians. No only have libraries changed, but so have librarians. They are no longer steely-haired stack stalkers. (Out of respect for old-school librarians, I must put a shout-out to Nancy Whiting of the old WT library, who won Most Awesome Librarian of the Galaxy Award back in the 1970s and gets to retain the title for eternity.) The new breed of librarian has evolved into a state of awesomeness. You’re a civilian when it comes to balancing quiet and community at a modern library; these guys are experts. (They are also experts in lots of other things. Have a conversation with one, and ask them what they do. What you see at the checkout desk is barely the tip of the iceberg.)

So it’s really a very simple answer: Talk to the librarians. They are the arbiters of what’s appropriate and what isn’t. If you think a situation needs fixing and they don’t, then you may need to adjust your expectations of libraries in the 21st century.
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 Martha’s 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 the 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:
We have annual February houseguests. Believe me when I say that we appreciate them for coming to visit us in the winter – it’s a sign of true friendship. The problem is, they seem to know we are desperate for winter companionship and we sometimes wonder if they might be taking advantage of our social solitude. We first noticed it with the food. They eat all of ours and never hit the supermarket to resupply. Then there’s the heat. They crank it up to tropical.  They’re going to be here soon and we’re looking forward to their visit. We’re wondering, however, if the rare off-season visitor should be handled with extreme care, or if it’s okay to ask them to help out and give us some money to help pay for the higher heating bill?
Confidentially yours,
February

Dear Feb:
Yes, visiting in February rather than August is certainly a sign of true friendship. You know what else is? Consideration and common courtesy. The unspoken but universally understood premise of house–guest–ness is that the guest at least OFFERS to help out in some way. This has nothing to do with Vineyard etiquette – it’s pretty universal and is true (I hope) even if you’re visiting your mother.

It is frequently the case that the host deflects the offer, and needs or wants absolutely nothing from their guest except his or her presence. (This is often the case when you are visiting your mother.) Doesn’t matter – the offer should still be made. This guest/host ritual is pretty fundamental. Even if your intention is to spoil your guests while they provide nothing, part of the pleasure is in saying, “No, no, that’s fine, really,” when they make the offer. You can’t do that if they don’t make the offer – it’s inconsiderate of them to rob you of showing off your magnanimity.

So, in an ideal world, where your guests were classy, they’d offer to help out in some manner. They haven’t done that. Asking them bluntly for money isn’t really classy either, though. Even if you have the kind of relationship where you feel you can do that comfortably, discuss it with them well before their arrival, so they aren’t in for a rude surprise when they get there. Also, be gracious enough to let them feel like it’s a choice they’re making spontaneously, rather than a demand you are issuing. This allows you to practice that time-honored Vineyard skill of benign passive-aggressiveness.

For instance, “Our heating bills are really out of control this year, so we’re keeping the temperature at 60 and wearing lots of sweaters. We’d offer to crank it up while you’re here but it would really blow our budget. Sorry about that. But don’t worry, we have plenty of sweaters you can borrow.”

Perhaps they’ll offer to help defray the cost of a warm interior climate. Perhaps they won’t, and will simply borrow your sweaters. Perhaps they won’t come at all. In that case, use the heating-bill money you save from their not-visiting to go to Key West for a week or something. That could be even nicer than February house guests.

And for the record, there’s not that much social solitude in the winter. If anything, it is the time when friends can connect on a meaningful, satisfying level, without the bustle and rush of summer. If you have so few year-round friends that you are desperate to have inconsiderate houseguests, you might need to get out more.
That’s my take.
Nicole

***

Dear Nicole:
I was taking a walk in the woods and saw a woman with a dog approaching me. I am nervous around dogs and I called out to ask her to please put her dog on a leash. She said the dog is friendly and that I shouldn’t worry. I told her that I would still appreciate it if she put the dog on a leash. She acquiesced, but then when our paths did cross, she growled at me. (The dog was fine, it was the woman who growled.) Was it wrong of me to insist she leash her dog?
Confidentially yours,
Walker

Dear Walker:
Legally, dogs should be on leashes in most public woodlands (there are some places where they are allowed off-leash at certain times of day, especially in winter). But on the Vineyard, let’s be honest, this law is observed more in the breach than the observance (to quote the Danish prince dude) and it very seldom causes problems (except some troubling dog-chicken encounters, but chickens aren’t prone to go for woodland walks).

So it was not wrong of you to insist she leash her dog. It is perhaps understandable that she resisted it; it’s probably seldom that such a request is made of her and she may have been surprised by it.

