There’s an old English expression that people used to say after a long session of what can only be called bitching and moaning. The weather – too cold, too hot, too wet. The children – neglectful, divorced, sleeping around, ungrateful. The traffic – I spent 20 minutes just going a mile and a half. The noise – you can’t even go for a sandwich without loud music bashing your ears. The garbage pickups – next thing you know they’ll cut us down to once a month. The litter. The government. Don’t even talk to me about prices. I remember when chicken was 59 cents a pound.
Then after the long litany of bellyaching they would say: “Oh well, mustn’t grumble.
So mustn’t grumble. No really we must not. Because if you think laugh lines look bad, try ill-tempered dissatisfaction.
Take a look at a Trump rally. Those people are pissed off. Boy oh boy, they are furious, fulminating. Now, just take a look at their faces – contorted with rage. See what I mean? Not a good look.
Grumbling may be different in scale from total crazy violent anger, but the effect is only in scale. As I walk down the street grumbling to myself, I look only a few steps away from being that crazy lady with the shopping cart filled with possessions, railing against the injustices of everyday life.
Undoubtedly, my mother would have found herself grumbling, at least inwardly, as she sat in the bus. It was England so she would be sitting in soggy shoes, wearing a hideous plastic rain-hat that clamped her just hairdresser-done head. Great crowds of kids would be piling in after school, pushing and shoving, dripping with rain, screaming to one another, overstuffed backpacks smacking her right and left. Not one of them having the manners to stand for an elderly woman.
And she’d have to have been bitching to herself. But out of sheer will power, she’d stop and force herself to find something nice to think about someone else on the bus. Maybe two.
And perhaps that might make her smile. Or at least she might smile at her valiant efforts. Never mind the reason, the effect would be the same - a much nicer look.
It can’t have been easy. Believe me, I’ve tried it and it is difficult. Perhaps my mother’s back was hurting. Or she was calculating how much that damn hour and a half at the beauty parlor had cost her only to be ruined as she walked out into a deluge.
But I think she had the right idea in trying not to grumble. It only makes things feel even worse.
Things have changed and nothing we can whine and moan about will bring it back.
Anyway, was the past really that great? Isn’t all our dissatisfaction and hankering after a dimly remembered past the result of memory loss?
This is what I need to think about if ever I’m tempted in that direction; I try to remember how things really were. Like being scared to move an inch from the phone hoping against hope that HE might call. And I remember Merry Widow corsets and girdles - those pieces of underwear that would not have looked out of place in a medieval torture chamber?
Or how about Sanitary Pads? Boy, those really were the good old days. Especially when they whipped to the side and you leaked out onto the seat of your pants. Then there was the pill. A boon, sure. But the early pill was a hormone rush that put 20 pounds on you.
And given all that, I certainly have not forgotten how some pimply underling guy assumed I was the secretary and told me to get the coffee.
When I was an advertising copywriter (this was after the Mad Man era, I hasten to add) I was going with the account director to drop off our client at Penn Station. We had half an hour to spare so we decided to stop into a bar. As we three walked in, suddenly the hubbub stopped. Silence. All eyes were on us. Well, actually on me. And all the patrons started snapping their fingers. Just snapping their fingers. It was a men’s only bar. And I, with my brassieres and menstrual cycle, had dared to cross the line from the jungle of the streets into the sanctity of male civilization. Oh yeah, those were the good old days for you.
So I find it hard to reject today. Even given the noise and the litter and the lousy garbage pickups. Because when I think back on the good old days, I realize that they really weren’t all that good.
And there is something wonderful about now. I think it is, to use that grossly overworked term, awesome that we hold in our pockets the computing power of what used to fill several rooms. Binge watching. Hey, it’s kind of fun. Driverless cars. Bring ‘em on. We aren’t very good drivers, and anyway we’re being distracted by all that computing power in our pockets.
I like listening to radio stations and podcasts from all around the world. And talking to Alexa. Silly? Sure. Every time a new device is announced I pour over the reports about it. Do I buy it? Not necessarily. But maybe I will.
And maybe it will make me smile.
TURNING POINTS from Crowd-Writing
a book by Shelley Katz