Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: What parts of my life are driven by anger?
Anger has insidious tendrils. It often erupts after one has lived through pain caused directly by another person or persons who have then shown no remorse or have made no amends for their treatment. And as such, it’s very hard to get past, especially if one’s abuser or abusers is still around, throwing more salt in the wound or excusing their behaviour.
This is where the desire for vengeance comes from. And, oh God, do I understand that desire for vengeance. It was a coping mechanism for me when I was a kid and bullied. I remember swearing, after being chased down and tackled by a bully while walking home (which was just across the street) with my violin case, that I’d never date him when I got older. That was in response to the statement “Oh, he must just really like you!” that girls often get when bullied or teased by boys. I remember putting another boy on my do-not-date list in the seventh grade for knocking a milkshake out of my hands. And to this day, I remember both of those boys’ names. No, I never did date them–as if they’d ask me.
The girls, of course, were worse. The one that always stands out for me is when one of them asked me–in the cafeteria line–whether I was playing with myself in class. At some point, I had pulled down a shirt via my pants fly. I was mortified. I never, ever did that again.
But sometime after around the ninth grade, something changed. The mean girls were still around–but their taunts stopped. I’d managed to turn my back on them. And with that, the immediate anger ebbed. But I’d be lying to say that it wasn’t a significant motivator all through my remaining years of high school. The spectre of the popular kids haunted me, even as I lived my life both in parallel and perpendicular to theirs.
Once I left, however, I ceased defining myself by what I was not, and began to be more comfortable with who I was. And while who I had had deep roots that had been fertilized by anger, at a certain point that anger ebbed away. I realized I had learned how to find my own way, my own tribe, and to disengage from those who hurt me.
This is how I’ve managed to, after some rough seas, to stay fairly level during the pandemic. I have learned to look away from stories about anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers and people having big parties because they only incite anger–anger I can do nothing about.
But other types of anger can have a positive outcome–if, and only if, you are able to use that energy for change. I am fond of the quote by Augustine: “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” This is an interesting statement because in subsequent years, the virtue of hope would come to be considered the “cure” for wrath, of which anger is a subset. But the contrast between the two is also this: Wrath is obsessing about the trials of today, while hope looks forward to what will come. And how do you get there? Through having the courage to change things.
It was pointed out to me today that this is the anniversary of Ivan Sollertinsky’s death in 1944. If you’re wondering who the hell that is, he was Shostakovich’s best friend, and the posthumous dedicatee of the Piano Trio #2. He was an extraordinarily fascinating man–a true polymath, who spoke about 12 languages and apparently was a hell of a speaker, giving fascinating lectures in his post as a creative director of the Leningrad Philharmonic. I naturally gravitate to polymaths, of course, because I aspire to be one, although I’m content enough being a multipotentiate. Anyway, I’m listening again to that absolutely yearning 3rd movement of the Trio, which is surely in my top 5 Shostakovich pieces. I’m doing this after completing an initial sketch for my Friday illumination project that does not suck. I’m also attacking the Gogol short stories to complete before I start another longer book. (I also need to pick a book).
I also finally completed assembling the second Teams training presentation today at work. There is always a certain pride I have in a well-designed presentation. It’s not art, but there is a certain amount of creativity involved.
I’ve just signed up to chair the Toastmasters meeting tomorrow night, and chosen the theme “One Year.” It’s been just about a year since I started attending this club’s meetings. I managed to go to a few in person before the stay-at-home orders began. It’s now been about a year since I did a lot of things. And I would be lying if I just smiled and said it’s OK, I’ve found my joy in other things. That second part is true–I have found joy in other things.
But it’s not OK.
It’s not OK for anyone.
It’s certainly worse for some, much worse.
But grief clouds the world right now. None can escape its icy touch, creeping, grey, pale, suffocating, as much as some ignore or try to will away, it will still come for you in the end, somehow. We will emerge from this changed people, but it is folly right now to speak of emergence, of plans, of lights at the end of tunnels. The train is still there, and it’s still coming for us. But trains and lights will do what they will do, and they have little impact on what I will do tomorrow. Maybe someday. For now, I nod to the train and step to the side while it passes, safe as I can be, here, surrounded by the relics of my once and not yet future life, and mark the anniversaries as they appear on the horizon.