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A public conversation about our worlds.

  • Monday: Morgan J. Locke
  • Tuesday: Madeleine E. Robins
  • Wednesday: Maureen F. McHugh
  • Thursday: Bradley Denton
  • Friday: Steven Gould
  • Saturday: Caroline Spector
  • Sunday: Rory Harper

Brain Activity



Anger Management

November 8th, 2007 by Maureen McHugh

Anger

(Sorry this is late, plane landed after 11:00pm last night.)

I was thirty and working as a temp in the military industrial complex. I was the office help for a huge lawsuit, working sixty or more hours a week. The company had taken on a project for the government—that’s what defense contractors do, of course—and in those innocent days before Halliburton, they had accepted specs that were beyond the capabilities of any company to produce. The government knew that. But the idea was to make the goals impossible with the hope that the company would come up with unexpected ways to fulfill some of them. Then the political wind shifted and suddenly those specs became not goals, but hard and fast specifications. Much nastiness.

Me, I typed. Like I said, I was an office temp. I worked with a manager and two lawyers from a bit Washington DC law firm. One of the guys billed at $210 and hour. (I billed at $7.50 an hour.) One day, he took one of my floppy discs that contained all of the latest versions of the incredibly huge legal document I was typing. He said he didn’t have it. And I got mad.

My nervous system lit up like a Christmas tree and all the tiredness from the crazy hours I was working burned out of me and I explained to the $210 an hour guy just exactly how I felt. I felt empowered. I felt pretty good. I liked being angry. It was a lot better than a lot of other ways I normally felt—like anxious. Righteous anger. Adrenaline.
I went back to my desk and half an hour later found the disc.

I went crawling back to the lawyer and apologized. (He, of course, had forgotten it. You don’t make partner in a powerful Washington DC law firm if having somebody yell at you bothers you.) But I didn’t forget.

Wrath. If envy, as Unca Buzzkill says, is the marijuana of the seven deadly sins, the gateway to resentment, then wrath is the methamphetamine. It hits you hard. It feels good. And it burns you out. It’s fight or flight. Anger is the flip side of the same coin as fear. Scary, powerful stuff in the human animal, a endocrinological and neurological cascade of stuff like catecholamines, adrenaline and noradrenaline. It can focus you, make you impervious to pain, make you physically stronger. It can be a rush. It can make you feel good.

It’s a lot more fun than fear. Fear is no fun at all. Anger jacks you up. Fear makes you feel paralyzed. We don’t want our enemies to be angry at us, we want them to fear us. Because fear feels bad. Fear of someone having control over us. Fear of someone making our lives harder. Fear of someone embarrassing us. A lot of violence can come out of that last one. Men commit most of the violent crimes in this country, and as was pointed out to me, when men size up a woman for a possible date, they worry about whether she’ll turn them down. They worry about being embarrassed. When a woman gets asked out, she has to ask herself, among other things, is this guy not going to take ‘no’ for an answer? Is this guy going to rape me?

Of course, anger doesn’t really always feel good. I really try to avoid the big, fun, veins bulging anger, which leaves me with just the little, passive aggressive stuff. The insidious stuff. I seethe at people in the twelve item line who have thirteen items. (Yes, I count.) I get secretly hateful about people on airplanes who bring two large pieces of carry-on luggage. If you’ve got that much stuff, I screech at them silently, in my mind, check you goddamn bag. Seething isn’t as fun a full blown anger. It mostly bathes my system in a mildly toxic soup of adrenaline and corticosteriods. It tastes bitter.

If fear is the flipside of anger, then it’s interesting to ask, why am I so angry at some guy with a rolling suitcase and a second small suitcase getting on the plane in front of me? Because I’m afraid that there won’t be room for my backpack. And my backpack has my computer in it, so I don’t want to have them tag it and put it in luggage. Because if I lose my computer, my life will become a living hell. My novel in progress, my freelance work, all my email addresses. I will be forced to acknowledge that I am the kind of person who never gets around to backing up her hard drive. I will be faced with my own stupid failings as a human being. The guy with two suitcases is guilty of not worrying about me.

I’d love, love, love to attain a zenlike calm. I’d also like to be thinner, younger, and more talented.

I think I’ll just sit here and seethe.

Posted in Daily Life, Maureen, Personal History, Sin, Unca Buzzkill | 13 Comments »

13 Responses

  1. Madeleine Robins Says:

    Can I come seethe with you?

