The jumper, and How do I get to Oaks Bluff?

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

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

Dear Nicole:

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

Confidentially yours,

Long-timer

Dear Long:

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

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

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

***

Dear Nicole:

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

Confidentially yours,

Jumper

Dear Jumper:

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

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

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

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

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

That’s my take.

Nicole