Yesterday, I spent some time with friends cleaning a public art installation in our town. Someone had intentionally smeared feces all over the project. My sadness turned into something else as I drove home. It turned to anger.
I am still learning the power of my angry words. Fortunately, I (still) have friends who have told me how I have hurt them with the turn of a phrase. It is unintentional—I can’t stand the thought of hurting someone I love with words, especially when I consider the power that others’ words have had over me. But this is not always true with my writing.
Arriving home, I barely spoke to my husband and instead went to the computer, where I found myself at the keyboard writing about the vandalization and the clean-up. I couldn’t take the time to hand-write this essay—instead, I chose the most expedient way, typing. Somehow, it seemed like the finished product should be more public, and so I posted the essay as a note on Facebook. The last thing I did was make the post public, purposefully sharing it with everyone.
One of the things I’ve been learning as I turn to writing full-time is to write for myself and not care what others think about what I write. There is personal satisfaction in finding the best words and, at times, working over a sentence until it expresses exactly how I feel. But this essay was different because I did put it on social media—not just the words, but my anger as well.
Here is the problem with anger in general—it is uncomfortable and it makes others uncomfortable. My harsh words created discomfort for those who may not have ever seen me truly angry or hurt—their instinct was to remind me of all the good things about the installation and project overall. These reminders made me angrier, mostly because I have this tendency myself—to prettify the putrid and hope for better days—and seeing it reflected back to me was in itself uncomfortable. I wanted to respond to every one of those who tried to cheer me with even more anger. Why?
Others had a different response, which was to absorb my disgust and anger and to share my words with others. It is my most-shared, most-read piece of writing according to Facebook’s analytics.
This is what I wanted, wasn’t it?
This anger was now not my own. It had spread to others. I had queasy misgivings late in the day and early into the evening about putting my anger on display and, worse, spreading it around for others to inhabit. I wanted to edit and delete the piece so much so that I turned to the thing I know how to do—cleaning. I distracted myself by scrubbing the heat disbursement plates of the outdoor grill. And then painting a door in the garage. These projects just made me angrier. I wrote finally to a wise friend who reminded me to accept and be grateful for the anger.
We are used to labeling anger as “bad,” but my friend was right. Anger is natural when we are confronted with something that assaults us. I don’t want to push this anger away—it spurred me to action in the form of writing and I did bring awareness to the issue.
I’m still examining why I posted the piece to Facebook and made it public. I am not sad about the essay itself because, like many, I don’t always know what I’m thinking until I see my thoughts written. Rather, what was the need inside myself that brought the essay to a public forum? What in myself necessitated this sharing of my anger?
This essay today is like the scrubbing of the grill. What I really wanted to write about when I sat down this morning was the outright murder of Philando Castile. But the heat disbursement plates need to be reinstalled before I let my anger burn again.
On the Pleasure of Hating, by William Hazlitt
(with thanks to William Bradley for introducing me to this essay)
This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things (the original Facebook post)
Understanding Racist Violence