I Don’t Need Anger Management

I just need people to stop pissing me off.

This saying has particular appeal to me because I’ve often been accused of being an angry person. I’m not going to deny it. I HAVE struggled with anger. But seriously, who hasn’t? It’s not like I’ve intentionally hurt anyone or set anything important on fire. So YOU’RE the one with the problem.

Ah, but I deflect.

Seriously though, I have had to work through some anger issues. Over the past two decades, I’ve done this predominantly through therapy, yoga, meditation, and yes, alcohol. The first three have been noticeably more effective than the fourth.

It should be noted that I’m by no means an angry drunk. In fact, I was always more in the “we should totally go to Canada/climb that cell tower/steal that grocery cart” camp. (A wink and nod to my former fellow campers. And sincerest apologies to those who were my keepers during such inspired moments.)

Still, and this may surprise you, there were occasions when alcohol backfired. Case in point – one afternoon, following a series of poor decisions, I was at a biker bar in Southern Florida, nearly blackout drunk and angrily attempting to start something with a woman with whom I had no business attempting to be starting something. I’ll spare you the details because 1) war stories are boring and 2) I don’t remember the details. I blacked out shortly after that defining moment. But when I came to later, there were three distinct claw marks across my back. I’m certain they were human.

And though I have no memory of the incident, I’m even more certain they were motivated by rage.

This story may be unsettling to those of you who have turned to me for guidance as a yoga teacher or a life coach. To you I say most sincerely, sorry but suck it up. And that’s not me being angry. It’s me being honest. And straight-up human. I don’t drink like that any more. But twenty years ago, “push it down with the brown” sure seemed like an easy way to manage my anger. Things are clearly not as they always seem.

Rebel Daisy demonstrates righteous indignation.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to dole out some heart-warming story that relays to you the vast and sundry methods I employed to turn my life around and overcome anger. Despite the yoga, therapy, and meditation, I haven’t overcome anger. Frankly, it’s not even a goal. While to some extent I feel that anger is my birthright as a redhead (albeit a greying redhead), I don’t desire to rid myself of it because I also recognize where anger has helped me. My therapist many years ago suggested I reframe anger as “righteous indignation.” I liked that suggestion. And yeah, sure. For the first few years as I worked to grasp that concept, I was merely dressing up my anger in a righteously indignant costume and parading it around like a rabid three-legged Chihuahua in a black-sequined cape.

These days though, I am better able to recognize that line between righteous indignation motivating me to take positive action, and anger threatening to take me down. Far more often than not, I have a handle on it. And that’s saying a lot, given that THESE DAYS, things are… challenging. I’ll spare you the details on that one too, since we’re ALL living it.

Yes, yoga and meditation have gone a long way in teaching me skills to manage my anger. I no longer feel the need to be free of it though. When approached mindfully and with awareness, it serves a purpose. For me, it can be a valuable tool.

It would be nice though if certain people would at least stop trying to piss me off so much…

I Licked It, So It’s Mine

Seems like a pretty solid rule. Especially these days.

But this isn’t a post about these days. Oh no. It’s not about the pandemic. And it’s not about last night when the so-called president of the United States freely and shamelessly used a racial slur on live national television; an action that surely endears him all the more to his base. Nope. None of that malarkey today. Not having ANY of it.

It would be far more amusing to talk about the five foul-mouthed grey parrots in a British wildlife park who taught one another to swear and then had a jolly good laugh about it. The naughty British avians had to be separated, but it wasn’t because anybody complained. In fact, the CEO of the park claimed quite the opposite. “When a parrot tells you to fuck off, it amuses people very highly,” he said. “It’s brought a big smile to a really hard year.” Even so, they felt that the birds might be a bad influence on the children visitors.

So with that sloppy segue in place, what I’d really like to talk about is children. More specifically, about being a child. A kid. Do you miss being a kid? It sure seems it was a simpler world when I could break into a wild run with no objection from my knees or hips; when my biggest complaint was that I was bored; when I could have illustrious “conversations” with otherworldly creatures deep beneath the sewer grate; when the rules were as simple as “I licked it, so it’s mine.”

Here’s the thing though. Humans have a legendary capacity to romanticize the past.

This drawing is exhibit #1 as to why I didn’t go into art professionally.

Sure, when I was a kid, I could spend hours drawing cartoon characters and could easily hop around the floor on my knees. Neither skill would prove to be terribly helpful as an adult. The former because it led me to foolishly believe I could someday make a living as a cartoonist and the latter because, well, no one I know really needs to be able to hop around on their knees. But I’m not gonna lie – I enjoyed them both. As such, it’s SO easy to remember childhood as all sugar cubes and Puff the Magic Dragon. Yes, for the more astute and experimentally-minded readers, those are drug references. Because there are times when being a kid feels as magical as being on hallucinogens.

But peel back the glittery and shiny epidermal layers and you’ll reveal the seedier underbelly of being a kid.

Of course, I can’t speak for your childhood. I can only speak for mine. And I was very lucky to grow up in a home environment where I felt loved, valued, and safe. Even so, I found navigating the world outside my home terrifying. I was socially awkward, which is why I found such camaraderie among the imaginary sewer grate community. And I was frequently bullied – one time to the point of walking to school for two years rather than cower in fear from the mean girls on the bus who hated me for reasons I never understood.

