Last night, I was hanging out with a group of drunks and addicts who are trying to stay sober. The topic was anger. Anger. Shit. An emotion that I'm intimately familiar with, but am only now learning to deal with. Anger, which for me, is perhaps the most complicated emotion I deal with. Anger and I have a history; I bear its scars, most of them internal, unseen by the outside world, but the contours of which I can trace like a map. Anger and grief, anger and self-hurting, anger and addiction.
Why am I telling you this? Because so much of my politics is my attempt to channel the anger, to calm the rage, to make a difference so that the anger I feel does not win. And I struggle with my anger, especially now, when I see what we're up against. I have spent my life wanting to react with the grace of Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. But I'm a mother, and more and more, I find myself reacting to the bullshit with the rage of Medusa. If I could, I'd turn them to stone. Not because I want to hurt them. But because I don't want them to hurt anyone I love ever again.
I started to write out a list of things that make me angry. And I realized that that list would comprise thousands of words. I suspect that many of us are angry about similar things. That there is injustice, and that our government, hell-bent on pursuing the worst of agendae, ignores those of us who want a truly kinder and gentler culture.
I'm a woman. Perhaps it's my gender, perhaps it's the family I grew up in, but anger is the scariest of emotions. I grew up in a situation where expressing anger was the fastest way to provoke someone else's anger; in that environment, those who were bigger hurt those who were smaller. After a while, I learned that anger was a dangerous thing. I turned that anger inward. Rendered powerless, I used my anger to beat the shit out of myself. Eating disorder. Ulcer. Substance abuse.
Only recently have I learned that anger is not my enemy. Anger takes two faces with me, and in learning to intepret which anger I'm dealing with is helping me to become a better political activist.
Anger sometimes makes me flail. I hate flailing. It's like being caught in a current; sometimes, the answer is not to fight, it is to let the water carry you where you need to go. My anger is like that sometimes. If I flail against it, I drown. If I let it carry me, sometimes I come to shore in a new place with a new perspective.
I've learned to ask my anger a question. Is this anger I'm feeling because I feel powerless, because I can't get my own fucking way, because I can't get someone to do the thing I want them to do? Or is my anger pushing me to change something? Is my anger an expression of power or powerlessness?
Addicts know a lot about powerlessness. Powerlessness is the recognition that we don't get to be in charge of the world, as Annie Lamott once said, "It's realizing that you're not secretly God's West Coast representative." Powerlessness is about realizing that each of as individuals make our own decisions, and I don't have control over anyone else's life. So wanting to change someone's behaviour, that's an anger of powerlessness.
The other anger? Well, I consider that to be an anger of empowerment. This government pisses me off. I can write letters to George Bush until my fingers wither and fall off; he's unreachable. There's no point in trying to reason with him. But, there are things I can do with my anger against this man who dares to think of himself as leader of the free world even as he seeks to strip liberties from everyone who does not agree with him.
What can I do? Well, first of all, I can do this. I can write. And then I can choose to write to people who might have access to power that I don't have: my representatives. My senators. Newspapers. I can also make a difference in the lives of my daughters. I can model behaviour for them that will serve them well later in life: if I show them that one can live a life of integrity and passion in the midst of madness, perhaps they can draw on that later in life. I can contribute to organizations that are making a difference in the lives of those we have harmed. I can feed a hungry child. I can read to a child who has no one to read to them. I can realize my true size in this gigantic world while resolving to take up the space that I'm supposed to. (As a woman, taking up space is a revolutionary act.)There are other things I can do: sometimes, I don't know what those are until the anger has battered against me. Anger is my nemesis, but it's also my mirror. It reflects back to me what's important.
For those of you familiar with the Steps, you know I'm attempting to practice the first three steps here.
I'm a control freak. It's part of my addiction. If everyone would just let me be queen of the universe, we'd all live in peace and harmony and justice and love. Really. But the universe seems to have other plans. And so I light my affirming flame, want to burn bright enough so that those in darkness can feel the heat and the light.
And finally, I came across this poem today. I don't know if McKay was talking about The White House in DC, but this is my affirmation today.
The White House
Your door is shut against my tightened face,
And I am sharp as steel with discontent;
But I possess the courage and the grace
To bear my anger proudly and unbent.
The pavement slabs burn loose beneath my feet,
A chafing savage, down the decent street;
And passion rends my vitals as I pass,
Where boldly shines your shuttered door of glass.
Oh, I must search for wisdom every hour,
Deep in my wrathful bosom sore and raw,
And find in it the superhuman power
To hold me to the letter of your law!
Oh, I must keep my heart inviolate
Against the potent poison of your hate.