Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Found photo from some forgotten thrift store.  I like its myriad stories.
I want to say hi. And that, as much as I declared a winter holiday for myself, and started reading The Brothers Karamazov, just certain I would have time to finish it (this time), I have been super busy. It's true, some of that busyness has been in my head.  For this I blame the winds outside my door, and a complete electrical re-wire of the house. Another part of that busyness, however, has been catching up on some much needed couch time with Twin Peaks (lovingly referred to as Schwinn Peaks in our household), the movie Junebug, and a pretty bad documentary about Joan Rivers that, I swear, sent me to bed with my blood boiling.

Which reminds me of something I came across this weekend, and something on my mind lately. In unprecedented shamelessness, I will now share something from my journal for the second time on this blog! I'll try to not make this a habit. 

Ahem. The words: I'm not sure I know how to feel anger - in my body.  How to let it blow open my heart.  And I think this is linked, somehow, to action - to taking action in my life.

I wrote these words weeks before watching the Joan Rivers documentary, but it is perhaps important that each reminded me of the other, because Joan Rivers is well-known for paving the way for women.  Women comics, okay, but I think all women, too.  She said things on national television that you just didn't say...okay, this is according to the documentary, because I admit, I have never been a Joan Rivers fan.  I know, I know - shocking, considering my love for profanity and crassness.  I mean, profanity and crassness are the essence of Sut Nam.

See?  Even sarcasm doesn't work for me.

Anyway, my point (please!) is that I think a lot of women can relate to my original statement, that I don't quite know how to feel anger in my body.  Culturally, an angry woman is not an attractive thing.  Not that I live to be attractive to others.  I swear!

Could this conundrum be more than a peculiarity to my family, my particular history?  I think it is.  I know from watching my friends with kids how difficult it can be to teach children to honor their anger. To teach them how to feel it, so they know what to do with it, and how to work with it.  The behavior that results from an overload of anger is unattractive in even the cutest of beings.  It's also funny, if you have enough distance.  (See also, childless woman at her friend's house, watching friend's child throw tantrums).

In my own life, my dog scratches at the front door, demanding a walk, leaving deep claw marks, when he is finally fed up with his owners' laziness on Sunday mornings.  This is not attractive.  But it is kind of funny.  His brain has (apparently) boiled past the point of boundaries and normal behavior.  Somewhere inside that formidable little noggin of his, he thinks this sort of domestic vandalism is okay. (Incidentally, in one of the all-time miracles of rental history, so does our landlord.)

How about road rage.  Or temper tantrums in the middle of Marshall's (I'm talking about toddler's again, thankfully).  From enough distance, there is an opportunity for wonder - just what is happening inside the human brain in these moments?

It occurs to me that even this wonder is a signal of my discomfort with anger.  I have abstracted it.  But what if I was on to something when I said that my dog's brain boils past the point of boundaries?  What if I am afraid of anger because it is not polite and does not behave?  What if I am ultimately terrified of this loss of control, decorum, attractiveness?

For a big part of my life, I have been asking myself, how do I surrender anger, without surrendering to it?  But maybe the better questions is, how do I surrender to it - experience it, taste it - without acting it out? And is the distinction, not acting it out, but rather, acting on it?

That's a lot of italicizing.  Forgive me.

Yesterday, I had a moment where I was so angry my eyes crossed.  I don't mean this metaphorically.  I felt them screw tighter in my head and blur.  For a blip of a second, my head became a bull's head.  I felt rage course through it.  I might as well have blown steam out my ears.  I had to leave the room so I didn't say something I would regret.  My father has long had this ability to leave the room and decompress.  I think I have traditionally stuffed anger far back into my gut, where it nests like one of those sticky burrs our Cocker Spaniel growing up used to come home with loads of on her fluffy leg hair.  But where can stuffed anger go from there, but deeper into my body?  Where it grows like a cancer, or sullenly remains like a stuck caramel.

I keep a picture of a chapbook on my desk at work.  The chapbook was letter-pressed with a picture of a shovel.  The shovel points down, and words above it read Dirt, the title of a section of the book.  I keep it there for two reasons: 1. I work at a cell-phone accessories company and love my job.  But some days, I need to feel close to the poets I know, and the poetry that is humming beneath the business of the day, and 2. I want to remember that I walk on holy ground, the earth itself that knows what to do with emotions, confusion, anger.  It soaks it up and neutralizes it, turns it over and transforms it, like how the company of a good friend can neutralize the worst of days.

