Saturday, June 4, 2011


A few years ago, in a class I was taking on personal essay writing, we were asked to put our own individual spin on something that was common, everyday, and average. A topic that would be completely relatable to your grandparents in Florida, your hipster friend in Brooklyn, and even your eye rolling teenage niece. As I recall there was an offering about food (good choice – who doesn’t eat, right?), stress (another goodie – to use one of my favorite words, good old stress is ubiquitous – love that word!!), and of course MONEY (no need to say anything about that one). After toying around with issues I thought worthy of CNN, or at least the local news, I decided to go with something as (here comes my favorite word again) UBIQUITOUS, it seems, as air - GOSSIP!!
Yup, I went with good old “behind your back, digging in your business, best shared in hushed tones” gossip, because, seriously, who amongst us has NEVER, looked right, then left, leaned into a friend, co-worker, or relative, and whispered some version of this line, “You know what I heard about….” I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that even Mother Theresa shared a juicy tidbit or two while working in the slums of Calcutta. Gossip seems to be one of those things that we humans just can’t seem to get away from, and enough of. Look at the internet, TV, newspapers, and, the grand dame of all readable gossip – the magazines by the check-out line in the supermarket. I know more about some housewives from NJ after an average grocery shopping, than I do about my own sister!!
And then there’s the face to face exchange of information – the checking to make sure the subject of your conversation is not within earshot, the little chuckle and eye brow raise, just before you divulge the secret you have about your gossipee (you, of course being the gossiper). Often these things snowball, one little morsel of gossip leads to another, until your conversation is glutted with “Somebody told me that..” and “Can you believe about…” And while chatting away about that friend, co-worker, politician or movie star, might feel fun and festive, and a perfectly acceptable thing to do in excess with friends – I’ve been finding more and more that, just as eating too many jelly beans on Easter leaves me feeling sick, and somehow shameful – so does gossiping. These days I find myself walking away from a gossip fest wanting to take a shower, and brush my teeth – I feel at once stupid for having gotten into that type of conversation, guilty for any- thing I said to fuel the fire, and bewildered about how – despite my best intentions I gravitated towards the gossip, the way a two year old is transfixed by soap bubbles.
I read somewhere that a good way to break the gossip habit was to not talk about someone who wasn’t in front of you – for ill or good, for a week - do I even have to tell you how impossible that was??? So, this spring, when I was asked to tell “character education stories” – meaning stories that taught some kind of social behavioral lesson to a group of middle schoolers – I knew exactly what my topic would be. Perhaps, my nobler mind thought – I could help these kids jump off the gossip train before they were as addicted to it as I was. And so I told them the story “Feathers”.
There is a woman who is the town gossip, and even though her neighbors are on to her loose lipped ways, they listen anyway. One day a stranger comes to town, and the woman (I know there’s a TV show called Gossip Girl, so we’ll call her Gossip Woman), begins to spread lies that he is a criminal of some kind. After being confronted by some of the town people, and disproving the lies told about him, the stranger demands justice, and goes before the village judge. Once in the courtroom, the Gossip Woman grows frightened, and falls to her knees assuring the judge and all who will listen that she will never gossip again, that in fact, she takes all her words back. As punishment, the judge instructs the Gossip Woman, to take a feather pillow outdoors, shake all the feathers out, and then put them back in. Once outside, the woman finds the task difficult, as the wind blows the feathers in every direction. After hours of trying to capture all the feathers, the woman, defeated, returns to the judge and says, “Your Honor, I couldn’t do it. No matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get those feathers back in the pillow.” The judge replies, “And it is the same thing with words. Once spoken, no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you can never really get them back.”
These days, when I feel the urge to get my gossip on – I try, I repeat TRY, to remember this tale. And, every once in a while the image of those feathers blowing in the air pops into my mind, and I manage to keep my mouth shut!!

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