A few years ago I proposed a new ice cream to Ben and Jerry’s: Pity Party. It would be the richest, darkest chocolate ice cream imaginable, with veins of fudge and chunks of chocolate. I also proposed Pity Party Lite, which would be some kind of vanilla-and-caramel concoction, because if you don’t need chocolate, you’re just not feeling that sorry for yourself.
My friends, I need chocolate. I need a carton of Pity Party, and not a puny-ass pint, either. At a minimum, I need a quart. Do they make a half gallon? Maybe I can just have two quarts. (And my mother thought I’d never learn the difference between a quart and a half gallon. Throw chocolate into the mix, people, and I totally get math. If that train leaving the station at 9:07 traveling 45 miles per hour were carrying chocolate, I’d solve the hell out of word problems.)
I’m grateful that I’m healthy, that I have shelter and food, that I have friends, and that I have work that is meaningful to me. I’m grateful for my partner of nearly 20 years. After serious health threats in 2009 and 2010, I know how incredibly, unbelievably lucky I am. Some days, the realization literally leaves me breathless.
Yet I still want to complain. I’m tired. I’m tired of being agreeable. I’m tired of being at other people’s disposal, with my own schedule and goals back-burnered. Not back-burnered in a way that means I’m not working to reach those goals, because I am. Just back-burnered in a way that means that while my goals are the #1 priority in my creative life, my creative life isn’t a #1 priority for anyone but me. And, oh, yes. I’m tired of having sprained ankles. I’ve been hobbling around for two weeks, unable to indulge in the R and the E of the RICE remedy (rest, ice, compression, and elevation), but I have that C thing down pat. You can forget the I, unless it’s the icy cold goodness of a half gallon of Pity Party. I bet I can hold the carton between my ankles while I eat the contents.
Just once, I’d like to vent without feeling guilty. Without thinking of people who are gravely injured or ill or living on the street or terrified because they’re in an abusive relationship or don’t know where their next meal will come from or how they’ll take care of their children.
I want to whine without being reminded to have an attitude of gratitude, because I do, goddammit, almost all the time, even though that smug little rhyme, attitude of gratitude, makes me grit my teeth. I just want a little guilt-free bitch-and-moan session. Is that so much to ask?
Well, fuck, actually, yes. Yes, it is.
It’s a lot to ask when parents have lost children, children have lost parents, husbands have lost wives, and wives have lost husbands. It’s a lot to ask when people are in pain—physical, emotional, psychological pain. Deep, true pain. Not the discomfort of a couple of sprains.
That’s the second annoying thing about the attitude of gratitude (smug little rhyme being the first annoying thing). You can’t just bask in it and float around beaming like a ray of fucking sunshine all the time. Sometimes you have to work for it. You have to dig a little deeper to find it. Sometimes you have to write down your problems to realize how insignificant they are . . . and how inexplicably, astoundingly fortunate you are. And when you do, how can you feel anything except gratitude?
So hold that half gallon of Pity Party. It is no longer essential to my well being. I may think in passing of a modest scoop of Pity Party Lite, but you know what? I’m just not feeling that sorry for myself.