the grumbles: part 2

The Best Advice So Far: the grumbles part 1 - many purple sad-face balls

Today’s post is a continuation of last week’s discussion on complaining.

If you’re coming in late to the game, I highly recommend reading the previous post first, since it lays some groundwork about what constitutes complaining and what does not. However, I’ll sum up the gist of it.

My friend Chad shared something with me that had resonated with him recently:

“Complaining is a waste of time
unless you’re telling someone
who can do something about it.”
 

And that got me thinking. It occurred to me that not only does this statement warrant some self-reflection, it also allows us to redefine terms this way:

Complaining: sharing negative information, thoughts or emotions with someone who cannot do anything about the situation

I’m a firm believer that virtually everything we do in life is done because of some perceived gain. In other words, there are reasons behind most of what we do. This says nothing of the existence of ideas like altruism, which would simply be doing something based on a perceived gain for another person. My point is that we tend to believe “If I do this, then that should happen — or at least there’s a high enough likelihood to make it worth my while.”

Quid pro quo.

The problem with perceived gains, however … is that “perceived” part. You see, perception offers no guarantee of aligning itself with reality. Yet, since most of our perceived gain system becomes automatic, even subconscious, we lose track of asking ourselves, “Is what I’m doing here actually working?”

The Best Advice So Far: Complaining is a waste of time unless you're telling someone who can do something about it.

With these ideas as a springboard, let’s take a closer look at why we complain. Then, for those who are suspecting that complaining isn’t getting us where we had hoped it might — and in keeping with the theme of The Best Advice So Far, that “You always have a choice” — I’ll offer some thoughts about breaking free of the “grumbles” and trading them for greater overall peace and happiness.

Before you even continue reading, however, I want to pose a challenge …

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the grumbles: part 1

The Best Advice So Far: the grumbles part 1 - many blue sad-face balls

I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I found myself growling out loud this afternoon.

We got another 14-or-so inches of snow yesterday, which in and of itself was quite spectacular. Not only did the blizzard cause whiteout conditions where I could not even see the trees at the back of my yard, it was also accompanied by booming thunder and lightning that, in moments, lit the world in white fire.

Unlike last time, I was actually prepared for this one. The night before, I’d tucked my car parallel to the back of the house, quite close to the wall, so that the plow would have maximum access to the rest of the lot the next day. I then pulled the car cover on; and to assure that the winds — predicted to be 20-30 mph with gusts up to 50 mph — didn’t sweep up underneath and parachute the cover clear off, I’d even though to open the trunk and hood, and then close each on portions of the car cover, securing it firmly in place.

As the storm raged outside, I congratulated myself on how clever I’d been and took comfort in knowing that, as soon as it subsided, I’d be able to just walk outside and slide that snow-laden cover off, leaving my car gleaming and untouched while the poor schmucks around me labored at brushing and scraping their own buried vehicles out from under the piles.

Friday, I slept in a bit. There would be no need to get out early to clear the car off, thanks to my brilliant planning the day before. So I finally headed out at noon to remove the cover and snow, and to get out and about my day.

Upon stepping out onto the porch, it was immediately clear that this storm was worse than the last. The snow was the heavy, wet kind that was going to be hard to shovel or move at all. It was equally clear that the new plowman had done a shoddy job, leaving about a third of the lot piled in snow that should have been pushed much farther back, and thereby eating up one of the four parking spaces. I felt bad for the landlord.

I turned the corner and …

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drain

The Best Advice So Far - drain - male human hand reaching up out of kitchen sink drain

Growing up, I went to a dysfunctional parochial school.

The school was characterized by excessive, unfounded and often absurd rules — all alleged to have been formulated in the name of God.

No dancing at any time. Dancing of any kind at any time — even at a wedding — was grounds for punishment or expulsion.

Girls could not wear pants or shorts. Even for sports. In the case of the latter, they were required to wear shin-length polyester culottes. And that was considered a “liberal” concession.

Denim was decried as “the devil’s material” and forbidden to be worn at any time, in or out of school. If someone reported that they’d seen you wearing jeans on a Saturday, you’d be hauled into the principal’s office come Monday morning .

