bitching and moaning: friend or foe?
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Some people staunchly refuse to gripe. I suppose that’s partly temperament. They’re all sunny-side-up 'n' shit. As an enthusiastic griper, I have trouble relating to that. It seems cockeyed to me. And when people reflexively deflect legitimate gripes with some sort of Suzy Sunshine crap, I put a little checkmark next to their names in my head: Doesn’t Want to Hear About It. Which is certainly their prerogative, but it will also change the nature of our friendship. That’s just the way it is for me. I don’t get optimism, they don’t get pessimism, and that’s an essential truth.
Which is not to say I’m proud of my gripiness. I’m sure I wear my friends out, as my friends sometimes wear me out. I suspect we all have friends who turn up mostly when something is wrong, and friends who get stuck in negativity until you feel like running for cover when you see them. I remember one particular time like that for me, when I was deeply dissatisfied with my job at the newspaper. My gosh, my poor friends. I could tell they wanted to dive under their desks when they saw me coming.
I suppose it’s a matter of finding that balance between griping and rejoicing. I know I wore some friends out during a particularly long brutal stretch of my life, so I try really hard to be upbeat with them these days. I don’t want to be That Person, Debbie Downer, the Well-Known Buzzkill. No really, I don’t. And I find myself enjoying recreational bitching and moaning less than I once did, both doing it and listening to it.
Does complaining serve a purpose? I actually found some research on this, by a Robin Kowalski of Western Carolina University Her article, “Whining, Griping, and Complaining: Positivity in the Negativity,” was published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. While Kowalski acknowledges first all the drawbacks of complaining (including the diving-for-cover factor), she also lists some of the benefits.
For one thing, she says, complaining can make you feel better. It's a little pressure release. And a well-placed complaint can also have financial benefits, such as when you complain about poor service or product defects.
Complaining also is a “social lubricant”-- when you’re uncomfortable in an unfamiliar place or situation, you can connect with others by sharing a gripe about the temperature or the length of the wait or whatever. And, she says, in close relationships, complaining can improve a situation and it can help you assess the other person’s commitment to the relationship—does he or she care about your dissatisfaction or just blow it off? Good information to be mined there.
So griping does have its benefits, which is good to know because I’ll always be a griper. I try to be less random about it than I once was and limit it to legitimate problems. Perhaps to some of my previous partners in griping, I’m getting a little Pollyanna. On the other hand, I’ll never be a total happy face because if I were, I’d find myself intolerable.
Monday, June 22, 2009
We’ll start with a story I enjoyed in this morning’s paper about a couple of Vermont dairy farmers who changed what they feed their cows, thereby reducing the amount of methane their cows emit via burps. (I guess that whole cow farting thing is overplayed; according to this article, most of the gas actually comes from the front end.)
Also according to this article, the Coventry Valley Farm “has reduced its cows’ belches by 13 percent.”
I hate it when news stories leave out the stuff I really want to know—in this case: How do you measure cow belches?
I found a couple of good chicken stories in the paper this weekend.
One is about a guy who is studying the language of chickens to see what all their clucks, chortles and squawks mean. I’m astonished this hasn’t been done before, considering how much chicken we eat. The UConn researcher, Ebenezer Otu-Nyarko (and what a grand name that is) points out that figuring out when chickens are stressed will help increase egg and chicken meat production. (OK, that’s kind of a sad sentence. But we farmers are very matter-of-fact about such things.)
The other story is a biggie if you happen to be in the poultry industry: California has passed a law that egg-laying hens must be able to stretch their wings without touching walls or another chicken. It’s a big kerfuffle, but apparently, what animal rights people are really pushing for is free-range chickens. Personally, I think that’s great. Free-range chicken tastes so much better than the tortured kind. The eggs, too. Look at this photo. The two eggs on the right are from my friend Michelle’s chickens. The anemic little thing on the left is a regular supermarket egg.
And since I’ve been hanging around Michelle and her chickens, I’ve grown to really love the sight of them free ranging.
Chickens are, in many ways, pretty revolting. I had a friend who grew up on a farm and as an adult refused to eat chicken because she had grown to loathe them so. I mean, they’ll eat anything, including each other. But Michelle’s chickens are so pretty and fun to watch—little dinosaurs bustling around the property, living in their little chicken alternate universe. Every now and then, something will spook them and they’ll all run this way or that way, then it’s over and they get back to their scratchin’ and peckin’. And, as night falls, they all take themselves home to their roost and tuck themselves in. Endearing, even if they do eat their young.
I can’t wait to learn what they have to say.
Friday, June 12, 2009
First, for no particular reason, here’s a totally random photo from my last trip to Oklahoma. I have a lot of photos. Might as well toss some out there from time to time.
OK, so, what’s on my mind today?
