Coping Strategies for Angry Men
If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.
Men Carrying Anger
1. Norman, insurance salesman, thrice-married, for a long time carried his anger like a glove on his right hand, where he saw it every time he glanced down. But in his later years he came to think he didn’t need such a close reminder of his ire and resentment, so he pulled it off and slapped it onto his back, where he wouldn’t see it. This worked very well, he thought, and he wished he had done it long ago. However, while he wasn’t paying attention, it slipped into his spine. There it became very hard, and, unfortunately, not very straight.
2. Max, a second grader who disliked being told what to do, was supposed to be reading during reading period but instead he used a contraband Crayon to draw his anger onto a bit of construction paper. He was ready to throw it away, but there was no trashcan, so he shoved it in his pocket. Every time he reached into his pocket, his fingers brushed against it, a reminder. He looked around, but there was no trashcan nearby. Years passed; still, no trashcan.
3. Derek, a successful businessman, carried his anger as a head in the shape of his own head, but bigger. This larger head formed itself around his regular head—a large head on his shoulders that no one else could see. He liked it. It was distinctive. Of course many successful people had large heads, but his wasn’t ego or pride; it was his anger. Over the years it grew, and the larger it grew, the more he enjoyed its great, invisible shape, like one of the giant creatures that floated above parades. If only people could see, they would cower. Sometimes, in meetings, he sat faintly rocking, bobbing it forward and back, while everyone waited for him.
4. Perhaps you have met William, the small friendly man with a winning smile who carried his anger inside his penis? He was often horny, yet he hated for anything to touch his penis when it was burdened in this way, and so he was at odds with himself and very unhappy.
5. Jordan was motivated by his anger and wanted to never forget it. He shaped his anger into a little ball and put it in his mouth, where he chewed on it and his tongue played with it. After only a few days, however, he began to grow accustomed to this, and he stopped thinking about it. Then he jammed it into his nose, so he would be reminded every time he breathed. But, to his amazement, after a couple of weeks, again he began to forget. So he sharpened it to a point and set it inside his shoe, where it stabbed painfully at every step. This worked for about three months, but, again, even this he noticed less and less often. Finally, he shaped his anger into a blade, turned it in his hands, and drove it between his ribs, deep into his heart. Now he doubted if he could take it out if he wanted to, and to his great satisfaction every heartbeat struck with a rage impossible to ignore. But, as time passed, he began to wonder if there was actually any difference between always remembering, and always forgetting.
6. Aaron—who ran a very profitable high-end restaurant, but nonetheless was convinced that everyone thought he was a failure—shaped his anger into a stick for breaking things (crockery, mirrors, indifference), which he did in terrible frenzies that seemed to relieve a dreadful need. Afterward, however, he was haunted by the thought that the things he broke were not really destroyed but only rearranged, and so even in this he had failed.
7. Tyrone carried his anger in a silver bracelet on his wrist. One day, however, he came to believe that he was after all a peaceful and forgiving person, so he threw the bracelet into the sea. To celebrate he got a tattoo of his favorite mandala on his ankle. But he soon realized, to his horror, that he had only moved the anger from the bracelet to the tattoo. He liked the mandala very much, but he decided that nonetheless it had to be removed. They used a laser, and he felt relief as he gazed at the bleeding place where the tattoo had been. But presently he grew depressed. He wasn’t sure why. One day, as he trudged from house to car, a path he had followed many hundreds of times, he tripped. As he lay on the gravel, aching and defeated, he realized it had been a mistake to destroy his anger, that he still needed it. He pushed himself upright in a panic. He fell against the driver’s door with both hands. Gasping, he saw himself in the window. And he realized that his anger was not gone. It was still with him. To his relief, it was right there, in his haircut.
8. Toby was a thin, pale toddler who received little love. He seemed listless, but in fact he was working hard at forming his anger into an invisible sphere. The sphere floated around him at a diameter of precisely eight feet. Because he was so young he later had no memory of creating it, and because it was invisible he could not see it. He often wondered why other people never came very close.
9. Cooper carried his anger like a baby. It slept in a sling on Cooper’s chest, and Cooper gave it tickles and played peekaboo to make it giggle. If it whined or thrashed, Cooper stopped whatever he was doing to tend to it. Was it hungry? Was it tired? Was it bored? He could always quiet it down again. Cooper gave his anger his love, and for a time they got along very well. But one night it woke him and wanted to be rocked, for hours on end. This happened again the next night, and again the next night. His anger howled monstrously, demanding his attention in this way every night. In a sleep-deprived state, Cooper couldn’t focus. He stumbled into doors. He saw things (holes, eyes) that weren’t there. He felt like he was going mad. So one night he set his anger down on a table, cut it open, and flayed it. He tanned the skin and made it into a nice belt.
10. Perhaps you have noticed that many men carry their anger in their belly? Frederick was one of these. It swallowed his bellybutton and spilled over the top of his pants and went always before him. But one day he became determined to lose weight. He tried diets: low fat diets, low carb diets, liquid diets, color-based diets, a raw egg diet. He tried exercise: walking, biking, rowing, stairs, high impact, low impact. He tried yoga and aromatherapy. He tried herbal supplements and healthy thinking and hypnosis and ice baths. He tried a technique of his own invention that involved sandpaper and hose clamps. None of these worked. Finally, he went into the garage, took the crosscut saw off its hook, breathed a breath, and began to work. It went more easily than he expected, like sawing balsa wood or styrofoam. His anger detached with a last soft splintering sound. He carried it into the living room. His wife was watching TV. He said, “Will you hold this for me?” She took it, frowning. “What is it?” “Yes,” he said, nodding. He backed away. He turned for the door. “I’ll be right back.”
11. Of course no man can ever truly be rid of his anger; the question is where he will put it, in what shape, whether he will hide or show it, from himself or others, how he will remember it, which part of him will remember it. I think of George, the sort of quiet, steady, reliable man that no one thinks about very much. He carried his anger in his wallet, along with a little cash, a credit card, his driver’s license, some receipts, a library card from a town he no longer lived in, a photograph of his niece, an expired bus pass. When he opened his wallet he sometimes glanced at his anger, and he thought, well, if he needed it, it would be there.
12. And me? As you have probably guessed, I carry mine right here.