Authors Posts by Nicole Galland

Nicole Galland

Nicole Galland
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— 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

— 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,

What’s the best way to deal with someone you feel you are totally simpatico with and then suddenly realize that you’re on opposite sides of a significant issue that’s about to come up at the Annual Town Meeting?

Confidentially yours,

Tisbury

Dear Tisbury:

Vive La Difference, I say! During the actual Town Meeting, it’s no holds barred. I hope your values mean more to you than not ruffling someone else’s opinion of you. If they’re a good Yankee, they’ll respect you for sticking to your guns even if they disagree with you. If they’re not a good Yankee, who cares what they think?

That said… If you’re on opposite sides of an issue that is fraught with tension, I’d play it close to the vest ahead of time, especially if they’re a good friend you’re not used to disagreeing with them. Unless you want to get into either a cold war or a heated debate, there’s not much sense in alerting them of the approaching political estrangement.

You might get lucky with tunnel-vision.  Some people are so tunnel-visioned, they won’t even realize you’re on different sides. In which case, don’t worry about it. A few years back, a friend of mine made it clear she was voting against an article that I myself was going to vote in favor of. She was so invested in defeating the article that it never occurred to her that anyone – at all, ever – would vote for it. When I cautiously voiced my dissenting opinion, this friend responded as if I were play-acting devil’s advocate unnecessarily, and dismissed my objection as if I obviously didn’t really believe it myself – how could I, when it implied something other than X? At the Meeting, she saw me voting the opposite of her, which worried me… but afterwards, she really seemed to believe that I had misunderstood the issue, or the wording of the article. To this day, she thinks I agree with her position but was too stupid to understand how to vote the right way.

I’ve decided I’m okay with that. It takes less energy than trying to engage in political debate with somebody who has no interest in hearing another point of view.

That’s my take.

Nicole

***

Dear Nicole,

I am gluten-free and have been invited to a potluck. Is it okay for me to ask the organizer of the party to request that people don’t use wheat in their recipes?

Confidentially yours,

Wheat-free in West Tisbury

Dear Wheat-free:

Ummm… no. The point of a potluck is that it’s a potluck – what’s available to eat (in the pot) is a matter of chance (luck). Maybe your luck is that you get to eat what you brought, and nothing else. But probably not: there are plenty of naturally gluten-free dishes that are likely to make an appearance. Especially on Martha’s Vineyard in the 21st century. If you were allergic to kale, then you might be in trouble, but gluten is definitely the nourishment non grata here these days.

It would be fine to ask people to place a card beside their contribution with all of the ingredients used in the dish. (This is pretty common at big community pot lucks already.) If it’s a small gathering, where you know everyone personally, feel free to send out an email letting people know you have a gluten sensitivity, in case they are vacillating between, say, pasta casserole or kale casserole.

Also, if it’s an actual dinner party, where the host is cooking all the food just for you and a few select others, it’s important that you do speak up about gluten or other food allergies. Otherwise, someone will spend hours meticulously preparing their signature dish, only to have you, their guest, either decline to eat it or get ill from it afterwards. This will dismay them, and discourage them from inviting you to dinner again. Word will spread of your declining to eat/getting sick. Soon you will have no dinner options available to you except for potlucks. Which is actually fine as long as you’re really into kale.

That’s my take.

Nicole

— Photo-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:

We have friends we are fond of who are not as financially comfortable as we are, and we find it a strain to maintain the friendship when they so often cannot join us for the things we tend to do that are beyond their means (benefits, Taste of the Vineyard, etc). We never know whether or not to invite them to join us for things, and it’s really taking a toll on our sense of comfort with them. How do you recommend we handle this?

Confidentially, Edgartown

Dear Edgartown,

One of the best things about living on Martha’s Vineyard is the bounty of free or nearly-free Things To Do. (Spoiler Alert: there is a shameless plug coming along in a few lines.) A soul-satisfying social relationship can easily be nourished on a shoestring budget here. Instead of fretting about the awkwardness of inviting your friends to a posh event, why not take the opportunity to luxuriate in the non-posh offerings the Vineyard is so rich in?

Besides the miles of glorious beaches and woodland trails, there are cultural events all year long that cost next to nothing – for example, this very weekend, Shakespeare for the Masses will be performing their (okay, full disclosure: our) free screwball version of Cymbeline at the Katherine Cornell Theatre, produced for your enjoyment by the Vineyard Playhouse.

