You are sitting here with us, but you are also out walking in a field at dawn

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Here we are, day one of a new year. I’ve walked the dogs through gently falling snow flakes. The children slept till 10AM. We have this one last day of our unusually relaxing holiday to do as we please, each of us, before the new year’s schedule clocks in tomorrow morning.

Of course I am thinking about what I’d like to do this year, in addition to what I’m already doing; what would I like to try, what experiment shall I undertake, what challenge, what adventure, what’s calling? And I have a small idea, a possibility I’ve been mulling for awhile that seemed affirmed yesterday by the conflating coincidences of driving across town on an unexpected errand while listening to an interview on the radio with Elizabeth Gilbert, who was talking about the creative impulse. The creative impulse is not benign, she said (and I paraphrase). If it isn’t put to use, if it isn’t acknowledged and fed, if it isn’t set free, it will find its own damaging purpose.

I began thinking about rage, just under the surface.

I was driving along a street I don’t very often take anymore, and it triggered a memory: that I’d stopped for gas, at a gas station that no longer exists, in fact, with two toddlers strapped into car seats in the back of our old red truck. I was enormously pregnant with my third child, and it was hot, a summer’s day, and we’d just gotten a load of groceries. I filled up the truck with gas, and as I was walking around the hood of the truck to climb back in to the driver’s seat, a man approached me. He looked, if not homeless, then close to homeless, and with a rough voice he asked if he could bum a cigarette.

My response shocked even me.

Rage. It was rage that poured out, with no warning, no pre-emptive interlude. “Do I look like I would have a cigarette?” I snapped at him, almost shaking with my fury, indicating my pregnant belly.

“No,” he replied sheepishly.

I got into the truck and slammed the driver’s side door, vibrating with rage.

I didn’t know what had come over me. I didn’t know why I was so very angry. I couldn’t think of a good reason to be feeling what I was feeling in that moment.

But now, I think maybe I understand. Like raging people all over this earth, my wider, deeper emotions were not accessible to me at that time in my life. I was repressing a great deal: disappointment about my career, the sense of boredom and aimlessness as I struggled to be a stay-at-home mom, exhaustion from the drudgery of the day-to-day. There were many things I was not telling myself, or allowing myself to feel, because I couldn’t have borne it. So when tapped or triggered, there was only one emotion on offer: rage. Rage is a defensive emotion. It lashes out so as to prevent us from feeling anything else.

I’ll never know exactly why the man’s question set me off, but I think I was afraid of him, and did not want him near me. I felt vulnerable. I also felt morally righteous. Whatever it was, I was feeling something for which rage was a cover. I was ambushed by my own inexplicable fury.

I think unless we allow ourselves to experience a full range of emotions, including those emotions that indict us for our own failings — jealousy, envy, disappointment, humiliation, fear, uncertainty, grief — we will be at the mercy of that one emotion that is always on tap, always available, a defence against what the world may think of us, and what we may think of ourselves deep inside. Rage rage against the dying of the light. Yes. But rage rage against the accusations that we know to be true, and the terror of being fragile, and the admission of loneliness and failure, and the misery of not knowing everything best.

Rage rage against being human and fallible.

Rage rage against culpability.

Rage rage against knowing thyself, because to know thyself truly is to know some awfully dark truths, is to acknowledge enormous imperfections, and ugly vanities, and moral failings.

Yet I maintain that it is better to know thyself than to remain lodged in clotted rage, railing against the world, and spewing harm and hurt. The hurt your rage will cause to your own self is far greater than any hurt you could bring upon yourself by knowing yourself truly. It is only when we see ourselves as vulnerable and weak and wrong (rather than wronged) that we can see others with compassion, and love too.

And the rage will diminish.

It really will. It will not shock you with its sudden emergence, or hurt those you love most dearly. You will feel its potential, yes, but you will know what it means, and hear what it’s saying: you will feel behind the rage to the emotion that rage is trying to protect you from feeling, and you will be able to name it, and to access it, and to experience it. It is only through experiencing the deeper emotion that you can understand yourself, and get through that emotion.

