Whining Is An Art

Ask one person, “How’s it going?” and with a smile and shrug the answer comes back, “Not bad, thanks. How was your weekend? Did you see the game?” Ask another person, “How’s it going?” and with hand on furrowed brow he or she settles in to deliver a litany of ailments and problems.

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I think most people are sincere when they ask after another’s well-being but it can be difficult to take the brunt of a hypochondriac’s whining. We murmur our sympathy, nod with understanding, offer encouragement… and, as the minutes pass, begin edging away. If we’re lucky, a spouse or good friend will catch our deer-in-the-headlights expression and wander over to help us escape. If we’re not lucky, the edging away results in the speaker reaching out to place a detaining hand on our arm. Whatever the gathering — a twenty-year high school reunion, our mother-in-law’s funeral, the neighbourhood barbecue or our company’s annual convention — it’s our luck to end up trapped by a monologue, the victim of a poorly timed inquiry.

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There’s an art to whining. Perhaps the first person asked was pasty-faced or wearing a neck brace, but he didn’t actually complain. There was the option of picking up on the nuance of that shrug and responding, “You don’t look okay. What happened?” or of avoiding intimate details by accepting the invitation to discuss the playoff game instead.

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Do I need to ask which person you’d prefer to find yourself sitting beside at your next writers’ conference?

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A non-medical version of hypochondria exists in our writing environment. Writers are quick to bemoan the hours of solitary writing, the agony of revisions, heaps of rejection letters, agent availability, the lengthy publication process, extensive marketing requirements and the lack of time for everything.

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We’re good at complaining and we love it when others commiserate with us, but wouldn’t our energy be better spent determining our needs, prioritizing our time commitments and getting on with our careers? I like Margaret Atwood’s response when she was asked what she thought writers needed most:

“You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this; you chose it, so don’t whine.” [Margaret Atwood]

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Hmmm… not a bad thing to remember next time somebody asks, “How’s it going?” Nobody is making you do this; you chose it, so don’t whine.

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What do you think? Am I being mean? Is it good once in a while to air out frustrations and share them with others?

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