This weekend also features free readings of local writers at the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore and a free costume ball at the Chilmark Tavern. And we’re not even in the shoulder season yet. There are art openings throughout the spring and summer, and not-infrequent musical offerings such as the Chilmark Community Potluck. Come summer, The Yard, the Vineyard Arts Project and Featherstone all offer free or “little-ticket” presentations as well. Any of these events can be enjoyed equally, and together, by people from lots of different tax brackets. You could fill your social calendar without ever reaching for your checkbook, so don’t use the socio-economic divide as an excuse for discomfort with anyone. It suggests an almost willful ignorance.

I’m not saying to eschew the big-ticket events. If you’re in a position to enjoy the full spectrum of what the Island offers, then by all means, enjoy it! But don’t judge the worth of an event by the cost of its entrance ticket; that displays a failure of curiosity and a very narrow cultural appetite on your part. Even if your friends can’t make it to the high-end benefits, there is plenty of scintillating, fulfilling Stuff To Do with them.

That’s my take.

Nicole

***

Dear Nicole:

I have an issue at Town Meeting. I’ve noticed that when certain people get up to talk, they emphasize their importance by noting the number of generations that their family has been living here, as if therefore what they have to say matters more than what I, a long-time washashore, have to say. Is there some decent way to retort?

-Almost resentful, Oak Bluffs

Dear Almost:

I’ve never experienced this but I feel for you; it sounds pretty silly. I don’t know why their ancestors are being invoked, but you might point out that the wisdom of 19th century Islanders has little bearing on the issues that we face today; even when it does, wisdom is not genetic, and someone’s suggesting that it is really only proves that it isn’t. Yes, the repository of knowledge grows with each generation, but let’s not pretend only direct descendants have access to it. If that were true, only Florentines  would understand Machiavelli, and only the Founding Fathers’ direct descendants would grasp the workings of the American government. Which clearly isn’t true because Kevin Spacey beats them all in spades.

My family roots on the Island go back to the 1600s, but I would never suggest that gives me any kind of special insight. If I ever were to display particularly good insight into something, I would prefer to credit myself for it, not my great-grandparents. Perhaps these people you’re describing suffer from extremely low self-esteem and don’t think their ideas are good enough to stand on their own. You might ask them about that. During Town Meeting. Just for fun.

Finally, to point out the obvious: if somebody is really pulling rank this way, and implying they have extra clout because of their Island lineage, please remind them their Island ties are about as deep as a fingernail compared to that of the Wampanoags’. If they feel family tenancy implies entitlement, logic suggests they want the Tribe to determine all civic matters on Noepe.

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,

Should we return the shopping carts to the queue in the grocery store or is a shopping cart valet service built into the high cost of groceries here?

Confidentially yours,

West Tisbury

Dear West Tisbury:

There is no shopping cart valet service. I’m sure that when a grocery-store worker sees an orphaned cart out in the parking lot, they will take the time to go outside and return it to the queue. Or other shoppers might grab it on their way in to the store. That these behaviors reflect well on the people retrieving the carts doesn’t somehow make leaving a cart in the parking lot an okay thing to do.

You’re paying so much for groceries because you live on a “seasonal resort” island with inflated prices that are reflected in, not caused by, the high cost of groceries.

The grocery stores are not gratuitously charging more than they need to and pocketing the extra change. If they were, then I’d encourage you to petition them about providing valet service to justify their prices. (I stand by that – if I’m wrong, and you can prove that grocers are gratuitously overcharging and simply pocketing the extra, I will personally write to them asking them to provide valet service for their shopping carts. But remember, valets expect tips).

When grocers thrive on Martha’s Vineyard, they pay the community back quite generously – for example, by supporting locally-sourced enterprises or making significant donations to local causes and charities. They do not pay the community back with shopping cart valets. It’s all about priorities. If that’s the kind of perk you want for buying organic kombucha, try Los Angeles. On Martha’s Vineyard, the perk is that you get to have a grocery store.

That’s my take.

Nicole

***

Dear Nicole,

It’s March on Martha’s Vineyard and I feel like it’s not safe to leave the house. Are people prickly or what? I feel like I can’t breathe without someone snapping at me to stop. Yesterday, I got yelled at by a friend, a co-worker, and someone I didn’t know in a store. I got honked at twice. Even my dog growled at me. Should I simply ignore the March madness or should I play ball?

