(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 governmentâ€”thatâ€™s what defense contractors do, of courseâ€”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 didnâ€™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 feltâ€”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 donâ€™t make partner in a powerful Washington DC law firm if having somebody yell at you bothers you.) But I didnâ€™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. Itâ€™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.
Itâ€™s a lot more fun than fear. Fear is no fun at all. Anger jacks you up. Fear makes you feel paralyzed. We donâ€™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 sheâ€™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 â€˜noâ€™ for an answer? Is this guy going to rape me?
Of course, anger doesnâ€™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 youâ€™ve got that much stuff, I screech at them silently, in my mind, check you goddamn bag. Seething isnâ€™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.