Here’s what happens.
All the time.
Like, way too often.
Like, once a week or so.
Like, so often that I keep a journal solely devoted to it.
There it is, a tidy little Word file hanging out on my desktop: “Fight Diary.”
I’ve been keeping it for years. I started it one New Year’s Eve after I went to dinner and practically came to blows with a Magical Teapot believer who wanted to get into it about Jesus. Dude was wack, needless to say. And because Jesus crazies love to fight even more than I do, the fight began. The fight was awesome. I LOVE fighting with Jesus crazies. It’s the easiest fight you’ll ever have. You can knock those mofos out with a feather, I swear. Just ask them if they eat shellfish or something. Candy from a [spiritual] baby!
(I’m already doing what this post is about trying not to do! Failure already!)
The fight journal was intended, I swear, as a bulwark against me becoming my father, a man ruled by impossible angers. Let’s be clear about this: I am my daddy’s girl. I love being angry. I love feeling sweet smart-ass justifications pulsing through my body. I think best when I’ve got just a few cc’s of rage into me. My friends wake and bake; I wake and hate. I’ve talked about it before, you know all about it. It’s my drug, my vice, my sweet little dependency. My shame, my torrid affair. As Dexter would say, my Dark Passenger.
So can you guess what the journal has become?
Yes: victory laps. A place to deposit mean, hard diamonds.
Here’s how I justify it: my father was mean to his family, and we didn’t deserve it. I’m mean to idiots who disagree with me politically. I have sharpened my rage into a useful tool. It shouldn’t give me a free pass, I know, but I’m not mean to the people I love, and I’ve got to get points for that, right?
So when I slip and The Rage shows, I dutifully open up the Fight Diary (password: FUCKYOUASSHOLE) and recount the latest fight, and I do my best to learn from my mistakes for about five minutes. Then I get all hot and bothered, and use the good anger energy to cycle my laundry, and it’s all fine. It passes—for me. It ruins friendships, it makes people resent me. I move on. I pretend to be working on it. The truth is that I’m not getting any better, because, well, I don’t want to get better. Righteous rage has been my sister for so long, I can’t let the girl go.
But! I also don’t want to become—how to phrase it delicately?—a dickhead. And I live in a small town and I know I’m in danger of doing so. So the time has come to be straight with myself: I’ve got to either limit my rage to long-distance fights, or calm down.
Both seem completely impossible, so I’m confessing to the internet in hopes that my bloggie friends can gently take my arm in Green Party meetings, in the comments section of future blog posts, at restaurants, in the supermarket, on Facebook, and everywhere else and can calmly mention my very public desire to, you know, change and grow.
See, I don’t believe in mental illness, dear Internet, I really don’t. I don’t believe in shame. I believe in stone cold honesty, and I could care less if people think it’s pathetic to use a blog to become a better person.
One problem is that I tell myself that there are far too many yoga-addled new agey calm sweet people in this town, and it’s good to shake things up by being completely no-holds-barred. I love the East Coast because it’s supposed to be a place filled with people like me: Jews who love arguing. But my town is filled with refugees from that happy, loudmouthed way of life, it seems. We all are supposed to love rock-climbing and cookouts and sedate art walks. I like revolution.
Even more, I like screaming until someone apologizes to me for the sin of once taking an SUV cab when the hybrid cabs were all in use.
The only thing I like more than fights is having beliefs in the first place. I like surrounding myself with people who also have beliefs, so we can talk about them. Sometimes loudly. What’s the use of being opinionated and caring about the way the world around you is run if you’re aren’t willing to have a friendly little argument about it? I rarely insult people when I’m in fight mode, I try my hardest to use the inescapable fact of my deep-down correctness to wear them out. I show them all my cards: I turn my heart inside out and make them look at it to show them that I’m not (just) an asshole, I actually really care about what we’re arguing about.
But at some point my fellow arguee will say the inevitable beyond-the-pale comment and I will feel it firing through my body—pow pow pow pow! And my face gets all red and it’s off to the races. If it’s over email I will try to moderate myself. If it’s face-to-face I will begin breathing crazily and will start spouting.
