I’m not so religious anymore. I don’t want to start a shitfight in a nice friendly food blog, but the church I was raised in has decided that hating on gay people and having old dessicated white dudes try to police everyone’s sex life (while new scandals about prostituting vulnerable immigrant populations or covering up the horrific abuse of little kids break weekly) is the hill it wants to die on, and I’m finding that I’m okay watching it die there. But I really love Lent. I never thought going without chocolate or saying “fuck it all to hell” for 40 days really compared in any way to the feeling of actual crucifixion and it’s kind of insulting to think so, but if we’re going to reduce the Suffering of Our Lord to a kind of New Year’s Resolution, I like the idea of examining habits and letting go of the ones that aren’t serving you. I can point to at least one time that observing Lent changed the entire course of my life.
I had just turned 26. I worked ridiculous hours and was stressed past all recognition. And I was addicted to complaining in a work environment that was hooked on complaining and my work people were also my social people whose favorite thing to do was get together after work and complain. At least there we had liquor.
We wanted to change everything, so complained about the changes we would make if we were in charge, but when our bosses tried actually changing stuff, we complained about that too. I don’t remember exactly how I decided, but somewhere in there I realized the complaining was slowly killing me and I gave it up for Lent. Here were the rules:
- I would not initiate complaining.
- If people started to complain, I’d change the subject or politely extricate myself from the conversation.
- I would not tell people what I was doing or harsh on them for complaining –The goal was to change my outlook, not to give up complaining in favor of being a jerk to everyone.
I won’t say I was perfect but I will say I did pretty well at consistently re-routing my brain away from pointing out the flaws in everything to finding solutions. I think I became nicer to other people and to myself. And then I quit that job, dumped my unsuitable love partner, and moved across the country to start a new life within the following 4 months. The energy I released by complaining was incredibly productive when channeled into actually changing things.
One year I gave burgers up for Lent, because they had become the default thing I ordered at a restaurant. Once a week I just needed one, but the frequent desire for bloody meat and cheese was starting to gross me out.
Now I crave a burger about once every three months. They’re still a tasty thing to order out, and it’s not like Chicago is short on great burger joints. My current favorite is the sloppy-run-down-your-arm version at Southport Grocery – but this homemade version with happily-raised beef from C&D Family Farms, sharp cheddar, and red onion on a Labriola Bakery pretzel bun is working out just fine.
This year I can see that re-giving up complaining would be a helpful thing to do, because I’m having a rough patch and I’m also REALLY good at complaining. Show me your argument, I will tell you its flaws. Serve me your stew. It needs salt. Be an annoying student who doesn’t turn in any work or who follows me into the rest room to ask questions during class breaks, I will write mean haikus about you and send them to my coworkers. I can turn a CTA ride with a weird old man and the vague smell of puke into an epic cocktail anecdote. Is that what I’m going to leave behind on the earth? “When the going got tough, she told a great story about it.”
Giving up complaining was healthy in the long run, but in the short term I seem to remember panicking because 85% of my personality went away, and in addition I became like those crusading ex-smokers who hate smokers. To this day I have a low tolerance for whining, though the thing that will really make me punch you in the throat is passive-aggressive sighing. Like, as a rule, don’t be a big complainer, but if you’re going to do it then DO IT – don’t stand there giving off waves of vague disappointment and expect me to ask you what the problem is, because I will never, ever ask you. I am from New England, where we know how to let the icy silence and quiet resentment build through the long winter until you have no choice but to crash your sled into a tree.
So yes, I should probably try giving complaining the heave-ho and see if it rewires my attitude again, but I’ve decided to go in another direction entirely.
I’m giving up self-deprecation for Lent this year. I’m going to learn how to take a fucking compliment. I will not deflect. I will not demur. I will not explain about how the good parts in what I did were really someone else’s idea or how they aren’t that good anyway. I will take credit where it is due. I will smile at the nice things you say and say “Thank you.” I will show my films without apologizing for all the mistakes that only I can see in advance. Maybe it will stick, and then I will find other positive people and we will take over the world.
For more on complaining as an art form:
These people really know how it’s done.