I am alert now to my own rage. I know it’s trying to tell me something more profound. Why am I so angry? Is this moment deserving of my anger? So rarely it is. Almost never, in truth. And pouring out my rage, pouring it onto to someone else, is unacceptable, always. I believe that. So if it happens, when it happens, I try to name that too. To apologize immediately. Never to let myself off the hook. To reflect. There is always more work to do. Because it is easy to mistake rage for purpose, for fuel. At least it’s better to feel something than nothing, maybe? But the opposite of rage is not emptiness, it’s not nothing, it’s not depression, it’s not powerlessness, it’s not silence. The opposite of rage is connection.

Here is my idea. This coming year, I would like to host writing adventures in my home. It will be an experiment, I confess. The point will be to use the physical act of writing — writing by hand onto the page — to bring us into a meditative state of focus, in which we can access memories, draw them forth. We’ll leap from the intensive imaginative images we’re experiencing in our minds into the adventure of fiction. The exercises will be guided, the space will be safe, and none of us will be able to guess in advance where we might travel to on any given evening. Being or becoming a writer is not the point. The process is the point. Play is the point. Adventure is the point. Discovering and mapping our own inner imaginative space is the point. Anyone can participate. Everyone has a creative impulse. This is just one of a myriad of ways to express it, but it’s the method I can offer, if you’re looking for an opening, if you’re looking for a way in. Or out. Or deep down.

Please send me a message if you’re interested and I’ll keep you in the loop as the idea becomes a plan.

Happy New Year!

xo, Carrie

PS The title of this post is the first line of a poem by Rumi called “The diver’s clothes lying empty.” Look it up if you don’t already know it. Read it out loud. It will tell you everything I’ve written here, and much more.

 

Birthday, happy day
Writing adventure with Carrie

15 Comments

  1. I’m intrigued by your idea and would love to participate. I imagine from your description that this experiment is for local people only. But it sounds like just the thing I need going into the new year!

    Reply
    • Hi Melanie, yes, I’m envisioning this as a writing salon or workshop setting, in person, in my own home. That said, I wonder if others further afield might be able to participate via Skype. I’ll let you know. – Carrie

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    • What a great idea except I live much too far : ). If you ever consider alternate ways, I would be quite interested. Thank you for all your posts and wishing you a very happy and blessed 2016.

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      • Thanks for your interest, Julie! I’ll let you know if I find an alternate way to open the exercise to those who are further afield.

        Reply
  2. Hi Carrie:

    Some very good and necessary insights on anger/rage. Living in what I would see as an angry culture (there is so much of it out there…and in here…my heart), it seems as though so many folks are simply not in touch with their anger and ultimately the emotions that are behind the anger.
    I love the phrase that people use when someone in their presence explodes, “Where did that come from?”
    “That” resides within and it has an address that must be located and visited if the anger would subside or be gone for good.
    I like your insight of how anger is a defence mechanism that protects our real source of anger.
    I recall a pastor writing about self-examination and he said, “The human heart is the most heavily guarded territory in all the universe.” I agree (reluctantly so).
    I would be interested in this workshop that you are envisioning. Please lee me in the loop.
    Thank you….

    Chris

    Reply
  3. I live a bit far, but I would love to have some help accessing the things you spoke of in this post, but if only to keep from all that rage you speak of.
    Keep me, us updated on this idea, if it could be worked out somehow and I would be all in. I have a feeling you are a wonderful instructor. I learn so much from you on this blog all the time.

    Reply
    • I will keep you in the loop, Kerry! Thanks for your interest. Wishing you a happy new year.

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  4. I’m interested in trying this

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    • I’ll keep you in the loop. Thanks for your interest!

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  5. Carrie – what an amazing opportunity to travel, imagine and create all on one page. Please keep me in the loop as I’d love to be included in this forum.

    Reply
    • Happy new year, Andrea! I will keep you posted as I settle on a location and time (or times — I’d love to do this as a series of sessions).

      Reply
  6. Lovely writing. I think I will share it with my creative writing class this week. While reading your work, I am reminded of the quote “anger is the bodyguard to fear and sadness.” So true.

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  7. Your idea for a writing adventure sounds exciting, Carrie, and I’m interested in hearing more about it as you develop your plans. Please keep me in the loop, too! 🙂 I’m nervous about writing in the presence of other, more skilled people, but my word for 2016 is “stretch”, and I think this exercise sounds just right for helping me accomplish that goal. Happy new year to you and your family!

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment, and for your interest, Lisa! I will let you know when I settle on location and time(s).

      Reply

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