mops on red wall

WOW, there’s a lot of anger out there. And in here. And everywhere.

It’s nearly impossible to go on the Internet, join a Zoom call, or chat with a friend without someone—maybe even you or me!—bursting out in a diatribe of some sort.

Yep, we’re all angry, . . . but what is the root cause of this anger? And how can we make it better?

To find answers to these questions, let’s examine a brief passage from the beginning of the novel Indelicacy, by Amina Cain. The protagonist wants to be a writer, and she loves art of all kinds. But she works as a cleaning lady. The good thing about her job is that she works in an art museum, so she has the daily opportunity to view great art. The trouble is, she doesn’t have enough time to either appreciate the art or work on her writing—as she desperately wants to do.

One day while cleaning the museum, the protagonist notices a visitor:

“This woman who looked as if she’d rather be sewing, she kept taking her embroidery out. She left her husband to wander the galleries while she sat on a bench in the lobby, working steadily on a piece of pale blue cloth. I wanted to throw my bucket of water on her.”

What a powerful scene, amazingly described in only three sentences. The protagonist is angry, angry, angry! And specifically, she’s angry at the woman. You can just hear the protagonist’s thoughts: Why isn’t this woman looking at and appreciating all this great art surrounding us?! What’s wrong with her?!

And yet, the woman’s actions are not the root cause of the protagonist’s anger. There is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying embroidery more than art museums. Even though the protagonist directs her anger at the woman, her anger is actually caused by her personal frustration at not having the resources to pursue her own artistic dreams. If the protagonist had been rich enough to spend her days wandering the museum and writing, she would probably not feel this upwelling of anger.

I see this type of misdirected anger everywhere. We all have thwarted wishes and dreams; it’s part of being human. But when someone’s personal situation seems hopeless, and there isn’t an obvious person to blame, it’s natural for the brain to find someone to blame. A frenemy. A relative. A politician. Even oneself.

But getting angry, even when totally justified, isn’t super useful . . . except for in one way. It’s a warning sign that something’s wrong. It’s a warning sign that you’re about to channel your energy into fighting someone, when almost certainly there’s a better way to channel that energy.

Feeling angry about your personal economic situation, and in turn at the national economic situation, and in turn at specific politicians? Launching a spur-of-the-moment verbal attack is not likely to help. You might feel better in the short run, but in the long run nothing will change.

Instead, there’s harder work to be done. How can you work to improve your own economic situation? How can you work to improve the national economic situation? These are not easy questions to answer. But they are questions we must ask when we’re angry, . . . upon which we need to research the topics and then take carefully considered action.

Ha!! Easier said than done. It’s starting to make me feel a bit angry myself, thinking about how complicated and difficult living life well is, in our fraught modern society!!

But no. Channel it. Work for change. Share ideas. Write that blog post. Sing that song. Create that art. Demonstrate peacefully. Fight for prosperity and equity. Promote tolerance. Think, consider, act. Send someone love today, not hate.

As for our protagonist? She does not assault the woman embroidering in the art museum. Instead, she makes a series of increasingly interesting moves, as if playing a chess game, with the help of her new friends, until finally she makes the most dramatic move of all.

I won’t give away the ending, but it’s endlessly interesting to think about. Was her last move ethical? If you read this novel, please reach out, and let’s discuss the ending. This is one of those books that seems simple and is an easy read, but deals with complicated, intricate, and moving subject matter.

Who are you angry at today?