Here's an essay I have in the new issue of Blueprint, the new magazine from Martha Stewart...
Here is the text in a more readable form:
Get your hankies out for the story of how I met my closest friend. One cloudless September afternoon, I was on a hayride in Vermont. To most people, this is festive. For me, it was miserable. I’m not the group-activity type, and I could feel my sciatica acting up as the truck bounced along.
I soon noticed that there was one woman whose fake, ghastly grin matched mine. Cautiously, I slid over to her. “I haven’t been on a hayride in years!” I chirped unconvincingly. “Fun stuff!”
She stared at me. “I was once in a car that caught fire,” she said in a low voice. “This is worse.” Instantly, we became the best of friends. Sniff!
What is it about complaining that brings people so beautifully together? It turns a gaggle of irritated people waiting for a tardy bus into comrades and resentful coworkers into a lovingly united front against the boss. Complaining a national sport, one in which I enthusiastically take part.
Lately, however, I have had the unpleasant realization that I do it too easily, and too often. So for the past week, I have analyzed my grousing patterns and found that, like so many others, most of my complaints fall into one of five tedious categories. I was able to curb my habit considerably by NOT griping about the following:
Being tired: One night I was in a taxi, coming home from a long day at work. I started chatting with the driver and groused that I was worn out. Later, he mentioned that he was finishing a twenty-hour shift. He wasn’t complaining, but I had felt free to flap on about my fatigue. And was I really that tired? Had I been breaking rocks in a quarry somewhere? No. Had I stayed up too late the previous night watching a bad ‘Lifetime’ movie starring Judith Light? Yes. Saying that one is tired is tiresome.
The weather: My sister runs a gourmet food store, and during hot, humid days, every single customer bursts in, moaning about the heat. By the time the 96th person has vented, she has sunk into a deep depression. Think about it: do you want to be that 96th person? The weather is not happening only to you.
Traffic: If you drive, you’re going to encounter traffic. I realized that whining about it is dull, and repetitive, because traffic will never go away, unless I move to Greenland. On the plus side: now that we have longer lifespans, there’s more built-in waiting time!
‘I’m so fat’: If you are thin, this remark causes resentment. If you are on the larger side, it’s awkward. No one wins.
Busy, busy, busy: “I don’t have five minutes to myself!” “I just don’t know where the day goes!” Sound familiar? Can we just assume at this point that everyone is ‘crazy busy?’ I found that when I was griping about how busy I was, it sounded suspiciously like…bragging.
I’m not suggesting we give up complaining entirely. Who wants to live in a ‘Family Circle’ cartoon? I’m just saying that if you’re going to do it, be creative. And funny. Strive for original material. The right kind of complaining adds color and sparkle to a conversation. It can entertain, alleviate tension, and spark a rejuvenating esprit de corps.
It can even lead to romance. Once, at a corporate holiday party, a tall, handsome man chatted me up. It was a fine conversation, but we just weren’t clicking, and the music was too loud. I had just decided to get my coat when he frowned. “I can’t stand this music,” he burst out. “It’s so late-night K-Tel compilation.”
I cackled. “The food’s worse,” I said, picking up a shriveled canapé. “Who’s the caterer, my high school cafeteria?”
Two years later, we were married.