But what if this isn't enough?  There is also the cliche in our culture that a woman is hot when she is pissed.  And maybe she is.  I have certainly seen this happen in our household, where I erupt with requests for help with housework, or whatever complaint I have, and my husband finally sees me, and hears me, and is respectful of me in a new way.  Not out of fear, but recognition, because my personal power is finally being expressed. And we laugh at how angry I have become, not because we are ashamed, but because we are relieved. Because truth is being revealed, instead of being stuffed away.

So.  Go forth and throw tantrums!  No no, no no.  This morning, and most, I have no real answers.  Probably, the times I think I have them are when I am furthest from the truth.  The art of openness is understanding how squeamish I am in the face of things. And learning to stay open despite misunderstanding, confusion, and fear.  I do know this: it may not be enough to pray away anger.  It might not even be the thing to do. Anger may be a holy catalyst for new ways of being, a call of distress from the soul.  We get to choose how to listen to that ruckus, how to lean in deeply and ask what we need to know.  Thank goodness we have friends, and art, to work through the squeamishness.  Big skies and walks in the woods.  Work, too.  Work is dignity, my husband always says, probably quoting someone far off and biblical. It is hard to tell sometimes when he is quoting brilliance or simply being it himself.  In any case, I am grateful for these ways to explore what we are here to explore.

With wide open prayers for 2012, for you and the ways we are connected,



  1. This post is like an answered prayer. I love this line: "Because we are relieved. Because truth is being revealed, instead of being stuffed away." It reminds me of one of Sabrina Ward Harrison's published journals (Yes, she published her journal, so please, keep quoting from yours!) when she talks about how, sometimes we hold back who we really are in order to be how we *think* we should be for someone else, but then what happens is that we become too much work for ourselves. I know I do this over and over again. It's tricky though... B/c we can't go spilling our feelings out all over the place all the time, now can we??

    1. Yes, I like that her book is called Journal Spilling. Or wait, that's a different book I have. Anyway, the point is, it's not called Amelia Spilling, or Kara Spilling. That's what phone calls are for :) Actually, we all know people who could be called X Spilling, and it ain't pretty, you are so right!

      I LOVE that Sabrina Ward Harrison book. Thank you endlessly for that recommendation.

  2. Which I guess leads us to your question: "How do I surrender to it - experience it, taste it - without acting it out? And is the distinction, not acting it out, but rather, acting on it?" Exactly... how do we work through it without acting like a toddler having a tantrum? Yoga? Journaling? Dance music?

  3. I love this post. A naturopath I work with sees anger as a very holy emotion. She says we have to express anger-- anger is passion! And when it burns cleanly offers catalyst and release. Of course, she's a doctor so her response to "how to express anger" is to make a ceremony out of it--break a plate, scream into a pillow, and set a time limit of 3 minutes. It might simply naming the emotion anger, saying "I'm angry" love the emotion and then let it go. I think, as you said so beautifully Kara, offer it back out to the earth.

    1. Hi lovely Corinne!

      I like the time limit idea. And identifying the emotion - it's really empowering.

      So glad to see you here!

  4. a) keeping a picture of that book as a reminder of the poetic undercurrent & earth is simply fantastic. in those moments when the world beyond your desk seems like an illusion, it sounds just the thing to find peeking at you with, "i'm kind of quiet, and don't always demand your attention... but i'm always here -- and will be here when the other things are not."

    b) but yes, for certain - and especially for woman - there is a link between our reluctance to show anger and our reluctance to lose control, which is usually ultimately tied to our fear that dreadful things await past a certain contained threshold.

    interestingly enough, i was in a one-off watercolor class today where the teacher had us tape a 4x6in square onto our paper, then told us to start painting a vase of flowers. as she came around to see how we were getting on, she stopped in front of the *one guy* in the class and said, "oh dear - i forgot that when i have men in the class, i need to tell them not to paint outside the box." it turns out, almost as a rule, men will paint outside the lines unless they are told not to ("well, i got to the edge and the flower went farther than that," the guy explained with a shrug -- not really understanding his transgression) -- while women never even think of straying beyond the black box parameter they've laid down for themselves.

    so i guess we need to teach ourselves that it's safe to stray... or at least question how the "box" is serving us. and i think corinne is right, identifying anger first is huge... building up the expression of anger like a muscle. or perhaps rather, caving into the small anger "indulgence" rather than denying ourselves, only to find yourself in the throes of an anger binge.

    d) [oh kara! you are always so relevant!] tweeted this a couple days ago: "...there is a difference between expressing anger and sending anger" -sandra ingerman

    which, i think is another lesson to learn... maybe if we can understand that anger has the potential to be an expression of love rather than one of hate, we might feel more comfortable losing ourselves to it.