135: In Praise of Complaining

135: In Praise of Complaining

Today on our show we share a story by Cheryl E. Klein, author of the soon to be released memoir Crybaby. Cheryl takes an unusual subject, complaining, and makes a case for it. She even goes so far as to say complaining is noble. Her wit and humor make this episode another must listen!!


We discuss her voice and commitment to what some people, most people, probably think is an obnoxious quality. Cheryl also uses dialogue really well.

You can find Cheryl on Twitter @CherylEKleinLA and Instagram @CherylEKleinStories. Her story, In Praise of Complaining, was previously published in Mutha Magazine.

If you like this episode, please share it with one person. That’s how love is shared.

Writing Class Radio is produced by Allison Langer, Andrea Askowitz and by Matt Cundill, Evan Surminski and Aidan Glassey at the Sound Off Media Company. Theme music by Justina Shandler.

There’s more writing class on our website including essays to study, editing resources, video classes, writing retreats, and live online classes. Join our writing community by following us on Patreon

For $25/month you can join our First Draft weekly writers group. (Tuesdays 12-1 ET and/or Wednesdays 6-7pm ET) Write to a prompt and share what you wrote. For $125/mth, you’ll get 1st draft and 2nd Draft. Each week three people bring a second draft for feedback and brainstorming. Join the community that comes together for instruction, an excuse to write, and most importantly, the support from other writers. To learn more, go to www.Patreon.com/writingclassradio.

A new episode will drop every other Wednesday.

There’s no better way to understand ourselves and each other, than by writing and sharing our stories. Everyone has a story. What’s yours?

Transcript

Allison (Host) 00:00:00
I'm Allison Langer

Andrea (Host) 00:00:11
I'm Andrea Askowitz and this is writing class radio. You'll hear true personal, personal stories and learn how to write your own stories. Together, we produce this podcast, which is equal parts heart and art. By heart, we mean the truth in a story. By art, we mean the craft of writing. No matter what's going on in our lives, writing classes where we tell the truth, it's where we work out our shit. There's no place in the world like Writing Class, and we want to bring you in.

Allison (Host) 00:00:42
Today's episode is about saying the opposite of what might be expected. We share a story by Cheryl Klein where she takes the opposite approach to how most people view complaining. I thought it was really funny when I saw it. You sent it to me, and I was like, oh, my God, this is so funny, because I've been trying so hard not to complain and have a good attitude about everything, but, man, it's so much fun just to have a shit storm of complaining. Like a complaining session, and you're with somebody complaining, and it just feels good. Although when I leave, I never feel that great.

Andrea (Host) 00:01:17
I'm actually a complaint advocate, which maybe we'll talk about after we hear Cheryl's story, which might be why I loved the story. Yeah, that's funny. It probably is.

Allison (Host) 00:01:28
Back with Cheryl's story after the break.

Andrea (Host) 00:01:31
We're back. This is Andrea Ashworth and you're listening to Writing Class Radio. Up next is Cheryl Klein reading her story in praise of complaining? Cheryl Klein is the author of Crybaby, which is coming out in September. It's a memoir about wanting a baby and getting cancer instead. She also wrote a story collection, The Commuters, and a novel, Lilac Minds shit, she's done a lot.

Allison (Host) 00:01:57
Damn.

Andrea (Host) 00:01:58
I know. We're impressed. Cheryl's a senior editor and columnist at Mother magazine I love Mother magazine me too. Where she often writes about adoption, fear, and her hatred of Legos. I don't know why it's funny.

Allison (Host) 00:02:12
Yeah, well, when you step on them enough times, you hate them.

Andrea (Host) 00:02:16
Her stories have appeared in Entropy, the Normal School, Blunder Bus and several anthologies. She also works for a nonprofit youth writing organization in Los Angeles. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and we'll put her tags in the show notes. Up next, Cheryl Klein in praise of complaining.

