Another Middle Finger – This Time, It’s Personal

No, this post is not about my fractured middle finger from a few posts ago, though it is healing nicely, thanks for asking.

Yesterday morning, I was driving to drop off my kids at their mom’s house on my way to work. They were subdued and barely conscious, having just woken up minutes before I herded them into the car. It was a peaceful morning, and the sun was already hot as it filtered through my dirty windshield. I came to an intersection, and stopped at the red light. I tapped on the steering wheel in time with the music on the radio, waiting for the light to change.

I was in the third of four lanes of traffic, so there were two lanes between me and the curb on the right. I had a few cars in front of me, but no cars to my right, so I had a clear view of the bus stop at the corner. I wasn’t really paying attention to anything, just waiting for the light to change, as I glanced at the people waiting on the bench for their bus.

Then I saw him. Young man, mid-twenties, sitting away from the rest of the people at the bus stop. Scowl on his face, arm extended, middle finger raised in the air. Both the scowl and the finger were directed at me.

This bus stop stranger was flipping me off. Read Whole Post

Admission is Free

Some very wise men once described anger as “the dubious luxury of normal men”. The statement goes on to indicate that, for a certain segment of society, anger is poison.

I’m one of those people for whom anger — or rather, the finer variety of “justified anger” — is poison. Anger in itself isn’t bad – as a God-given emotion, anger is useful in indicating when a boundary has been breached, and directs my attention to something I need to focus on.

But justified anger is rife with trouble for me, because it allows me to get self-righteous and judgmental. I get carried away with it, and by “carried away”, I mean I move farther away from my spritiual center. I lose the sense of peace and serenity that I find when I stay close to that center. And I become someone whose company I don’t enjoy.

My last post, Rant-O-Rama, was written mostly in jest, however, it was all the truth — those things really do bug me. And a few of them REALLY bug me. A friend of mine pointed out that the items I listed – the things I was ranting about – are no different from the long list of grievances that would normally be found in a person’s “moral inventory”.  And she was right.

I need to admit the truth about these resentments. “To admit” doesn’t mean “to confess”, it means “to let in”. (“Just like a movie ticket says ‘Admit One’ to let you in the theater”, my friend Rich points out – a helpful analogy for someone like me.) I need to let the truth in about these resentments. I need to look at my part in all this. What part can I own? The answer is clear: I can own my resentments.

Resentments choke the life out of me. I cannot thrive while I hold onto them. They’re like invasive weeds taking over a garden — if they’re not dealt with, they soon grow so big that their leaves and stalks block the sunlight from reaching what I actually planted. No growth can occur in a place like that.

How do I deal with resentments? By reducing my expectations. Resentments are born when expectations are unfulfilled. So what can I do about the things I ranted about last time?

Forgive. See a different way. Reduce my expectations of these people / places / things to the point that it becomes okay for them to do what they do. Because they are going to do what they do regardless of what I think, feel, or say, so the only person who will be troubled by my disapproval is me.

So to re-visit my rants from earlier in the week, I will make an effort to own my part in them, and to see them in a different way:

*The IRS – taxing is what they do. It is the price I pay to live in this country. I can own my attachment to money and admit that I could easily adjust my withholding, investments, and spending habits to reduce future tax owed.

*Inappropriate quotation marks use – that’s my inner perfectionist talking. I can own that my inner perfectionist likes to make me feel better by pointing out the mistakes of others. I admit this shortcoming and see it in the light of day for the hypocritical trait that it is, for I am far from perfect.

*People on the freeway who speed up to prevent me from moving into their lane – these people don’t know me, and I don’t know them, and the encounters with them last a matter of seconds – yet I make them last for hours or days with my resentment. I can own that I think these people shouldn’t do what they do, and that’s just what I think.

*Haters – I sit in judgment of them, and that is not my seat.

*My iPod displaying incorrect album covers – come on, now. This is what is called a “quality problem”. I can admit that I’m a whiny bitch sometimes.

*Messy people in the kitchen at work – I can own my sometimes obsessive need for cleanliness, and admit that I don’t have to clean up after them, but by doing so, I’m being of service.

*Facebook friends asking me to post things in my status – this is just more of me saying “I wouldn’t do that, therefore you shouldn’t either.” It’s grandiose to think the rest of the world should be like me. And it’s perfectly okay for people to raise awareness of causes dear to them. I can be grateful for these people and their presence in my life, even if it’s virtual through a social network site.

*The state of political discourse – people can talk; I can choose what I let in. The shouters and the swayers and the mad-as-hell proclaimers have the right to shout and sway and proclaim if they want to. I can own my tendency to want to avoid conflict and negative energy, and admit that nothing is “negative” until I put that label on it.

*The Westboro Baptist Church – I can pity these people who are so consumed by fear and hate. I can find gratitude that my spirit is free, and own that my judgment of them stems from my own fear.

*Bullies / child abusers / animal abusers – these people were hurt themselves, and are walking through life with untended wounds. I can own my potential to be as abusive and hurtful as they are, and admit that I am just as capable of harm as anyone. Love is the answer, every time.

