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August 16-22, 2006

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Ask Sydney

This advice column is penned by a Sonoma County resident and our new weekly sage. Go ahead! Ask her anything.

Dear Sydney, I am recently free from a relationship where the treachery of gossip cast a shadow over the entire experience. I want to believe that gossip can have a positive, natural function within the community. Is this hope properly founded?--Downhearted

Dear Down: Sorry to break it to you, but gossip doesn't have a positive function. The dictionary describes gossip as idle talk or rumor; it does not mention gossip as a discussion with the well-being of others in mind. Many love to gossip, though they may not consider what they are doing to be "gossip" per se. Such concerned souls often preface their idle chatter with disclaimers like, "I'm so worried about . . ." or "I hate to tell you this but . . ." The fact is that talking about other people and their problems is quite often useless and hurtful, no matter how well-justified.

However, anyone who enjoys a little bit of rumor-mongering knows that it is dull and frustrating to hang out with those holier-than-thou types who refuse to engage in a little harmless social commentary. Just the same, being the one talked about is devastating, and knowing you are being judged feels like crap; it's like being spied on when you're popping a zit. The only tool for dealing with the inevitable gossip that follows any breakup (and when I say inevitable, I mean positively, set-in-cement inevitable), is just to let it go.

Unless you live in a cave and never interact with anyone, people will talk about you. Just shrug and let it pass. There is no reason that other peoples' judgment or silly talk should shake the foundation of your faith in yourself. You had a relationship. It broke up. You probably behaved badly once or twice. Who doesn't? So what? It's over. Let them talk. You focus on getting out there and giving the gossip hounds a smile and a wave, walking on by like you don't give a shit.

Dear Sydney, why does the grass always seem greener on the other side? I traveled to Ireland recently, and I felt that feeling I get when I travel, like I'd love to stay and never come home. Why do I long for what is over the rainbow? Is there really no place like home, or was that just true for Dorothy?--Grass Is Greener

Dear GIG: Around here, I listen to the grass-is-greener scenario regularly. Everyone wants to live somewhere less expensive, wants to travel widely or thinks the United States is only responsive to gun-toting, heterosexual, right-wing psychopathic Republicans. And sometimes I get a little peeved. Not because I disagree, but because there is a lack of appreciation that bothers me. Life is a gift, and those of us who live here are, on some level, blessed because we are fed, relatively safe and the weather kicks ass.

So you loved Ireland. Who wouldn't? Probably anywhere you travel you'll love it. Vacation means everything is exciting and inspiring. Vacation means no work, housecleaning, bills or responsibilities. Vacation means having the most fun you can. It's only after you really know a place--had the flu there, paid high rent and late bills, tried to find a job and endured countless holidays with your in-laws--that you can have a realistic view. But I can spare you the trouble and tell you now. Life would still be life.

Wherever you live, there you are. That all of these things are more refreshing when done on vacation is merely the nature of grass. It's green until you're stuck there long enough to trample it down into nothing. Rather than romanticize the unobtainable and the distant, why not replant?

Dear Sydney, I'm concerned. Over the past couple of years, I have had trouble with people being rude to me. It seems that almost every time I go out, someone behaves in an offensive way toward me. Sydney, I am not a weirdo. I'm clean. I'm always sober, groomed and kind. I feel like going home and not coming back out. Telling myself that I'm too sensitive does nothing to stop the upset feelings I feel when yet another person is lame to me in public. What do you think?--Nearly Agoraphobic in Freestone

Dear NAIF: I recently went out of state on a much-needed vacation. As I traveled, I noticed how friendly everyone seemed to be. Even at the gas station, I would receive smiles and be engaged in friendly chatter. I've heard complaints from out-of-staters moving to California. People aren't as friendly here, they say. It's harder to make friends.

I started to wonder: Could it be true? Is it these people, or is it me? Perhaps, I speculated, when I'm on vacation, I'm more relaxed than usual. I'm in a good mood. I'm more likely to engage in conversation and offer up interesting anecdotes like, "Hi! I'm from California!"

When I got back home, I decided to try and bring some of the enthusiasm and friendliness back with me. I discovered that if I pretended to be visiting (and as long as I didn't say "Hi! I'm from California!"), people were more friendly.

Here's the advice I have to offer you, NAIF: stop worrying about how others treat you and concentrate on how you treat others. Chances are, if you smile and behave in a genuinely good-hearted way, others will return the kindness. And if they don't, fuck 'em. Some people are just jerks, but at least you will have the reassurance of knowing that you did the best that you could, and that's what matters.

No question too big, too small or too off-the-wall. Ask Sydney.