    •People who pass on the right.
    •People who stop at the top of stairways, in doors, or right in front of me when I’m trying to get by.
    •Kids who do dangerous things (there is a reason why even the most non-spanking parent will spank a toddler who’s started off running toward oncoming traffic.)
    •People who don’t give you enough information to know whether you need to be worried or not.

    I can seethe with the best of ‘em–which means you, right?

  2. Maureen McQ Says:

    Mad, people who stop at the top of escalators. I’m pretty convinced it should be a hanging offense.

  3. Madeleine Robins Says:

    I’ve got some rope…I say string ‘em up. Frontier justice!

  4. Sean Craven Says:

    Groups of people who walk slowly and block the entire sidewalk while refusing to acknowledge the existence of other pedestrians.

    That kid riding his bike down the middle of the sidewalk without a helmet while talking on his cell phone.

    Cell phones.

    People who use the word ‘science’ as a voodoo spell to give their asinine beliefs a gloss of credibility.

    Proud and defiant ignorance.

    Guitar Hero.

    Ecocentric publications printed in full color on glossy stock so that when they recycle it they need a lot of extra friggen’ bleach.

    Big-government Republicans.

    Right-wing Democrats.

    People who make weird mouth noises.

    The Rules.

    Panhandlers who believe that you owe them some kind of explanation, or who respond aggressively to denial.

    Tax-dodging plutocrats.

    The diners have left and tucked under the father’s plate is a small card reading, “This is the greatest tip of all — the tip of Christ’s love.”

    People who make up a pinheaded version of God and then attribute their imaginary beliefs to real people.

    All that Easter Bunny/Santa Claus/Dead Guy On A Stick stuff that makes it so that you have to lie to children in order to avoid upsetting their parents.

    Cars, sports, and lite beer.

    Lite anything.

    Prepackaged bands.

    The way that our culture is being simultaneously infantilized, sexualized, and artificially sweetened. There seems to be a concerted attempt made at turning us into a population of candy-colored pina colada-flavored sexually active toddlers with earbuds.

    Disrespect.

    The sick realization that the reason you can’t get away from that damned song is that there are just oodles of degenerate pinheads so degraded as to listen to it deliberately.

    War-criminal world leaders whose manifest incompetence, confusion, and misery inspires pity as well as rage.

    “You can’t be too tan, too thin, or too rich.”

    “It’s just a theory!”

    Balanced reporting where an opinion based on solid information, research, and hard intellectual labor is placed on the scales opposite pernicious stupidity… and the scales balance.

    When a live rhino is valued less highly than a nonexistent boner.

    Jeez, I’m getting kind of dizzy here and my hands are shakey. I gotta start cutting back… maybe I’ll start tomorrow. In the evening, though — I mean, you need a little anger to wake you up in the morning, right?

  5. Ken Houghton Says:

    Aw, c’mon. Lite/Light beer is one of the great inventions of all time. What else could we make fun of? I mean, really, Coors Lite?? How do you make Coors any lighter without helium??

    And what is Guitar Hero? I know it must be popular, because there was a South Park episode. Is it the sequel to Meerkat Manor?

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  7. MRMacrum Says:

    I was actually just looking for an image to hook up to my own angry rant. Saw this one and for some reason read your post.

    Girl, we are on the same page. Thanks. Reading your post calmed me down.

    BTW – I am poaching your image. Of course I will take it down if you wish and find another.

  8. Wilbur Cunnings Says:

    this is fucked :)

  9. anger management Says:

    Practically everything you described applies also to many of us in a myriad of other jobs, and you did it with a dash of morbid joy.

    In the back of my mind I can also hear you rolling with glee as you write this blog.

  10. Venting Frustration Will Only Make Your Anger Worse | Lifehacker Australia Says:

    [...] Photo by Eat Our Brains [...]

  11. Michael Barrett Says:

    I love this post and linked to the picture on my blog.

    You described what so many feel – often misunderstanding or not even realizing they are feeling it.

    Anger is such a self weakening energy.

    Great post.

  12. Sandra Says:

    I would like to use the picture… who the epicture belong to please?

  13. Rory Says:

    Hey, Sandra — If you google that image, you’ll see that it’s used fairly widely on the net. At this point, it may be literally impossible to find its true origin.

    Great image that says so much, though, isn’t it?

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