The Other Me

I never feel anger without regret.

It’s a simple formula—I lose my temper and disappointment floods in behind it. For a few moments I can believe my indignation is righteous, deserved, justified, healthy. The object of my anger had it coming and, in fact, needed it.

Besides, shouldn’t I be allowed to lose it every once in a while? Am I not only human?

That feeling never lasts. Next comes, “What the hell is wrong with me?”

Occasionally, I find myself standing face to face with a student, listening as I berate him or her for misbehavior. I’m always the same. I posit some possible consequence of the student’s action—someone will be hurt, others will see this action as a model when it is far from it, some disrespect will be inferred and ruin an otherwise warm / fruitful / good relationship. Seriously serious things will seriously happen. I mean it this time.

Sometimes, I’m the person harmed by this misbehavior, but usually not. It is a cause I’m fighting for. I’m acting on behalf of important principles like “You are not here now to do what you are doing (dummy)” or “You shouldn’t throw shit.”

During this principled outrage, my words barely sound real to me. And later they sound worse, worthy of the mordant humor my victim probably soon directs at the ridiculously pompous fool who corrected him or her. Meanwhile, as the student is desperately laughing me off, I’m busy with self-loathing.

I’ve heard people describe anger as a normal, if not healthy, emotion. They say repressing anger is sure to upset your mental balance. A person who can’t accommodate the powerful emotions associated with frustration has little hope in our deeply annoying world. And in the realm of knowing thyself, accepting your emotional being is critical. You have to practice communicating anger (without aggression) or redirecting it (without victimizing someone else).

No one knows emotion needs expressing or sublimating better than I do. Eventually, all emotion will out. Still, my practice of properly directed but not aggressive anger never feels right—before, during or, especially, after. Though some part wants to stick to my guns, though part of me wants to quote Emerson in “Self-Reliance” and say, “My kindness must have some edge to it, else it is none,” I’ve never been comfortable with my angry side.

When I was a child my family called me “the angry bee” because when I became enraged, I lost the power of speech and milled around like a bumper car, buzzing. I can see how an eight-year old hot head could be pretty hilarious—now, they’d probably put my tantrums on YouTube—but nothing made me more angry than being called “the angry bee.”

So, all my life, I’ve been determined to live down that label. My students ask occasionally, “Do you even have a temper?” I tell them they don’t want to see it. I tell them to picture The Hulk. When I’m mad, I’m mad in both senses of the word. But that furious me isn’t The Hulk. He’s me, just a me I run from, a me I desperately want to deny. I hate losing control.

Psychologists will tell you anger may actually arise from a desire for control. You want every moment to be what you want it to be, and when it isn’t, you either swallow the frustration—saving the fury for another time—or—if it is that time—freak out.

It’s shocking to experience the timing or intensity of my rage. Afterward, Tybalt is dead, and I am fortune’s fool. I wake to myself again as if I’ve had a seizure or been momentarily possessed.

Some of my colleagues find freaking out cathartic. A teacher I once worked with talked about “jacking students up” as if it were an academic blood sport. Me, I sometimes apologize later to students I dress down. Not about the cause of my anger—because, well, you really shouldn’t throw shit—but because it isn’t appropriate for me to yell. I’m supposed to model adult behavior and should be able to express my displeasure firmly but dispassionately… even if, inside, I’m secretly going postal.

I tell myself that some other cause contributed to my rage—I was hungry or tired or upset about something else or out of kilter with the universe. I tell myself this slip and my subsequent regret will do my students good because I want them to believe adults take responsibility even for unflattering actions. I tell myself that, though that angry person is me, he isn’t my best me and that facing him every once in a while will restore my equanimity.  I tell myself that, though I get angry, I am not an angry person.

Yet I somehow leave these episodes with the same thought—I’m only temporarily angry at them. It turns out I’m more angry at me.


