On complaining

Ugh: something else to can. The plums are ripe.

I got an email from a friend recently. He’d started reading this blog and was letting me know he liked it. He said something that made me pause, though. He pointed out I don’t do much complaining about this life.

I was puzzled by this. I have chosen this life, we have chosen this life. How in the world could I complain about it? Yes it’s lots of work to be a subsistence farmer, or a subsistence gardener-slash-bird rancher, or whatever little pigeonhole you wish to stick me in as someone who raises 95% of what she eats. Yes I do work for a living, putting in my 40-50 hours a week, mostly working from home. Yes I do cook from scratch, relying only rarely on the occasional bag of pasta. Yes to the laundry on the line, yes to the nightly canning sessions, yes to the mornings pulling a weed or two. Yes to parenting, that full-time job.

So much of this life of ours is one based upon complaining. Yes, I do readily complain about the not-terribly-smart man occupying the White House, and yes, I do think we’ve soiled our planet beyond easy repair with a lifestyle based upon buying things. Yes, I do wish for certain things, like world peace and marital peace. But when has complaining really done any good? I suppose it acts as a social lubricant: by complaining about how horrible my child or my husband is, I have truck with all the other whining mothers out there. But here’s my point: didn’t you plan to have that child, didn’t you marry that man on purpose? Why complain?

Maybe it’s not complaining that I am getting to: maybe it’s follow through, it’s the consequences of your actions. Yes, moving from the city and taking up with 5 acres of land meant I would be outside a lot more than I had been. That was the point! And unplugging the dryer does mean it will take longer to dry the clothes, and yes, as my neighbor claims, one quick way to make it rain is to have El hang out her laundry. And children are work, whether you have one or a dozen. So are husbands, not that I would want a dozen of those.

I guess what I am saying in this long-winded whining-about-not-whining thing is this: if you live to your ideals, you’ve got no right to complain.

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21 responses to “On complaining

  1. I say you have a really healthy attitude! 🙂

  2. So true! Even when not living one’s ideals not complaining and counting our blessings is way too rare. Such a bunch of childish ninnies we are!

    Is this perhaps part of what keeps us in consumer mode? We often complain and feel that buying that next item/experience will make us happy. And when it doesn’t we complain some more rather than looking inside ourselves for satisfaction or working in a real way on this.

  3. That “ugh” in your photo caption? I think that was a teeny-tiny complaint. Of a good-natured variety.

    Here’s a treat for you:
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/07/29/FDFP11U455.DTL#pickle2

  4. Wonderfully written post El!

  5. Well, anytime someone gets up on a soapbox, I am contractually bound to be a devil’s advocate. So here goes:

    To the benefits of complaining.

    Complaining is the only way society ever realizes anything is wrong. If nobody ever complained about their spouse, nobody could ever tell if they were the only one bothered by something.

    If nobody ever complained that something was difficult, nobody would ever come up with a better way.

    If everyone always thought everyone else just tolerated it and didn’t mind, we’d never come up with social standards for what is acceptable, and never fix things when they weren’t.

    Not that this should allow moping about and whining about things you should be fixing instead, but I wouldn’t mind hearing some complaints either.

    Ok, I’m done now.

  6. we husbands are not SO bad : )

  7. I agree with you; I also agree with PlantingOaks.

    One of my favorite quotes is, “Suffering is Optional.”

    I enjoy reading your blog.

  8. Oh, well done, El…this was fun to read.
    (and, yes, I *got* the in-fun whiney caption on the plum.)
    Seeing you list out all you do on a daily basis is so amazing, though I know that wasn’t your point. We all make our choices and with those choices we need to be steadfast…or change the way we do things. Whining and worry are, to me, the two most senseless activities (and energy wasters) one can undertake. Neither helps.

  9. So many blogs out there are basically just rant-fests that it’s nice to read one that isn’t. I’ve spent my summer trying to stop ranting myself and to avoid ranting by others. Of course, that means I can’t turn on the television, because that sends me into mega-rant mode!

  10. I think there is something about self-reliant living that gives you plenty to think about. Who has time for complaining when you have real living to think about. I am most likely to complain about things that are outside my control. When you build a life where almost all the details can be effected by your direct action, what is there to complain about? Just do it!

  11. Intriguing theory.

    Sometimes complaining can help you dig deeper to find a way out of a pickle. Other times it can just dig you into a hole.

    Nice post.

  12. I just get so weary of people who complain ad nauseam without any thought as to what they might do to change things. But I think criticism or critical analysis is fundamental to progress, social or personal, and that’s not the same as complaining, as pain is not necessarily suffering. More important, do you think certain varieties of plums are better for canning than others?

  13. Someone once accused me of sugar-coating my life to present a certain image for the blog. She said that I was falsely luring others into desiring my lifestyle. Of course, I disagree… I’m just living my passion. I try not to complain too much, because it just ends up getting me down. And who needs that?

    This is the life I’ve chosen. At any time now, I can choose a different one. But I like this one, and it works for me. The end. 😉

  14. All: Thank you. I really was trying to express gratitude in this post; I have not a thing to complain about, and if I did, I should work harder to change it. I do realize how very fortunate I am, we are.

    Jimmy C-C: I fool myself all the time that I have my head screwed on straight. But thank you.

    Eva: I think you are dead-on. There’s supposed to be some guarantee in the exchange of money for goods. I bought this, I should be happy. What a vicious cycle!

    CC: Yes, I was trying to be good-natured; plums are a stroke of luck. Ohmygosh that recipe though! Must Try. If I can rescue any plums from the kid, that is. But downstairs, in the canning storage area? I have a whole new category of “meat spreads,” like that garlic jelly and now some chutney. Yummm.

