Do Not Complain
This post is one of those "note-to-self" posts. One of those, easier-said-than-done posts.
I have a glass on top of my desk and I slip quotations under it - the ones I need as constant reminders. These days, this is what I have front and centre:
My goal is that when the usual complaints creep into my head, "I wish I had more time to write," "I wish I didn't have to run off to the day job today," etc, I remember to respond to my complaints: isn't it amazing the time you do have to write, isn't it wonderful to have a day job that you actually love and which challenges you and is such a perfect place to practice compassion.
I want to turn my complaints inside out. I want to re-frame my complaints so that they either help me see the larger picture or so that I use them as a starting point for change.
I read an article a few months back which I keep thinking about and then of course I lost the link to it...though I think it's this one by Travis Bradberry in The Huffington Post. We all know complaining is rotten, but here's what Bradberry says:
Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around you. Complaining becomes your default behavior, which changes how people perceive you.
And here’s the kicker: complaining damages other areas of your brain as well. Research from Stanford University has shown that complaining shrinks the hippocampus—an area of the brain that’s critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. Damage to the hippocampus is scary, especially when you consider that it’s one of the primary brain areas destroyed by Alzheimer’s.
We know that gratitude and a positive attitude is good for us and I really like what Bradberry says about those times when you really do need to complain. He recommends engaging in "solution-oriented complaining" rather than just complaining for the sake of it.
Just lately I took Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic off the shelf. I've been recommending this book to anyone doing creative work, but also to those who just want to make of their life, art. I LOVE the section called, "A Trick." She begins: "So, yeah–here's a trick: Stop complaining." Great, hey?
The biggest reason for not complaining, she says, is "you're scaring away inspiration." Remind yourself, she also says, that you enjoy your work. All of it. She coaches: "So try saying this: I enjoy my creativity." "Be the weirdo who dares to enjoy."
Right? Be the weirdo. Check.
Poets are such avid complainers, there are anthologies (I imagine) that gather poems of complaint. A whole section would be devoted to poems complaining about writing poetry. I came across this essay by Katha Pollitt which made me laugh. At the end she shares a poem by Brenda Shaughnessy titled, "A Poet's Poem."
If it takes me all day,
I will get the word freshened out of this poem.
I put it in the first line, then moved it to the second,
and now it won’t come out.
It’s stuck. I’m so frustrated,
so I went out to my little porch all covered in snow
and watched the icicles drip, as I smoked
Finally I reached up and broke a big, clear spike
off the roof with my bare hand.
And used it to write a word in the snow.
I wrote the word snow.
I can’t stand myself.
At the very least, if you're going to complain about not writing poetry, you should be able to write a poem for the other weirdos to enjoy.