“Depression is anger without enthusiasm.”
I have always envied people capable of real, honest anger. By “anger” I do not mean the persistent wormholes of bitterness that lead to a grim worldview and the auxiliary need to puncture balloons and rain on parades. What I admire is the capacity to look steadily into the eyes of anger, shake its hand, share a drink and a dance and bid it adieu while the band is still playing. I imagine that people capable of expressing anger have some skill or supernatural power that allows them to turn the initial burn into a bright blue flame, apply heat to the appropriate parties, and extinguish it before moving on to the next thing. My mother can do it, as can my brother, and my only child has clearly inherited the DNA that permits him to hurl a shoe and return almost immediately to his sunny set point. I envy them that.
Too much anger is a terrible thing; expressed or suppressed it is the foundation for abuse, depression, violence, ulcers and the kind of killing cynicism that paints all red doors a dull black. I have, only recently, had the experience of bumping my shopping cart accidentally into the cart of a fellow shopper. Looking up to smile and apologize, I was met with a roll of her terrible eyes and a gnashing of her terrible teeth. She “tched” in my general direction and muttered something to her companion about people needing to look where they were going. Something was eating her alive and imprinting a kind of lividity on every human contact.
My own tendency is to swallow the flame and try to maintain my composure as my tender innards are consumed. Like Whack-A-Mole, the swallowed fury pops up as headaches, depression, tears, tics, hives, and (on one memorable occasion) the perceived inability to swallow. Consciously, I believe that if my Chi is all balanced and I am Living Right, I will be able to rise above anything so destructive and petty as blazing fury and all that comes with it. I was also raised to have lovely manners, a proposition that makes no allowance for any expression of anger more discernible than the icy hauteur of “the cut direct.” In laymens’ terms, as far as the healthy expression of anger is concerned, I am screwed.
It can’t be bad to have some anger, though; in the same way that the heat from a burner warns that the hand should go no closer, anger is some kind of vestigial warning that something is wrong. If I were capable of sorting anger into tidy piles, “Justified” and “Get Over Yourself,” I might do better. If someone is threatening my child, cutting down my prized Lilac or treating me in some objectively cruel way, it seems reasonably healthy to feel the burn, dismiss it as a primal motivator, and take care of the presenting problem. If the offense is subtler, say, the failure to conform to my unspoken wishes or to read my mind correctly, it should properly be dismissed. It’s kind of a moot issue, though; whether jack-booted thugs were confiscating my library or I had to wait in line behind a coupon champion, I would be utterly incapable of speaking up.
The closest I can get to actual anger is to be spectacularly passive-aggressive. If there were Academy Awards for the strangled and distorted attempt to say everything while saying nothing, my shelves would be a glittering mass of golden statuary. “Go ahead, jack-booted thugs,” I might say, “Enjoy your destruction of my first edition of The Red Pony.” I believe, really and truly, that these muffled cries will send a message, smite wrongdoers, and do it all in pearls and cashmere. I swallow the scalding soup of rage, unwilling to part my lips to admit the cooling air that might offer some relief, and then I congratulate myself, still seething, on my discipline. I have also been known to drive around listening to my “Angry” mix, singing along to “Hollaback Girl,” “You Oughtta Know,” and “Fuck you.” That’ll teach them.
I don’t know if this is a curable issue, and if it is, whether the cure is found in a therapist’s office, a brisk walk, a prescription bottle, a Primal Scream retreat in some flaky California enclave, or a firmer resolve to follow the Buddhist principals that make of anger nothing more than a passing thing to be observed and released. Is some anger normal, and if so how much, and is so when, and how, and does it ever make anything clearer, stronger or better?
My tic and I are going to scream in the shower.