This week it was email, which was good. It was your standard heartless Lou Dobbsian attitude toward illegal immigration that tangentially made its way into my inbox from a fellow community member.
At first, I tried so hard not to get involved:
Yuck, I’m an anarchist who doesn’t believe in America. If you’re going to talk about all this Jingoistic crapola, would you mind not including me? It makes me swear and that scares my cats.
Mr. X, your beliefs about illegal immigrants make me sick.
I was accused, as I always am, of not being “civil” and not being able to deal with people having differing views. This kiiiiiiilllllls me, so I was all:
Why have beliefs if you don’t believe they are the right beliefs? I’ve never understood that. I’m not saying I hate you or anything, Mr X, merely that your beliefs on immigration, quite literally, make my stomach ache. I wasn’t reducing anything to name calling or anything, just describing the literal reaction I have to such beliefs.
I’ll still read your blog and everything! I’ll just be thinking that your ideas are ridiculous (and I’d suspect that you think vice versa) and I’ll be hoping with my whole heart that you someday come over to my side. :)
Nice enough, right? I mean, I used a fucking emoticon and everything. I wouldn’t be offended if someone sent a response like that to me, my blood would pump in a most satisfactory manner and I would set about changing the person’s mind.
But Mr. X didn’t write back. I hurt the poor boy’s feelings! I was intolerant.
The “you’re intolerant” argument is just weird to me. What’s that all about? Yes, I am intolerant of people who refuse to understand that people from other countries who want to be here because they want better lives are not horrible people. What’s wrong with that? Your beliefs are intolerable to me. Should I be ashamed? Is one to be “tolerant” of Nazis? Sorry to skip to that horrible place, but I want a world in which we’re all trying to convince each other to be better, not some spineless hippie distopia where we’re all so “tolerant” that lunacy prevails.
I’m right, I want you to know it, and I want you to change. And when I’m wrong, I want you to tell me, because I want to change.
But then there is this. Later on a quasi-friend on the email list (these things always happen with groups watching, ugh) privately emailed me this:
I respect that you tell it like it is–you have passion and guts and good values. But telling it like it is needs to be measured within a larger social and poltical context, I think. You don’t get points for hurting people’s feelings and being an alpha-girl who doesn’t give a shit. You get points by working with others toward your mission. You should always be authentic, but you also have to make choices about the form that authenticity takes. It might be authentic to take a crap on Main Street, but we don’t do it. There are ways of arguing positions
without making people angry or hurt and I hope that you might at least consider this.
I consider it all the time, my quasi-friend, really, I do. And a lot of the time I actually do it. But sometimes you’ve got a Lou Dobbs all up in your grill, and what’s an alpha girl to do? And also: it shouldn’t really hurt your feelings if I say that your beliefs make me sick, unless you are not secure in your beliefs. And also: ugh with everyone trying to give me teh advicez. Ugggs.
Here’s the other truth though: I have recently gotten into two rather unpleasant fights with two rather unpleasant dudes about their style of interacting with the world. I like their politics, but they are so insulting and cruel to people that everyone is irked by them and it’s horrible to be around them. Am I acting like them with my willingness to have what I think are passionate arguments? I know the parallels have been made, and this keeps me up at night. In fact, if you read this post side-by-side with this one, you will pretty much die when presented with my apparent hypocrisy. I truly believe a careful reader of my screeds vs. those of the two unpleasant dudes would come away with the opinion that I talk about issues much more than they do and make many less personal attacks (not to mention am wittier and smarter and let my heart show much more and am able to admit that sometimes I am a dick, which they never are), but there is still much more of an argument to be made than I would like.
So we’re stuck. I want to change people’s minds without being a giant dick or a pushover. Is it possible? Maybe for someone, but is it possible for an anger-junkie East Coast Jew with a heart of gold and a quiver full of more swear words than Lily Allen?
Ugh. If it wasn’t a small town it would be easier to be all “let the bridges I burn light the way, fuckerz!!” but it is a small town, and I love this town. And here’s the schmaltzy “see, secretly she does love America!” ending: I love that my small town is forcing me to be a better person. It’s awesome. Lord knows, I need all the help I can get.