Burgers and blasphemy

If brains are as tasty to zombies as this burger is to me, zombies make a lot more sense.

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:

  1. I would not initiate complaining.
  2. If people started to complain, I’d change the subject or politely extricate myself from the conversation.
  3. 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.


12 responses to “Burgers and blasphemy

  1. Hee! The Helsinki Complaints Choir is one of my all-time fave YouTube videos. When I find myself feeling particularly crabby and contrary, I put it on to both have a good laugh and remind myself that random complaints aren’t nearly as interesting when not set to music.

    Then I can sit down and figure out whether I have anything to offer up as a solution to the problem at hand.

    It really is a surprising help.

  2. “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”

    I think you might be part Eastern Austrian then. I am a big complainer and annoyed my husband with it a lot. One of my best friends here in Chicago is from the same area I am from (coincidence, we didn’t know each other in Austria) – when we get together – we complain a lot. Especially about America even though we dislike different things about the US but we are respectful of each others complaints.
    He told me that his wife also gets annoyed by his constant complaining.

    After being here for almost 1.5 years, I have noticed that Americans don’t really like people who complain (unless it’s about the job – then it’s ok). So I am trying to keep my complaining to a minimum (unless with my Austrian friend) and I have noticed that people now like me better.

    I feel like sometimes in America there is a forced cheerfulness which is very difficult for me to fake but I am working on it.

    As for learning how to accept a compliment – hell yes – please! I can’t stand people who are all like “Oh that old thing, I found that in a dumpster behind Walmart” (even though as a thrifty shopper that might impress me).
    I have taught myself just to say “Thank you” and smile. Though I think it has to become so common in our culture that people are not able to accept a compliment, that I feel like some people are almost shocked when you just say thank you.

    • Ha, we should form a Chicago Complaints Choir!

      It is a rule of American Culture that when we ask you how you are, we don’t really want to know, and if you actually answer that question with a long story, you have broken the social contract. But we MUST ask you.

      I’d love to know about other strange things you see about us from the outside. I lived in Central Europe for a long time, and I saw plenty of weird stuff about Europeans that I had no trouble complaining about.

      • It took me a while to get used to the whole “How are you!” which is not really a question. A Canadian friend of mine in Holland always said “What’s up?”. At some point I asked her what would be the correct answer to this and she told me either “What’s up?” or “Not much”. Both answers didn’t seem right to me because maybe a lot is up. And why would I lie.

        Where did you live in Europe?

        Also Austrians are notorious for swearing a lot when driving and I was very surprised that I do that too because I grew up using public transportation. I call it “Driving tourettes”.

        I really am not as horrible of a person as I make myself sound here by the way.

  3. I mean “has become” not “has to become”

    • To answer your question, above, I lived in Czech Republic for 1 year (1994-1995) and spent extensive time traveling in or working with projects in Austria, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine for work for the next 4-5 years. Lovely area. BIG complainers, though – I think Romanians might win the Whinging Event in the Complaining Olympics on both substance and style.

  4. I don’t remember you as a big complainer. Maybe I was already gone by then?? Funny as hell, yes, but complainer, not so much. And yes, it was a toxic work environment, wasn’t it?

    As for this year’s lent ritual, I will give you an opportunity to flex that muscle. You are one of the most amazingly beautiful, cool, intelligent, creative, interesting and wonderful people I know. I admire your courage to follow your heart and the determination that has made you so successful. You’re a breath of fresh air and I feel lucky to know you. Just wish we lived a little closer.



    • Thanks for the nice words, Deedy!

      You have always been a great role model for me in terms of your work ethic and your professional life, and I learned so much from you. Also, the place really took a nosedive after you left.

  5. 1. I often answer with how I really am, and I don’t ask how you are unless I actually want to know. People tell me it’s maddening of me.

    2. I didn’t give up anything for Lent – I took up a goal to Finish Old Projects. Progress is marginal.

  6. and BTW, the Helsinki Complaints Choir is new to me….and awesome! Next time I whine about my commute, I’ll put it to music.

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