Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Curmudgeon or Sweetie-Pie? That is the question.

As we age, we face choices. Actually, we face choices every single day, every single moment. But the big one I’m focusing on right now is whether I’m going to age as a curmudgeon or as a sweetie-pie.

I’m not sure whether sweetie-pie is the right antonym for curmudgeon, but it’s all I have. Even doesn’t provide one, but there are lots of synonyms for curmudgeon: grouch, crank, sourpuss, grump, crab.

I’ve always thought I was tipping towards the curmudgeon side, mostly because I have Rules. Rules, as in:
  • Do not litter.

  • Your dog is supposed to be on a leash if he is not calmly at your side.

  • Do not contaminate the plastics recycling bins by throwing in unrecyclable, miscellaneous trash.

  • Cell phones should be off during public performances.
I have been known to enforce these Rules in public. Yes, we all discovered the heart of gold in A Man Called Ove, but I’m not sure the recipients of my Rule Awareness Lessons would speak to my heart of gold.

I fear it’s even worse than that. Recently, we had two couples over for dinner. As they were removing their shoes at the front door, some kind of issue arose. When Danny came up the stairs, he was griping about the rules in his house. “We even have a rule about synchronizing the light switches.”

What does that mean to synchronize the light switches? “It means that when one at the top of the stairs is up, you can’t turn off the light at the bottom of the stairs because then the light switch at the top is in the wrong position.”

“Oh,” I said. “That’s right. They have to match. Light on means switch up.”

The husbands looked at me. “When the light is off, the light is off. What difference does it make what position the switch is in?”

Oh, yes, this is one of those little glitches in the universe. I am married to a man who doesn’t care what position the switches are in. I run around to the back of the garage to make sure the switch there matches the switch in the front of the garage. Apparently, I am not alone. Women like me are married to men like them. The men call these things “rules.” Personally, I don’t make Tim synchronize the switches … but I do readjust them when I’m in the garage.

I was at a party. A person nearing retirement asked a retired person about the transition.

“I love it,” the retiree said. “I enjoy every day.”

“Well,” I offered, “there are a lot of ups and downs in the transition.”

“Not me,” said the first. “I love every day.”
I draw a lot of conclusions from this, many of them revolving around Barbara-as-grouch and my inevitable fate as a curmudgeon. If I were particularly generous, I might try some self-description of Barbara-as-careful-observer-of-reality, but “I love every day” will never pop out of my mouth.

Lately, however, I have been encountering individuals who take my perception of sweetie-pie to new heights. In my new job with OLÉ (Opportunities for Lifelong Education), I receive phone calls from mostly older individuals wanting to enroll, to register for classes, to sign up friends, etc. I return their calls.

“Thank you, thank you for returning my call. I really appreciate your calling me back.”

And that’s only the beginning. I am thanked for providing information, I am thanked for remembering their names, I am thanked for talking them through the computer process. I am encountering more overt kindness and gratitude than I would have imagined was possible in routine human interaction. Yes, this says even more about Barbara-the-grouch, but my eyes have been opened! I have encountered appreciation to such an overwhelming degree, it’s changing my personality.

Sweetie-pie-ness begets more sweetie-pie-ness. The glow of sweetness just reflects and magnifies. I find myself going the extra mile just because it’s so appreciated. I’m a newbie at this: I still have Rules. I’m still not good at initiating sweetie-pie-ness but only remember it when I encounter it. I have to remind myself that being a sweetie-pie is not the same as being a vacuous optimist. It means appreciating the human effort around us.

Is there such a thing as a sweet curmudgeon?


  1. Oh, Barbara. Don't let those happy-heads infect your true nature! Your vision of the world is correct and others are bat-shit crazy, that's all.

    Hey! If every one of your friends jumped off a cliff, would do it, too? Didn't your mother raise you better than that?

    Ove was fiction. Being a dedicated curmudgeon means you must roll with the affectation, have perseverance in resisting a smile. Your efforts to remain steadfastly miserable will make every day's gray fog of muttering worth the effort.

    Really. But about this retirement thing: people are being nice to you because they're so bereft of purpose they lay on sweetness only to get another phone call. Sad.

    Curmudgeons know the truth. You'll see. And that founder of OLE is one huge, niceness-creampuff of friendliness. How can you stand it?

    1. "Happy-heads" (I like it!) are pleasant to be around. I'm still not sure if it's the novelty or the incongruity, but I'll see.

  2. Okay, I'll admit it, my light switches have to be 'up' when on and 'down' when off. All over my house...

    1. And are there hangers in your closet that are meant for specific coats?

  3. There is now! You have created a new thing, you Sweet Curmudgeon! Sounds like a pastry to me. Have the local bakery whip some up. Something with a few chewy pieces in it, not too much sugar and lots of (sour) cream. I'll sacrifice my gallbladder for one in solidarity with all the switch plate monitors of the world. When I go into a room I perceive as empty, my hand slides down the wall and off go the lights--if the switches are up as they should be. Then someone in the room that I didn't see, back to me a chair, etc., yells, Turn the lights back on, or worse. I also might put a 'loose' pen in a drawer or your empty cup in the sink. I just bus the world one unstacked plate pile at a time. A little OCD perhaps. I try to control it because doing such things messes with other people's sense of their own field when they return and something is different.

    1. I really like that expression, "sense of their own field." I wonder if my sense is just exceedingly well-defined and ... extends to the whole world.

  4. Hi Barbara,
    wiki offers wiki: How To Become a Curmudgeon. So what you could in your spare time~ is create a How To Be a Sweet curmudgeon (new word?). Even better have your OLE students create their own living a curmudgeon life rules.

  5. How does one even discover that wikiHow has a way to Become a Curmudgeon?? They use the words "lovable curmudgeon." So far, OLE folks are overwhelming me with stories of all their Rules. Sweetie-pies with Rules....

  6. I think Miss Manners is a perfect example of a sweet curmudgeon. I always read her columns, don't always remember to follow her advice.

  7. How about light switches to push in to turn on and off, like the ones with dimmer switches?


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