Last week I totally lost my temper for no apparent reason and as a result I was stupidly rude to two people who had done absolutely nothing wrong. Leslie, if you’re reading this, I am sorry. That was unforgivably rude. I have been brooding about it ever since – partly because it was bad, and broodworthy, and partly because I always feel guilty anyway about everything so having something to really seriously feel guilty about is just like extra gravy on the fretting. This is neurotic, I know, and perhaps I should actually crack that book on mindfulness and depression and anxiety that I brought home instead of just putting it in the big To Read pile but, actually, instead I want to talk about anger.
Female anger is a strange thing. Women aren’t, or weren’t (perhaps this has changed? Probably not – so little has.) supposed to get angry in our culture or at least in the part of it represented by my childhood home. Anger was for men, and that’s probably a good thing, since my dad, quite frankly, used up most of the available supply of anger in the western hemisphere when he really got going. That left me with a lifelong messed up response to male anger – I freeze and try to become invisible, which I attribute to the possum side of the family and which is about as effective as it is for the possums: you get flattened. But that’s anger in others and not anger in me. Donning the Cloak of Invisibility may not be the world’s most realistic response to other people’s anger, but at least it’s a strategy. I don’t, unfortunately, have one to handle my own anger. For most of my life I didn’t get all that angry all that often – or at least I thought I didn’t. I have always tended towards the giant explosion type of anger – I go a very long time seemingly quite calm and then one small thing will happen and I will turn into a tsunami of fury. And then it’s over and I’m faintly ashamed and I clean up the mess and apologize all around and that’s that and I’m not angry anymore.
That is how it was, but over the last few years, it’s changed. Now, instead, I’m sort of a constantly seething cauldron of rage. I’m just angry, all the time, at everyone, at my family and my friends and politics and the world and sometimes – often – I can’t contain it anymore and it comes out in a variety of forms ranging from small waves to full on tsunami. Sometimes I blame this on hormones and sometimes I blame it on me just being a horrible, horrible human being and sometimes I blame it on genetics – my dad’s anger, reborn in me – and sometimes I blame it on working retail and sometimes I blame society. Most of the time, though, I blame it on the total, thorough, messed upedness of my life nowadays and I think, you know, that I actually can indict society a bit here. Even though I am a white, middleaged, female, suburban punk – yeah, it still hurts.
Poverty is a difficult thing to talk about. Poverty that you have in some measure brought on yourself – and the cultural dialogue these days and I suppose forever in America – is that you have always brought poverty on yourself unless you were, I don’t know, born without arms and legs and eyes and ears in the center of the street in the roughest neighborhood in the world to a 12 year old crack addicted prostitute who promptly died and then you were used as a human bowling ball by a drug cartel and fed bit by bit to tigers on weekends. Then your poverty isn’t your fault, but otherwise and most particularly if you were born to a very affluent intact family in a nice neighborhood and expensively and thoroughly educated, your current poverty most certainly is your fault. And there is some truth to this, but there is also some truth to the fact that things are not, in general, getting economically better for the majority of people in this country.
Yes, I frittered away my inheritance (mostly on a house. And my children and lawyers, but that’s another long sad story – still, you know, I didn’t even begin to get into hookers and blow and in retrospect I pretty much regret the hell out of that) and I didn’t marry well (which is a big giant issue that will fuck you forever financially, along with having kids too young) and I made a lot of not so great decisions. True, but I was also born into a generation that has seen more than its share of economic catastrophes and trouble. I am not the only Gen Xer who has crashed and burned over the last five years of this Great Recession; I know this. I also know that I am not the only person whose children have moved home and whose entire family is just holding on by a thread but you know, you don’t hear about us very often. We’re quiet, the fucked people, the ones who have fallen out of the middle class and are just barely, barely clinging with our fingernails and teeth to a place in the land of the working poor. We’re ashamed but I don’t think we should have to be. But we are.