I guess I just didn’t have the right look. The other girls in my neighborhood all seemed to have skin that tanned in the summer months and long straight blond hair that “feathered” – an enviable feature in the 1970s. With my pale and freckled skin, buck teeth, and curly red hair that left me sporting an Irish Afro from April through October, I bore an uncanny resemblance to Napolean Dynamite. At least, that’s how I saw myself. Of course, that character didn’t exist in the 1970s. But you get the point.

That’s why I cringe when folks wax poetic about the good old days; about how things were so much easier back when; about making things “great again.” Because the reality is, if we’re willing to look honestly at our past, nothing has ever been great for any extended amount of time. And certainly not great for EVERYONE. Even in those periods of your life when things were better, they probably weren’t as great as you remember. And you can bet that someone else was likely having a hell of a time. It’s important to remember that any given time, your worst day may look like someone else’s best day.

So each time I get nostalgic for the halcyon days of my youth, I smile. Because yeah, there were some good times. But there were some really bad times too. THAT’S HOW LIFE WORKS. And believing in a return to a fictional past gilded in gold and perpetually in the rays of an eternal sun is the domain of a madman and nothing but pure folly.

I’d prefer to stay in the moment, thanks.

I Used to Be a People Person

Until people ruined it for me. That’s the full saying. I used to be a people person. Until people ruined it for me. That’s not true for me though because it’s safe to say I’ve NEVER been a people person. And the way things are going, I don’t think I ever will be.

Sure, I harbored some suspicions that I might actually like people when in the first grade I aspired to win a seat on the esteemed student council. This would be the beginning of what would become my less than illustrious political career. Every Tuesday, I was afforded the honor of spending my recess and subsequent lunch in the company of high-powered fourth and fifth graders hungry for policy reform. Meanwhile, I gazed over the metal edge of my Muppets lunchbox and directly out the window, hungry only for the peanut butter and marshmallow sandwich I’d brought for lunch. Three meetings in, I recognized that politics was not my bag.

In hindsight, there’s a good chance that my political ambitions were, in truth, more driven by my crush on Mike Maxwell – a fellow first-grader councilman whom, at the time, I likened to Luke Skywalker. But without the lightsaber. (Do with that what you will.)

Soon enough, I realized it was the other four days of the week I adored. Those were the days I spent the entirety of recess on the swings. Alone. Away from people. Even on the coldest winter days when I could have shared in their warmth. I simply saw no point in playing games or racing around like a crazed hyena chasing a classmate. (Not even Mike Maxwell.) And I certainly had no intention of hanging upside down on the metal monkey bars situated over vast expanses of skull-crushing concrete that apparently nobody cited as a safety issue in the 1970s.

Then after recess, I’d settle at the end of a long table in the cafegymatorium with Mike Raskin who, like me, preferred mustard to ketchup on his hot lunch potatoes. We were regarded as miscreants and pariahs for this anomoly and other students were content to give us plenty of space.

Although truth be told, Mike was already regarded with extreme hesitation. He was an outsider with no friends. His utter lack of friends had little to do with this culinary misstep, however. Though he was always kinds to me, he was temperamental and mean to others. He was angry and scary and I was often scorned for my willingness to lunch with him. But he let down his guard with me and he made me laugh. Coming from a loving home, I had no clue the abuse he was victim to in his own home.

Embroidery allows me to shut off from people.

Over the years and all through adolescence, I continued to steer clear of crowds, parties, or other situations that were too “peoply.” Yet I’d continue to befriend the friendless. It felt like some sort of moral obligation to have compassion for those who were odd, off-center, or who had just arrived on a direct flight from the Island of Misfit Toys.

The bullies were another story though. Especially when I started becoming a target. And it always made me think back to Mike Raskin. In my befriending him, had I been complicit to his bad behavior toward others? Did I feed off his anger to some degree? Or was I simply being his friend?

Forty-four years later, I still can’t say for certain. What I do know is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to conjure up the compassion I once had for the Mike Raskins of the world – abusive homes notwithstanding. I get it. But too many people are no longer merely disagreeable or unlikeable. With their rage, anger, and hatred unleashed, they are now dangerous. And what’s worse is all of those who stand by – complicit.

From Moliere’s The Misanthrope:

“My hate is general, I detest all men;
Some because they are wicked and do evil,
Others because they tolerate the wicked,
Refusing them the active vigorous scorn
Which vice should stimulate in virtuous minds.”

I’m not a people person. But I don’t detest all men or mankind. And while I don’t share Anne Frank’s virtuous outlook, I do believe there are plenty of good people in the world. In fact, I know there are.

It’s pretty hard to contest the rest of the quote though. And something’s SERIOUSLY gotta give.

Six years ago, things were different here in the United States. I was living under the now blaringly false notion that the majority of the country was at least accepting of having a black president.  And there was a good chance the next president would be a woman. I was certain that Rowe v. Wade would never be truly under threat. And it seemed that the decades of tireless efforts from environmentalists was finally making a difference. Finally, never did I conceive that I’d read a horrifying headline like the one I did just yesterday – “Four charged after black man is strangled, set on fire in Iowa ditch.” I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. It’s a fucking travesty.

So yeah, while I’ve never been a people person, the likelihood of my becoming one anytime soon is looking pretty grim. And only people are to blame.