Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Whiners

The tendency to whining and complaining may be taken as the surest sign symptom of little souls and inferior intellects. ~ Frances, Lord Jeffrey

One of my favorite Saturday Night Live skits, when I was in high school, was the duo of "Doug and Wendy Whiner". Played by Joe Piscopo and Robin Duke, this irritating, bedraggled and immensely harried couple were instant hits on the popular comedy show. They found fault with everything, with everyone, and with every situation. In the Whiner's trademark nasally, deeply depressing sighs, you just knew that the situation would go from bad to worse because it was happening to Doug and Wendy Whiner. And, you knew that you would hear about every excruciating nuance of why life was so dreadful. I found watching the Whiners hilarious. I believe that most of us knew someone exactly like this couple...those people who have the Eeyore syndrome of gloom and doom. One of the reasons why I believe this skit series was so successful was that most people could easily relate to characters having to *deal* with the Whiners, rather than the Whiners themselves. We usually see ourselves as well adjusted, coping properly and understanding social boundaries appropriately. Yet, when confronted with the real life Whiners, we all look for the quick escape route, even if it means telling a blatant lie just to scrape off the depressing tone and emotional drain.

Yet, how many times are we, ourselves, the Whiners? How often do we endlessly complain about every silly thing that crosses our minds? The statesman Bernard Baruch wrote "We can overcome anything if we don't bellyache." Constant whining is counterproductive to the problem solving process. It takes a great deal of emotional energy to continually dredge up all the reasons why a situation seems to be defeating us. The toll can even become physical; many studies have shown that those with ongoing, superficial defeatism are more likely to die when facing a serious illness. Those energies that are focused on the negative tend to draw negative situations to them. They appear to face more ongoing crises than people who look on the "bright side". There are some, like Doug and Wendy Whiner, who find every day dilemma's and scenarios to be beyond their control. There are others, however, who always seem to have a smile on their faces, no matter what the circumstances. One of the reasons I was drawn to Yoga was the positive nature of the Yoga practice. Unlike aerobics or competitive sports, Yoga brings with it an innate sense of well being. A simple Yoga meditation, that I often open my classes beginning is: "As I breathe in, I am at peace. As I breathe out, I smile." The very act of smiling can diminish worries, can help you relax, and finally, can actually open your mind to finding creative solutions to the dilemmas that nag us. I can't count the number of times I have stepped into the studio, having no idea what I was going to do about a concern. I found myself fretting, worrying, and venting to all who would listen. By the time my practice was complete, the answer came to me. This response might not have been easy to enact, but by releasing all that energy spent worrying and complaining, I was open to solving the problem at hand, rather than agitating myself further.

There is a fabulous Yiddish word for the kind of incessant, annoying and unrelenting whining that Doug and Wendy made a household name: Kvetching. To kvetch isn't just to vent about a complex and difficult life choice. To kvetch means to exasperate, brood, stew, yammer and anguish through the mundane. I, in fact, am more than a whiner by nature: I'm a kvetcher. Even with yoga, even with years of intellectual and compassionate thought, I'm still a kvetcher. I take life's curve balls personally. I take personally the driver who cuts in front of me in traffic. I internalize the thoughtless remark made by an acquaintance. Like the White Rabbit, in "Alice in Wonderland", I anguish over the very thought of being late. I run these situations over and over in my head, like a dreadful movie scene that I'm doomed to repeat, like Sisyphus. It's a constant war that I fight within myself: looking to the bright side. My nature, unlike those who possess a naturally sunny disposition is anything but. I choose to enact a positive outlook, even when I feel gloomy.

How does one do this? How do we take our glum and gloomy tirades and remove them from our lives? The first step is to just be quiet. There are certainly time we need to talk with our closest friends. But, we also need to ask ourselves if we are talking to ask their opinion, or if we are talking just to talk. Venting can help. But, venting can also turn into an extreme. We won't hear the wisdom our friends may share. We won't hear their ideas to solve a crisis. We will only hear the sound of our own voices. Unless we are also willing to listen, we shouldn't talk. We will be wasting our own energy, as well as wasting our friends'. As we just marinate on the problem that's bothering us,one of two things will happen: either we'll figure out that it really wasn't such a big deal to begin with, or we'll realize that we need to solve the issue using another tactic. There are times when just swallowing down the kvetching we desperately want to do is the best solution. There are other times we will need the advice and mentoring of a trusted companion. It will be far easier for our problem-solving team to understand us when we can speak with clarity, rationality and formulate what the actual central issue is. It will also aid in our own problem solving techniques if we can separate annoyance from legitimate dilemma. We need time and solitude to ruminate to sever these two different issues.

While this isn't an easy process, for those of us who are born Kvetchers, it can be done. As Tim Gunn would say, on the television show, "Project Runway": "Make it work, people." We need to quit grumbling and start performing. We need to cease complicating and begin deciphering. Sometimes we will "make it work" with ease. Other times, the answers will be far more difficult to puzzle out. There are even times when, upon unraveling an impasse or reflecting upon a slight, we willgather than we just need to let it go.

Therefore, I've set myself a goal: before remarking negatively on a predicament, I'm going to wait one day.After those 24 hours have passed, I may then ask a friend for help. I may have to bandage my mouth (or my keyboard) to keep me from kvetching needlessly. I may have to go for walks with my dogs, leave my cell phone behind or sequester myself away from all communication devices. I may even need Maxwell Smart's "Cone of Silence". But, I'm going to try.

