The high cost of relativity… or you can’t pick your family


There is no easy way around this one.

I have been writing for a long time and I know that what I write is parsed and mangled by every two-bit crank and would be writer that has ever hated me.

It’s a good thing that I write well. Because poor writers who say nasty things can get the shit kicked out of them. I have known a lot of editors from small town newspapers and about once a year most of them – those with compassion anyway – write a column about gossip. I have read some great ones. Most of those screeds are prompted by a letter to the editor. Usually from someone who lives in town. Someone who may be a mother on welfare. A mother who has a child being bullied. Sorry guys, but I have been around small town news for a coupla’ decades and most of the pleas, the really resonant shit has come from single moms.

An editor I know from Haliburton (Martha) wrote a very moving piece about small town gossip. Just before she cut loose from the Haliburton Highlands for the relative anonymity of a bigger BC venue. I remember Martha’s poignant column because it reminded me of a letter to the editor we received at the Stonewall Argus in Manitoba.

Small towns are unforgiving. The biggest voices and the most damage is done by a class of middle age dowagers (I’m including dowaging men in this class) who are lost. I can’t elaborate. Because I can’t fathom what goes on in those hateful noodles. They are the same people who tell people that they can’t get married. Because they don’t fit the mold. The people who will tell you that there are two types of people. My kind and the highway.

When I first landed in the Highlands I was told in no uncertain terms that there were people out there. people who were… umm, let’s say sketchy. They were sketchy for all the right reasons.

The right reasons? Because my family told me that they were sketchy. I know. I know. Why did you listen? Over the years I was literally inundated with information about this and that and why that is thus and why certain people should be shunned! All of it pure unadulterated bullshit!

I am good friends with those people today. A lot of them are like me. Eccentric. Dancers to their own drum. For my first three years in the Highlands I was leery of these people. And I had no idea why! That makes me terrible. It makes me what I despise most in people. It makes me gullible. Naive. An idiot!

I am ashamed and embarrassed. But that’s where I was. Backed into some never-never land where justice was doled out along with heaping helpings of mashed potatoes. And I watched kids grow up at that table devolved into that same gossipy rut.

I used to think that we outgrew the vagaries of playground politics when we stepped out of grade seven recess. Today I am apologizing to all of those people. God forbid that I have to admit this. But one of the sharpest young people I know is a cousin of mine. I did not get to know here until recently. But God help me I developed a portrait of her through dinners. I had never met her. Except through the biting and vitriolic innuendo of the judge, jury and executioner. Gossip.

It’s terrible what people say about other people isn’t it? No. That’s not the point. The real despicable demon behind it all is that the gossip assassins say all of this. And then repeat it. And repeat it. And repeat it. The next day? They meet their targets in the Independent. And sweetness and light pours forth. It’s cowardice. Pure and simple.

That’s the real stuff here. The hypocrisy.

But Seamus. You say. (And my conscience has said that I am persona non grata in the Highlands. Apparently all of her friends agree.) You take on everyone and some of it ain’t very nice.

Correct. I took on Barry Devolin, I have taken on some bad employers and I have said some pretty rigid things about councils. I think something is wrong? I tell those people that I think it’s wrong. I thought Barry Devolin was wrong on a boycott of a newspaper. And I told him. He makes big bucks as an MP. Being told you’re stupid by a journalist? Comes with the deal. Can someone tell Barry’s dad that!

That’s not gossip. That’s right up front. There’s a difference. I write my opinions. I don’t do it over the back fence. And if my shit ain’t the truth? I get sued.

The dowagers? They just get more and more lonely. Know what the end of the road is for the gossip, the wee-minded squeak of the pip? When they run out of friends. Because friends begin, after a time, to realize that sooner or later the dowager is going to turn all that hate on you. And if you’re wondering? It’s probably already happened.

Things don’t get changed by gossip. Wait. Gossip kills.

That letter to the editor from a single mom in Stonewall to the Argus? Was evocative because it included a tidbit about character assassination, which damn near led to suicide. It’s why Martha Perkins and a lot of small town editors end up leaving the small town. After writing that nice screed on gossip. Small petty minds chase good people from small towns. They get to hate the haters. They get to hate the mindset. It’s like living on the set of the bachelor.

#Haters. Make no goddam mistake. There is no other word for gossip mongers and dowagers who sit high above the fray in their catbird seat. Doling out judgement.

I followed Martha Perkins. I distanced myself from that hate. And it’s why I find it so much more comfortable living outside of the rural mindset today.

Know what I was given as a parting gift from my own wee hater?

“Good. people are glad that you’re gone. No one liked you. And by the way? You’ve always been an asshole!”


So let me get this off my chest. Eric Lilius! The Haliburton Folk Society! Michelle! All the so-called people from the wrong side of the tracks? And the rest. I love you all! I am sorry it took me so long to get there. To meet you. To find out how lovely you all are! 

But gossip is a powerful thing. 

People. Don’t let gossip get in your way. Spurn it. I missed a lot of fun concerts from 2002 to 2005. People wonder how kids get to become facebook bullies. You know… the kind of kids that killed Amanda Todd! The same kids who use gossip as a blunt force instrument? They learn it at the table. Parents, if you can’t eat a meal without targeting someone? Let your kids eat in front of the TV. Please! We don’t need that kind of family time. Move on or shut the fuck up!