Cheryl (Reader) 00:02:48
I'm generally not one to complain, began a post in the local mom's group, but this morning I'm kind of done. She went on to describe the elaborate Halloween costume she'd made her ten year old daughter, only to witness her daughter erupt in tears when her makeup didn't turn out right in the comments, moms. Commiserated and sent virtual hugs. And I wrote, I generally am one to complain. I find it helps a lot. Fetch means to complain or to whine in Yiddish. I'm only a quarter Jewish, but my face and hair don't know this. I look so Jewish that when I was in college, rabbis used to stop me on campus and invite me to shove us dinners, and I can fetch with the best of them. In March of 2020, my wife and I started working from home while caring for our kindergartener dash. During those months, my dad struggled to recover from surgery. Our country splintered over the question of whether police should be allowed to kill black people. The sky turned a strange, opaque white as fires ripped through California. My aunt died suddenly, and my partner's mom had a stroke. These years gave me plenty to complain about, even as they revealed just how privileged I was. I didn't lose my job. No one I was close to died of covet. We had a good place to live. And even when I felt like my head would explode the next time a child said they didn't like sprinkle cheese, I e grated cheese, which will melt once I bake the fucking pizza. I could always order the preferred cheese online, and it would show up on my porch in a few hours. Fetching for me, walks a bridge between injustice and privilege, good luck and bad. It allows me to make fun of myself while acknowledging bad shit that happens in the world. Complaining can be noble too. Four years of protesting, organizing, and advocating helped take down trump. From slave uprisings to allegorical nursery rhymes, history is written by complainers. What do you do when there's no immediate antidote to your troubles? You complain. Or at least I do. We spent our first pandemic Thanksgiving on my dad's patio in a beach town suburb of La, where the November wind stabbed icy fingers through our subpar California jackets. With a yellow plastic excavator, dash dug holes between wind whipped flowers. I have to go potty, my son announced. I want to go potty with you. I think you can do this on your own, I said. You know where the bathroom is. Okay. I'm going by myself. He reappeared. I have to go potty. I thought you just went. I did. 

Cheryl (Reader) 00:05:26
I went pee. Now I want to go poop with you. I looked at my dad and said, all day, all day my dad listened to me complain. It's not that I don't like being a parent. It's just that there's nothing on this earth I want to do for 16 hours a day. My complaining is frequently. It's just that variety. I like parenting. It's just that I want to do other things too. I love my partner. It's just that she can't cook pasta without using ten pans. I like my boss. It's just that she always has so many ideas, and a lot of them involve more work for me. When I complain, my partner grumbles that I'm playing the victim, taking life's inevitable bumps as grand injustices. I say I complain because I set the bar high and I need the world to know why I'm not soaring over that bar. For example, when I'm trying to work and the smoke alarm goes off, and then Dash insists on sitting next to me and playing a math game on my phone. Or when the space in my brain that could have been occupied by great novels plays the Peppa Pig theme song on repeat. By complaining, I'm doing a kind of biopsy of the situation which allows me to see what pieces might need to shift in order for me to push toward my elusive goals or even happiness. My dad's Jewish father died when my dad was still learning to walk. He was raised by his British mother with help from her parents, who believe children shouldn't talk too much. My dad talked anyway and got sent to his room a lot, which he's still complaining about now. At 77, he's stiff from his spinal surgery. As the wind cooled our mugs of tea, he pulled on a thick flannel shirt and fumbled with the buttons. My left hand still has so much neuropathy, and I can't bend my neck far enough to see what I'm doing, he said. But it beats being dead. We are a family of people who are compelled to punctuate our complaints with a reiteration that things are fine, which they are and aren't, and are. Complaining about the big and small things is a way of saying I'm alive, but things could be better, and maybe someday they will be. In the meantime, please bear witness to the buffet of snack foods grounded to my couch. When I said about cleaning up cheese at Crumbs, dash complained I was blocking the TV. I can't see Peppa. Mommy. You're so rude. He's got complaints of his own. He's got a mom who cleans up his very important Lego projects, who refuses to run after the ice cream truck every time it goes by. He has parents who ignore him so they can work, then complain about all the work they have to do. He has often served the wrong kind of cheese. He'll tell you all about it. He learned from the best. As long as he keeps complaining, I feel confident my son is working toward his elusive goals or even happiness.

Andrea (Host) 00:08:27
This woman has such a beautiful voice, didn't you think?

Allison (Host) 00:08:32
Yeah, I thought it was very clear.

Andrea (Host) 00:08:34
I just thought it was really beautiful. But also, before I even heard it, I really liked her voice.

Allison (Host) 00:08:40
I loved her voice on the page. And we talked about that last night in our second job class voice.