Girls could not color or style their hair according to modern fashions. And boys’ hair was required to be what we called “white-walled”: a half-inch minimum off the ear, shirt collar and eyebrows. In eighth grade, I entered a music competition between like-minded parochial schools. After months of arduous practice, I took the stage and played Rachmaninoff’s Prelude Op. 3 No. 2 in C# Minor nearly flawlessly. The judges awarded me an overall score of zero and disqualified me — because my hair touched my eyebrow.

What’s more, parents were required to sign over unrestricted rights of …

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do not feed

The Best Advice So Far - do not feed - sketched baby dragon comic eating a cookie

Last spring, I found myself looking into a little side gig as a content editor for a startup out of New York. It seemed a good deal at first: ten flex hours at the rate I requested. It was a rocky start even getting in the door, with impersonal communication actually becoming curt and then rude. And they were desperate, pleading with me to jump in within a half-hour of the first phone call, late on a Friday afternoon, asking me to edit three articles over Memorial Day weekend.

But I wound up figuring I could handle it once I was in the door and through the initial messiness. Mind my own business. Do what I said I’d do. Collect my paycheck.

Not so.

It changed. It grew. Heck, it mutated.

A week in, I was asked last-minute if I could “just bail them out on a few things” due to a writer who’d had a baby and left several articles half-done.

I went ahead and bailed them out.

Now, before I took the position, I made sure of what I was and was not expected to do. And my pay rate followed word-count brackets that were based on those clear expectations. I was to edit as I saw fit. I was not required to explain my edits. I was not required to read source articles or fact check (both expressly stated as responsibilities of the writers).

But I noticed in that first set of “emergency” articles that some of the claims and statistics just didn’t seem plausible. So I checked the sources and, sure enough — the data being reported was off. I mean way off. Not even close to what the article was saying. I thought, If a client ever saw this level of egregious errors, they’d drop this company in a heartbeat!

I alerted the boss.

She asked me to fix it “just this once.”

The articles I was editing, on the whole, were extremely poor. Honest to Pete, they read like a sixth-grader had written them (and not a particularly astute one at that). It quickly became standard fare for me to have to slash 80% of the copy — which, of course, was taking much, much longer than agreed upon. As much as ten times longer, in fact.

In the next few days and weeks, I pointed out to the owner that most of the articles I was given to edit were now not only poorly written, fluffy, off-topic or illogical — but the misinterpretation (or misrepresentation) of supporting research was rampant. I reminded her that we’d agreed this was the writers’ job, not mine.

The owner became snippy and condescending. I reflected back to her how she was coming across, despite the fact that I was now “bailing her out” constantly. She returned with, “Well, if you want me to be honest …

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walls

The Best Advice So Far: walls — 1950s subway riders crowded and ignoring one another

Today, I saw a snail
on the sidewalk in front of our house.
And I thought, I too am like that snail.
I build a defensive wall around myself, a “shell” if you will.
But my shell isn’t made out of a hard, protective substance.
Mine is made out of tin foil and paper bags.

~Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy, SNL

Growing up with three siblings, all close in age, there were frequent and often ongoing sibling rivalries. As such, we learned tricks for being in close proximity while simultaneously erasing the offending party or parties from existence. And mind you, we didn’t have customized media to aid us. We had to be creative when it came to ignoring one another:

Holding an issue of TV Guide up to one side of our face like a blinder on a horse while watching television, so as to block out the person sitting beside us on the couch.

Placing three cereal boxes in half-hexagonal formation at breakfast time, to build a fortress around ourselves that would hide us from the enemy who sat kitty-corner from us at the table, arms-length away.

Car trips were the one time when shielding ourselves became almost impossible, especially as we got older and our bodies grew.

First, with four of us, your status during the trip was immediately determined by which seat you wound up managing to get for yourself. It was a fight to the death for a window seat. But eventually, a tight-lipped parent eventually threatened us with “that look” that meant just get in the car already (somehow oblivious to the obvious stakes); and whoever wound up getting the windows would turn and …

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digging out

The Best Advice So Far: digging out — Erik with *yuck* face standing in front of a mountain of plowed snow

Last Saturday, we were told to expect the first “real snow” of the winter season here in New England. Meteorologists predicted 4 – 8 inches. Though not exactly fun, we’ve had worse. Much worse. As the sky turned slate gray and the first flakes began to fall, I settled in to finish writing last week’s post, read a bit … and, of course, nap.

