I grew up in a family where complaining was a form of social currency — perhaps the only one we had. On my mother’s side, the family was apt to complain about, oh, everything.”How are you today?” you might ask one of the New Mexico clan, and they might answer along the lines of, “Oh, you know. M’ankle’s been swole up and the goddamned mail’s been late every day for the past week, and of course you got your cousin (fill in the blank) who’s on meth and ’bout to have another baby, but what the hell can you do?” On my father’s side, the complaining was of a more global scale. “How are you?” you might ask, only to get something like this for a reply: “I’m okay, but can you believe what’s going on in (fill the blank with a third world country here)? The damn Yankee imperialists are at it again. So many civilians lost, it’s absolutely incredible.”
Needless to say, it has taken me many years of being miserable to realize that “COMPLAIN” is a lousy default setting for a human soul. While shared gripes might bond people, it tends to bond them in a sort of unhappy place, where they get lulled into thinking their shared suspicion and disappointment with the world protects them from it. When you grow up steeped in this stuff, the tendency to be negative, to see life as just plain hard, is almost hard-wired into you, and it has only been with a dedication to meditation and through consciously controlling my thoughts that I’ve begun to rewrite the sabotaging scripts I play in my head. As we think, so we live. If you complain constantly, or are otherwise negative, your life will reflect this.
Today, I caught myself slipping into complaint mode. “Ugh,” I thought, looking at my to-do list. “I have to rewrite a piece for Redbook by tomorrow. I have to get at least half a film script done by October 22. I have to start doing publicity emails and phone calls for the memoir out in January. I have to write a novelita e-book. I have to make dinner for my kid, and get him some new school clothes, and at some point I have to start cleaning the garage. I have to find time for my boyfriend in the middle of all this, and plan to be LA for a whole week right before Halloween. Lord, I never get a break from the stress!”
Then I stopped, realized how foolish I was being, and consciously re-framed everything I was thinking and feeling. Yes, I have to rewrite a piece for Redbook. But what a wonderful opportunity! How many years did I spend as an aspiring young writer just DREAMING of the day I could be asked to contribute an essay to a magazine like this? I realized there was a time when a call from a Redbook editor would have had me flying high for a week, dancing on air, bragging to my friends. How had something so marvelous become a chore? How had I become so sloppy in my thinking, so careless in policing the complaint gene, that I could forget to be grateful to God for bringing me to the place I’d prayed so long to go?
Same went for the script. For ten years I have been training and preparing to be a screenwriter, to write movies, and now I actually really, truly have the opportunity to do it. I’m working on three different movies, two of them with deals in place. How DARE I, under the circumstances, think of the work involved as anything less than a complete answered prayer and blessing? Re-frame. Re-frame. Remember.
The publicity for the memoir, yes, is difficult at times (especially for someone who has never been much good at sales) and seems like a distraction from what I really love to do, which is write, but how in the world could I be anything but overjoyed that Penguin’s boutique literary nonfiction house, Gotham Books, not only bought my first memoir (when many authors are pigeonholed into only one genre and never allowed to stretch) but paid nicely for it and has been incredibly supportive at every level! I was acting like an idiot, falling back into the complaining pattern that stopped me for many years from accomplishing much at all. Re-frame. Gratitude. What a blessing to have this book in development, soon to come out! A dream come true all by itself. What I’ve dreamed of since I was nine years old was here, and all I could do was bitch about it? Wow!
The e-book novelitas…same thing. My fans LOVE these books, and though it can be hard to write a 75 page novela each month, it is worth it to keep giving back to the loyal readers who have given so much to me — everything to me. I would not be a writer if not for my readers! What a joy to be able to make a living writing for these wonderful people! What a blessing. The e-books just paid my entire rent for this month. What on earth did I have to complain about? Absolutely nothing.
My son, my house, my boyfriend. How many moments had I spent in life wondering if I’d ever have ANY of them? I wanted a baby for years, and now he’s here, and 11 years old, and amazingly wonderful, and will only be with me at home for perhaps 7 more years. Appreciate it, I reminded myself. Even if you’re bone tired. It goes by fast, so fast. Cherish this, every little moment of it. Remember, this is what you asked for.
The key to happiness is not in getting what we want, I reminded myself. It’s in appreciating what we have. It’s in the way we think about life, and our place in it. It’s about perspective. It is all about cultivating an attitude of gratitude.
I have so much to be thankful for. I am a lucky, blessed, joyful woman, with a lot of wonderful work and beautiful relationships to keep me busy.
Thank you, God, for that.