Confidentially yours,

Oak Bluffs

Dear Oak Bluffs:

If you’re asking about basketball, I’m not qualified to advise, but I think the real gist of the question is: “Wow, why is everybody so cranky this time of year?”

Before I go further, excuse me, but I have to ask: Is it possible that your pals feel cranky toward you all the time, but this is the only time of year when there aren’t a thousand distractions keeping them from showing it? Or could it be they’re being unpleasant because of their own internal sensors, and your internal sensors just happen to be hypersensitive right no?

March (and early April, for many) is an uncomfortable time for most Vineyarders. We like a life of heightened significance; we prefer to be so overwhelmed by External Stuff that we seldom have time to just sit and wallow with our own personal mess. Generally this island provides exceptional amounts of External Stuff, from summer crowds to ferry schedules to winter storm watches… but this is the time of year when wallowing with our own mess is most likely to happen. The preparations for summer haven’t begun; the glow of the Christmas season has faded; there’s no cordwood to lay in; major planting awaits a few more weeks. Having no External Stuff to get cranky about, we channel our crankiness in more intimate directions, like our friends and neighbors.

As much as we like to say this is the season of renewal and regeneration, the truth is, this is the season of mud and muck – metaphorical as well as actual. Traditionally, Town Meetings took place in April because that was how long it took the roads not only to thaw, but to drain from the thaw. In March, the roads went from frozen to impassable due to the sticky mud. We are all creatures of our environment, and thus, we’re all currently in our own sticky mud – and wow, do we all hate that. If only there were deadlines: logs in need of splitting, a rental property in need an emergency paint job, all the seedlings needing to be planted NOW, charity auctions to order tents for. But no, it’s our last moment of calm, and for all the Vineyard’s bucolic public image, few of us actually do calm very well.

Look on the bright side. Soon the mud will dry up, and there will be lots of External Stuff to be cranky about. In no time at all, you and your friends will start being cranky together about summer people, and stop being cranky at each other.

In the meantime, just try to be nice.

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,

A close friend recommended my husband for a job at a house site that she was working on. When he got the job, we all went out to dinner and celebrated — burger night, State Road — delicious. We paid. But now our friend is undermining my husband every opportunity she gets. I desperately want to say something to her, but my husband asked me not to, so I won’t. I am fuming. In my fury I sent my soon-to-be-former friend an email telling her we are short of cash and would she mind paying us back for her burger. Was that so wrong?

Confidentially yours,

Edgartown

Dear Edgartown:

Yes, that was so wrong. So very wrong.

When you treat someone to dinner, you are displaying generosity not only from the wallet, but from the heart. (In this particular case, you are also displaying gratitude, since she helped your husband get the job.) The subtext of your email wasn’t just: “We need to take back our money” but also, “We need to take back our kindness.” Even if you are very upset at this woman — even if it’s justified — why would you want your retribution to consist of showing her you’re just as unkind as she is? Is the “win” here to be the unkindest person? Well, the race isn’t over yet, but you’re definitely gaining on her. Does that make you feel better?

Except, hang on: her unkindness (undermining your husband) has real-world impact, while your unkindness, at worse, sets her back about 15 bucks. If you really need to be unkind to her, at least be savvy and get more bang out of your nastiness buck. Watch House of Cards if you need some inspiration. Or go to a selectmen’s meeting.

But let’s backtrack, because there are so many moving parts to this scenario before we even get to your unfortunate email.

First, how exactly is she “undermining” your husband? Is she talking trash about him to colleagues? Physically sabotaging his work? Any idea what her motivation is for doing so? Why doesn’t your husband want you to confront her about it? And why are you “obeying” him even though the stress of doing so is clearly causing you to lose all sense of perspective?

Regardless of the answer to any of those questions, what you did is most unfortunate. You don’t ask someone to repay you for a meal that you treated them to, period. If that $15 is actually going to make or break you, then ask her (or someone else) for a loan of $15, but don’t make it about the burger!

That’s my take.

Nicole

***

Dear Nicole,

Is trespassing really trespassing when the seasonal resident is away?

Confidentially Yours,

West Tisbury

Dear West Tisbury:

Well, technically and literally, yes, it’s still trespassing, but the sensibilities of trespassing change. (I’m sure I’ve just enraged several readers, but I’m in this deep already, so I’ll keep going.)

