May 16, 2012

Anger, or Another Muse

What do you do with anger? 

I finished Augusten Burrough’s This is How.  I love how Augusten has this great shit detector, and he doesn’t let you get away with anything.  He calls you on your lies and self-deceits.  It may not endear him to some, but it’s very refreshing.

One of the things that he points out ~ and I’ve long thought was true ~ is that anger is very powerful.  It’s a caustic but vital emotion.  When you feel hurt, your natural response is to get angry.  It’s like when you’re hurt/infected by germs or viruses, your body’s natural response is white blood cells, the knights of the immune system.  Anger is the immune response of the emotions.

To extend the analogy, we also have to get those bad things out of our systems, whether it’s bacteria or poison or anger.  If we hold it in, it festers and gets worse and can destroy us, if we let it. If we can’t eliminate bad stuff through our waste system, it seeps out through the pores in our skin.

The same with anger.  We need to get it out of us, or it ruins us.  It turns into depression or self-hatred, or we let it build up to a point where we lash out, whether with unkind words or with fists and bullets.  Stress is also suppressed anger under another name (outside stimulus, our bodies telling us to do something).

It must be excised ~ or exorcised.

How do we get anger out of us?  Well, anger is a call to arms, a call to action.  It’s healthy (at least initially) because it’s the impetus to do something about a wrong.  So, to get it outside us, we need to DO SOMETHING.  One very good antidote is physical exercise.  Physical exercise reduces stress and gets rid of all those bad feelings and heightens the good endorphins. 

But my main point is this:  creative acts are one of the best ways to ameliorate anger.  Anger can be and is a lot of people’s muses.  It is an internal drive that we can focus to fuel our art.  That does not mean that our art needs to be angry ~ just that the energy that is created from anger can be refocused to our own purposes and is probably best used that way.

Competitiveness and “I’ll show them” are just other forms of anger.  It’s not bad to feel competitive ("I feel hurt because someone else seems to be getting what I deserve") ~ it just needs to be used constructively and not focused on to the point that it becomes corrosive.  It also helps to add a big dose of humility and to adjust your expectations.  But, nonetheless, redirected anger can take you far.

So I would suggest something.  Today, when someone cuts you off in traffic, when your significant other says that mean thing that really gets under your skin, when you remember how your parents didn’t love you enough or in the right way, use it.  Take that anger and use it to create space to do your art.  Say “screw them!” and use that “selfish” impulse to reserve the time and energy to do your art.

PS Here’s a great column “This Week in Anger” by some bicyclists that talks about this same principle.

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