But I am surprised (and disappointed) to hear she “growled.” In my experience, dog owners are eager to demonstrate that they are responsible members of the community. They realize they can be scofflaws because no harm comes of their law-scoffing, and they want to reassure non-dog-owners that this will continue to be the case. More than that, most dog-owners of the going-for-a-walk-with-your-dog variety are generally excellent human beings (I am biased) and, I would think, are genetically disinclined to be unfriendly or growlish.

Come to think of it, If it ever happens to you again, you might want to be proactive on this front. Ignore the growl (nothing good comes of reacting to the growl) and just say, as perky and friendly as you can manage, “I really appreciate how responsible most Vineyard dog-owners are – thanks for being one of them.”

People are less likely to growl if they are being appreciated; they are also less likely to act like entitled jerks when they are complimented for not acting like entitled jerks.
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. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com

Dear Nicole:

When somebody asks you, “Can you give me directions to Oaks Bluff?” is it OK to send them to Vinyl Haven instead?

Confidentially yours,

Long-timer

Dear Long:

I’ve got a knee slapper for you, although (for obvious reasons) it works better when told aloud. Many years ago, my friend Gail and I were traveling in Wales, and having gotten hopelessly lost in the middle of nowhere, we went into a little butcher shop to ask directions to our B & B. The woman behind the counter said something like, “Turn left at Penmaenmawr toward Brynllwyn Farm in Gwaenysgor.” I stared at her in distress and asked, “Er, how do you spell that?” at which she grinned knowingly at me and said, in a superior tone, “Exactly the way it sounds, of course!”

Just like the butcher lady, you want to affirm your insider status while enjoying a bit of snarkiness. It’s such a satisfying feeling to assert one’s superior knowledge, isn’t it? It scratches a real tribal itch. Here’s the thing, though: When you handle it in a way that belittles the person you are speaking to, it sort of makes you a jerk. And I know you don’t want to be a jerk, because if you did you wouldn’t have bothered to write to me.

Happily, there’s a way to have your insider status and snark it too, without doing any harm to another person’s dignity. In fact, you can even be helpful. When the person says, “Can you give me directions to Oaks Bluff?” say, “Well, I can give you directions to Oak Bluffs … and just so you know, if you’d called it Oaks Bluff to some other Islanders, they probably would have sent you to Vineyard Haven, because some people are like that, if you know what I mean.” If you’re feeling inspired, and want to really assert your insider status in a useful way, you could continue thus: “So if you’ve got other questions, please feel free to ask. North Tisbury is southwest of Tisbury; I can explain why if you need to know. OK, repeat after me: Katama, Wasque, Cape Pogue. You can just say Chappy. No, you definitely do not want to rent a moped. Have a nice visit!” This is a win for you and also a win for the poor ignorant outsider whose experience has now been enriched, not impoverished, by your local superiority.
That’s my take.
Nicole

***

Dear Nicole:

It seems like on the Island, if you have to jump-start your car, and you’re afraid of electrocuting yourself, you can stand there with jumper cables in your hand until someone (usually a guy — the one who probably said to you, “I have jumpers in my car …”) offers to help. But the question is, Will I get a reputation as being a damsel in distress on an Island where women are known as self-sufficient Amazons of the jungle?

Confidentially yours,

Jumper

Dear Jumper:

Reputations are funny things. For an Island where everyone knows everyone else’s business, it’s amazing how good we all are at keeping our opinions to ourselves — or at least, keeping them secret from the object of those opinions. It is quite possible that you already have a reputation and you don’t even know it!

The good thing is, you don’t have to worry about that. Amazons (self-sufficient or otherwise) don’t worry about what other people think of them.

Which is healthy, because what other people think about you is actually none of your business. You have no control over it. Period. This isn’t even small-town wisdom, this is basic Dr. Phil mainstream stuff. Decide and behave based on what works for you, not on what you hope might result in some other person’s possibly seeing you some particular way. You’re not (presumably) in junior high.

If somebody thinks of you as the woman who can’t use jumper cables, then even if you learn to use jumper cables, they will probably always remember you as the woman who couldn’t use jumper cables. Period. If you spend the next 15 years trying to impress upon them that you now CAN use jumper cables … well, that’s sort of a silly way to spend 15 years, isn’t it?

So either learn to use jumper cables, or make peace with the fact that you don’t know how to use jumper cables. The first choice is a little more practical, but honestly, either one is fine. If you do end up with a reputation for being a damsel in distress, I’m pretty sure that nobody will hold it against you. We all love opportunities to be useful — thank you for providing us with so many.