I assume you are talking about trespassing in uncultivated nature and not somebody’s vegetable garden or, God forbid, house. That’s an important distinction. Legally it’s not an important distinction, but on a practical level, here on Martha’s Vineyard in the way-off-season, it’s an important distinction. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

So with that in mind: It is never okay to violate somebody else’s privacy. Trespassing in somebody’s living area — even external spaces, like a yard or garden — shows complete disrespect for their private space. Would you like somebody sunning themselves in your driveway when you’re at work?

Please notice that I didn’t say “shows complete disrespect for their private property.” I’m talking about people, not their property. People have feelings of violation. Trees and stone walls aren’t so sensitive. If your presence in a place makes you a happier person while doing no harm to that place, or to its absent owner, who but a petty tyrant would take issue with that?

When I was a kid, my best friend and I routinely romped and had spring picnics within the boundaries of Seven Gates farm, blithely disregarding the “No Trespassing” signs. We also romped around in other wooded and overgrown areas that were owned by others — we had no idea who. Nobody ever saw us, we never did any damage, we never left any trash. I see nothing wrong with what we did. The purpose of a no-trespassing law is to protect the owners and their property; no harm was done or intended to either.

By coincidence, thirty-five years later, newer friends of mine have bought property in Seven Gates and built their house in almost precisely the same spot where the childhood friend and I used to have our spring picnics. It is no longer uncultivated wilderness. They are year-round residents, but even if they weren’t, I’d never dream of going near that spot now without an invitation from them. To do otherwise would be to violate their space — and that is harmful. Even if I intended no harm to them, it is disrespectful, and disrespect is a harmful thing.

That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t consider romping in certain other parts of Seven Gates in the off-season — areas where I would encounter nobody, and leave no evidence of my presence. The trees and lichen-covered stone walls would welcome me as they always have. As I said above: who but a petty tyrant would object to that?

That’s my take.

Nicole

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 this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Got a question on Island ethics or etiquette? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.

Dear Nicole,

What’s the appropriate amount of time to sit and idle, before sounding the horn, when the car in front of you stops to engage in a lively and long-winded conversation with the person in a truck coming from the other direction?

Confidentially yours,

Up-Island

Dear Up-Island:

Don’t honk. Period. We’re not off-island.

Let’s say instead that you’re asking how long to wait before holding your arm out the window with an attention-getting gestures – perhaps a wave of the hand (or perhaps one-fifth of a wave, if you get my drift).

There’s a lot of variables, starting with just how far up-Island you actually are. Your expected wait-time will be inversely proportional to the proximity to yacht clubs. In Aquinnah, you might be considered pushy if you make a fuss within 2 minutes; in Edgartown or the Chops, feel free to blow a gasket after 15 seconds. (A gasket, though. Not a horn.)

Other important variables: How big is the truck coming in the other direction? What kind of car is in front of you? A hood-a-hood between two pick-ups is different from a hood-a-hood between a landscaping truck and a Mercedes convertible. Actually in the latter example, it might be alright to honk briefly, since the driver of the landscaping truck should know better, and the Mercedes driver is probably used to getting honked at.

It also depends on your own vehicle. The more of an “Island car” vibe you emanate, the more receptive other “Island car” drivers are likely to be to your need to keep moving. (It’s sort of uncouth to say that but we all know it’s true.)

Finally, of course, it depends on circumstances such as time of year and your own agenda. If you are about to give birth and are trying to get to the hospital, you don’t have to wait at all.

But even then, don’t honk.

That’s my take.

Nicole

***

Dear Nicole,

I’m not terribly good at backing up, so when I encounter another car on a long dirt road, I hope they will back up to the nearest turnoff. Recently, I was on a dirt road, and the other car absolutely refused to back up. I got so flustered that I tried to back up myself, but it was taking an extremely long time because I kept turning the wheel the wrong way, having to go forward, which I thought would be a hint to the other driver for him to back up, but he didn’t take the hint. Consequently I’m sure that because I had to do the backing up, both of us were late to our destinations.  What should I have done?

Confidentially yours,

Tisbury

Dear Tisbury:

This might sound extreme, but I think you should have gotten out of your car and – wait for it – explained to the other driver that you were having a hard time backing up.

