Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Nobody Likes a Kvetch

It's a truism--nobody likes a kvetch. I had a friend, years ago, all she did was gripe about her difficult life. At first, I remained faithful, listened to her ad infinitum venting, mirrored her thoughts, sympathized, and on occasion, offered advice. But it was wearing. I realized I felt weary and down every time I left her. You can't really hide it when you feel like that, so I'd bring my blue fatigue home to my family and, well, it was contagious. Just affected everyone in sight.

I don't know how long it took for me to figure this out. I think it must have been about three years. So, for three long years, I coddled and nurtured this friend. I don't think she was clinically depressed, just seemed to have complete focus on the negative aspects of her life.

Was her life so bad? I really don't think so.

It may not be fair for me to second guess how hard her life felt to her, but when I realized how being with her made me feel, I decided it was time for me to take a hard look at the issues and get some perspective. I could only examine the details as she shared them with me, but her complaints did seem kind of garden variety to me. Weighing her issues against my own issues was the decisive factor in realizing that this friend's negativity was a heavy burden: unhealthy for me and my family. Besides, no matter what careful advice I offered, she always countered with why she couldn't possibly follow my counsel. I wanted to help her, but it didn't seem possible. Even just as a listening ear, I didn't seem to be able to offer much assistance, since the very next day, she felt just the same. At most, I might have been able to conclude that my listening may have kept her from feeling worse.

I didn't do anything cruel. I still cared about this woman. But I began to limit the amount of time I spent in her presence. The effect was immediate: I felt lighter, happier, and so did my family.

Now, I remember this friend whenever I'm laid low by circumstances and I make an effort to keep a cheerful countenance, no matter what. I do this by following my own, unfollowed advice to my friend, all those years ago. Instead of focusing on the painful, very real issues, I look for what I can do to change my situation into a brighter, happier one. I also make sure I milk every precious drop out of the goodness in my life.

Once you begin to look for happiness, you can find it everywhere. But you have to do the leg-work: you have to watch for those moments of joy.

Yesterday, I had a truly sucky day. My editor let the writing team know that our company is planning to employ outsourcing to get web content for half the price of what we've been receiving for the past two years. We had a choice: make a bid and accept twice as much work for half as much pay, or skidaddle. Let me add that I've been caring for a woman with dementia to round out my income and debts are mounting. My husband is urging me to take on more elder care, or to find work as a cashier, or clean houses. I've done this in the past. I know there's no shame in cleaning houses. But it FEELS shameful. It's nasty. It's exhausting. It's depressing.

And I do believe that I will succeed at my writing. I don't know why I feel this way, but I just do. I'm not yet ready to throw in the towel.

So, I attacked the issue with as much positivity as I could muster. I looked not at what I couldn't change, but what I might, with a bit of effort, be able to change. Here is what I did:

I worked on my profile at LinkedIn, and I searched for connections of connections with similar professional interests and made connection requests, copying and pasting the same message for pages and pages of search hits. An overwhelming number of these people accepted my request so that my list of contacts expanded 10 fold. I thought about which of my LinkedIn contacts might write me a reference, and nudged them until they followed through.

I wrote to a local writer's list, told my tale of woe, and asked for advice. As a result, advice from other writers has been coming into my inbox all morning. I also thought about what other contacts I have and how they might help me. A friend publishes a few children's books every year, so I sat down and typed up a children's story, edited my piece, and sent in a submission query.

I read about new job listings and applied for the one job that seemed suitable for me.

Then, I watched for happy moments.

I find that I have to attack unpleasantness on two levels. There is the practical level, as in the steps I took above, but there is the emotional comfort that arrives in small doses all day long, with no effort at all. You just have to be watching for them.

Last night, I invited my little boy into my bed so I could read to him before his bedtime. He didn't just accept my invitation, but looped his sweet pudgy arm around my own. It was so nice I held my breath for a moment.

But there are so many moments like these. I sit at my typewriter, typing away, dressed in my fuzziest, soft top, while outside the weather is blustery and gray. The house is filled with the smell of the good soup I have bubbling away on the stove, and it's pleasant to be home.

I know, too, that I have friends who care about me and loving children who like to spend time in my presence.

Yes, there is a lot of crap in my life. But what earthly good does it do me to dwell on the details? It's like being on a bus, stuck in traffic. You are late for your appointment, but there is absolutely nothing you can do about it, except call from your cellphone and explain your lateness. You're still going to be late. It's an act of God.

If you do your part, pray if you're a God-fearing person, or act, if you're a practical person (both in my case), then depression and worry are not productive emotions. Give them short shrift. Move on, act, pray, and find the joyful moments. You've got no choice. No one likes a kvetch.


  1. Hi, Varda.

    Shavua tov!

    I am one of the many people who responded to your LinkedIn request; I also belong to CIWI (though I have never posted there) and read your letter there. I wish you all the best in your current job search. You are certainly braver than I.

    You can check out my writing (in Hebrew; it is/was an experiment) at www.olimomrim.blogspot.com.

    Chava D. Goldman

  2. Shavua Tov, Chava,

    What a nice surprise to find your comment. I think you are infinitely braver than I to be writing in Hebrew. Best of luck to you!