    Thank you Angie. xxoo

    PlantingOaks: I am exactly like you, except usually I don’t give enough of a damn to dress someone down about it. Of course complaining has utility. But it’s what I said, the consequences of one’s action: this is the bed I have made, dammit, and I would be hard pressed to publically fault myself on the blog about it. Too much stupid navel-gazing: not my style!

    No, WF, husbands aren’t so bad! And yes I would get a lot more done around here if I had more than one… 😉

    Beach Bum: I like that. College is usually the place where you are first exposed to people in all their amazing colors and particularities. It took me a long time to realize some people just thrive on complaining about nothing, and love living life from crisis to crisis. Gives them purpose or something. I always thought, why the drama? Go study some more if you have that much time on your hands.

    Danni: Yeah, it’s about responsibility, as you well know. These critters and this kid and this man (and all the edibles) are under my care. No time for slacking! I guess and you probably can second me here the one thing I wish for is more time. And I guess that is what I am trying to tell people: I don’t watch tv, and any of my downtime is spent reading. So if you wonder how I can do it all, I would say that not having the idiot box on half the day is one clue!

    Laney: It’s one reason why ours is turned off. The kid likes her PBS in the morning before breakfast but that’s it. I do know what you mean though about Blogs A Bitchin’. Especially homesteading blogs, it would appear. Again, I just think I am fortunate to be able to have this place! Why whine?

    TechS: Yep. You got it. I suppose I could complain about my aching back but that’s because I was throwing the kid into the lake last night, over and over and over. But yes, I find that if I am whining about something, something needs some action by me. And I can’t do anything about the White House, so…

    Gigi: Just dig it? 😉

    Yeah, Marcy; I think constructive complaining is done face-to-face though with people that 1. give a damn about you and 2. can help you change things. I suppose shrinks have a purpose! These plums are wild plums, their skins are kind of thin. Santa Rosa plums are kind of similar though bigger. I think CC’s recipe sounds just divine! Butter! Positively a wonderful addition.

    Liz, it’s all your wonderful knitting by the fire that got people going. And hey you deal with black flies! How awful is that? But yes, it’s a choice, and aren’t we so very fortunate to have the opportunity to have choice. I too could leave here tomorrow, probably to retreat back to a city, but this place works great for me now!

  15. El, it seems like you have a great attitude! At Farm Aid, we all believe that it’s great when people make lifestyle choices like you have made. Individual choices in what we eat and how we live are what will ultimately help solve world food problems.

  16. Complaining, whilst not the most pleasurable of pursuits or activities, can be constructive if you do or can do something about it. Sometimes, even if you can’t, talking to someone about the issue can lighten your load. However, when the complaining turns into a ‘lifestyle choice’ like say whinging/ whining that definitely is….. oh so problematic!

  17. Whoops, sorry, didn’t mean to come across as dressing you down.

    You just made such a great argument I was moved to contribute. It’s our differences that make us interesting and all that yada yada. I really do agree with almost all of it, and love the idea of consciously living to your own ideals. A lot of people could make themselves a lot happier if they took the time to realize that.

    Oh, and the plum looks absolutely delish.

  18. Farm Aid: Thanks! I am trying to do what I can. I can only think what little I am doing is helping.

    Nada: Yeah, I think what kind of pushed me to write this is I’d been reading an awful lot of bitching out there in bloggoland, and then I got my friend’s email. I just kind of was scratching my head: didn’t these people choose to do what they’re doing? I am all fine with life being hard, as it can be on occasion. Change it, if it’s in your power.

    PlantingOaks: Yeah, I guess I didn’t really think you were. Confession, I had a bit of a migraine yesterday and was really crabby about everything. But personal experience confirms you are right, if you live closer to your ideals, you will be a lot happier. And then your reward will be tasty plums! As many as you want to eat!

  19. Oh come on….what would life be without some complaining 😉 This whole idea of “because you chose it” doesn’t mean you aren’t eligible for complaining. No offense but the idea that you shouldn’t complain because you’ve “got it so good” is a little utopic. Most people aren’t Pollyanna and I’d hate to live in a world where they are. Life is hard whether you’re living it exactly like you want to or not. I read this blog every day (and have for a long time) and I’ve never had the impression that you’re just a complainer. And if you want to bitch and moan on your own blog that’s your choice….to hell with anyone who says otherwise 😉

  20. “one quick way to make it rain is to have El hang out her laundry”

    PFFFT! Ha Ha! I had to laugh outloud at that. I thought I was the only one with this special talent :b

    Homesteading (or like you said, whatever you want to call it) is incredibly hard at times but with greater connection to our food, animal relations, and green world comes this deep ancient knowing and sense of peacefulness that is uncomparable.
    No complaints here either, I love my life and if you don’t love your life and chronically complain, I say get another one. Life’s too short to not live your dreams however they manifest!

    (trips off her own soapbox)

    Love your blog, great writing/insight.

    ~Shawna

  21. JKratz, you know, I had a girlfriend over Friday for dinner and all we did is kvetch and bitch about our lives. I think you are right, but it’s like I said, if I am going to bitch this is not the forum. I guess I am aiming for a certain tone here: not quite Pollyanna, not quite Cassandra, if you know what I mean!

    Shawna, I am so glad you stopped by. Last night was a low in the homesteading world for me: I was nearly put in by all the canning I *had* to do, being gone from the farm for a couple of days. Then I realized it was only because I had a huge headache that things weren’t really rolling the way they normally roll. I wouldn’t trade this existence for another: as Liz said, you can switch lives, but, well, this one suits me so well for now. It suits US so well for now. When I am ancient, maybe some other way will work, but I enjoy the work…headache nights excepted. I am sure you can relate! I hope to meet you one day in all this food focused madness. Here’s hoping your big weekend coming up is rain-free and fun! (Just get your food preservation done beforehand!)

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