Do you remember that scene from Office Space, where the guys take the fax machine out to a field and smash it? I think about that scene a lot with a delicious sort of jealousy.
I’m not given to outbursts. I don’t smash things, or cry out. But the act of doing so has a persistent appeal for me. I remember, in high school, watching a friend, who had just broken up with her boyfriend, cry in the parking lot. She was angry, and as we tried to soothe her, she took off her shoe and flung it as hard as she could at a friend’s truck. She actually dented the bumper.
What a relief that must have been, to dent something when her heart felt so battered.
I remember watching in surprised fascination as another friend in graduate school grew quiet during our conversation and then, quite without warning, threw her half-empty cup of coffee at her car door. My goodness, the splash of dark brown liquid over her silver door. My goodness, the catharsis that must have come in the way the cup practically exploded with the force of her anger.
My grandfather always bought used computers at carport sales, and he would use them until they were on their last leg. It probably shouldn’t have come as any great surprise to him that the computers would reach their last leg quickly, growing buggy and fickle and slow. And when that happened, he would take the computers out to the driveway and set them down, and then run them over with his truck.
I can only imagine the little screws and bits of plastic flying willy-nilly as the computer crushed under the weight of a machine so much bigger than it. I also imagine the feeling of satisfaction my grandfather must have felt, climbing down from the truck to survey the destruction. No more blue screen of death. No more refreshing windows. No more rebooting.
I spend my day caring for a tiny baby. His hands are warm, his skin is soft, he has tiny wisps of hair beginning to come in on his head after being born bald. His thumbs chap from sucking, and before each nap, I shush him and gently rub Vaseline over his red, dry thumbs.
Gentle is the song I sing, and gentle is the air I breathe, and gentle is the room I sit in, rocking him to sleep.
But gentle inhibits me from one powerful emotion I feel flare up in me, which is anger: anger when the day doesn’t go as planned, anger at watching bad news unfold around me, anger at watching unkindness run rampant, anger when I trip over a baby toy in the middle of the night, anger when the chicken doesn’t cook up the way it should, anger that I sit with, quietly seething, on the steps in our cold basement, counting to ten, again and again, before going back upstairs to rejoin the race.
There is no space here for smashing things.
(Amanda actually told me about a place where you can go, pay money, don safety gear, and smash the life out of breakable objects. That sounds magical to me.)
Anger has a life of its own, and anger needs to be released, like a hornet that makes its way into your car while you’re driving. Get that thing out before it finds you and starts stinging.
I’ve thought a lot about how to release my own hornet, how to get it out so that my mind can balance, so I don’t have to pinch myself into a tight ball of human, sitting on cold steps, counting to ten, and ten, and ten. And especially how do I accomplish that release when my job each day is to care for a small human whose own anger comes when you take away the apple slice he was chewing on, or put him in his crib, or change his diaper?
There is no bumper to dent, there is no coffee to throw, there is no pick-up truck to smash electronics with. There is me, and my baby, and my feelings.
And there is life, moving swiftly on around us, throwing twigs into that fire all day long.
The best solution I’ve come up with is to fight fire with fire. When anger flares, temper it with the fire I feel under me, the fire to create, to help, to do. Make cookies for a friend having a hard time. Draw pictures. Plan the garden, and dig in the dirt, and dream of heavy tomatoes on the vine. Anger has a tendency to make me tight and closed and hidden, so the anti-anger will be loose and open and out, going into the sunshine and telling stories and making something from the world around us. Take those twigs that life throws into the fire and use them to build a bird’s nest, and then watch life grow from there.
I still want to smash things, but that is, at the end of the day, a destructive act, and maybe – just maybe – what I need is not so much destruction, but creation. Maybe the way to a calmer spirit is not through breaking, but building.