This is our truth, tell us yours
I’vealways known that anger is all-consuming; it fills the mind with noise that blocks out all the other spaces where conscience, wisdom and morality try to operate.
I’vealso known, too, that anger is a disinhibitor – it strips away all the other rules and codes we operate by, leaving us in a primal state that is both terrifying and weak in the way glass is weak; in one direction glass can be a lethal blade, but stress it in other ways and it shatters.
When something went wrong yesterday Jem askd me if I was angry; I answered that I didn’t have the time or space to be angry, because there were other priorities. As usual her listening skills led me to places I haven’t explored before; about anger, its purposes and its utility.
Let’s be clear. Most anger is futile. Raging at the weather or cursing the moment when a cup slips from your fingers and smashes on the floor is useless. I’ve believed that to be true, even if, as may have occurred yesterday, I become too dispassionate,too unemotional in my atttempts to leave no space for anger, so that others cannot gauge my disappintment, my sadness that a favourite cup is broken on the floor, or that a pleasure planned for the day has to be foregone because of the rain.
Sometimes though, anger has a direct utility, and it feels to me as if we can summon it, can unslip the leash and let loose the space-filling intensity that lurks inside us. That was the insight I received, visual,vivid, almost tactile.
Imagine a much younger Carter in one of those situations where, for reasons that don’t help the narrative, he’s faced with someone intent on using a knife in a fight with him. (Yes, I know I’m using grammar in a way that distances me from who I was.) Carter is already bleeding from a defence wound on his hand, and the person he’s fighting is showing no signs of giving up, and flight is not an option. At that moment Carter has to do whatever’s necessary to win the fight, and something that blocks out the codes of fairness, of morality, the inbuilt Queensbury rules, is the most useful survival tool Carter has. Anger is summoned and the space where conscience should operate is filled. Sixty seconds later the fight is over and Carter has to try to manage down the anger, to get the other parts of his brain back in control, and it’s a risky process as adrenaline continues its nauseous journey and he tries to understand the wreck of a man being comforted by his shocked and horrified girlfriend, and the crowd who’re taking a step back lest they be next.
Even before I was that dangerous man I was aware that anger might not be primal, but might be a tool men deploy.(I suspect women deploy it too, but men are my specialist subject.) I had sex, from a relatively early age, with men who knew they were breaking the law by having sex with me. Some of them were almost detatched from me; they could have been fucking anything. Some gave the impression that they were blessing me with an education that would make me like them. Some though, became angry,and used humiliating and bitter words to describe me, fucking me as if they were attacking me. It’s nothing unique to my experience; I have seen plenty of instances where sex is accompanied by anger, not kindness. As a man who enjoys BDSM it’s a risk I guard against.
Talking to Jem yesterday, about why I wasn’t angry in a situation where others might be, the slow processing part of my brain came up with a question I couldn’t answer; what if those angry men, the ones who called me cocksucker and fucked me as if they were striking blows were using anger to silence their conscience, the part of them that said there was something wrong about fucking a boy in a public toilet? What if they summoned anger, the harsh words and the physical aggression so their brain would not intrude?
I know how anger is expressed; it’s rapid, it’s hurtful words and violent blows. Is it expressed by standing at the urinals for thirty minutes waiting for the right person to come in, to consent, before suddenly the floodgates of anger open and the words and actions begin?
I can only look back at some of my failures and wonder if, as an adult, I was angry and hurtful towards people who cared for me,and about me, because anger filled the space where otherwise I would have to assimilate the knowledge that others didn’t just want me for my willingness to be as dangerous or as uninhibited as they desired.
In the process I have to ask if I have bent the stick too far in the other direction,and have taken out of my vocabulary words about disappointment and frustration in case they open the door to, or are misconstrued as anger. And perhaps, too, in the process I have deceived myself.
All this I learned from talking to someone who listened, about a disappointment shared.
This blog is sometimes intensely personal, sometimes intensely political. As I’ve raised my eyes from my navel, I can’t help but wonder if the faux outrage of much of our political debate, the anger about things of no consequence, is both an obstacle to deeper thought, and a deliberate cloak for how we truly feel. As much as I am angry about this government and its callous, calculated programme, I’m also genuinely fearful about what awaits me as I age. Is the anger, the fear, the sense of loss and grief for a political settlement we once had, blocking my ability to plot a route of this? Does my commitment to a rational debate and the importance of evidence prevent me from saying, with passion and clarity, that I hate the thing my country is becoming?
All this I got from talking and being listened to, and yet I also have toask if I heard all I needed to from the other person in the conversation. Again, the effort of avoiding spiteful,harmful anger may have made me deaf to things I should have heard.
We never stop learning, I hope.