Gallons of blood and ink have been spilt in Dukes County alone on the issue of who should back up on a narrow dirt road. Common courtesy and common sense should largely dictate this answer, but it often ends up resembling an awkward mating ritual.

COMMON COURTESY: If you have just passed a turn-out and you see a car approach you from the other direction, back up right away.

COMMON SENSE: If you passed a turn-out a tenth of a mile back, pause, and see if the approaching car will back up.

COMMON COURTESY: If you’re nose-to-nose with a car driven driven by someone who seems like they’d have a harder time backing up than you (they’re wearing a neck brace, they’re hauling a trailer, they have the panicked look of a lost tourist), back up.

COMMON SENSE: If you’re in a neck brace hauling a trailer, or there are other cars coming up behind you, or your children have smeared pond slime all over every rearview mirror, see if the other person will back up first.

I’ve heard the argument made that if you are inward-bound, you should give way to someone who is outward-bound, especially if there is a caravan. I support this principle when the inbound destination is a parking lot or field with limited room – it’s like letting people off a train before boarding it yourself. But if you’re a half-mile down a mile-long road, let the common sense/common courtesy ethos prevail.

Remember that although it feels good (for most of us) to be the considerate driver one who does the right thing, sometimes it really doesn’t make sense to back up. I’ve been in situations when both cars backed up into turn-outs, and then waited rather a long time for the other car to give in and drive past them. It can become a sort of anti-standoff. That’s silly, and as much a waste of time as an actual stand-off.

Finally, I’ve heard the argument made – by people who drive large vehicles – that whoever has the bigger vehicle gets to hold their ground while whoever has the smaller vehicle has to back off. This might be true ipso facto, but if so, it sure makes a statement about the owner of large vehicles, doesn’t it?

That’s my take.

Nicole

— Photo-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,

If you’re clamming and getting nothing and someone next to you is on a hotspot, do you go over and join them or wait till they’ve gotten their fill and leave?

Confidentially Yours,

Oak Bluffs

Dear Oak Bluffs:

Oh boy. They really ought to include this stuff in the shellfish licenses. There are few things more primal, or more Vineyard, than staking one’s territory in the water. So however I answer this question, somebody is going to disagree with me. Fiercely. I may end up excluded from several potlucks just for answering.

For real dyed-in-the-wool clamming folks, I’m pretty sure the only acceptable answer is: “Wait until they’ve left. Dope.” In fact most of them would probably laugh harshly at the naivete of someone’s even asking.

Perhaps you think it would be in the interdependent spirit of a small-town community for everyone to share the bounty? Well, the unromantic heart of the matter is this: Somebody else has something you don’t have, and you want it. No matter whether they got it through dumb luck, trial and error, hard work, an inborn aptitude, or acquired wisdom. They have it. You want a piece of it. What if the shoe were on the other foot? If you were a little kid who found a stash of candy — perhaps by dumb luck, but perhaps by skillful observation and deduction — wouldn’t you pocket your fill before you shared the stash with your friends, let alone strangers? If your honest-to-God answer is “Why, no, I’d share all of it right away with everyone,” then go ahead and approach the person clamming, because somebody needs to rip those rose-colored glasses off your face, and a Yankee clammer whose hot spot is being encroached is just the one to do it.

But please call me first so I can get there in time to tape it. It’s rare, in these domesticated and educated times, to get live footage of a bona fide Shellfisherperson in full Curmudgeon Display. I think the last recorded sighting was Craig Kingsbury, circa 1996.

That’s my take.

Nicole

***

Dear Nicole,

Like many people I know, I am fuming about certain deteriorating movie theaters on the Island. Like many people I know, I have a casual relationship with the owners of these theaters. I find when I run into them, instead of saying, “How can you do this to the town of Oak Bluffs? Where’s your civic pride?” I say, “Hey, how’s it going?” What is the right thing to say?

Confidentially yours,

Oak Bluffs

Dear Oak Bluffs:

There are a number of answers to this, the first being to split the difference between “judgmental-angry person” and “doormat” and simply ask them politely if they have plans and if so, what those might be.

If that kind of straight-forward decency is beyond you, or you’re just too intimidated to ask directly (it’s true, some people find direct queries for information rude), you could employ the time-honored means of the Passive-Aggressive Question.

Some examples:

“I really miss those boxes of retro chocolate thingies with sprinkles you sell at concessions. Will you be selling those this summer?”