I had plenty of food to get me through until the next day when I’d head out and re-up my stores. In fact, I thought, I might even be able to manage a late-night workout, once this thing fizzles out.

Well, about midnight, I did venture down to brush off the car and head out to the gym.

Only the door didn’t open.

Moonlight shone blue across the surface of deep, deep snow. (We were later to find that the official reading was 16 inches.)

Crap.

Still, determined, I tromped back up the stairs, got out of my workout clothes, slid some old jeans on over sweatpants and donned a hoodie under my overcoat. Then I headed out to show that snow who was boss.

Things had wound down to little more than brittle flurries. That was thanks to the fact that, as my phone alerted me, it was now 2°F — too cold for much new snow to form.

I grabbed the shovel and became aware as I looked around that the drifts on the porch weren’t the worst of it by a long shot. I cleared the porch but couldn’t tell where the platform I was standing on ended and where the steps began. As I shuffled toward the invisible edge, I had that feeling of wading out too far into the ocean and taking that first step that drops into the abyss.

I plunged downward and was suddenly knee-deep in the stuff. It was abundantly clear that I’d be going nowhere tonight.

I slogged toward the car. As the frigid wind howled, I assessed. There’d be no place to shovel the snow other than into the hedgerow. Just too deep to throw it anywhere else.

I’ll be honest: the “hearty New Englander” in me began to crack. We were barraged the winter before last with a freak series of unrelenting blizzards that lasted months and dumped a total of over 11 feet of snow, and I felt the edges of PTSD tapping on the frosted glass of my resolve. Despite the gloves I wore, pain was already shooting through freezing fingers. And no amount of sniffling was now enough to stem the flow of snot from my nose.

It was not only deep, it was heavy. The snow brush bowed as I ran it across the hood of the car, sending vibrations up my arm (my hand itself being numb) that I knew meant beneath the smothering snow, the car was also encased in ice. Then that first swipe was interrupted as the Lincoln ornament snapped off and catapulted somewhere into the bushes, lost (sorry, Mom).

I’m not sure if I started crying at that point, since my eyes were already stinging and watering furiously …

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the umpteenth time

the umpteenth time - The Best Advice So Far - broken pocket watch on cracked earth

ALTERNATE TITLES:

stupid pills

a zincing ship

kvetch me if you can


Somewhere in the middle of 2015, life changed.

Prior to that, I had just released my first book, The Best Advice So Far. I still remember the day I typed the period after the last word of the last sentence of the last chapter. It was exactly one year to the day after I’d started, at 3:18 AM. I was so into what I was writing, that when my fingers stopped typing, it was a minute or two before the thought followed: I just wrote a book. I didn’t know what one should feel or do on such an occasion. All I could think to do was to drive to the all-night convenience store, buy a Nestle Quik strawberry milk and drink it in the aisle as a sort of toast to the occasion.

Shortly after, I met with a New York Times Bestselling author who had read my book and was genuinely excited. He offered to provide an official endorsement.  Soon, I was communicating with a VP from Google who’d also read the book and was impressed, offering her endorsement as well.

Things were gaining momentum. It was all a little heady. The possibilities truly seemed endless.

Sometime that summer, however, what I’d thought was an allergic reaction turned out to be a tenacious and mysterious rash. It spread. I saw specialists. They tested me for everything. I took heavy medications, just to rule things out — medications that gave me other side effects, like nightmares, anxiety and more. And the pervasive itching alone was enough to induce Mother Teresa to swear like a sailor.

Soon, my insides weren’t right. I wound up in the ER. I’ll save you the details, but it was distinctly un-fun … and it never went away.

Headaches set in next. And then my asthma — which had lain dormant for years — kicked in, followed by persistent canker sores.

In February of 2016, I lost a cousin to suicide, which required my stepping in to care for her teenage son.

Then there was the car accident that brought back migraines and set my back out of whack again.

I found myself writing less. Publicizing the book less. Pursuing speaking engagements less.

Working out less often. Interacting with others less often. Taking chances less often.

I felt like I was just becoming less …

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