Anger In The Normal World
“…he impressed upon me, in the rigidity of my embarrassment, that it is unmanly to burden others with one’s grief. Even though it is man’s particularly unhappy aptitude to see to it that his fate is shared.” -Frederick Exley, A Fan’s Notes
It seems to me that in a lot of ways anger may be diffused into the amateur mind of youth and young adulthood, that the two may be compared and spoken of as compatible.
I don’t know how it seeps or drifts away in the years that follow my own, past 20, or how it stays and intensifies with each added responsibility or stumped fulfillment. (Are fathers angrier than I am?)
The immediate goal, viscerally, is for someone, the object of your rage, to take and own it for you, to keep you from being alone with it—the voice will open a box in this person’s psyche, your discomfort will color the notes passing through the air, and for the rest of your life the hang-up will no longer be yours. This hope of anger is to erase memory, to remove moment and mind.
“And are you sorry?” she said.
‘In a way!’ he replied, looking up at the sky.
‘I thought I’d done with it all. Now I’ve begun again!’
-D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Madness, when it returns, is a personal failure, a disappointment. I thought I’d done with it all. I speak in my life with a tone of finality once my emotions have slid into a different tone—from bleakness to happiness, from limbo back onto my feet. This time, I explain, for the rest of my life it’ll be like this. No more lies, my voice just so.
You come upon people by looking at their bodies. Very few carry pure descriptions of themselves. Look at matted hair, you may see someone who doesn’t shower, and understand that he very much appreciates things that don’t have much to do with other people—his groin smells, his eyes are padded with a scratchy purple hue. He’s had a terrific loss from the pit of his life, he does drugs every day, hand-to-mouth misty pills, at his desk. That’s what you’ll see. A young man walking away from his apartment, hunched at the neck. Maybe he’ll be smoking, snarling—wearing all blue, the same color blue, shirt and pants. It’s an outlined person in a coloring book, completely devoid of confident color, with his figure drawn by your own projection. You look on the wall and see shadows, thinking you understand the fire that makes them. His feelings come from you. He’s trying to get rid of himself.
Junior year on a drizzling night I went to Molly’s all-girls play with a blue sweater—a friend of mine, another blonde girl who I kissed during Halloween in her white van in her bumblebee costume, played a nun who smoked fake stage cigarettes with throbbing embers and awaited the Pope’s arrival in New York. (I’m actually combining years, talking about two separate plays, but it’s the same feeling.) She said she was thinking of me while puffing her prop with a Brooklyn accent. After the play we all greeted them with or without flowers. I stood in back waiting to be approached.
I read The Sun Also Rises. Then I read Kerouac and his biography. He rode along the Merrimack River in Lowell with his mill worker progeny friends, focused on deflowering his high school girlfriend Mary Carney by the water while writing stories during the day—comfortable as two people, because it was all just himself in mental solitude—literature, religion, sex, and gin. A hollow man attempting to stuff himself for his needs—I need more. Rilke says to the young poets, “And in fact artistic experience lies so incredibly close to that of sex, to its pain and its ecstasy, that the two manifestations are indeed but different forms of one and the same yearning and delight.” Every young man (especially me, to my mind) obsesses in the animal credibility, the truth of unlaundered sex. Even the illiterate write vulnerable karma truths on Madonna bellies.
Behind lust is rage and frustration—anger at the Freudian mother (mother you didn’t protect me from him and all this trouble), the whore is a young man’s creation—all women are fit to name-call themselves and each other but a young man will never care for cattiness (beyond a wry smile) until he has his own opinion. With depth a young women is often like a young man: learned but immaturely simple, wanting each other for status and codependent care for a moment, not revealing natural feelings until shocking each other in therapist offices in their fifties, or when the children come and life is beyond an ephemeral occupancy.
The male outrage: How dare you tell me I have no order—How dare you tell me what to wear, where to stand, who to fear, who to protect you from—one day I’ll be a father, and more than anything I’m afraid and unprepared so I’m furious. --Mental yelling is residual pain—inability, terror, shame. Lists that fragile names didn’t make, uncolored judgments of virility in the mind. I’ve never wanted anyone to tell me that I’m too weak for something. Children divide the world into the powerful and the weak. At school now the perceptions of this are personal, depending on your own self-esteem. Today I woke up in my red sheets, pulled something on my lower half, and went for my hot Lipton teeth-staining tea…that’s all.
Splitting (10:36 p.m.): I once said, in order to get out of trouble, that I’d punched a friend in the stomach because his jokes were getting too harsh. He liked flicking Bic lighters in people’s (guys and girls) faces—stand still a minute and turn around to a wick of filament flame in your eye by your shirt collar. He’d laugh at you.
He drank beer like it was all his good time, Fred, he thought he was perfect for at sixteen having his own car, a full beard (on holidays), and careless, simple parents. Fred had a ping pong table in his backyard and a lawn scattered with dog shit. The family all went to the same Catholic schools through life, he bought 40 oz Mickey’s underage with the privilege of his mature looks—weathered face, no muscles, Irish hair everywhere—and kept them rolling around the carpet of his trunk. He offered rides and to buy alcohol in order to create and harness power, and he’d remind you of it.
In somber moments, like nights looking out into a great view, he would be agreeable and speak softly, a friend of mine whose appraisals would change with shifts in behavior. I said that I hit him in the stomach for having pushed us all around with his wind.
