Monday, March 14, 2011

Complaint Filing Cabinet

After a non sequitur-punctuated chat I had with someone the other day, I got to thinking about my grad school days and, more specifically, a friend with whom I once did a road trip from the Midwest to the West. I like road trips. I do a bunch of them. America is great for road trips. I'll reiterate a cliché here and concur with the following: the best way to get to know someone is to travel with them. Yes, Mark Twain, you're right.

I tend to think about this particular grad school friend when Pedro Almodovar films are playing and, especially, when I'm told by others that I pay no attention to conversation when music is playing. I hear the latter with the same frequency, it seems, I listen to music. And it's definitely true.

Quite often, this particular friend tells me that I'm not as present as I could be and that there's always something else of more consequence that attracts my attention and gets in the way. Like music. Or other friends. Or the fact that it never seems to be enough and I always need to have a third option present. And I always say something akin to, 'well, aren't options good?' In an effort to explain further I add, 'it's a thing all who know me can easily identify and learn to accept with time. It's my chronic condition. You know, like asthma.'

More brands/versions of the same thing help you appreciate and get to the core of the thing better. I wish it were socially acceptable to give someone a resume-type document that highlights your propensities. Then, they'll know right away what you're mostly about and I won't have to write the same paragraph in here every time music and people are mentioned together in the same sentence.

-I pay attention most of the time unless music is playing. Then, you need to be okay taking a back seat. It's not personal. It's music.
-I like to say someone/something/somewhere a lot regardless of whether you know me for an hour or a decade. Let it go. It won't change. It's how I roll.

The same grad school friend, who's very introspective and intensely quiet, wrote to me a beautiful text, a few sentences in which say:

"Now that I've sent you two venting emails, I wonder what you're going to think. I don’t expect anything. I don't expect you to explain anything. You cannot relate to my loneliness because you are gifted with enormous charisma and an outgoing nature. But you can empathize with my feelings of isolation. It's just nice to be able to vent to someone who's not going to try to fix it for me."

This is how my brain processes things. Person A has a problem/issue. They come to me and tell me about it. My first reaction is to file it: shareable info as opposed to vault-able. Then, I try to understand the issue and provide ideas how to potentially fix it. It takes me back to a childhood memory again.
"Bri, you didn't pick me first at dodgeball. It hurt my feelings that you didn't. I mean, why wouldn't you? I'm your best friend."
I didn't pick him first because, while he was my best friend, he was not the best dodgeball-er. And I like winning.

However, the next time little Bri plays dodgeball, she makes a mental note and she picks her friend first. Why? Because he has a personal problem with not being picked first so it stands to reason that he be picked first the next time. It's called problem solving. Plus, I spent most of my days with him (propinquity effect) and I've never been one to want to be around grouchiness. I couldn't possibly watch cartoons with a grouch, could I?

I illustrate again. From adulthood:
"I am feeling so frustrated about my art work and how no gallery has called. And it's taken years to build the portfolio and still nothing. I keep taking all these photographs and I keep experimenting with all these media and still. Arrrggghhh! Why does this keep happening to me, why can't I catch a break, why....."
Ok, I hear language like this and I unequivocally think and then say something akin to:
"It's ok. Rejection happens. Use it to your advantage. Look harder. Let's see here. How about trying places a, b, and, b. I'll take time off, we can work on a strategy together. Let's line something up for this or that day, ok? If you do this and I do that, I'm sure we'll get more results. How does that sound?"
"But I feel like this, this, and that."

I have a hard time with the rest of a conversation like this. Because I don't get it. I get the need to verbalize frustration but it stands to reason that solutions are bound to follow, right? Why vent without a solution in mind?

I had a similar conversation with a few friends of mine this week independently of one another. One of them was sick when we were road tripping together North to South and I remember getting irked at them for not going along without complaining. I mean, what could I do? I went to the store and bought some Advil and OJ. They got some rest. It's not cancer. It's just a casual little cold.

But all the friend wanted to do was vent and feel heard. I don't get that but I get that it happens and I struggle with it. Because I can't relate to it. I feel this and that. It irritates me because it doesn't beg for solutions and answers.

Complaining should be done with purpose otherwise it's a waste of time.
A favorite phrase says: "we'll cross that bridge when we come to it." That's the beauty of struggles and crises. They teach you how to cope with reality and how to find practical solutions for problems. We all have them. Problems. Some of us solve them faster and with less language than others, however.

Having a hard time at times in life can be such a beautifully instructing opportunity. Doing life the same way day in, day out, doesn't give one much of a chance to stretch, does it? You've got to mix it up. Isn't this all a struggle to dodge boredom, after all?


Sra said...

-- Maybe you should consider making some business cards with your list of social propensities typed out neatly. Streamline the explanations ;)

-- I find your problem solving characteristic very interesting. I once read the book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus in hopes that it might help me understand my boyfriend better so we could stop arguing as much (and it did help quite a bit, incidentally). Warning, gender stereotypes follow.

The main gist of the book is that men are fixers communicatively, while women are commiserators. If someone comes to a man with a problem, men assume they want a solution and offer one. Men also don't tend to share their gripes with friends/lovers unless they want a solution themselves. Women, on the other hand, share because they want to get stuff off their chest, have a listening ear, and have their feelings validated. All that women want is for someone to say, I understand why you feel that way. In fact, women tend to get frustrated when people try to fix our problems. See, the thing is, we usually know what needs to be done to fix something -- we don't really need a fixer -- we just want someone to understand why we are upset about something. We want to know we aren't crazy for letting something get to us.

The book also points out that these stereotypes are just that, and that women can follow the male model and vice versa.

Once I had that insight into how men and women tend to communicate differently, the misunderstandings I used to have with my boyfriend dried up, and we both try to be more sensitive to what the other is trying to achieve.

I think it's interesting.

Unknown said...

I'm not going to make a gender comment because I know you'll go, 'ha, lecturing ME on gender, Nicks?!'
I think some people are programmed to solve and others to feel their solutions.
It's right brain/left brain thing, at he end of the day.
Also, I know for a fact that gregarious inclinations don't necessarily preclude introspection. Quite often, they inform it well.