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

Dear Nicole:
I attended a holiday party the other night, but the good cheer quickly turned into a stomach churner for me when the newly separated husband of a good friend walked into the party with a date. And holy ginger martini — I knew the woman! What should I tell my friend?
Confidentially yours,
Shocked in my stocking

Dear Shocked:
Before getting to what-to-tell-your-friend, let’s pause a moment to look at the bigger picture here, which is: this is one of those unavoidable, inevitable, uncomfortable Vineyard Things That Happen Sometimes. Before knowing what to tell your friend, know how to handle yourself. Similar circumstances are likely to arise again, especially in the Holiday Season. Have an action plan.

I recommend taking the long view. This new coupling isn’t going away (probably not right away, at least). Your paths are likely to cross again, and the discomfort will continue unless you do something to abate it.As Iago asked Roderigo in Shakespeare’s Othello, “What wound did ever heal but by degrees?” I’ve been in all three positions you’re describing, and let me tell you — your stomach was probably not the one churning the most.

If you deliberately put forth a positive vibe toward the new couple at the party, then all the stuff that might well have been going on inside of them (defensiveness, fear-of-ostracism, etc.) would be disarmed, and the possibility of harmonious co-existence becomes possible, meaning that over time, the churning will calm. In contrast, if you give her (or him) any attitude at all, you’re setting yourself up for a churn-a-thon. So I hope you were gracious and kind; if you weren’t, I hope you will be next time.

A side comment: I notice your interjection takes the form of a cocktail. As a general rule, cocktails can be very helpful in generating a feeling of goodfellowship, but they can also be the source of more unfortunate emotional expressions. Know thyself, and moderate the eggnog intake accordingly.

Having settled all that, let’s move to the post-party: your friend. If there is some clear benefit to her in hearing about it, then tell her. Otherwise, why mention something that will upset her? That’s worse than gossip. Gossip is oblivious about its cruelty; gratuitously telling a friend something you know will upset them is simply mean.

If you are concerned that she will later hear from another source that you and Those People were at a party together, and will feel put out that you didn’t tell her, try this: find a time in the near future to say to her, “Hey, since this is a small island and all that, I want to hear from you what your preference is regarding my reporting sightings of your Ex and/or his new friend.” Believe whatever she tells you, and act accordingly.

But her feelings will change over time, so maybe in six months or so check in and ask again. By then, you’ll be running into Those People again at beach barbecue and 4th of July parties.
That’s my take.
Nicole

Dear Nicole:
What do you do when your teenager daughter, who has no visible awareness of her own Jewish heritage yet an acute awareness of her mother’s issues with some Catholic church doctrine, says says she will only go to the Chanukah party if we spend the next year going to Sunday morning mass?
Confidentially Yours,
Dreidel

Dear Dreidel:
First, congratulate yourself on having such a daughter. That is quite the comeback!
Say yes. There are several interesting reasons to say yes. (There are also a few reasons to say no, but they’re pretty boring, so they would make you boring, too.)

She is probably only suggesting this as a strategic move, so you tactically defeat her by agreeing to it. It’s like verbal aikido. Do you really think she wants to go to Catholic Mass for a year? I doubt it. Agree to her offer, enjoy the Chanukah party and then wait for her to change her mind about the Catholic Mass herself. There’s a 99 percent chance that you will not have to go to Mass more than once. She will hesitate before trying that strategy again, without your ever having to play Bad Cop. It’s a win for you with no harm or foul to her.

But let’s say she was serious, even eager, about the Catholic Mass part, and wants to stick with it, at least for a while. That’s great. Exposing ourselves to different religions, to different  ways in which humanity expresses its social rituals, beliefs and ethics — that’s all intrinsically good! Both the impulse and the experience is terrific for her, and the experience (even if no impulse) will also be enlightening for you. It will at least give you some context for those elements of Catholicism you object to. (Plus I hear they serve snacks — sometimes even wine!) If you don’t want to agree to her bargain just because you don’t feel like going to Catholic Mass, then you are basically asking for my blessing to remain tunnel-visioned and small-minded, and I’m sorry but I can’t give you that.

All that said, however: Chanukah is not actually a major Jewish holiday, so a year of Catholic Mass is actually too hefty a demand. She’s clearly in a negotiating state of mind, so negotiate: tell her that a year of Catholic Mass also guarantees at least one Passover, and maybe a Kol Nidre service (that’s the start of Yom Kippur services and should appeal to the teen mentality -— she gets to let herself off the hook for the whole past year’s transgressions). Even at a very generous exchange rate, a Chanukah party doesn’t rate more than a couple of visits to Sunday School.

If she will not budge from her (admittedly unfair) offer, then — and only then — refuse. Not because you don’t want to bother expanding your or her world-view, but because you want your daughter to learn that unfair ultimatums are no way to function in the world.
That’s my take.
Nicole