Andrea (Host) 00:08:47
Oh, yeah. Okay.

Allison (Host) 00:08:49
Because I decided every class I was going to have a tip. And so the tip was right, like, you speak. And I don't know, it just came to my head. That was the first one I could think of. But then, coincidentally, Bruce was up, so it was fun to have that voice come in. But it was so funny you have.

Andrea (Host) 00:09:04
To tell the audience that Bruce is.

Allison (Host) 00:09:07
A scientist, a total science nerd. And it was like, at one point in the story, I was like, I can no longer follow this. He needs to dumb it down for me. It's way too smart. And I was just like, It was great.

Andrea (Host) 00:09:22
So write like you speak unless we can't understand it. Yeah.

Allison (Host) 00:09:25
No, but in this situation, this voice, like, her funniness and her little comments, it's just that I just thought that was so cool. And then she gives us the examples, and how many times have we said that?

Andrea (Host) 00:09:38
It's just that my wife can't cook pasta without using ten pants. Yeah.

Allison (Host) 00:09:44
And that her face and hair don't know this. What we're talking about? That she's not Jewish or she doesn't look Jewish or what was it?

Andrea (Host) 00:09:50
Yeah. That she's only a quarter Jewish, but her face and hair don't know this. So funny.

Allison (Host) 00:09:55
There's so many ways to have said that in her way, was amazing. So I just loved her from the top. I was following along, like, you get lambasted if you even hint to the fact that your kid is bugging you half the time or that parenthood is not for you. But I was like, yeah, I'm fucking hate it too. I was on her side 100%.

Andrea (Host) 00:10:16
It's just that there's nothing I want to do for 16 hours straight only. Yeah. Her voice I mean, I was totally on her side. Me too, for sure. Yeah.

Allison (Host) 00:10:29
100%.

Andrea (Host) 00:10:29
So I'm a complaint advocate, but you try not to complain, and both of us were on her side. Yeah. One of the things I love about it, beyond her voice, is how she committed to this very unpopular opinion, which I think is an unpopular opinion for the most part. Right. So I was thinking a great prompt is write about an opinion you share with no one. That is good, right? Yeah, that's good.

Allison (Host) 00:10:52
Right? Or you think you share it with no one.

Andrea (Host) 00:10:55
Exactly. Never know who your friends are. Okay. She commits to this unpopular opinion and even calls it noble at one point. Like that part where she says she takes it bigger. So it's not just her complaining, but she's part of this noble history of complainers who took down Trump. And from slave uprisings to allegorical nursery rhymes, history is written by complainers. I just got to a really interesting spin, and I buy it. Yeah. I loved the commitment to this unpopular opinion dialogue. That was something I wanted to note, too, this dialogue with her son. We talk about dialogue in class all the time, and dialogue is so hard because dialogue matters. What it does for me is whenever I see a dialogue happen, I know that it means something really important is happening. Otherwise, get rid of it. But in this case, we really do see the sun in his son essence. I have to go potty. I want to go potty with you. Now, he might have said a million other things, but this narrator condensed it down to just what matters. I think you can do this on your own. I said, you know where the bathroom is. Then he goes then he comes back. I thought you just went I did. I went pee. Now I want to go poop with you. That's so good. And then the narrator turns to her dad. All day. All day.

Allison (Host) 00:12:30
Clever, clever, clever.

Andrea (Host) 00:12:32
So succinct. Yeah, perfect. Every single person in my class, I'm going to have them listen to this episode because this dialogue is sharp. Yeah, perfect. Well done. Did we talk about the details?

Allison (Host) 00:12:46
Which ones are you talking about?

Andrea (Host) 00:12:48
Well, just, like, her specific details. At the end, I really heard where she's trying to clean, and then she says, when I said about cleaning up cheesecake crumbs, I just love that, because that's a thing that happens with kids, like that specific cheese crumbs that get in the couch. I thought it was a great detail.

Allison (Host) 00:13:11
Well, she even said it about her dad. Now, at 77, he stiffed from his spinal surgery. As the wind cooled our mugs of tea, he pulled on a thick flannel shirt and fumbled with the buttons. So my left hand still has so much neuropathy. So she really shows us which surgery she's drinking tea. He's wearing a flannel shirt. The buttons. I mean, it's just so much is said in one little sentence, in each sentence, and that's so important.