Well, I’ve had a semi-crappy week and I’m stressed out, so I’ve been watching this awesome interactive music video a lot. It’s a guaranteed stress reducer. Really, go watch it. Use your cursor to move the line. The song is lovely, too. (Worth the wait for it to load, I promise.)
Every now and then I get to write an article that makes me very happy. This article, in Southwest Spirit magazine, about the benefits of nostalgia, is among those.
Oh hey, check out the polite umbrella.
Speaking of nostalgia, this blog of photos of NYC in the 1970s (my NYC) moves me to tears. Look how little the skyline is!
And finally, some interesting research:
Here’s research into our friendship networks—evidently, although the size of our networks tend to stay stable, the contents change about every seven years, when we cut and replace half the people Hm. Having undergone a great deal of churn in my friendships recently, this makes perfect sense to me. I’m sure proximity and other environmental factors have a lot to do with friendship turnover, but it’s also a matter of my ongoing re-evaluation of what I need, want and don’t want in my relationships. Also, sometimes I really piss people off. And sometimes, I don’t care when I do.
Expanding further on the ever-fascinating introversion theme, here’s research into the social brain, although I kind of resent the way this blogger divides us into “socialites” and “curmudgeons.” Oh, I suppose I’ve called myself a curmudgeon, but it does have negative implications and I contend that there is nothing wrong with liking solitude.
And finally, research into a subject I have gone back and forth on a thousand times: couples staying together for the kids, something I’ve seen my parent friends wrestle with. It sounds right, it sounds wrong, it sounds right, it sounds wrong. I don’t know. These researchers say that if the marriage is truly contentious—lots of fighting—kids tend to drink, smoke and do poorly in school by adolescence. I suppose that’s kind of a no-brainer. I wonder, though, about homes with unspoken tensions.
Have a nice weekend. I plan to drink heavily.
the burdens of stuff
Thursday, June 11, 2009
I am recently home from three weeks in New York City sorting through my late parents’ possessions with my brother.
Wow. I have something to say to all you parents out there: If you have a lot of stuff, as a loving gesture to your children, get rid of some, OK? My parents had a lot of cool stuff but they also had a lot of junk. A lot. See the photo? Multiply it by an eight-room apartment. Where they lived for nearly 45 years.
Books. Books. Books. My dad loved books. “Dark brown books,” my mother called them. Hundreds of them. Some might have been valuable if they had been cared for, but they spent their lives in steam heat, drying out. When I visited last year, Dad gave me a book I’d wanted to read, but when I opened it on the airplane home, it crumbled to dust in my hands.
I know that people who love books love having lots of them. “Too many books? No such thing!” I understand the wealthy feeling a full bookshelf inspires. But friends, hear me now: There is such thing as too many books. Really. They are bulky and heavy and nobody really wants most of them. No, not even libraries. Not if they’re old, brittle, out of date. Sure, I took a few of Dad’s books. Not many, though. Just a few. We threw a lot away. We’re not sure what to do with the hundreds remaining. We organized one roomful, more or less, and then grew exhausted and left the rest, and further decisions, for another day.
Going through the detritus of a long life is fascinating and depressing—and not depressing just because it is related to loss. Here are notes for books my father never wrote, books he wrote but didn’t sell, hopes and dreams crammed into a filing cabinet. Here are souvenirs of trips that no one remembers anymore, heirlooms with stories lost to time (although my brother is doing an amazing job assembling our family history), bits and threads that mean nothing to us but might have been rich with sentimentality for Dad. Have we thrown out his “Rosebud”?
We had appraisers in and found treasures that had been buried from sight behind decades of indiscriminate accumulation. We found treasures of value only to us, flotsam that coaxed out memories from the deepest corners of our minds. And we found junk, worthless and ugly bric-a-brac kept only because Dad’s default was “keep.”
I am having nine cartons of stuff and several pieces of furniture shipped home and the apartment is still crammed. I barely made a dent.
Back home, my attitude towards my own stuff has changed. I’m not half the pack rat Dad was, but I still have shoes in my closet that are never worn but with sentimental value, a file drawer full of aborted creative endeavors, bric-a-brac kept for no particular reason. I brought two cartons of books to the library yesterday. I have put some clothing on e-bay. I’m just getting started.
But then there are the photos. My gosh, the photos. What’s to become of them? They are the most haunting aspect of my stuff.
My brother and I love looking at photos of our youthful parents and their friends, at photos of our own childhoods, and at the rarer photos of the generations before our parents. But we have no children of our own, so no one will care about the photos we leave behind. I have thousands of photos, not just of friends and family, but also of my travels. Photos that will mean nothing to anyone after I am gone.
Perhaps, when I see the end coming, I will build a bonfire of my books, photos and failed manuscripts and let them flame out with me.
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