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Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
"No, really!"

My Favorite Bit of Paper Cup Philosophy

The Way I See It #76

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Blazing Balls Was Just the Beginning

I wrote a post that included the retelling of a ritual I performed in the desert, hoping it would help dispel some angst. Said rite included imagining I converted my stores of anger and pain to flaming spheres and hurling them off the planet, out of the solar system, anywhere that would be away from me. But that wasn't the whole enchilada. No. I'm pretty intense. I'm thorough. I pay attention to the tiniest details. And I like to succeed at what I attempt. Taking a day off, driving more than 100 miles, hiking a trail that challenges bighorn sheep, spinning and throwing fiery orbs off the earth from a rock-strewn watchtower weren't enough for me. I'm not experienced at these things. I'm not a veteran high priestess of ritual performance. What if all that throwing didn't do anything? What if it only did part of the job? One wants to leave no stone unturned.

I am all of the (good and bad) things I am for very good reasons. My maladaptations are the very ones one would expect in a person who walked along my exact path in life. My strengths are precisely the ones that would present in a person who was well-supported in certain ways. Here is a truth that I know: as wonderfully original as each and every human being is, we also share so much that we might be far simpler creatures. Not amoebas, perhaps, but less individual than we like to think of ourselves. There are common patterns and rhythms in human behavior and resulting consequences that can't be ignored. We're not quite as unique as we think we are. Some of it is on auto-pilot. Or as someone I care for says, "Well, you're unique, but not for that."

I am not usually a noisy person. My normal speaking voice is not loud. I don't tend to scream and yell, unless tremendously provoked or when I'm having a tremendously marvelous time laughing. I had no siblings to yell and holler with, and the parents certainly wouldn't have tolerated any noise. But I wasn't inclined to be noisy, anyway. I've always lived in small family situations, so one didn't have to struggle to be heard. My daughter never has done anything to make me want to raise my voice. Although my parents had ups and downs in their marriage before they eventually divorced, I never once heard them raise their voices at one another. In my career as a union representative, I made compelling arguments in negotiations or when I represented a member at an administrative hearing. I gave some hellfire and brimstone presentations at meetings of school boards or other governing bodies. But I did these things in tones just loud enough to be heard. I use my soft modulation to highlight my strong words. Reader, please hold this thought: I typically don't make a lot of noise.

I don't do anger well. Oh, I have lots of it. Vast stores of anger. I own much of it. I possess anger both ancient and fresh. The problem is what to do with it. Park it in the garage next to the car? Wrap it up at Christmas and give it away as a gift? Donate it to charity for resale at one of those donation bins in the parking lot at the grocery store? I did not grow up in a home where anger was expressed. All the undercurrents were present in our ocean, but they were not mentioned. We simply flowed along. Later, in the career, I learned never to show my anger, although it was often present. Both personally and professionally, I am an expert at keeping the lid on. I'm the pressure cooker with the 100% satisfaction guarantee to never, ever blow. I do it very well. But it's not good for me.

My ability to avoid or deny anger is so ingrained that I usually don't recognize it for what it is. I'm not angry, I'm "unhappy" or "upset" or "depressed" or "not right today". But certainly not angry. I've tried all manner of things to address "unhappy", "upset", "depressed" and "not right today". Behaving obsessively in one way or another is always a good thing. If nothing else, the obsession diverts attention from the angst. Almost invariably in my life, the way I've exhibited anger is to blow up, thereby voiding the 100% satisfaction guarantee. Without describing some of my more shameful performances in precise detail, let's just say when the fury reaches critical mass, I blow up in some way that is nearly 100% guaranteed to add more anger and pain to the anger I've just blown up. Reader, please hold this thought: this woman stuffs a lot of anger.

Please rejoin me in my boulder fortress in the desert from where I am lobbing fireballs. Although it's unusual, it occurred to me that I would like to make some noise, maybe scare some of that anger away. I gave a few war whoops as I flung fire and that felt good. I turned up the volume a little, but I soon learned that hurling and hollering each require a great deal of energy and I had trouble balancing myself on the rocks as I attempted to do both at the same time. The noise thing intrigued me now, so I threw the last of the flames and started to scramble down the trail. I watched as I descended, making certain no people were about. When I hit the flats, I knew I was the only person around for miles, and I let it fly. My first shriek calls to mind Daryl Hannah in Splash. Glass shattering. I'm 57 years old and I know myself well, but I didn't know I could make that kind of noise with my body. I gave what must have been a pretty credible rendition of the rebel yell. I squealed like a pig at slaughter and I screamed like a banshee. It occurred to me to put words to this concert. I named names and cited dates and events. Loudly. And finally, I was done.