Filed under Anger, Apologies, Doubt, Education, Essays, Identity, Laments, life, Thoughts, Worry

8 responses to “The Other Me

  1. I know intimately, every feeling regarding anger you’ve described here.

    My parents pegged me as “moody” by age 2, but still, it may as well have been something akin to “angry bee”. By the third grade, my mother had needlepointed (yes, *needlepointed*) a sign for me that read, “Don’t Bother Me, I’m Having a Crisis” which really meant, “Leave her alone or she’ll bite your head off”.

    The remorse that comes after the explosion is sometimes really difficult to take. I do this with my kids– fortunately not often, but it happens.

    Thank you for offering such a personal look into your anger, and where it really lies.

    • dmarshall58

      Needlepoint, ugh.

      I’ve been called moody too, and I remember when I first started teaching, students would sometimes appear in class asking, “What kind of mood are you in today?” I considered it a real triumph when they stopped because that meant I’d found some measure of control. I’m not sure much has changed below the surface however, and all that foment escapes sometimes.I particularly hate losing my temper with my own children–I’d rather they didn’t carry any scary memories of me–but I’ve learned to leave the area before it happens.

      What bothers me most is discovering I’m a stranger to myself. Maybe everyone wants to determine identity, but I seem especially bothered that I don’t get the final say about who I am.

      Thanks for visiting and for your thoughtful comment. –D

  2. You’re welcome. I’m hooked now.

    I’m really moved by what you say in your reply: “What bothers me most is discovering I’m a stranger to myself. Maybe everyone wants to determine identity, but I seem especially bothered that I don’t get the final say about who I am.”

    I’m finding that most of my anger comes from my own inner frustrations which arise from that feeling of not being in control– not yelling at the kids as often is a result of recognizing this– but it’s that deeply rooted rage which I’m sure I spend a lot of energy suppressing that has me feeling a stranger to myself. I know this comes out sometimes in what I write, (albeit cloaked somewhat) and I think it makes up a great percentage of the reason I do write, but I don’t know if I want to be remembered for being angry– though I’m not, as you say you are not, an “angry person” either.

    The other day I fantasized about myself dead, having been lucky enough to have been known for my writing, (clearly fantasy) and people are discussing my poetry, and someone says, “Um, yeah, actually we prefer her later, angrier stuff.” which was both funny and sad to me.

    • dmarshall58

      In MFA school I had nearly the experience you describe. My teacher said my work was too tidy and urged me to reveal my messy self in my writing. I tried angry poetry and found some new material, but I never really felt like myself then either. And it wasn’t like reading the work of Mr. Hyde–it was just putting poetry to a narrow and unsatisfying use. Like you, I’m sure some of my anger gets out in writing and may even be a deep reason why I write, but I decided I needed the full range of emotions. I wonder if you even can exploit yourself in the way my teacher described. Maybe it’s better to write as you are, wherever you are, and leave judgment to others. Of course, that’s easy for me to say and hard to do. It sometimes seems judgment is with me always… whether in memory or in disposition, I’m never sure.

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. –D

      • I’m not sure it is possible to do exactly what your teacher described. I think one should write as oneself, feeling what oneself is feeling, and honestly, I think it takes a lot of energy to write in one sliver of emotion. I never try to “write angry”, and don’t even know if it comes off that way, but I know it is a part of why I write.

        I didn’t intend to turn your very insightful meditation on anger into a discussion about writing, but your post really got me to thinking about what I write and why– I had to blog about it myself (even if in a slightly kooky if not convoluted way *sigh*), and I just wanted to let you know I linked back here.

        Thanks for the excellent conversation. I’m looking forward to your next post!

  3. Pingback: friday confessional « naked.

  4. Anger, a powerful force in the universe. Unlimited supply. Turn it against ourselves, turn it against others, or channel the energy into something useful??? Not sure, but good to think about. Not a fan of repressing it but when it is hurtful to others it does cause icky feelings. Refreshing uses for anger???? a contest perhaps. much love to you for putting the struggle out there.

    • dmarshall58

      I’m not really a fan of repressing anger either, though I don’t find it’s expression very satisfying. I do like the idea of seeing it a power in the universe, though. That makes me think there might be some channeling it to more positive ends. Maybe that’s the way I ought to look at it. Thanks for visiting and commenting. –D

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