A Different Kind of Fast

imagesA month or so ago I got together with a good friend for a long lunch, and after initial pleasantries she made a request: She informed me that she was on a complaining fast—eliminating (or at least trying to) all complaints for two weeks. She was more than a week through the fast when we met, and she suggested it was having a bit of an effect: More things were less annoying. Her request was that if she should slip into complaining, that I remind her about the fast.

We talked about it for awhile. Does it include internal complaining? She tries to, she said, but it’s hard. That’s the toughest one. You can muzzle your mouth maybe, but you can’t muzzle your mind.

I was intrigued. I wondered, how much do I complain? How difficult would it be to stop? I loved the idea. I wanted to start right away but decided I should wait until after the republican presidential debates (Oct.28) so I thought November 1 a good target start date.

But it had caught me up. I couldn’t wait. When I realized I was censoring my internal complaints at a late date in October, I realized I was already staring the fast. No complaining—most especially out loud, but internally as well. This includes complaints about self, friends, the weather, the house, the state of the catbox, and pretty much everything else.

It’s been nearly two weeks, and I plan to continue until November 15. I have found the fast to be very informative. I’ve learned that I complain primarily about two things: people who complain, and things driving-related (bad drivers, bad roads, detours, etc.).

I have found it quite a challenge to control my complaining while driving. It’s such a knee-jerk reaction for me, but I had no idea how much I did it (almost every time I drive, apparently). Even after I became aware, it’s been difficult to stop. However, it does seem to be improving. I don’t get annoyed quite as often. And I have started (occasionally) to respond in a positive rather than complaining manner. Example: A man was crossing in the middle of the block of a busy street. I usually find this extremely annoying, but instead of even a short fume, I smiled and waved at him. I think he was a mite surprised, but he recovered himself and smiled and waved back. I think we were both better off for the interaction.

The complaining about people complaining is a different kind of nut to crack. I’m not talking about a friend who needs to vent occasionally, or someone who complains about something in the course of a conversation. Rather, I’m talking about long-term intense and prolonged complaining, usually in the form of a monologue. I do not have a lot of this in my life, and it was much more common in my old work life than it is in my personal life.

But still it happens, an entire lunch spent listening to a complaint monologue. I didn’t realize how much this was getting to me until I started the fast. The resentment (i.e., my internal complaining about the complaining) is like a broken record in my head. I had no idea how obsessed I am with this specific scenario.

So yes, of course, clearly I need to do something about it, but as they say—awareness is the first step! I’ll continue the fast until the 15th, and perhaps by then I’ll have discovered even more.

It’s a fascinating and surprising journey. I did a little research online, and there’s quite a bit out there on complaining fasts. Many people fast for a month rather than two weeks. But I thought two weeks was a good imgresstart. I could see doing a month. Actually, I could see this as a way a life. It feels healthy—good for my mind, my spirit, and even my body. (Just in case you think I’m going off my rocker, I’m not taking about critical thinking and debate, disagreeing, or arguing. The best synonym I can think of is “whining” or perhaps “ranting.”)

Others extend their fast to the broader environment, avoiding people or situations where complaining is likely to occur. I am not so comfortable with dictating others’ behaviors, and if I had to avoid everyone I know who complains, well. . . .  I was going to say I would have to move to a nunnery but I dare say they are not likely complaint-free either! And while I am not the most social of persons, neither do I want to sequester myself from others to avoid the potential impact of second-hand complaints.

But I do like working to control my own complaining behavior. Already I am thinking of doing it again. And not some vague “sometime” again, but sometime soon.

January, I’m thinking.

October Reprise

October was about reading, presidential debates, repairing, and replacing. It was also a much more social month than is usual for me. But first, the books.

I read a lot in October—24 books. Half were fiction (and three of those were graphic novels, two of which were Buffy the Vampire Slayer). I read 5 poetry books which was nice after last month’s drought, and 7 works of nonfiction. The reading theme for October was scary/Halloween. Some sample titles:

  • Ghostwritten (David Mitchell)
  • Boo (Neil Smith)
  • Goest (Cole Swensen)
  • Night With Its Owl (Anne Love Woodhull)
  • Talking to the Dead (Helen Dunmore)
  • A Man Lay Dead (Ngaio Marsh)
  • The Boggart and the Monster (Susan Cooper)
  • Ghosts in the Garden (Beth Kephart)
  • Ghost World (Daniel Clowes)
  • Murderer’s Day (E.M. Schorb)

FC9781844673315The best book I read last month was The Food Wars, by Walden Bello. I learned so much about agriculture and world trade (scary things, depressing things and yes, some hopeful things)—too much to get into here. That will have to be a separate post. My other favorite book of the month was fiction, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin. I read this in one day. If you have a friend who loves books (I’m not just talking loves to read, but loves the books 9781616204518in and of themselves), hie thee to the nearest independent bookstore and purchase The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry for the next gift opportunity (a sunny day will do).

Also in bookworld, we attended the Twin Cities Book Festival at the state fairgrounds. This is always a fun event with lots of authors and speakers and books for sale. I got 6 poetry books for $3 (total, not apiece), which was amazing.

As for the repairs and replacements, we have a new computer (which I’m slowly getting used to) but still a less than perfect (am I becoming too impatient?) internet connection. Also, the dryer vent fell away from the wall/vent hole and I could no longer fix it with duct tape, so that was replaced. And then the sewer backed up (doing laundry, always more pleasant than other indicators) so we called Ron the Sewer Rat and that problem was resolved. Whew.

And such a social month. One of the highlights was my mom’s 95th birthday. We went out for a birthday lunch to her place of choice, thinking it would just be a few of us, and imagine how fun when all the grandchildren and great-grandchildren showed up. They found a table big enough for all of us and Mom just glowed.

Also in the social world were the presidential debates. We prevailed upon our TV-owning friend Kathleen, who kindly invited us over for the first Democratic and the second Republican debate. Go Bernie!

Plus visiting the apple orchards with my friend in Hastings, making more dishwasher soap with my neighbor (love it—cheap and works well!), a reception and lecture at the University of Minnesota, happy hour with some former coworkers, and sundry lunches and other engagements conspired to fill so many days, I see a couple notations of “blessed day alone” in my journal.

I also turned up the stove in October and did more cooking. Nice to be back in cooler weather where I actually want to turn on the oven. Mostly the basics: beef stew, Cuban beans, applesauce, chicken adobo, spaghetti. I want to make a soufflé. Maybe in November.

October is a lovely month in Minnesota. We had our first hard freeze so I picked all the tomatoes and took in some herbs for hopeful overwintering. Then it warmed up again, and I took advantage to immerse myself in reading on the front porch while I can. They are rare days now and to be savored.