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. Nicole’s latest novel, “Stepdog,” has recently been published. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.
I’m coming to the Island for a big family reunion. The weekend is planned down to the minute with activities. I don’t get to the Vineyard often, and while I love my family — well, some members of my family — I don’t want to be forced into a full weekend of so-called family fun, when I could be taking a quiet hike through Menemsha Hills by myself. Or spending an afternoon reading in a hammock by myself. Or even simply having lunch by myself? Nicole, how do you suggest I make the break from the big reunion without coming off like the family misanthrope?
I’ll take you at your word, and assume you intend to take time for yourself no matter what (good for you!), and that therefore your real question here is just about avoiding the “family misanthrope” label.
Let’s start with the obvious: You cannot control what other people think of you, and frankly, it’s not your business. They are entitled to their opinion, and you cannot dictate it. If your family is so judgmental that you’d be labeled a misanthrope for dining alone once or twice, that makes them pretty harshly judgmental, and any good shrink would applaud you for disregarding their opinion. Anyhow, there are far worse epithets to be stuck with. I come from an enormous family (my mother is the oldest of 11), so trust me on this one. “Family misanthrope” is a small price to pay for the Menemsha Hills in autumn.
That said, you are responsible for the manner in which you briefly bow out. Do not be rude or hurtful, and do not thoughtlessly buzzkill the vibe for others: A family reunion can be a Really Big Deal for many people. Communicate — in a friendly and respectful manner — with whoever would be affected by your temporary nonengagement. I’m unclear if a particular person(s) is responsible for all this planning, or if it has evolved from a sort of hive-mind mentality. If the latter, then there may be nobody in particular to check in with anyhow, and you can get away with a simple, “Hey everyone, have a great time playing croquet, I’ll be back in time for karaoke.” If there is a Grand Organizer, then speak to them directly — in their own language. Don’t make an afternoon in the hammock “what I feel like doing,” make it “a way to recharge so that I can be my best Family Reunion self the rest of the time.”
That’s not a lie, is it? I hope not. If you really didn’t want to do ANYTHING with your family, why on earth did you come to the Vineyard during a family reunion? Why not beg out of the reunion altogether (surely you can find some convenient work emergency), and just show up here some other time?
If the answer to that is, “Well, that’s the only time there was a place to stay,” then suck it up and put in some good family time. If family is why you have the privilege of coming here, then it’s only fair you participate in family. Otherwise, you’re trying to get something for nothing. If that’s the case, then “misanthrope” does not begin to cover the epithets people are likely to have for you — and rightly so. But as I started off saying, what others think of you is none of your business.
That’s my take.