Lest the reader think this poor woman needs to be hospitalized, I will say this: I don't expect to find myself in the desert throwing fire and screaming very frequently. But this needed to happen, and it was one of the best things I've ever done. The pressure has been building for a long time. With guidance, this time I didn't blow in a self-destructive way. I simply blew energy, not my life. On the last, flat half of the hike, I was surprised by many things. I was amazed at how hard the neck, throat and abdominal muscles work when one screams primally. I was stunned at some of the names and life events that spontaneously flew from my face. I was startled to notice how torn up my shoulder felt. I'm probably not a good candidate for the geriatric ladies javelin team. Or discus.

An e-mail arrived. "Now that you've thrown it and screamed it, is the anger gone?" I had to ponder that awhile. I didn't pop back an immediate reply. When I did respond, I said, "It's not entirely gone, but it's dulled. It's no longer like a bleeding wound on fire around the edges. It's not eating me alive." I've lived the few days since the desert quite normally, but there is something new presenting. I am not so silent. Both personally and at work, I'm saying things that are on my mind. For you see, I have enough clarity right now to understand that if I don't stuff, I may not build up such a head of steam. If I don't remain silent, I may not have to carry such pain. And so it goes.

I'm moved to say that this was a difficult post to put up. It allows the reader a glimpse of how messy I am in some ways and that makes me feel quite vulnerable. Yet, just as I felt compelled to go into the Preserve and perform the ceremonies, I felt compelled to come back and tell them. Believe it or not, right now I'm the best me, the healthiest me I have ever been, sore shoulder, sore abs, sore throat and all.

Kirk, there is the story for your soundtrack! Do you think it will be a hit?

In my ears right now: A beautiful song, short(ish) for Kass ;~} and others with ADD, presented by two stunning performers. These are worth a listen, people. I like these "bookends" I find ~ a song that touches me, presented in different ways. Make mine a double!

Something that charmed me:

This makes me laugh out loud. It makes me chuckle until my abs ache. To my surprise, favored reader, I can't come up with any words to say. What is it, exactly? What does this image mean? Why is it called "Isolation"?


  1. Do you mean, in reference to what we were talking about the other day, there's a story for your movie? Otherwise, I'm not sure what you mean by "soundtrack".

    Sorry the first comment to that great bit of writing is so banal.

  2. Oh, sorry, Kirk ~ I probably wasn't very clear. In commentary on the last post, I alluded to having some material for your soundtrack to the movie. I was already working on this post and knew that there was a sound element to the story.

  3. I have to leave this computer soon, and thus have to think fast. "Great Balls of Fire" comes to mind, though that's not really about anger (trivia tidbit: Sam Phillips had a hard time getting Jerry Lee Lewis to record the song because Pentacostel Lewis mistakenly believed it to be about Armegeddon).

    How about that one song that begins "As I walk this land of broken dreams..." I believe it's by the former lead singer of Blood, Sweat, and Tears. How about Eric Carmen's "All By Myself"? That one Del Shannon song, his most famous song THE DAMN NAME ESCAPES ME! (I have my own fiery anger, huh?)

    I try to come up with some more in the coming week.

    OH! "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help" (but those were already in movies, huh? In fact, they WERE movies. Oh, well)

  4. I know you don't think so, but you are strong and brave. You are incredibly, frighteningly talented as a writer of truth. Your observations within and without are stunning. I hope you know this and I hope it does you some good.

    I love this image also. Maybe the fowl is "isolated" because he, himself, feels it is ridiculous to contemplate the order of his existence. Which, indeed, DID come first? And does it matter or help him? All he knows is that here he sits in a vessel, not of his own making, with the implement handy to get him out of any dilemma, but how is he going to pick it up? Is he waiting for someone to come along and do it? And will they strike low enough to not sever his head? And even if they do whack correctly, what's to prevent them from eating what's still inside his shell? After all, it IS a spoon. Will the stranger stop after freeing his coagulated innards?

    He's hard-boiled enough to realize that even if he did manage to pick the spoon up himself, he'd be hurling his head around like a person in the desert hurling imaginary fireballs... And let's just say that as a result of all the hurling, he rolls out of his holder, he would just bounce and roll around in the shattered edges of unknown freedoms.