“Don’t you love the artwork in the lobby of the Film Center?”

“What have you got on at the Capawock?” (note: residents of Tisbury need to ask, “What have you got on at the Island/Strand?”)

“Wouldn’t it be cool to have an IMAX on the Island?”

If asking any question in person at all makes you break out in hives, you could move on to Passive Aggressiveness 2.0 and ask them indirectly by oh, I dunno, sending in your complaints to a local advice column in the hopes they’ll see it and think, “Wow, we should really be more attentive to the needs of our fellow residents.” ’Cuz that always works.

Or as I said, you could just try asking them directly, instead of complaining about them behind their backs right in front of them in print.

That’s my take.

Nicole

— Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Bemused readerNicole-Gallands 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 am Facebook friends with a woman I don’t know in person. Yet through her Facebook posts, I know she is battling cancer. The other day I was in the video store and saw her in there. Should I have introduced myself as a Facebook friend and wished her well?

Confidentially Yours,

Tisbury

Dear Tisbury:

This question is complex, as it involves not only cancer etiquette but also the ever-evolving field of Facebook etiquette. As neither a cancer survivor nor a “digital native” (a term for those who’ve grown up with social media), I don’t feel I’m the best person to respond to it. So I have corralled a cancer-surviving digital native into answering in my stead.

I am pleased to introduce Hannah Vanderlaske, a talented and fierce young writer I mentored for a couple of years when she was at the Charter School. A survivor of two forms of pediatric cancer, Hannah expresses an opinion that might not be universal, but should certainly be taken seriously. For the record, a number of other cancer survivors responded to our informal poll by saying (in effect) that being wished well is generally always a good feeling, preferable to being avoided. So bear that in mind. But bear this in mind as well:

From Hannah Vanderlaske:

Facebook is a weird medium, so I’m gonna start off by just talking as if you heard it through the rumor mill. If you didn’t get a memo from the person or a loved one, I would say that you shouldn’t go up to them in public unless they are having an incident. Like not being able to breathe. That’s an acceptable reason to go up to them, though I would hope that at that point you would be focusing on saving them instead of expressing an apology for the (expletive deleted) hand life has dealt them.

And like… especially if this is someone who you’re simply Facebook friends with and don’t actually know in person. They already know they have cancer. They are aware that everyone knows that they have cancer, especially living on a place like Martha’s Vineyard where you can’t really get away with just saying that shaving your head is a fashion statement or something. The thing about having cancer is that you can’t get away from it. Even when you’re “cured,” every ache and pain frightens you, if only for a minute. So just imagine how much it would suck to not only not be able to forget that you have cancer, but then have the fact that you have cancer be reinforced by someone who you don’t even know. For instance, if I was still sick, if someone I only knew through Facebook came up to me and told me they were thinking of me/they hoped I got well soon, the feeling that I would walk away with is that they’re doing this to assuage their own conscience. That they are showing that they’re grateful that this personal hurricane isn’t happening to them, that they’re trying to show any sort of higher power that they are understanding and empathetic and please don’t ever let it happen to them. And that seriously would just make me feel worse. And you don’t want to be that person who makes the cancer patient feel worse, do you?

In that vein, also don’t go up to a cancer patient you never talk to and just attempt to have a casual conversation. That’s transparent as (expletive deleted), and again will only serve to make them feel like (expletive deleted). (The staring can get a bit old too.)

So here’s the thing with Facebook – it is a very weird social media outlet where people are able to catch up on other people’s lives without actually talking to them. Or in some cases, find out about people’s lives without actually talking to them, but that’s what we would call Facebook stalking and is only acceptable when you’re looking up ex-friends/significant others or some Hottie McHotterson you met during your shift at the coffee shop. (I’m not talking about me, noooo, no way.) But that all is beside the point. In order to get to my point, I want to talk about this theory called “Dunbar’s Number.” The theory states that the human brain can only maintain 150 meaningful relationships. The number describes the amount of people you know and can keep up some means of social contact with — and the 150 people are always changing, due to fall-outs with friends or break-ups or simply growing apart from someone.