*My local donut shop –  I own my judgment that they don’t do what I think they should do. Big deal. I need to stop going there anyway. I’m getting fat.

*E-mailers lamenting the loss of the “good old days” – again, judging that they shouldn’t do what they do. I own that I read these e-mails by choice, and admit that sometimes there are points in those “good old days” e-mails that I actually agree with.

*Jackholes who litter the beach with their cigarette butts – I can own that they do what I think they shouldn’t do, and admit that I used to be a smoker and thus I’m sure I left my share of cigarette butts in places other than ashtrays.

That’s the list. I think I owned my part in each of those resentments, and admitted the truth about them. At least, I did the best I could today.

I’m happy to post this follow-up to the Rant-O-Rama – as good as it felt at the time to get that out, I admit that afterward it didn’t feel so great. Something about putting that negativity out there –however humorous it may have been– was incongruent with the theme of this blog. When I’m ranting, I’m not watching the blinking lights. It’s more like I’m cursing the darkness.

Interestingly, though — that post had the most views on the day it was published of any post I’ve made to date – and it’s the ONLY post I’ve published that prompted someone to click the “Like” star at the top of the blog window. Is this an indicator that people respond better to the angry, the negative, the disgruntled? Would I increase my subscribers if I started ranting on a regular basis?

Maybe. But I’d need to change the name of my blog. Something like “The Asshat Chronicles”, perhaps.

A Flourish of Hate

It sounds like a real bummer topic for a blog entry, but relax – it was just a writing prompt I saw on yesterday. I briefly toyed with the idea of naming this post the exact opposite to counteract the ugliness of the phrase – something like “A Fanfare of Love” – but that title made me want to throw up a little. 

“Craft a poem or story based on this metaphor: ‘a flourish of hate’.” Intriguing prompt, I thought. It sounded like it had potential. For some reason it conjured images of an eighteenth century bureaucrat signing a piece of oppressive legislation and signing it with a pen that had a long fluffy red plume that danced and swayed with his signature, which was all loopy and curvy and pretentious. As he signed it, he declared, “There you have it: a flourish (he rolled his r so it came out “flour-r-ish”) of hate! Ha-ha!”  Clearly this man would be the villain of the piece. He had rotten teeth and a powdered wig and bad skin and never married due to his poor hygiene – my mind put it all together instantly. So without hesitation (or regard to the fact that I know next to nothing about eighteenth century living so the piece was likely to suck hard), I typed it at the top of a page.

And it sat there.

The prompt sat at the top of the page, inviting me to communicate. Real friendly-like. “C’mon, man” it taunted. “Eighteenth century dude. Frilly pen. ‘Flour-r-ish’. It’s all here. Whatcha waiting for?”

I couldn’t write about it, despite feeling that I needed to. Eventually that little writing prompt began to feel like a person I started a conversation with and soon discovered I shouldn’t have. You know the scenario – you meet someone, they seem pleasant enough at first, but then after just a few minutes, you realize they’re kind of annoying, fairly ignorant, and borderline insane, and you start to fear for your safety, and before you know it you’re scanning the room for the exits and judging whether you can sprint to the door before they retrieve the knife they carry in their boot. We’ve all been there, right?

“A flourish of hate.”

The subject wouldn’t leave my mind. Even after the bureaucrat with the fancy pen faded from my mind and I was just left with those four words on a blank page, I started to wonder, “Why did I find that particular prompt out of the 346 total prompts displayed on that web page? Is there a message for me here? Why can’t I just pick another prompt? Why don’t I want to write about this? And what is the real reason I don’t want to write about it – the reason I won’t admit to myself?”

I can’t stand it when I wonder so much that I start to ask myself questions because it usually leads to work of some kind, but the truth is, if I am “stuck” on a thing, I usually have two reasons why: the first reason that I admit out loud, and the second, more powerful reason, that sometimes remains hidden even from me.

So I will write about “a flourish of hate.” But instead of the B.O.-ridden bureaucrat (his name would have been Thaddeus if he had lived), I have decided to write about my experience with hate. There may or may not be a flourish involved.

I have had hate in my heart. There, I admit it. You all heard it, you are all witness – I’ve hated before. I am not talking about my dislike of brussel sprouts or my disdain for the state of American popular music today. I’m talking about pure, unadulterated, seething hatred – the kind of hate that obliterates all rational thought and replaces it with a dark energy that flows out from my body and kills houseplants with its toxicity. Huh-ate.

It’s not the kind of hate that gets lots of airplay on the news – not the broad, generalized version found in hate-crimes, the crippling hatred of racism – nothing of that scale. It’s more like the personal kind of hate that often gets depicted in literature or films. It’s my own private hatred of a few individuals. A select list of people who have one thing in common: my scorn.

Names? You want names? Come on, people, you don’t think I’d be that classless here, do you? First of all, they would mean nothing to you – I could list names like John Fairmore and Ed Lindstrom and Ariel Quackenbush and you would just wonder, “Are those real people? Did he just change their names? What did they do to him? Does he really know someone with the surname ‘Quackenbush’?” (Answers: No, they’re not real; I made up the names; they did nothing to me; and no I don’t know the Quackenbushes).

