When I was in an acting class at university, I had to do a scene from the Chekhov play The Bear. The scene opens, at least as I remember it, with the man (me) yelling, “Oh I’m in such a rage! Such a rage I could grind the entire world to powder!” This line may have even opened the entire play, I couldn’t say. From the sly, subtle dialogue, I intuited the character was mad about something and tried to play it that way. “Oh I’m in such a rage,” I said. “Such a rage I could grind the entire world to powder.”
My instructor for the course, a bombastic woman, didn’t suffer fools and spluttered at me demonstratively. “You’re not in a rage! Nowhere close!” she said. So I thought back to my years of theatrical training, thought about nuance and subtext, objectives and beats, and said the same line, but louder this time. My professor would not have it. “I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but it’s NOT RAGE!” She got right up in my face, as she was wont to do, and said the line herself, but in a rage. “Do you see the difference? Can’t you feel that?” she asked me. But I didn’t, and I couldn’t.
I am not, generally, an angry guy. I’m a snarky guy, a bitchy guy, and a pissy guy, but not angry. At least I don’t think I am. But the problem with not being angry is that my go-to mode is frustration, which is just the same lump of coal wrapped in slightly different packaging. I can get stupidly, unreasonably frustrated and let it marinate in on itself for hours and days, instead of just expressing anger for a finite period of time, and letting it go.
Dream: Get my anger out, or put it to good use.
Goal: Achievable. I know it would be healthier to deal with anger rather than to let it fester and bitch and moan. And sometimes I can do that. Doc and I don’t have long grudge-holding resentment-fests. We bicker and get it done with. So why can’t I do that with my own issues?
Plan: Put all my anger out there, in an attempt to move through it. Here’s what I’m mad about right now:
The past two days have brought a confluence of events that have made me incredibly frustrated, to the point where I can’t stop bemoaning the injustice of it all. Yesterday, I packed my swim trunks, towel, and toiletry bag in my gym bag to go for a swim at my pool after work. Fortuitously, I happened to check the website for my pool during my workday, only to discover that the pool is closed and would remain so for the rest of the week. That was not the frustrating thing. I decided, instead, to check out the YMCA that is close to where I work. I hadn’t swam in a few days and didn’t want to skip the only exercise I enjoy, so I figured I’d cough up the drop in rate and just, you know, drop in. So I got there and found out the drop in rate is $14. $14! Am I drunk, or is that a really high price for one visit? I remember many childhood trips to the Y and can’t believe it would have cost anything comparable. But, as I said, I really wanted the swim and thought, “Well, maybe I’ll enjoy it so much that I’ll decide to become a member!” and so forked over the $14. This injustice is also not the frustrating thing.
I swam for a perfectly enjoyable hour or so, hyperextending my arms and legs whenever possible, like I was trying to take up enough space to warrant a $14 expenditure. I showered up, packed my stuff, and went home. This morning, when I went into my gym bag to retrieve my toiletries for a shower, I realized my toiletry bag was missing. This bag is one of those small travel bags that contained, in this instance, soap, shampoo, my swim goggles, and my membership card to my other pool (the one that is closed this week). That was the incredibly frustrating thing. I can’t believe I was so stupid as to leave it behind.
After work today, I went back to the Y and asked if anything had been turned in. The woman at the desk hadn’t received anything, but directed me to a lost and found bin that I rooted through three times. It had a few children’s winter boots, some scarves and mitts, a gross towel, and no toiletry bag. I am so frustrated, mad, angry, whatever you want to call it, because to me, that means somebody stole my fucking toiletry bag. Some asshole took something that didn’t belong to him, and now has my glistening hair and my chlorine free eyes! The soap and shampoo were luckily cheap stuff, as I know enough not to take my fancy hair stuff out of the house, so let’s value them at a conservative $6. I found out today that my pool membership card is $20 to replace. My goggles, which I splurged on, because cheaper varieties just don’t last very long, cost $25. Added up, my trip to the pool yesterday didn’t cost $14, it cost $65. I want to cry and punch the wall.
This situation was preventable on a dozen levels. I could have waited out the repairs on my original pool. I could have refused to pay the exorbitant $14 drop in fee at the Y. I could have packed up my fucking toiletry bag. $65 is a nice dinner out, a new dress shirt, or a balcony seat at the Fleetwood Mac concert. I know it’s stupid, but it’s hard not to look for some kind of cosmic punishment here. Maybe I was meant to leave the toiletry bag behind to learn… what? Don’t leave your stuff behind? I already know that!
It’s like these people who don’t believe in accidents; they think you knock your glass of milk over on purpose, or leave your toiletry bag behind because $65 is just burning a hole in your pocket. How do they justify their beliefs when they get into car crashes? Actually, I think I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating: I had a psychology professor who was just that way, didn’t believe in accidents, you do these things to yourself, etc. Anyway, he fell off the roof of his house and is now a paraplegic. He thinks he brought it on himself somehow! I read an article about him in the paper where he said, “I wonder why I did this to myself. I must be teaching myself something.” Must be nice to be so philosophical in the face of your own shitty circumstances, mad props to holding on to your stupid beliefs!
It’s all bullshit, really, this “articulate your anger” stuff. I read somewhere that “venting” your anger is actually terrible for you. It keeps you angry instead of alleviating it. I have Facebook friends whose wall posts look like a monument to complaining. “OH THIS IS A FUNNY LOOKING SPRING! GRRR!” “THANKS FOR GETTING MY ORDER WRONG STARBUBCKS GRRRR!” That’s not healthy. But neither is circling round and round the hard luck of losing a bag with some soap and goggles in it. People are out there in the world facing actual, real problems. There are people to whom the extravagances of gym memberships are absolutely out of reach. There are people with something to be mad about.
If I had that scene to do over again, ten years later, I’d have a bit more ammo to access my anger. A few more points of reference about marriages breaking up, or miscarriages, or cancer diagnoses. I could think about job loss, friendship dissolution, or alcoholism. I could think about the pitfalls I’ve been lucky to avoid, and the few crummy grown-up things I’ve had to endure. I might realize, just for an instant, how quickly all of it goes by. How I can’t take this life, any of it, for granted. How any time spent worrying over stupid shit is time wasted. I’d think about all the times I’ve succumbed to negative thoughts and fears instead of appreciating what I’m lucky enough to have. And I’d rage.