If you should happen upon a red faced brunette yoga teacher, who is biting her lip, just smile. It may just be me.

Monday, November 2, 2009

To Kindle...or not to Kindle...that is the question...

If it keeps up, man will atrophy all his limbs but the push-button finger. ~Frank Lloyd Wright

In the past few months, the term "Kindle" has entered my vocabulary at a rate that I never could have predicted. My daughter's college preparatory boarding school in Massachusetts is the first in the country to adopt a Kindle library. This prompted national debate between old fashioned bibliophiles and forward thinking technology savvy that turned quite ugly. Those who felt this traditional, historical institution was betraying its mission were irate. Those who believed that we need to prepare the next generations' leaders for all forms of communication found these remarks ignorant and backward. The traditionalists likened the headmaster to instigating a Nazi book burning. The progressives hailed him as a genius on the cutting edge. As for myself, I listened to both sides and chose to wait and see how the Kindles played out in school.

During the parents' weekend recently, I had the opportunity to attend my daughter's classes with her. Her Honors Sophomore English class was actually selected to be the test class for the use of Kindles in place of books. I steeled myself to listen to opposing points of view within the classroom, from both parents and students alike. What happened surprised me: the use of the Kindle had almost nothing whatsoever to do with the class. The students did give a brief synopsis of their feelings on the technology for the benefit of their assembled families. Other than that, the teacher and children proceeded to discuss their books, their study groups and their impressions without regard to the Kindles. The children were articulate about their chosen works and engaging in the way they approached their subject matter. The Kindles themselves were the back story within this course. I couldn't see that the technology made the course easier or more difficult. In fact, it didn't seem to play much of a role other than the media attention. The class was run as one would expect a traditional English class to be run: a balance between the instructor's thought provoking questions and the students' well intentioned answers.

As I passionate Bibliophile, I must say that I have had my reservations about Kindles. I love the feel of holding a book in my hand. I love looking at the front and back covers, wondering how they will give the reader a glimpse into the story. I adore the feeling of putting my finger in between pages to hold my place, if I need to take a break. I feel giddy the first moment I open a new book, and I feel a little sad when I'm on the final page. There is a feeling of accomplishment, however, of holding the vast majority of the pages in my left hand, while my right hand feels increasingly lighter. The tactile sensation of book reading, and also of seeing the letters form patterns on the page, is comforting. I'm also a loyal library user. If I were to buy every book I read, I'd not only be deeply in debt, but drowning in books. Additionally, I love the community that going to the library offers; you can meet with other book lovers, discuss new titles and share common authors.

On the other hand, the thought of having hundreds of thousands of books, plus newspapers and other media, downloadable at my beck and call is deliciously tempting. When waiting in line to speak with the math teacher during Parent Teacher conferences, I spoke with the father of another student, who was perusing the NY Times on his own Kindle, during the down time between meetings. This gentleman happily showed me the features he was delighted about, and openly shared the drawbacks he hoped would be addressed in the next Kindle version. When I pack a bag to go on a trip, I generally bring 3 books, a newspaper and a couple of magazines. The space saving alone is incredibly appealing for travel. I also love the practicality; because I'm a voracious reader, I tend to get through books faster than I'd like....which will leave me with a literary vacuum if I don't have another book. With a Kindle, I could download my next wishlist item immediately. The instant gratification aspect of the Kindle is seductively intriguing. When I perused Amazon's site, I felt like Eve, as if the serpent assured me that I would not die by purchasing one.

It was with great happiness that I was asked to be one of the testers for my own library's pilot program using Kindles. I felt both honored and excited to get to try out all the features about which I'd been curious. The program at my local library loads 5 popular titles and those are simply what come with the Kindle. At this point in the testing process, there is no availability to choose what's on the unit. I received my Kindle, my quick start training and went home eager to begin the Kindle chapter in my life. What I discovered was that I'd already read four of the five given books. As I began to read the 5th, which wasn't necessarily one I'd have chosen myself, I did discover that I enjoyed being able to play around with the font size. Now that I'm in my 40's, being able to increase the font slightly made my reading much easier. That said, I was lost. I kept losing my place in the book, and seemed to scroll too quickly to find it again. While trying to return to my missing page, I somehow managed to delete the entire book. There was no way to get it back. It was, in short, a bust. It did make me realize that I do not need a Kindle, and for that, I'm grateful. I also realized that until a library system, perhaps as Netflix has developed for movies, exists the point in my needing a Kindle remains moot.

My daughter, on the other hand, is loving hers. She has no idea how I managed to remove a book or why I found it so difficult to navigate. She's also of the generation who can text faster than they can speak, and for whom portable technology is an integral part of life. As for me, I'm content to wait for the Advanced Idiot-proof version of the Kindle, complete with a built in GPS, Phone, MP3 Player, Massage Therapist and Personal Chef. Until then, I'll be the woman holding up the line at Security at the airport, with my two carry-ons of books and magazines. I'll also be the woman who can curl up with a good book without the worry of the power supply running out. I don't think that instant gratification will ever replace the Christmas morning feeling of having an inter-library loan book come in with my name on it. Somehow, it just feels more personal.