Sunday, May 31, 2015

In praise of grump

Today, I found myself speaking to an overly-cheery attendant at the shop full of overly-cheery attendants. She was the same overly-cheery attendant I found myself talking to some weeks ago about how much I liked to be grumpy, and as I found today, she seemed rather offended with my previous grumpiness. I'm still not sure why. Grumpiness, I find, is a perfectly acceptable position at my local Coles or Woolies - I scowl at the apathetic attendants and they sneer back at me, and we all get along swimmingly. It all seems to me rather suspicious when an overly-cheery attendant strikes up an overly-cheery pose and attempts to be friendly with their customer in an overly-cheery way. Why can't I be allowed to make my emotionless mechanical transaction in the inhuman system of economic rationalism with the downtrodden wage slave and be on my way, I ask?

Anyway, it was all very awkward and embarrassing. She asked me in a stilted and purse-lipped fashion about things, and I found myself having to engage in polite conversation and meaningless chit chat. Though I may like to scowl and growl and harrumph occasionally, I wouldn't actually want people to be offended by it. But then, most people generally are misguided about the whole being grumpy thing, and act as if they had to be happy around other people all the time, and as if they truly thought that acting happy was actually the best way to stay happy. It really is strange.

Because being grumpy really can be quite wonderful. For starters, you get labelled with elegant and felicitious expressions like 'cantankerous', or 'irascible', or 'choleric', or just plain old 'surly'. If you keep it up for long enough, you become a 'grumpy old man', which for grumpy women is especially impressive*. And then there is a rich range of facial and verbal expressions; not just a uniform downturning of the face, but a veritable diapason of scowls and growls and glowers and lours and leers and sneers and harrumphs and flounces. I like to try several of these every day just to keep my grumpiness well exercised.

A few days ago I happened to be reading an article on a website that talked about Important World Affairs in a solemn and sombre voice.  The argument the article took was this: things are bad. The conclusion it came to was this: things are going to get worse. The tone the article took was this: there's nothing we can do about it. Once I finished reading this article, I clicked around on the website and started reading some of the other articles: their argument, conclusion and tone were exactly the same. About this point, I realised I had been reading for quite a while, and I was really rather enjoying it all.  The sense of gloom and grim resignation was quite heartening, and the pithy summation of world affairs one drew from the website - things are bad, things are going to get worse, and there's nothing we can do about it - had a pellucid beauty to it all. On the whole, I think this aphorism sums up the whole of Conservative and right-wing politics. And the whole of Progressive and left-wing politics as well, though the left does seem rather more fond of shouting and rioting and smashing the occasional window. It really is a cheering way to look at the world, if you are sensible and honest enough to give yourself over to grumpiness once in a while.

Besides, who really has the energy to even attempt to be happy all the time? Who settled on the competitive smile as the only acceptable expression in polite society? Being happy seems to be almost as exhausting and self-defeating as having fun, and we all know how bad that is. Sometimes, being grumpy really is nicer.

All this I should have said to the overly-cheery attendant in the shop full of overly-cheery attendants, but of course I did not, settling instead for pleasant banter about nothing of consequence, before slouching off with my goods into the street and harrumphing discontentedly to myself.

It was raining, at least. I suppose that was something.

*Viewers of the ABC or BBC may recall, a few years back, the twin series Grumpy Old Men and Grumpy Old Women. The latter, especially, apparently had difficulties garnering suitable quantities of guests, since they all objected to being called 'Old'. This seems to me to be a superb example of grumpiness at its best, and sets an example we can all emulate. 

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Me person. Live in world. Like stuff. Need job. Need BRAINS! (DROOLS IN THE MANNER OF ZOMBIES) Ergggggh ...