constellations #29: gossip
A couple weeks ago I heard a story on This American Life about gossip in the age of coronavirus. The segment was based on an essay called “The Year In Gossip,” written by Rachel Connolly on Hazlitt, which starts with a story about an ill-advised set of hookups, one that the writer’s friend has been keeping her up-to-date on. The writer doesn’t know the people hooking up; the person telling her the story hardly does. But she’s drawn to this story anyway — as is the producer of the This American Life piece, and as, I guess, was I — because of the strange, isolating circumstances of this past year. We latch onto this kind of gossip right now, the TAL producer argues, because “what are you supposed to talk about when there are no situations?”
Of course that’s “situations” narrowly defined. (There are, in fact, plenty of situations, broadly defined, worth talking about.) But I think I get what she means. A few stories like this have rippled through the extended universe of my friends since we all stopped hanging out, about friends of friends or someone someone used to know: an unexpected pregnancy; conflicting wedding dates; cryptic tweets. Lately I’ve been telling anyone who will listen about the not-terribly-interesting situation among my landlords, for example.
I brought this up the other day and a friend mockingly mentioned a quote, attributed with no evidence to Eleanor Roosevelt: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” We agreed it was bullsh*t. As if talking about people is not a way of talking about ideas! As if ideas exist separate from events and people! As if minds ought to be so easily categorized! Am I being defensive because I love gossip? Probably. But I have never had a problem rationalizing it, and anyway, I get that there’s a moral line between snitching or pointed sh*t-talking (pretty much always bad) and, like, prying open an ethically ambiguous situation and watching your friends’ various perspectives emerge (rarely as bad), and it’s the latter I miss. I miss banal secrets. I miss the thrill of gently misaligned perspectives. I miss the sleight of storytelling that makes something feel high stakes when, in reality, everyone knows it is comfortingly low stakes. I miss leaning over in a not-quite-too-loud bar with my eyes wide and saying ohmygod, wait, did I tell you about…
This, I imagine, is why I rewatched season 5 of Drag Race — a paragon of low-stakes-feels-high-stakes drama — last spring, as the realization dawned that we’d likely be stuck indoors for quite a while. I think it’s why everyone in my house seems to stay on the phone with our moms a little longer lately; we are lucky, they are safe, and they all live in small New England towns and small New England town drama is great drama. And shoutout to everyone watching The Bachelor right now; I am not, but I hear it’s great.
The other thing that has been on my mind lately, entirely unrelated to gossip, is the fact that SOPHIE, the marvelous and visionary music producer, died last weekend in an accident. I saw a lot of folks sharing this wonderful 2017 profile by Sasha Geffen over the weekend (and I recommend it, too); Sasha also said something I appreciated on Twitter, that SOPHIE’s music “had no use whatsoever for the usual beats of ‘coming out’ ‘Identification’ etc just direct communication of complex interior experiences to other people who would get it.” I love that description a lot: the lack of mediation, the disinterest in translation, the creation of a new idiom. And further proof that, in the best of scenarios, it’s no use trying to separate out ideas from their people.
I hope someone tells you a wild, remarkable story this week and I hope you get to tell one, too. Until next time.