Minding Your MV P's & Q's

NickiGalland-headshotBemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Interested in Nicole’s take on your messy Vineyard-centric ethics or etiquette question? Confidentiality ensured. Send your question to OnIsland@mvtimes.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NickiGalland-headshotBemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Interested in Nicole’s take on your messy Vineyard-centric ethics or etiquette question? Confidentiality ensured. Send your question to OnIsland@mvtimes.com

Dear Nicole:

I am what you call a seasonal resident, which is, in my opinion, a resident without any of the perks. Yet, I buy locally, donate locally, volunteer, recycle, etc. I feel like I’m actually a better “community member” than people who flash their Islander Club card at Cronigs, and everywhere else they can, and get excursion rates on the ferry, yet still whine about how expensive everything is. I find it’s unfair that aside from the gift of just being here, seasonal residents don’t get any additional perks. Don’t you?

Confidentially yours,

Seasonal

Dear Seasonal:

You’re absolutely right. It’s unfair. It’s also unfair that seasonal residents don’t get the unspoken burdens of year-rounders. Feuds, grudges, shared tragedies, dysfunctional town politics that cause neighbors to give each other the cold shoulder for years. We’d really love to hand some of that off to you. If you figure out a way to earn year-rounder status while enjoying your winters elsewhere, please feel free to write again and explain it to us. Have a nice day. Don’t forget your bok choy!

That’s my take.

Nicole

***

Dear Nicole:

How do you negotiate group gatherings where you have to share the space with your ex-husband, your ex-in-laws and your ex-teacher whose class you used to cut and everyone else you’ve spent a lifetime avoiding?

Confidentially yours,

Exed out

Dear Exed out:

If you have successfully avoided them for this long, I am really impressed. But I’m not sure why you want my advice – I have no idea how to avoid them, and you do. I’d love to know your secrets!

Perhaps you mean that you’ve avoided them by being a hermit (or their being hermits), or the rare fluke that somehow small-town life has not caused your paths to cross for years – until suddenly one day (at the Artisan’s Festival or the CSA pickup or a potluck wedding) you find yourself in a perverse version of This Is Your Life.

It’s true; this can happen on the Vineyard. It’s one of the karmic quirks of living here a long time, so don’t rail against it. If you can’t actually walk away from the face-off, then consider it a fantastic opportunity for self-reflection. Literally. Vineyard society can be like a funhouse mirror – it often brings out one’s more distinctive qualities, sometimes to an exaggerated level.

For instance, if you tend toward loner status, it’s pretty easy to avoid humanity completely for nine months out of the year. On the other hand, if you lean toward overcommitting yourself to too many worthy causes or social opportunities, that’s easy to maintain here, too. Hold grudges? C’mon in, we have an aisle just for that. If you’re a name-dropper, you will never have more opportunities to drop names than while living here. You can also mix and match all of these qualities: for instance, I know a loner who has an Arya Stark-like List of all the famous people he wants to kill, which he brings out whenever he crashes fundraisers that his civically-minded overinvolved cousin is hosting. Otherwise, nobody ever sees him. So we think of him as crazy, but we know he isn’t really: it’s just that he lives on Martha’s Vineyard.

All of which is just to say: when you find yourself having to face people from your past whom you’d rather not face, just be chill about it. They’re either equally uncomfortable (which allows for mutual magnanimity) or else probably oblivious to your awkwardness. They’re probably not sitting there thinking, “Ha ha! That person is so uncomfortable with the fact that I’m here! I win!”

If they actually would think that, then, by default, they’re sort of losers anyhow, aren’t they?

That’s my take.

Nicole

NickiGalland-headshotBemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Interested in Nicole’s take on your messy Vineyard-centric ethics or etiquette question? Confidentiality ensured. Send your question to OnIsland@mvtimes.com

Dear Nicole:

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

Confidentially yours,

Vineyard Haven

Dear Vineyard Haven:

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

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

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

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

That’s my take.

Nicole

Dear Nicole:

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

Confidentially yours,

Dry

Dear Dry:

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, A.

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

That’s my take.

Nicole

Bemused readeNicole-Gallandrs ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Interested in Nicole’s take on your messy Vineyard-centric ethics or etiquette question? Confidentiality ensured. Send your question to OnIsland@mvtimes.com

a community

processes grief publicly

in amazing ways

-Beckie Scotten Finn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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