Tuesday, March 31, 2009

No Complaining

(This was originally written in October, 2008 for a different publication)
I have been on a vacation, of sorts. 
I have not been able to write anything longer than a couple of sentences for the past two weeks, and I just can’t take it any more!
My “hiatus” started nearly two weeks ago when I went to visit my sister in Nashville.  My sister has three kids (the oldest just turned 4 last Sunday and the youngest will be 1 in December), is a photographer and does graphic design work.  Her house is full of non-stop action, nearly 24 hours a day.  When the kids go to bed, she gets busy with her other jobs:  editing photos and doing layouts.  Sometimes I get an email from her that she sent at 2 AM.  I do not know how she does it.
After a week in Nashville, I returned home in time to host a visit with my 80-something-year-old mother-in-law (who is still with us).  In less than two weeks, I am experiencing the swings of the pendulum into two very different phases of life, and I am exhausted being here in the middle, observing.
During my trip I read two books (well, I am not actually through the second book just yet):  The Shack and The No Complaining Rule.
The Shack is a pretty interesting book, and I am not quite sure what to do with the information I have taken from it.  It is still in the digesting phase, for me, but I would love to hear from anyone else who has read it.  I think it would make for some interesting discussions.
The No Complaining Rule is a very easy read, and even though I am not finished with it, I think I get it (at least in part).  I read about this book in the Pittsburgh Business Times about a month ago, and was very intrigued.  While this book is geared toward ways to deal with negativity at work, these principals are good for family and social settings, as well.
I have begun to realize how complain-y my ‘self-talk’ can be, since I have decided to go on the “No Complaining Diet”.  This is not a Pollyanna-ish type of thing.  This is a decision to stop focusing on the negative, because, by focusing on the negative in our everyday situations, we suck other people in to making their own negative observations, and soon we find ourselves in a huge ol’ smorgasbord of negativity, serving ourselves and others heaping spoons full of negative crap.  Sounds appealing, doesn’t it? 
I am often very motivated to stay “positive” after spending time with a particular person I know (I’ll call this person “X”) who is VERY negative.  X and I are not together very often, but when we are, it seems like nearly every conversation gets steered down a path of how people have wronged X.  I might try bringing up a safe subject, like the weather, but X can somehow bring the conversation ‘round to a time when something may have happened, weather-related, and somebody said or did something offensive to X on a day just like today (or on a day the complete opposite of today, depending on the scenario).  In spending time with X recently, now that I am trying to be more mindful of not complaining or contributing to situations that might be conducive for others to complain, I have found that I pretty much have nothing to say (although, having nothing to say could also be attributed to my brain being numbed by a week of being with an 9-month old, a 2 year old, and a just turning 4-year old, but who really knows?).  I managed to say barely anything for three days straight, and was feeling pretty good (smug?) about my successful adherence to my “No Complaining Diet”.  I was feeling pretty good about it until this morning…
I decided to go to the grocery store this morning.  Now, I know that no one in the right mind actually decides to go to the grocery store on a Saturday morning at 10:00, but I needed to get out of the house (well, I needed groceries…I had not been grocery shopping for 2 weeks…).  Things were going pretty well, at first.  I found a parking space (always a plus on a Saturday morning) right off the bat.  The produce section was not too bad, initially, but then, mid-way through the grape section, things took a downward spiral.  Somebody cut me off on my way from the conventional grapes to the organic grapes, and I offered an apologetic smile as if to say, “Sorry that I was walking in a straight line in a particular direction that happened in interfere with where you suddenly decided to swerve you cart.”  (I resisted the impulse to add “you selfish idiot” in the thoughts behind my friendly smile – well, I did think it, but then I censored it out).
I had a similar encounter in the canned soup section (a person seemed indignant that I was actually stopping my cart in order to put something in to it…then nerve!), then again in front of the dairy case, and in the bread area.
By the time I reached the check-out line, I had had it.  I could no longer think about what I should be saying in my self-talk.  Much like a dieter who has at last given in and purchased sacks of Ben & Jerry’s, Oreos, and Coke, then run home and shut the door, pulled down the blinds and started to binge; I let loose (but only inside my head, thank goodness!!!).  I let loose about the lady checking out ahead of me with the one million coupons.  I let loose about the stupid people on the covers of the stupid magazines with the stupid headlines that I was stuck looking at because of the ridiculously slow check out lady who felt the need to chat it up with every person she was checking out.  I saw people in the lines on either side of me checking out without a hitch, noticing that they did not have time to read the covers of the stupid magazines because their lines were moving so fast.  I began to feel like I had spent more time in line than I had spent shopping.
I realized what I was doing and stared to laugh.  I thought of my friend, Jan, the eternal optimist who would have said something like, “Oooohhh isn’t it great that we can be out here, standing on our own two feet, purchasing food that we are so blessed to be able to cook with our own two hands that work so wonderfully?  Oh, it is so great to simply be alive right now.” And I realized that I needed to go home and reread that book.  While I get it, I don’t fully GET it.  When I finally checked out, the cashier asked me how I was.  “Pretty good,” I answered.  “You guys seem fairly busy.”
“Yes,” she said, “it is a Saturday!  Have a great day.”
I know I have a long way to go in this “No Complaining Diet”.  I realize that I am a recovering closet crab.  Is there a 12-step program for people like us?
Tomorrow is a new day (so I still have 9 hours left to complain today!?!), and so is the next one, and the one after that.

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