THE ART OF COMPLAINING by Joelle Renstrom

September 2, 2013

Ever feel guilty complaining about your job because you’re fortunate simply to have one? The last time I felt lucky to have a job I hated, I became a poet of protest.

I moved to New York City on September 8, 2001 with aspirations to be a writer. I thought I’d snap up a job in publishing and grease my wheels to literary stardom.

This plan, of course, was deeply flawed.

Desperate for work after the hiring freezes that following 9/11, I finally found a job as a paralegal for a medical malpractice defense firm, where I had to punch out each time I used the bathroom. A year later, I landed a job as a marketing editor at an architecture and engineering firm. Over the course of my first year, I accrued up to 10 days of vacation. This job, however, required me to fly back from my family’s home in Michigan on Christmas night because I wasn’t allowed to take off work on December 26th.

After a while it seemed that no matter where I went, I was a dispensable cubicle-monkey. My only solace derived from the knowledge that I wasn’t alone in my suffering; none of my friends could believe we’d gotten degrees from good colleges for this. What had happened to doing what we loved? Or to employee respect? Or vacation time?

We resorted to civil disobedience. We established Drunk Thursdays, where everyone we knew got absolutely knackered from happy hour till closing to celebrate having almost made it through another week and to give the finger to the man by being totally useless on Friday.

It was around this time that I started a website called the Time Wasting Portal which provided links and suggestions to alleviate workplace ennui.

My friends and I spent a l lot of time emailing one another to complain about work and to report the latest unbelievable offenses our employers had committed. At some point, my undergraduate poetry training kicked in and I began complaining in haiku. Three of my friends, Elissa, Dave, and Chris, also took to this format, and the four of us wasted hour upon hour composing poetic grievances.

four years of college
to get degree. now i need
a lobotomy

work: like the circus
if there was a great big fire
and the clowns were dead

Descartes might have said
I work, therefore I am not
Were he here right now

work is just like birth
see light at end of tunnel?
by birth i meant death

enjoy next haiku
made from smashing my forehead
against the keyboard

vg ytgb vcx ujmhng g
gh 4rd vbh omkn szvf p[o vgfh
dxzex gv vmjb dfx hygcxd

work is like prison
one thing separates the two
prison food is free

money for nothing
no better pleasure than when
i poop on the clock

i will see martians
dry humping elvis before
i get a bonus

congratulations
on doing such a great job
your reward?  more work

things i shall not have
the ability to fly
a salary raise

a savings account?
please excuse my laughing fit
paycheck equals rent

Things better than work:
sand in my bed, cold showers,
celibacy, death.

please hold the line sir
while I pick my nose and flick
it over the wall

Why isn’t Ozzy my dad?
Jack and Kelly never work.
Dad, please bite a bat.

Umbrellas are great
Christmas bonuses, perfect
for getting shit on.

Tell us what you think
except if it’s bad you’ll be
packing by day’s end

A law firm partner
can screw associates and
sue for damages

Buffy flips burgers
at the Doublemeat Palace.
Think they would hire me?

Scrotum like raisin
You don’t need a weatherman
To know that this blows

There are a myriad of ways to give voice to your gripes. Haiku too short? Try a tanka or a sonnet. Perform an interpretive dance of your boss contradicting express directions given at the morning meeting. Creative complaining is a constructive way to lighten the drudgery of the daily grind.

Joelle teaches writing and science fiction at Boston University. She maintains a blog, www.couldthishappen.com, about the relationship between science and science fiction, for which she received a 2012 Somerville Arts Council Fellowship Grant and a 2013 Nonfiction Fellowship from the Writers’ Room of Boston and she writes for www.giantfreakinrobot.com Her work has appeared in Slate, Guernica, Carousel, Briarpatch, Sycamore Review, and others. Her collection of essays, Letters to Ray Bradbury, will be published by Aqueous Press in 2014.

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38 Responses to THE ART OF COMPLAINING by Joelle Renstrom

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