Sunday, June 15, 2008

Anger management

Anger is a prime motivating force in life and dramatic writing. Two angry countries may produce a war, two people an argument, and two characters a story.

Anger begins with mild awareness, heats up a bit to irritation, boils over into outburst; it may continue to seethe with its friend and adjunct, resentment for days, years, generations. A splendid example of the etiology of anger is found in a joke old enough to anger most story tellers over the fact that they hadn't been the first to tell it:

During the course of a morning's work with a hoe, Henry snaps the handle of his implement, curses the loss, then sets off to his neighbor in hopes of borrowing his hoe. Henry has not gone far when he begins to wonder if Sam will actually loan his hoe, particularly given that Henry's use of his own hoe has resulted in disaster. He'd better, Henry muses, or he's no true neighbor. I really need that hoe. Shrugging off the doubt, Henry continues his trek to Sam's home. After all, what are neighbors for? Neighbors are supposed to help one another, right? But now Henry is visited by the memory of Sam refusing to loan the hoe, based on some obscure principal that, Henry observes, is just like Sam. Well, he'd just better not refuse me, Henry ventures as he nears Sam's farm, and quickens his pace, impressed with his urgent need for the hoe. Then, from the shade of a large oak, Sam appears, waves a greeting to Henry. "Hi there, Neighbor. What brings you around at this time of day?

By now, Henry is thoroughly worked up. "Listen you; you can keep your damned hoe."

As you will have observed from your own dissection of anger, this powerful emotional surge often has fear connected with it. The person who cuts us off precipitously on the freeway has caused a squirt of adrenaline to course into the ecosystem, a warning to be on guard against being creamed or sideswiped or worse. That idiot could have killed me. And thus the fear has worked its way through the hybrid engine system of the psyche to anger.

What do you mean, you drank the last beer in the fridge? (You took something I wanted.)
What do you mean, no Christmas bonuses this year! (You took something I deserved. Well--thought I deserved. Well--hoped for.)
What do you mean, you want a divorce! (I worked while you went to law school.)
What do you mean, you've met someone else? (She's still a kid!)

There are any number of sub-species of anger, frustration among them, which results in the anger of frustration of not having our own way, not getting what we wanted, not being agreed with (particularly after having just made a compelling and balanced logical argument).

There is the anger of the young at not being taken seriously, the anger of the old for creaking when we walk or being considered behind the times, the anger of being considered still "on a learning curve" and the anger at being considered passe, the anger of being in a line when the person in front of us pulls out a coin purse and begins to count pennies, the anger of forgetting a fact or a name well known to us only minutes before, the anger of having allowed one's self to be talked out of a position that later proves to have been correct (say touted off a winning horse), the anger of being told that the person in front of us got the last of whatever it is we were in line for, the anger of discovering that you need four new tires instead of two...

There is the anger of defensiveness: Of course I'm all right, how do you think I look!

There is the anger of being wrong. So I made a little mistake. So sue me. (What do you mean, you'll sue me!)

The elderly grow cranky they are not yoga-flexible any longer, the younger wax impatient to be elderly and solvent; they meet sometimes in the middle, throwing things, insults, epithets, challenges at one another, driving story as though it were a new model iPhone, waiting to be released.

To understand anger, a writer must sympathize with it, experience it, see where its frequent flier miles will take it; a writer must forswear it, turn the other adverb, recognize the degree to which it is soldered into our neural pathways, recognize it as a part of us with which, John McCain to the contrary notwithstanding, we must be willing to sit down at the negotiating table with no preconditions.

As we are story, it is us.

What do you mean, I've gone on too long?


Wild Iris said...

No, not too long at all. Anger is an interesting creature to study, and very necessary for dynamic story telling. What motivations does a villain have without anger over something? What cause does the hero have to fight the villain but the reason of righteous indignation, which is another variety of anger... one based on the need to protect one's own sense of ethics and morals. Why? Because there is a fear that if those things are challenged that life as it's known to the hero will crumble and collapse, and when that happens, as in some of the best stories it does, we either watch the hero transform into his own nemesis, or we watch him overcome all of his doubts and rise to the challenge of reasserting his morals and beliefs as they apply to his life.

And now, it is I that have gone on for too long.

Pod said...

hello mr l!
i like your emblem
and i hope you are well

Anonymous said...

Anger is terrifying in my own life, but perfect for my writing. It may well be endless in both.

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