    He holds in his beak the firm, ripe abundant grapes of sensuous sustainance, but he can't eat them because they're not on his diet. He's hoping the grapes will lure the stranger over, but then he's back to the fear of the stranger's intentions. Maybe if he justs holds still, someone will see the absurd beauty of his situation and paint it and put it on the internet and among all the strangers out there, there might be one on a bus who recognizes he just wants to be picked up, held and appreciated, not for what he holds in his mouth, or what he can doodle do, but for the richness of just being with a living thing that is so complicated and unique.

  5. You are approaching a vooden britch. When you cross it you srow ze bag containing your anger from ze left vindow of ze moving kar. Do not slow down. Vee vatch you. Ze image means nossing, representing the nossinness of the universe hatching from the nosssingness of nossing.

  6. Get over yourself. Grow up!

  7. I read this Leslie, and I think of the business of rage and how useful it is as a trigger to some brilliant writing.

    Have you ever read any of the French theorist Helene Cixous. She 'writes in white ink', ink that's mother's milk. I think of it as ink that is dipped in blood.

    I think women are trained more than men not to express anger. We cry often times when we are angry to dissemble to reassure others that we are not a threat, when we are really angry. It's easier to deal with sadness than anger.

    Men learn how not to cry. They are most often better at expressing anger, sometimes too much so, but women have real trouble with it, often.

    I'm generalising I know but these thoughts come to me when I read about your journey towards coming to terms with your anger. And it's terrific. Thanks

  8. From a man's POV I would agree with you Elisabeth. Though men are not so much trained to deal with it as to act out by hitting something. We are not any better at expressing anger. We hold on to because we are frightened of our own capacity for destruction. Of our selves, our loved ones and our lives.

  9. @ Kirk ~ for a man who needed to hustle away from that computer, you were quick-thinking! Armageddon may not be too far off the mark, either.

  10. @ Kass ~ I thank you. Yes, I'd have to be strong and brave to still be standing, wouldn't I? And in my better moments, I do have that faith in myself. When I'm struggling, however, I doubt myself. It balances out. Reminder to self: find the balance, find the balance.

    I must warn you and others, Kass, saying encouraging things about my writing ability will only cause me to write more. I've always enjoyed writing. But now I am compelled to write. I am compelled to tell my stories and tell what's going on with me. It's not for everybody, I understand. Actually, it's not for anybody except me.

    Re: Isolation ~ I have just had a glimpse of your beautifully, perfectly artistic brain and soul. Kass, I'm not stupid or unfeeling. To me, Mr. Chicken was intriguing, but I couldn't come up with any words about him. I didn't know his story. You just told it. I bow to the queen!

  11. @ Tag - You obsessor! I love something you do that I've seen a few times now. You are expert at writing "in accent" and having it come through. It didn't take me an instant to know I was reading the words of the nihilists. Nice marmot!

  12. @ Elisabeth ~ I don't know the work of Helene Cixous, but if you recommend her, I'm going to look into it. What imagery, the mother's milk vs. blood.

    I appreciate what you said about rage being the catalyst for some good writing. I only know I must do something with my rage and it seems to demand that I write it. All right, I'll write it.

    You are so right about crying. I've cried my life away. It's probably a good thing. If I didn't shed the tears, I'd have exploded by now. But so often, I'd have said "sad", not "angry".

  13. @ Elisabeth AND Tag ~ I agree that men and women, generally, seem to handle anger differently. Two important men in my life - Ex and now David - are probably the angriest individuals I've ever known, both for very good reasons. These two have terrified me. They are men who can scream and hit things and break stuff and end relationships and destroy everything around them . . . fueled by anger. Imagine the impact on someone as bottled up as I. True story: I'd worked for David only weeks and he went off on someone (not me) about 2 feet away from me. It dragged on and on. I finally bent over in my chair and pretended to rummage around in my purse. I was crying. I could almost taste and smell the anger flying around the room.

  14. I kinda like Tag's interpretation better. Cuts right to the chase.
    I'm with you on reacting to others' anger. My second husband had a rage problem and no impulse control. Bad combination. He claimed he was not directing his anger at me, but when I was the only one in the room besides the cat, it bounced off all the surfaces, gaining momentum and hit me square in the belly. I think I still have PTSS.

  15. @ Kass ~ You said that beautifully. All that stuff flying around in the air has to settle on someone. If it happens to be me and I am particularly sensitive or fearful, then you've just assaulted me. PTSS isn't necessarily an exaggeration.