Why tell the truth—I was in deep, deep trouble for a lack of courage. Heroism, that worth a dolt, evens the savage mood. Victims demand martyrdom. It was a startling and facetious admission, a strategy. I believed in what I saw. I grabbed onto ledges while falling.
Perhaps anger starts the first time you see it. It builds up like walls of a disease. Picking away at it without focus is like going without treatment. Some addicts say that the first time they tried their drug/drink of choice, it felt like the planets aligned. All of us could admit to being parts of furious things, our families would admit to not being perfect. Some would claim, beyond all doubt, that theirs is the absolute worst.
An outlaw is somebody who can be defined as living outside (not necessarily against) the law.
One of my favorite books is The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, a thick black book that looks like it was taken off a pirate ship. I bought it in San Francisco in October last year from a rare shelf when I was on assignment for a magazine, I was covering a literary event on Van Ness honoring Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I had to wake up at five in the morning to get back to SFO for a plane home in time for parent’s weekend at school (an event for other people, I see my parents every week anyway).
Flying back to Los Angeles (after spilling bland, scalding Starbucks tea on my thigh while reading over my bagel in an airport chair next to a church group), grabbing a ride back to my apartment on McClintock, I felt like I could be doing everything that I wanted to do. There were people there, up north, that I knew about and met who are my age, barely going to school (or not at all), who spend every night of the week going to and performing in poetry events around the city. It’s still not very clear to me how their lives work.
San Francisco has always been the tilted world of verse in America, and there’s a culture there now that has no rival in New York or anywhere else really but Portland in terms of authentic and lovely outlets. My family moved from SF to Los Angeles slightly before I was born. It had been their home their whole lives, since they’d been Europeans.
The thought of possibility made me hate the balcony I was sitting on, reading the Outlaw Bible, words of volition and personal truth. I was on a chair with a blue padded cushion and little domestic sympathy. Sometimes my life felt like it could be like theirs. Arthur Rimbaud used to write “Shit On God” on French churches. At readings at the campus open mic I’d quoted his poetry. I’m a normal kid who hisses behind the wall. I’ve never stolen anything from a store. I’ve never broken a bottle over anyone’s head.
I rolled my sleeves, got up, wanted somebody to talk to. My roommate’s friend’s cigarette butts made a sewer of our air conditioner water. All my friends were with their parents, brothers, sisters, showing sorority houses, wearing spirit shirts. I carried a copy of the magazine with my name printed in the editorial box, looked again, and lay in bed the afternoon and eventually, after telling myself I could work on that amount of sleep, I wrote.
The important distinction, and why it’s possible to be calm with yourself and different, is that living “outside” the law allows you to follow natural inclinations, while living “against” it demands some sort of uncomfortable action, as if the system were in desperate need of your rage. I’m more interested in focusing on myself than any huge and dumb standard made up of the people only heard about.
Polemics are a practice of the subconscious if they’re done right. If honesty leads me against the system then the system will let me know it has a problem with me. The politics and structures of this world would be a lot healthier if people constructed themselves throughout their lives. Isn’t one of the pleasures of youth the ability to remain entirely self-centered without incredible consequence (most of the time).
There are things about the world that make me angry—the obvious social politics, the absence of reality in what is handed to us (anyone against gay marriage should be forced to engage in public acts of hetero sex until their arrogance shatters and shame shrivels them into benevolence). And then there are things about me, inside me, that make my world angry, shaking, as if ether is shaking, making decisions in my fragility. One of life’s biggest fears is missing out on meaning because of mental fogginess. On good days it’s possible to be in charge. On bad days I approach you feeling like a creature, and worse, like a human being, I involve other people in my slow burn.
In middle school I learn that I am actually more Russian than Italian. My best friend’s father and my girlfriend’s mother ask me what it’s like to have a big Italian family while I’m over their respective houses for dinner. My friend and girlfriend turn red and try to protect me from the question (after all, it’s my dad’s name—Juliani). In Russian literature in college I learn that “Russian Soul” or “spleen”—i.e. “suffering from the spleen”—indicates that one is given to moroseness, resentment, scowls, sensitivity.
Russian Soul (6:04 p.m.): Any anger, I know, has no color. It looks like coal. It feels like coal. Mary is telling me, from the end of the Easter-colored bed, that I make it so personal when we disagree—I immediately find the most incredible, emotional thing to say. The stone around us outside this populated window is groomed with police officers, gruff and obliging maintenance men, and young people our age who I feel are almost nothing like me when they stay outside, drink in full rooms, and don’t want to be close to anybody. They pass by laughing under the squirrels hanging from tree limbs. The people going alone move quickly and rub their noses. A part of me enjoys the release of our arguments—you’re told, when you repeat offend pathologically, that you must enjoy it if you do it so much—and though it sounds egregious, eliciting a mucous scoff, it’s right. You’re drawn to it dumbly.
Arguments are like this because of the build-up—resentment/annoyance piles, sits in the stomach and eyes like jaundice or shit. You pour the water of it on each other. With solitude and love being the two most difficult (and thus most worthwhile) questionings of young life misunderstood, the two often rub on the way to sublimation.
The man always sounds angrier—“He’ll [with a gesture] always sound angrier,” the therapist says. A lot of it’s because he is and wants to make sure he’s heard.