The Most Important Step Toward Creating the Life You Want
There are few things I enjoy more than complaining about my geographic isolation. I'm a vegetarian, so there's nowhere to go out for a nice dinner that doesn't involve a 50-mile drive. I'm black, so there's nowhere to get my hair done that doesn't involve another 50-mile drive. I'm single, and the dating options are, at times, rather grim. The closest major airport is two hours away.
I recite these complaints to my parents, my brothers, my friends. I complain on Twitter and on Facebook and in long, pathetic e-mails. I complain on Tumblr and in essays. It just feels so damn good to say, "I am mildly miserable! Behold my misery!" Alas, suffering offers more nobility than joy. And we all need attention, good or bad.
Sometimes it seems like complaints are the lingua franca among my friends. We all are dissatisfied with something. Back in Illinois, my friends complained about the train to Chicago and how it's never on time; my friends in bigger cities complain about the expensive rent and strange smells on the subway; my married friends complain about their partners; my single friends complain about the wretchedness of dating. I cannot even get into my friends with kids.
Complaining allows us to acknowledge the imperfect without having to take action—it lets us luxuriate in inertia. We all have grand ideas about what life would be like if only we had this, or did that, or lived there. Perhaps complaining helps bridge the vast yawn between these fantasy selves and reality.
There's also this: I really don't intend to change most of the things I complain about. Griping is seductive on those days when happiness requires too much energy.
But it also makes me lose sight of something—the fact that I was born and bred in Nebraska and have lived most of my life in one plains state or another. When I go to either of the coasts, I am struck by how foreign and glamorous and ultimately unappealing big-city living can be.
And while I may not love where I live, there are plenty of people who are proud to call this place home. Recently, at a party with some colleagues, I was going on and on about everything I couldn't stand about our town when I noticed that they were mostly silent and shifting uncomfortably. That humbling moment forced a shift in me.
Complaining may offer relief, but so does acceptance. There is no perfect place. There is no perfect life. There will always be something to moan about. By focusing on my grievances, I risk missing out on precious, startling moments of appreciation. Those times when, during a long drive home from the airport, I stare out at the prairie flatness, the breathtaking shades of green as tender buds of corn push their way through freshly tilled soil; at the wooden barns, their paint peeling and faded; and at all manner of farm equipment—massive, but there is poetry in how these behemoths rumble across the land. When I get home, I stand on my balcony and look up into the night sky and see all the stars. And I know that I have absolutely nothing to complain about.
Roxane Gay is the author of the essay collection Bad Feminist (Harper Perennial).