Andrea (Host) 00:13:41
Yeah, it's very cinematic. And we trust her because she's telling us specifically exactly what happened to her dad. And then he has the same kind of complaining style. Well, Pete's being dead yeah, can't button. But Pete's being dead. It's bad. It's bad. It's not bad, but it is bad.

Allison (Host) 00:14:02
She's amazing. I really loved it.

Andrea (Host) 00:14:04
There's one other thing that I super love about this narrator in general, and I know this narrator's work, and I'll tell you in a second why, but she knows herself. Like, she calls herself out. Wait, where's that part where her partner oh, when I complain, my partner grumbles that I'm playing the victim, taking life's inevitable bumps as grand injustices. So she's not afraid of showing her ugly side, but then she defends herself. But I do it because I set this high bar, and I need the world to know why I'm not soaring over that bar. Like, why she's not who she wants to be. And then she gives us examples, very specific examples.

Allison (Host) 00:14:49
And I loved at the end how she says complaining about the big and small things is a way of saying I'm alive, but things could be better, and maybe someday they will. In the meantime, please bear witness to the buffet of snack foods ground into my couch. So I loved it because she's not belittling big problems. She knows this is small, and she's fortunate and lucky. But she says but it for me. It feels bad sometimes, and I just want to talk about it. Yeah, that's what I mean.

Andrea (Host) 00:15:17
That's her knowing herself. Great. That's so good. Okay, I have an announcement that I want to make for Cheryl Klein. She has a memoir coming out September 2022. It's called Crybaby.

Allison (Host) 00:15:30
We said that at the beginning.

Andrea (Host) 00:15:31
I'm saying it again. This is a public service announcement for Cheryl Klein. Hey, bear with me 1 second. Her book is crybaby infertility illness and other things that were not the end of the world. Is that a great title? Yes.

Allison (Host) 00:15:46
It sounds like my life. I can't wait to read it.

Andrea (Host) 00:15:49
Okay. I love this book. And first of all, I have to tell you that I know this book because her publisher, Brown Paper Press, asked me to blurb the book. Apparently, there's only a few queer few people in the queer pregnancy genre, so.

Allison (Host) 00:16:07
I was asked oh, my God, that's so funny.

Andrea (Host) 00:16:10
You didn't know that?

Allison (Host) 00:16:11
No.

Andrea (Host) 00:16:12
Yeah. So her publisher asked me to blur the book. So I read the book, and I learned so much about she adopted Dash, and I learned so much about what the adoptive mom goes through. It's so hard. I never knew that side of the story. And this story, it's compelling, it's funny, it's knowing. And you learn a shit ton about what someone goes through adopting a child. So I hugely recommend it. And it's coming out September 20, but you can preorder it now anywhere. You preorder your books, like at your local indie. That's why I had to make that announcement.

Allison (Host) 00:16:55
That's beautiful.

Cheryl (Reader) 00:16:59
Here's a new beginning.

Allison (Host) 00:17:01
Thank you so much for listening. And thank you, Cheryl Klein, for sharing your story with us. I know your book is going to be a huge success. 100% huge. Huge writing class. Radio is produced by Allison Langer that's me. Andrea Ashworth and by Matt Cundill, Evan Surminski and Aidan Glassey at the the Soundoff Media Company. Theme music is by Justina Shandler There's more writing class on our website, writingclassradio.com, including essays to study, editing resources, video classes, writing retreats, and live online classes. Join our writing community by following us on Patreon. For $25 a month, you can join our first draft weekly writers group. You have the option to join Tuesdays, twelve to one Eastern, or Wednesdays, six to 07:00 P.m. Eastern. You'll write to a prompt and share what you wrote. If you're looking to take your writing to the next level for $125 a month, you'll get first draft and second.

Andrea (Host) 00:17:58
Draft in second draft.

Allison (Host) 00:18:00
Each week, three people bring a second draft for feedback, and it's an awesome way to get published, get your stories out into the world and get some good feedback. So join the community that comes together for instruction, an excuse to write, and most importantly, the support from other writers. To learn more, go to patreon.com. Writingclassradio a new episode will drop every other Wednesday. There is no better way to understand ourselves and each other than by writing and sharing in our stories. Everyone has a story. What's yours?