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October 20, 2009

I have been accused, more than once, of being an angry person.  This accusation doesn’t surprise me much, since I’ve given people reason to think so over the years. Generally, though, when the accusation is levied– whether in person or online – accuse me of anger, it’s intended as a rebuke. I’m supposed to feel ashamed and chastised; I’m supposed to wander off in self-reflection and finally (finally!) come to my senses – leaving the dark wood of my introspective moody ways and enter the world wearing a plastic smile and humming a lighthearted ditty.

Most often, I’m accused of being angry when I discuss issues that most civilized and all-too-polite folks avoid: politics and religion. I understand on a subconscious level, why people avoid these topics. I can see their mouths tighten and I can feel the air change as their asses clench in fear  because they know, instinctively, that I will question every opinion they hold dear. (The reaction is different when I talk to people I generally agree with; but I generally avoid talking to them in any depth since there’s nothing worse than having your own ideas parroted back at you.) 

Yet while I understand their discomfort, I cannot articulate a logical reason for it. The generally accepted reason for not discussing these topics is cloaked in privacy. “It’s personal,” they will say. “I don’t discuss my religion because it’s private.”

“Do you take your kids to church?” I ask.

“Of course I do!”

“But shouldn’t it be their business whether they go or not? Maybe they’d rather sleep in.”

What people really mean to say is that the topic is too SACRED to discuss. Naturally, they won’t actually SAY it because before it leaves their lips they know they’ll sound like a rube.  But that’s what they mean. In such matters the all-too-gentile folks don’t want to discuss, prove, or question their ideas. They are comfy and cozy. And while it may seem like I’m picking on a particular group of people, the fact is that this absence of dialogue comes from all directions, be it philosophical, scientific, theological, or theosophical.

Now, back to the issue of anger.  If you’re expecting me to deny the charge, you’re going to be disappointed. If you think I’m going to apologize and proclaim that I’ve had some revelation , feel free to keep on waiting for it.  If you’re wanting some psychological mumbo jumbo about loss and a lack of love or how I was bullied as a kid, go find a  nice self-help book and muse to yourself. 

The fact is, I am angry.  I’m not sorry for it, and I’m not expecting to change – unless by change you mean that I will learn to better focus and articulate said deep-seated anger. 

Here’s another chunk for you to chew on – most writers are angry people.  And when a writer’s NOT angry, then he’s got to question what the hell it is that he’s doing. 

Writing is a lonely business. Most of the time it’s filled in rejections, failures, battles for time against energy sucking jobs, the derision (or worse, patronization) of family and friends and complete strangers who are afraid you’re parodying them with every word you write.  The kudzu-like cropping up of MFA programs – ranging from the traditional 2 or 3 year academic killshots to the meaningless online and low residency versions that infantilize would-be writers and make them feel cocooned against an apathetic world – are helping to perpetuate the myth of the Writing Community. I myself am a product of a tight knit graduate program – though my MA lacks the prerequisite F – but I see the difference as monumental. I came out of a program that didn’t want us there.  We were writers and thinkers and drinkers; the Master’s Program wanted librarians and scholars and various kinds of academic bitches who would swallow critical bents whole, smile for the money shot, and thank the tenured and the brain-dead  for the opportunity.  To try and create an MFA program out of that community would have been unthinkable; and had it ever succeeded, it would changed everything – and not for the better, either.  When I left the program, I was alone, and while I didn’t like it one bit, I instinctively understood that it was me against the world.  The world is filled with all kinds of reasons not to write and it will try and find ways to eat away at your soul until nothing is left but an empty worker filling a gray cubicle, praying for retirement so he can “write that book.” 

Traditional MFA programs teach would-be writers that they are not alone – but that their closest friends and companions really AREN’T their friends and companions. They are The Competition. In the end, when the degrees are handed out, some will be published by The New Yorker and Glimmertrain; some will pick up jobs teaching other people how to be writers; others will pick up jobs teaching Freshmen how to write better term papers; and the rest – well, there’s always McDonalds, strip clubs, menial office jobs. The fallacy is, of course, that an MFA makes a writer out of you, and if you don’t “make it” – and most of us don’t – that you’re still a writer and that it’s okay if you toil away anonymously for the rest of your life writing the occasional poem for Mom’s birthday or submitting to story contests that end up costing more than just the paper and the cost of the ubiquitous Reading Fee.   

What utter bullshit. 

Any writer worth his salt and the air he chokes on everyday is angry. And he stays angry. He’s angry because it’s not enough to just toil away at the desk. Writers write because they want to be read. They write because that’s the only thing they ever really wanted to do, and everything else is a drain on limited energy necessary to get the pages filled.  If that doesn’t make you angry, you’re not sitting in right chair – plain and simple. 

I endure as much failure and success as any other writer, and I’m generally okay with rejections because I understand it’s part of the business. Yet while it is a lonely business, it’s also a very personal one. And yes, rejections do sometimes inspire anger;  particularly during those weeks when  we have to scrape by financially despite the day job I’m supposed to be eternally grateful for; but  the thing that angers me the most is the drain on my time and my energy that comes from having to do something other than write. It’s rooted in the real world, where any writer ought to be if he’s serious about it.  Most of the time I do a pretty good job of turning that anger inward. It gives me a kind of focus that most non-writers wouldn’t understand. Sometimes, though, when I end up talking to nabobs and ninnies about matters related to politics, religion, Sunday football game, or the odds on the last horse race – that anger seeps out. It is what it is. 

I don’t know what would happen if I were to suddenly achieve the dream and get paid to write; I suspect though, that while the things that inspire anger may change, the tendency remains. So YES, I’m angry. I will probably always be angry. I enjoy being angry.  I might smile a little more often if I were paid to write; but that’s what a dog does just before he bites you. Fair warning.

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