So keeping in mind Dunbar’s Number, think about what your thought process is when you’re posting something on Facebook. I can’t speak for everyone, as much as I might try, but when I’m posting a status I’m not thinking about the 407 people that make up my friends list. I’m thinking of the maybe thirty or so people I interact with regularly on Facebook. I’m not thinking about that person I met at a party once when we both were possibly incredibly intoxicated and we bonded over a shared affection for some sort of internet meme and therefore decided that we needed to be FB pals. So say, if I posted a status saying “wow, really bad day, feeling so upset and sad,” I’m not expecting someone I don’t know outside of the internet to come up to me and give me a hug and say, “What’s wrong? I saw you were really upset from your status update.” That just comes off as kind of creepy.

This is all probably too long and complicated when it could be simple, so here’s my summary and official stance on this question: While knowing that you have people rooting for you, even though you don’t know them, can be comforting, there is also a huge chance you could say something wrong, if the only way you know about things is through Facebook. And while it definitely feels awful to know that someone is purposely avoiding you because of your sickness, I doubt that this person would notice if you didn’t say anything to them in public, as you’ve never done so before. So stick to Facebook. Send them a message saying what you wanted to say in the video store, and let them know that if they need you for anything, you’re here for them. That way they can reply when it feels right for them, and they don’t feel like they’re being put on the spot. There’s also the chance that you won’t get a response, and that’s fine too. Being a cancer patient is hard work. But at least you’ll know that you’ve expressed your condolences in a tactful manner (hopefully!!!!) and have offered help should they ever need it.

So that’s Hannah take (Did I mention she is fierce?). Disagree with her? We welcome your response as well. Before you comment, though: Whether you agree with her or not, the intensity of her answer demonstrates a larger point: people in extreme circumstances (like battling cancer) can have pretty strong reactions to things others might not expect. By approaching someone in extreme circumstances — specifically to engage with them on the topic of extremity — you assume the responsibility of possibly (not necessarily, but possibly) receiving an intense reaction. Know that, and act with compassion.

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,

There is a very small pool of dating possibilities here and my friends and I have a rule that you don’t date the ex of someone else, at least not without their explicit permission. Since you don’t know if you’re going to like someone after just one date, do you think it’s okay to first-date with a friend’s ex without getting friend permission and then, if you want to second-date, ask for their consent?

Confidentially yours,

Oak Bluffs

Dear Oak Bluffs:

What’s tricky here is the definition of “date.” On the Vineyard, there are many activities that appear to be not-dates but potentially are, such as scalloping, power-washing a mutual friend’s boat, and waiting in standby. Once you’ve gone scalloping (for instance) together, you’ll have a pretty good sense of whether or not you want to pursue a more intimate relationship with the person.

So sure, it’s okay, as long that first date involves scalloping (etc).

A related thought: due to, as you note, the very small pool of dating possibilities, you all might want to modify your position on exes. Consider a statute of limitations (maybe after 3 years, they’re fair game). Define what an “ex” is – someone you’ve had children with? Someone you used to live with? (Note these don’t necessarily overlap). Or someone with whom you had a fling last summer after comparing root vegetables at the Farmers Market? If you’ve got the hots for somebody, it hardly seems fair not to pursue it because they went to second base with a friend of yours back in high school.

That’s my take.

Nicole

Dear Nicole,

I will soon be divorced and I have my eyes on a man who works with my thankfully-soon-to-be-ex. Should I ask him out? For all I know my ex has been telling him terrible things about me. I’d like the opportunity to whisper terrible things about my ex into this man’s cute little ear. Is that wrong?

Confidentially yours,

Town withheld

Dear Town withheld:

Never mind “wrong,” let’s start with “stupid.” By all means ask him out, but if you’re lucky enough to get close to his cute little ear, don’t reveal you’re a woman who still thinks about her ex. That’s a turn-off. You’ll get much more satisfying results if you whisper terrible things about the Yankees.

What if your ex has indeed badmouthed you to this fellow? Given your character (as revealed in this question), there’s a pretty good chance he’ll have said, “…And on top of it all, she trashes people behind their backs.” Do you want to prove he’s right? No. Think strategically: this being the Vineyard, chances are that a good friend of yours is dating a good friend of his, so he’ll probably hear all the terrible things you want to tell him anyhow. Probably in some fantastically mangled, exaggerated form that makes your ex out to be a monster, while you remain above it all. It’s a total win for you.

And by the way, P.S.: Yes, it’s wrong. Whispering horrible things about other people is generally wrong. If you’re going to badmouth somebody, be upfront and do it at the Annual Town Meeting.

That’s my take.

Nicole