Besides – the objects of my hate are unimportant, because my hate is not about them. This is a truth that took a long, long time for me to understand. My hate is simply that: mine. It’s about me.

It isn’t anger I’m dealing with. Anger, my friend Rich tells me, is a God-given emotion that is directing our attention to something that isn’t working. Rich is a physicist and one of those scary-smart people that could make me feel incredibly stupid if he wanted to but he never does, and in fact he is one of the most accepting people I have ever met. Anger, says Rich, is a feeling, and feelings are not facts; they are neither good nor bad, they are just “indicators”. He’s always saying cryptic things like this and I nod like I understand and then ask him to explain what the hell that means.

Anger is healthy, he tells me. It is when we get to abusing it that it becomes the character defect of wrath – one of “the Seven Deadlies” as he refers to them.  “WRATH”. That word has always conjured images of dark, evil creatures with pointed tails and leathery wings that will steal me from my bed in the night and spirit me away to miserable places like fabric stores or the DMV.

Wrath seems to be kissing cousins with Hate. Can you have one without the other? I think not.

My ego will tell me that something as unsavory as “hate” is beneath me. My ego is a nasty little bugger who is constantly yammering crazy ideas in my head like a bratty little kid all hopped up on pixie sticks and Nyquil, and he likes to tell me, “Of course it’s about me! EVERYTHING is about me”. But that doesn’t apply to ugly character defects like wrath or hate – that’s not something my ego wants to own. Among all my baggage, the Hate Bag is the one that remains on the carousel, covered with tags from all the places it has been, going round and round, unclaimed, until finally alerting security and putting the airport on lockdown.

This bratty-little-kid (I call him Attila) says innocently, “Why, I don’t hate anyone! I could NEVER hate anyone, because I’m a Nice Guy!” The logic apparently being,

I am a Nice Guy.
Nice Guys don’t hate.
Ergo, I don’t hate.

Of course there is a word for this – denial. I know this, you know this, but sometimes there’s just no getting through to Attila. He’s usually too busy taking down names and cataloguing resentments for future reference.

So there is a list of people that have come and gone in my life for whom I have held absolute hatred. But here’s another truth that was hard for me to learn: Whatever the people on this list did –whether they actually did something, or whether I just imagine they did something – they did not do it to me. They just did something, and I hurt over it. That is the extent of it. What I do (I could blame Attila, but alas, Attila is just me) is I create my experience of it as one who was “done wrong”, who was “betrayed”, who was “victimized”, by the person in question. My whole focus becomes the other person’s actions instead of my own actions, and we all know which of those is within my control.

The question that I have to ask myself, when I get down to the simple facts of a matter, is “Why isn’t it okay for that person to be who he/she is? Why isn’t it okay for them to be flawed? To make the mistakes they made? To value something else more than they value me? To make choices I wouldn’t have made? Why isn’t it okay for them to be human?” And if I’m lucky, I’ll get around to asking, “Why am I letting their actions affect me so much?”

It is, of course, okay for them to be human. But if I focus only on my pain, I get angry. And if I dwell in my anger, I get hateful. And hate, Yoda would tell me, leads to the Dark Side. And if I honestly search my heart for the reasons why I hate, I usually find that there is something about myself that I am not addressing. Maybe I’ve been guilty of the same transgression for which I am condemning other person. Maybe I recognize I’m capable of committing the same mistakes as they are. Maybe I never realized that my own grandiosity made it impossible for these people to live up to such unrealistic expectations in the first place. Maybe I’m not telling the truth about my own flawed, human existence. Maybe I have the same potential for assholery as anyone else does.

These are truths I admit out loud. I share them with people freely. But as I mentioned, there is usually another truth, one that remains hidden, sometimes hidden even from myself. The truth about my hatred that I don’t admit out loud is: I hate because I choose to. And I choose to because it’s easier.

It’s easier to blindly hate someone else than it is to own my defects of character. It’s easier to hate that person who “betrayed” me because then I get to play the victim and blame my troubles on that person. It’s easy to be judge, jury and executioner to that person because then I don’t have to look at my self-centered fear. It’s easier to make the other person “bad” and “wrong” and deny their humanness than it is to acknowledge that I’m simply refusing to see it any other way. That, after all, is the essence of forgiveness: to see it another way.

I can always choose to see it another way, or I can choose to hang on to the pain, thereby ensuring the hatred thrives. How I create the experience is up to me. I get to choose, and I often forget that I have a choice.

I don’t think I could’ve written this much about Thaddeus and his oppressive governance. I see there was another purpose for my stumbling upon that writing prompt. I reckon it is up to the reader to determine if there was actually “a flourish of hate” in this post. It certainly didn’t end up being about what I thought it would when I began. I guess the purpose here was not about experiencing creative writing but to write about creating experience.

Next time, it might be more fun for me to go with a simpler, basic writing prompt – like, “What I Did On My Summer Vacation”, because there’s lots of interesting stuff to write about there. Like this one time, at Burning Man…