Hey everybody, summer's here!
“But Jen,” you say, pointing at your calendar, which I envision features photographs of small dogs in sweaters. “It is clearly spring.”
You and your sweater-dog calendar are wrong. Here on Martha’s Vineyard, I’ve learned, there are only two seasons: “High” and “Off”. The high season is synonymous with summer, while the off season is synonymous with winter. There is no inbetween.
Sure, year-rounders are aware there is such a thing as spring and fall, but these seasons are mere transitional bridges. On the Vineyard, they barely register.
About a week before Labor Day, the locals start whispering about winter, like it’s a plague or an inevitable famine or, you know, Winter in Westeros.* That’s because for business owners and seasonal workers, it kind of is: when the tourists leave, all of their fat vacation cash leaves with them. Most businesses have no choice but to shut their doors until they return.
Conversely, now that spring has sprung, shops are prematurely fanfaring their grand reopenings – Countdown to Memorial Day weekend!, their Facebook pages shout – and the locals are excitedly buzzing about summer. Last month, I heard someone say (without irony), “Summer's here!” So I mean, I’m not making this up.
“That's fascinating, Jen,” you say while noisily flipping back four pages on your calendar, pausing at a pug in a smoking jacket seated in a tiny armchair by a fireplace. (Awww.) “But what does everyone do in the long, bleak winter?”
What an excellent question you didn’t actually ask me! The answer is, they LIVE THROUGH IT.
Or, they don’t. I've found that an alarming number of residents fly south for the winter, like birds. When I moved here last summer and informed the locals that I would be enduring My First Vineyard Winter, they would gasp, eyes wide with horror – then, they’d close their gawping mouths and say, “You’ll be okay.”
I wasn’t convinced.
Luckily, Vineyarders are a helpful bunch, quick to impart sage nuggets of advice for surviving the off-season. And invariably, no matter who I spoke to, it came down to these three simple steps:
1) You’d better have a hobby – or really enjoy your alone time.
Upon hearing that I was a writer, locals would relax and wave their hand, all, “Oh, you’ll keep yourself plenty busy in the cold, lonely nights ahead! I’m no longer worried about you turning to prescription painkillers and/or a life of crime.” But have any of these people seen The Shining? Because there were several times that I found myself in danger of humming ‘Dies Irae’ while typing ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JEN A DULL GIRL on five hundred sheets of paper. Just sayin’.
2) If not, you’d better find yourself a winter boyfriend/girlfriend.
I’m convinced this is a phenomenon totally unique to Martha’s Vineyard and its bi-seasonality (and if that's not a real word, it should be). If you’re single, this practice is totally acceptable and fully encouraged: cozy up with someone for the winter, then free-agent again when the snow melts. Everything else is seasonal here, why not relationships? Summer is for mixing it up; winter is for cuddling under the duvet with someone you can stand for four months straight. Personally, I can’t stand anyone for more than a few days, so that means I’m left with tip #3, which is:
3) When all else fails, embrace alcoholism. [Not recommended.]
While this is no joke for a lot of people, there was a lot of good-natured ribbing about this with the locals I talked to, and it was always the third bullet point. Admittedly, hitting the sauce does look attractive by week two. Last November, I openly announced that I was making a real go of becoming a drunk. Problem is, I only drink wine, and more than one glass just makes me sleepy. That’s right, I failed at alcoholism. Pity me.
Clearly this blueprint, though well-meaning, was faulty. And now that I’VE lived through my first off-season, and am therefore a self-proclaimed expert on the subject, I can dole out advice like a native! [Natives, feel free to yell at me in comments below.]
First, I should disclaim that this was one of the mildest winters on record for the island. It only snowed twice, and the thermometer hovered around 50 for a good while. So I wasn’t stuck at home, buried under blankets of snow. I also had a job. These two things helped a lot. But here’s what else helped me:
1) Make friends, and then actually hang out with them.
Back when I was living in the big city, I took my pals for granted. I was all about writing at home and snuggling with my (sometimes sweater-clad) dogs while my outgoing significant other did enough socializing for the both of us; I ventured out maybe three times a month. I forgot how awesome friendships could be when you don’t neglect them. And here, particularly in the nothing to do off-season, it’s imperative to have a (non-virtual!) social network. Dinner parties, winter walks, coffee shop catch-ups and game nights become a grave necessity.
2) Find little things to look forward to (i.e., compelling reasons not to slit your wrists).
a) Television. Are you one of those holier-than-thou intellectuals who likes to brag about not owning a TV? That’s too bad, because you’re missing some quality entertainment that could singlehandedly keep you from drowning in a pool of Jim Beam next winter. If you’re not emotionally ready for hour-long scripted serial fare, I suggest getting your feet wet with docudramas like A&E’s “Intervention” and “Hoarders”. These shows will keep you clean (in both senses of the word) and on the straight and narrow – or, at the very least, they’ll make you feel much better about your situation. “At least I’m not a junkie!” you can proudly proclaim. Or, my personal go-to, “At least I don’t have to clean my house with a shovel!” (Seriously. That’s a real thing.)
b) Bargain shopping. Winter on Martha’s Vineyard got me obsessed with second-hand shopping. That’s right, I blame you, Martha V. How could I not? Every day there’s a different type of half-off sale at the Chicken Alley thrift shop in Vineyard Haven; add to that the ever-fabulous Martha’s Closet (the belts! the bags! the jackets!), FREE treasures at the West Tisbury Dumptique (more on that in a future post, oh my god, I can’t even believe how great that place is), not to mention the weekend yard sales, shopping via the MV Times Bargain Box or the Facebook group ‘MV Stuff For Sale’... I’m not a shopaholic (I can stop any time!), but these outlets helped to make my winter-dreary life worth living.
c) I suppose there’s more to life than TV and shopping, so reluctantly I will list other stuff, like community potlucks and music events, karaoke and trivia nights, classes at the ACE, crafting, cooking, reading... My big undertaking this winter was learning Brazilian Portuguese via audio CD. It gave me something to look forward to everytime I got in my car, and now I can communicate (badly) with Brazilian customers. Bonus!
3) Break an occasional sweat; take an occasional breath.
I didn’t hit the gym nearly as often as my superhumanly-dedicated friend Jess (who is basically there every single day, kudos to her and her resulting perfect-10 body), but when I did make it, it was always an excellent cure for the winter blahs. (Plus, almost everyone on the island has a Y membership, so you’re bound to see someone you know** while you hop on the elliptical or wrestle with the lat machine.) However, my favorite remedy was yoga – there is nothing more exhilarating than therapeutic movement coupled with spiritual reflection and meditation. I spent many a chilly Sunday morning at the Yoga Barn, gazing out of those big beautiful windows at the trees and pond and ducks beyond, focusing on my breath and finding inner peace. (Or at least clearing my mind of random superfluous data for a few precious minutes.)
Now that winter's over, I feel a little tougher, a little wiser... and a lot curvier. (Winter fat layer. When does that go away, locals? I'm ready for it to be gone now.) In a two-season town like MV, you've gotta take on the Off to fully appreciate the High.
P.S. How do you survive the off-season? Let's compare notes.
For more on my journey as a new year-rounder, see my previous blog post, Moving to Martha’s Vineyard: Living the Dream ...and Learning to Love the Reality
*If you’re not reading or watching Game of Thrones, you’re not utilizing the tools available to you to survive the off-season. Get on it ASAP.
**Not so good if you’re trying to avoid that person. Try pretending you're really into the Bruins game – that's what I do.