I think being poor is messing with my head and making me angry. Every so often you will see another article about how financial stress affects peoples’ IQ and their general quality of life and yes, well, it does. My interior narrative is bleak, nowadays. When the back of your mind is constantly going “OK you can probably afford to buy 2 loaves of bread this week and the dogfood can wait and then you can pay this bill a little late and there’s maybe enough gas to get back and forth one more time” it doesn’t leave much space for anything else although, somehow, the self loathing manages to get through, the “oh god, my life is more than half over and I have accomplished nothing and I am alone, will die alone, and I haven’t even touched another human being in three years and I am loathsome, loathsome, furious and alone” stuff. That nicely accompanies the calculations you need to go from one grocery store to another to another to get the cheapest, cheapest possible everything: bread at GO grocery and eggs at Earthfare and dogfood at Wal Mart and vegetables at Aldi and so on and so on, from Sav Mor to Amazing Savings to the Big Lots. It’s not, actually, easy at all being poor – and I haven’t even gotten into the constant fear: What if the car breaks down? What if I break down? What if one of the kids breaks down or the dog or the dishwasher or the hot water heater or the sewer line? What will I do? I cannot even buy a loaf of fucking bread right now and the dentist is howling for his money for the uncompleted dental work that will never be done and meanwhile, you know, I am lonely and scared and my teeth hurt.
Yesterday I went and got my taxes done by the wonderful volunteers at On Track – I recommend them highly if you still haven’t done your taxes – and as we were discussing my woeful financial status – get this, I am not considered as being at “subsistence level” – no, I’m doing just fine – I lost it again. “So, I might owe $2500?” I said, “Well, they can try to get it. They can get in line. They can just get in line.” and apparently something in my voice hit one of those frequencies that trigger the primeval part of the brain, the part that’s crouched on the savanna hiding from the giant lizard, because everybody in the room looked up and looked alarmed. I am sorry. I don’t know what happens to me, these days, but I think about maybe owing money, after working so much, so hard and for so little and I sort of lose it. The anger wave starts to get through the levees again. I don’t, as it turns out, owe $2500 – I would if I had bought my house in 2008 – but I bought it in 2009 so we’re all good for another year and I’m actually going to get some money back this year – enough, maybe to pay that dentist. And then I can wait for the next crisis.
I respond to all of this by being angry, apparently, and so when nice people, nicely dressed, with nice jobs, say nice things to me I want to kill them and spit their bones out onto Patton Avenue. This is dramatic hyperbole, I don’t, of course, really want to do anything like that, but somehow, I can’t respond well. I am too fragile and too furious nowadays. to take a compliment, something I was never very good at in the first place. And when people congratulate me on my job, my job which I do love, but which is absolutely one of the factors keeping me in a place where if the car breaks down I might well end up in a cardboard box under a bridge, I lose it. “It’s good money for Asheville!” Yeah. It’s great fucking money for Asheville, one of the least affordable cities in an increasingly unaffordable country. Just a fucking mazing, it is, living here with all the fantastic restaurants and great bars that I hear about, because I certainly can’t afford to go to any of them. And I’m not alone, I know that, but I feel as if I might as well be as everyone spouts positive thinking and upbeat stories about more hotels and more restaurants and more, yay, Asheville! Where my son is hoping to get two or three part time jobs that he can walk to, which still won’t be enough to pay rent, and my daughter is working full time and not making enough to buy gas and me, here I am, trying to hold it together and not quite managing. And then I lose it and I get angry with my kids because I can’t afford to help them out the way my parents helped me. That makes me feel like the scum I know I am, as if every strident Fox News editorial or right wing radio rant about the iniquities of the poor were purest truth and encapsulated in my overweight, heinous, welfare abusing (actually there is no welfare – we don’t qualify even for food stamps anymore) cracker self.
And my son says, Mom, I don’t see it getting better and I read about income inequality and the vast 2% chance that those of us who are poor have of moving out of being poor and I think of his future and the rage ratchets up another notch and another little bit spills out of the dam. I am so angry, these days, so angry and so helpless and yet, so very very angry. And I don’t think, again, that I’m alone.