*Quote from Lao Tzu.
All my ideas come to me while I get ready for work. Brushing my teeth, a word or phrase will pop into my head, and I fight to hang on to it while I gargle and spit, then rush to my phone for a haphazard reminder of my early morning insight–for better or for worse. This morning, the word was “anger.” More specifically, how anger is not sustainable.
Smash Up Magazine began, in part, as a response to the political and social discord of the recent election. Not necessarily as an expression only of anger, but as a tool to engage, specifically using the tools I can provide through the lens of being a woman (feminism). But a lot of expressions around the election are still trying to stoke that initial anger that ignited rallies, protests, and obvious displays of outrage. In that light, I wondered: how long can that last? What is it about pure anger that cannot survive long-term? Don’t get me wrong–I recognize anger as an effective fight or flight response in getting a fire lit under our asses. But fires die. The group breaks up and goes home to make dinner, watch a movie, go to bed. Pretty soon it’s just you and Uncle Lou who shows up for every fire, and some warm cans of PBR, griping about ‘nam, which you probably weren’t even alive for.
Let’s look at the word “anger,” from Merriam Webster (it’s been around since 1882; I think it’s got a few years on us): “a strong feeling of displeasure and usually of antagonism.” Ok, let’s look at “antagonism:” “actively expressed opposition or hostility.” Perfect. It’s not hard to find examples of this in our news feeds. Everywhere around the globe someone is hostile or thinks someone else is hostile, and therein is also hostile: North Korea, Russia, Obama, Trump, George W. Bush, Paul Ryan, Kellyanne Conway, war, poverty, the 1%, the 99%. On top of politics, we have our usual buffet of problems: poverty, race, jobs, money, the environment, murder, rape, and goddammit you probably lost your car keys too. It’s a crying shame we can’t take our physical heads off and let them rest. There’s no end! It’s angering!
The American Psychological Association confirms, “Anger can be a good thing. It can give you a way to express negative feelings, for example, or motivate you to find solutions to problems.” Biologically, our amygdala sparks our adrenaline which gets you fired up. You kind of can’t help it. Anger is a common, human emotion. But dwelling in it causes serious bodily trouble (also described at the APA and Bustle), and probably more motivating because people ruin their bodies all the time nbd, you get fucking obnoxious. It’s old. As much as misery can love company, most people don’t like to be around someone who is angry all the time. It’s like a broken record and after a while our brains crave some relief from the incessant skritching (I made that word up).
So… now what? Anger had its turn.
Funnily, a Daily Prompt was at the top of the heap this morning when I logged into my blog roll with another word: quicken. I’ve never participated in a daily prompt before. They seem kind of cheesy. But something about “quicken” spoke to that question of “what next?” Let’s go back to Merriam (lol): “to quicken something, to come to life; especially to enter into a phase of active growth and development seeds quickening in the soil.” Refreshing! Feel that relief? It’s like water on the fire. Not to douse it, but to ease the throbbing heat.
Now, I get it. We don’t want to “normalize Trump.” Something about moving away from anger feels like giving up or becoming apathetic. We don’t want to lose that passion that drives a person to create change. It’s invigorating, not just for political reasons. It makes you feel like you’re doing this whole YOLO thing people joke about. Grabbing life by the balls. But now that I’ve left you bereft with a doused fire and coming off like a sad-sack, directionless couch potato, let me suit you up again.
I was watching the conversation between Ava DuVernay and Oprah about Ava’s documentary 13th on Netflix. Ava talked about how the ending to the film was actually not what she’d originally had in mind. At first, it was going to be a list of all the scholars and brilliant minds that had joined her in its making. (Really, you should at least watch this conversation, if not the actual documentary–she executes it fairly and concisely. Even for all you right-wingers out there, she got Newt Gingrich to speak. That should make you wet.) She wanted to list their names and what they’d accomplished, to emphasize that 13th featured the best of the best. But watching that reel, she was dissatisfied. She thought, “This lets the viewer off the hook.” We’d sit there thinking, “Good, they’ve got it. So-and-so with his law degree will handle it. So-and-so with her prestige understands it.”
Instead, Ava went with images of black people living life. Graduation, a basketball game, a barbecue. To show us that their lives matter. They are humans. She explained, “People are like, ‘well, what do I do know?’ Well, what do you wanna do? Which part of this whole crazy system speaks to your heart? Because it’s not a one-answer solution.” Take your piece. Take a bite. See what you’re passionate about.
This is where positive action comes in. Not the kum-ba-yah kind of positivity. Positivity and forward-looking can be dirty and challenging and raw and embarrassingly honest and its own set of issues. But it takes you out of that place where nothing is getting accomplished by shouting into an echo chamber. I argue positive action actually asks you to use more of your brain and resources than just reacting. You promote real change when you engage with problems (engage: to deal with especially at length).
Honestly, that’s kind of scary! The positive action of engaging requires commitment. Anger gives you an excuse to boil over then claim you contributed something. Engaging demands that you stay with the point while it’s driven home. This is what we can use in our current culture around inequality–not just feminism or women’s rights, but with any number of the inequities we encounter daily.
If you don’t know where to start, check out one of our previous posts: History repeats itself. At the bottom are a list of links to inspire and get you started on a useful path.