I spent the bulk of 2017 trying to turn my anger into something else. I wrote letters to politicians. I signed petitions. I made phone calls. I meditated and yogaed. I made playlists littered with Rage Against the Machine. Conversely, I crafted “calm” playlists, songs that were supposed to turn down the burbling anger and bring it to a simmer.
I lost friends because I was mad.
“You used to be funny, but now you’re angry,” one man said in a message before he unfriended me on Facebook.
“Couldn’t you be less political?” said another friend who didn’t agree with my political beliefs.
“Everything is art. Everything is politics.” —Ai Weiwei
There was a lot to be furious about in 2017.
“I am fucking furious,” read an email that a friend forwarded to me, an email that had been forwarded by another friend, and so on. I’m not sure who the original writer was, but the message detailed several fury-inducing points about the 2016 election.
I agreed with every word. And then I wondered why we were whispering.
I also spent 2017 teaching my 3-year-old son about emotions.
One of my worst fears is that my boy will grow into someone who can’t communicate his feelings and lets it all fester inside. So we talk about respect for our feelings and how they are valid. Passion is good. Conviction is important. Anger is meaningful. Every emotion helps us grow and understand our relationship with the world and the people around us. Nothing positive comes from suppressing them.
It’s advice I haven’t been taking myself. For all my effort to cope with my fury, to channel my emotions onto a different path, what I didn’t do was allow my anger to be anger.
Toward the end of 2017, I read “Priestdaddy” by Patricia Lockwood, a memoir about growing up with a Catholic priest for a father.
“As long as I lived under his roof, I told myself that I had no temper, that I would never speak that knot of heat I felt so often in my throat, forced down into my ribcage, sent flowing into my fingertips. But I belong to myself now, and I can admit it,” she writes. “When I sit down at the desk, the anger radiates out of me in great bronze spikes, like holiness in the old paintings, and a sermon rises up in me as if it had been waiting for breath, and puts itself together bone to bone.”
She follows that up with this, a passage that leaves me breathless. I keep a photo of it on my phone now.
“I’m not interested in heaven unless my anger gets to go there too. I’m not interested in a happy eternity unless I get to spend an eternity on anger first. Let me speak for the meek and say that we don’t want the earth, if that’s where all the bodies are buried. If we are resurrected at the end of the world, I want us to assemble with a military click, I want us to come together as an army against what happened to us here. I want us to bring down the enemy of our suffering once and for all, and I want us to loot the pockets, and I want us to take baths in the blood.”
Yes. Oh god yes.
When I was an avid skydiver, I had a lot of conversations about fear with many of the other jumpers. A common thing I heard was, “When I stop being scared, I know it’s time to stop jumping.”
I feel that way now about those great bronze spikes of anger radiating out from me.
When I stop getting angry at injustice, when I stop feeling passionate about my beliefs, when I stop raging, that’s when I’ve stopped being human.
So I’m reclaiming this. Now. Today.
What do I want? I don’t want my anger to be negative anymore. I want it to be the driving force, the arrow that slices through all the noise and pierces my target, the thing that inspires me to get shit done.