All The Rage
This past weekend, I got together with 5 girlfriends for an evening of fun and games. Literal games, where we could be silly and self-expressed and laugh until our abs hurt. We talked about everything with no holds barred, ate delicious food, and drained a half-dozen bottles of Prosecco. During the event, I found myself in a conversation that raised my hackles and I let fly the c-word. It wasn’t directed at anyone there, and no one gasped or even raised an eyebrow, and yet I woke the next morning with an emotional hangover. A feeling of uneasiness about expressing my anger.
What was my discomfort? Did I offend anyone? I sent an email to the women who heard my remark, apologizing if I made anyone other than myself uncomfortable. They thought it was funny. So it wasn’t that I had negatively impacted them, but it was something. Something about letting out an emotion that is not looked upon as “good”. Especially for women. In a culture that reveres positivity, anger has been relegated to the unenlightened heap. At least, that’s where I used to dump it. But anger is part of the range of human emotions we’re born with, and as such, it must have its purpose.
I once had the privilege of interviewing renowned Canadian journalist and activist, Michele Landsberg. A hero to millions of women, she used her newspaper column to break down doors, glass ceilings, and taboos alike, calling out injustice and vociferously demanding, and causing, change. In the mid-90s, I was shooting a TV pilot about feminism, which was, at that time, considered a dirty word. (The third wave was still in its infancy.) I saw her speak at a newly budding women’s organization, and was struck by her absolute, enthusiastic joy. While many attendees were shutting down other’s ideas and shouting out their own agendas, Michele was like a cheerleading buddha, welcoming all and rallying the team. Both calm and happy amidst the chaos. So when I sat down in her beautiful back garden to discuss feminism and what drives her to keep fighting the good fight, I was shocked to hear her answer. “Rage.”
She said it while she was still smiling, with her eyes still twinkling. At the time, I thought she was unenlightened. (At the time, I was unenlightened.) I was young. I was naive. I was, let’s face it, inexperienced. I had yet to face any real hardships in life. I had yet to get married, lose a job, get divorced, go broke, give myself to a cause, have a miscarriage, lead people, start my own business, try to make a living as an artist, get sick...you know, life stuff. When my illness forced me to stop working, I started journaling as a coping mechanism. To sort out my feelings, find a way to bear them, and, eventually, to transform them into something empowering. But I didn’t force anything. And I didn’t edit, either. I had no one to impress and nothing to lose by venting everything to an inanimate object.
Encouraged by the groundbreaking book, The Divided Mind, by Dr. John Sarno, I let it rip. Nothing was too trite, too raw, too vehement, or off limits. It was cathartic and revelatory. Perfectionists have a definite tendency to hold back so-called “negative” emotions, for fear of looking bad or disturbing the status quo. But I admire people who are willing to fall flat on their faces in an effort to grow, to expose their vulnerabilities, to rock the boat in pursuit of truth. So WTF?! My driver has always been to do the “right” thing. But that often leaves little room for the real thing. I’m not one of those people whose default setting is light and chipper. My mind is dark territory that requires a vigilant Neighbourhood Watch to patrol the area and keep the streets safe and clean. It’s just what I’ve got, and so it must have its purpose.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that who I am is just fine, and there is no better prompt than surrounding oneself with people who love you exactly the way you are and the way you aren’t. I feel things deeply and widely. That gives me compassion, makes me fiercely loyal and loving, and triggers a strong aversion to phonies, cowards, and injustice. I’m not happy-go-lucky, or lighthearted, but I use my sense of humour to keep a healthy equilibrium. And when I lose my balance and wonder if I’ve said something I shouldn’t have, I can trust myself to clean up my messes. This week I was reminded that emotions are neither inherently positive nor negative - only in their use are they helpful or harmful. And rage, like any other emotion, is a valid and powerful force. Just one of many arrows in my emotional quiver.