By Caitlin Kelly
I flipped my script the other day.
Totally lost it.
My temper, that is.
My husband is a Buddhist, so I’m very aware of all the mature, adult arguments for staying calm, breathing deeply, counting to ten before reacting, (or to 100), that we are all in control (hah) of our emotions and can always choose another reaction beyond anger.
It was a combination, with the usual final straw: endless noise of garbage trucks, leaf blowers and children shrieking plus a delayed assignment I feared might head south, (and with it my budgeted income).
After doing an eight-day silent retreat two years ago, I returned to normal life with a much deeper appreciation of — and deep hunger for — silence. Silence unbroken by, (as I write this, another fucking jet has just screeched over my head, thanks to changed airport traffic patterns since we bought this place), endless, endless, endless noise.
I wait all year, desperate to flee our small apartment, to enjoy the additional 60 square feet of our top-floor balcony, at the treetops, where I work, read, nap. Relax. In New York, we get summer from May to September, at best, and I’m eager to enjoy being outdoors, finally, day and night.
After the umpteenth scream from the kids playing below, (shared space we all pay for), 100 feet below my balcony, whose parents were both deafened and stupid, I called the management company for our co-op apartment building to complain.
When the manager there called me rude and hung up on me, I thought my head would explode.
Only in New York has anyone ever dared to tell me “You’re rude” when I’ve lodged a complaint. Whether I am, (and it’s entirely possible by the time I call, completely fed up), or not, is not the issue.
If you’ve chosen — and I did 2.5 years as a retail associate — to serve others for a living, part of your job is to resolve problems. Politely. You don’t call someone names because you don’t like what they’re telling you.
I can’t stand being interrupted, not listened to when there is a legitimate problem — and being name-called on top of it.
The results are not pretty. Not pretty at all.
I have a temper.
Which any of you regulars here already know!
In our family, anger was too often the primary language, the go-to choice. Instead of actually explaining that something we’d just heard — or acknowledged we’d said — was hurtful, we’d just hop the express train to full-on hostilities. I can still quote verbatim, decades later, some of the phrases family members tossed my way.
It creates an opposite-but-equal reaction, then as now.
No, fuck you.
I know my temper, and my very quick rise to rage on occasion, is both a professional and personal liability.
But people who didn’t grow up in the toxic stew of anger have no idea. Emotional armor becomes normal, and a vicious retort your quickest and most reliable/legal self-defense.
I could meditate for another fucking century — and being disrespected would still make me crazy.
Selfishness — screaming brats in a public space — drives me crazy. The laziness of not disciplining said brats, by their parents or their kids’ friends’ parents, drives me crazy.
A lack of accountability drives me crazy.
We ate out recently in an indie restaurant recently that had done something (blessedly!) radical — posted prominent signs saying “Your children are welcome. We expect them to behave in a manner that allows all our guests to enjoy their meals” (or some variation of that.)
We plan to be return soon.
The bottom line is you don’t want fights and conflicts to choose you. It’s a much stronger position to be in when you are in control of your entry point into the fray. But how do we encourage that control when our anger is screaming war cries in our ear, urging us fearlessly into battle? As the cliche has it, let cool heads prevail. When you are under attack are you willing to bypass your ego and consider a non-violent response? Equally, can you still feel empowered if you haven’t raised fist or voice in anger? I think the idea of self-empowerment is at the root of the expression of anger and I would argue that there are people who love their angry selves because it makes them feel so empowered. But we need to get beneath the anger to work out what’s really going on.
This essay, from The Rumpus, is one of the very few I’ve ever read by a woman admitting what rage does for her, that rage is her:
For years, I would say that my father gifted me with rage. This may sound like “I tripped into the door again” dressed up in riot grrl bravado. But I am never sugar and spice and everything nice. I am piss and vinegar and what the fuck do you think you’re looking at?
When a friend needs to get stuff out of her asshole ex’s apartment, she calls me. When a landlord suggests that, instead of asking him to expend “money and energy” on fixing my toilet, I simply turn off the water pressure when I’m not using it, I photograph every code violation (however minor) and call the board of housing. I bankrupt him. When the resident creep in my building mails me a letter saying that he’d like to be my “friend” (quotation marks his), I don’t just knock on his door, I throw my shoulder against it. I tell him it doesn’t scare me that he knows where I live. I know where he lives, too. He doesn’t so much as look at me again.
Anger is an arrow: a sharp point with a clear path. Once it has struck, there’s a victor. A victim. My mother’s arsenal is stocked with fluttering laughs, “Oh honey” and “please, don’t.” Just be quiet, she says. He’s had a bad day. Don’t bother him. Don’t bang the cabinet.
What makes you totally lose your shit?