May 31, 2016
What makes you angry
When I was trying to do stand-up comedy, back in the early aughts, an older comic taught me a tried-and-true method for writing jokes. Ask yourself: What makes you angry? What disgusts you? What do you really, really loathe? Whatever it is, that’s what you write about. This is how I wound up with 60 minutes of material about porn, sexism, and what we now call “fuckbois,” though we lacked that apt and succinct descriptor back then.
I remember sitting with my notebook at the Bon Vivant Diner on 12th and Broadway – a truly terrible diner, by the way; the only dead diner I don’t mourn for – after finding out that a houseguest had run up a $600 phone bill for calls to a sex line with a mnemonic that indicated serious psychosexual damage. (The houseguest, coincidentally, was the above-mentioned older comic, who had been crashing on my couch, platonically – OR SO I THOUGHT.) I sat there, making myself weep with laughter while I wrote a full ten minutes of material about sex lines, material I was still doing when Bill and I first met, which is why, fourteen years later, asking him the question, “What are you wearing?” elicits the automatic answer, “Clown shoes and a tutu.”
I get out a lot of my anger on mornings that I exercise. My playlists are full of fuck-you songs – for the past month, I’ve had Beyonce screaming, “WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK I IS?” to motivate me. I usually spend a large part of my exercise time brooding about whatever personal disagreements I’m having (or disagreements I’ve had in the past 3 to 5 years – those work too), and another big chunk goes to brooding over social injustice and political fuckery. I mentally compose epic responses to Facebook comments; I draft posts wherein I excoriate people by name for the ugly, inhumane shit they say. Usually by the cool-down, I’ve re-worded my imaginary posts so they’re more passive-aggressive and condescending than outright raging, but believe me, they are still very caustically worded, and would be psychologically devastating to some acquaintances of mine.
While showering is when I reach peak compassion. The grueling part is over, the endorphins are kicking in, and now I am trying to figure out a way to lovingly guide whichever misbegotten asshole is atop my shit list into a happier way of being. Unfortunately, by the time I get to the conditioner, I have remembered that the vast majority of other people are just as purposefully stupid and proud as I am, and they will never, ever admit that they are hurting themselves and others in a totally avoidable way. And then I despair.
Anger is so much more productive than despair. Anger is active, aggressive, alive. It’s optimistic, in that it makes you believe that your will matters in the world. Often, it’s really funny. When I’m angry, I can run up a hill while yelling along with Beyonce. When I despair, everything is futile, nothing matters, and I just want to sit and decompose. Eventually, my body demands that I feed it, or take it to the bathroom, and I grudgingly resume human activity, but I’m NOT HAPPY about it.
Equanimity. That’s the goal. But I don’t know if there’s material there. What is there to say about contentment and peace? What’s funny about that? What’s active about that? Grief is at least powerful; it makes an excellent adversary to grapple with, and when I write from a place of grief, I can tell myself that I might be helping others who are grieving. The idea of writing from a place of calm feels…I don’t know. Boring. Superfluous. When I’m calm, I don’t need to express anything. I am content without words. And it’s not like I can help other calm people by writing about being calm, because calm people don’t need help.
The activist in me wants me to stay angry. Fuck calm! Right? Calm is for the privileged. Calm tacitly supports the status quo. Calm is for people who close their eyes because they can’t handle reality. Calm is a sell-out! It’s for old people and rich liberals! It’s boring! It’s emotional death! How the hell am I supposed to get material from being calm?
If I had a conclusion to all this, here’s where it would go.