Rage: A Calming Meditation

wrecked-crashed-cars-21

Deep down, I know that I am a deeply angry person. But something happened this morning that ended up leading me down a twisty little thought-maze: why does my seething inner cauldron of rage rarely ever boil over onto individual human beings?

On reflection, I think it’s because I’m a big believer in managing your own expectations. I consider this a personal responsibility on par with saving for retirement.

This is how it works: any time I start an optimistic new endeavor, I set aside a certain percentage of that optimism for a rainy day. Especially when the sky is clearly cloudy. I happen to think that surprise is the root of most of my own interpersonal distress, and that anything that comes as a shock hurts me worse than identically unpleasant events that I’ve taken care to be emotionally prepared for. This isn’t always possible in a random universe, but it’s possible on more occasions than you might realize.

Say, for instance, that you’re starting a new job. Day one rolls around, and you find out the guy in the next cubicle has unsavory personal habits, like listening to aggressive drive-time talk radio shows. Later in the week you overhear him making racist comments about a co-worker. Are you going to waste your time clutching your pearls, or are you going to roll your eyes and file an anonymous complaint with HR?

I’m just saying, there’s no point getting angry with a professed Rush Limbaugh fan for saying racist shit. You might as well get mad at a dog for licking his testicles. Why does your dog still have testicles? What kind of irresponsible, non-neutering dog owner are you?

Taking steps to check someone’s bad behavior isn’t the same thing as wasting your precious personal energy in getting angry with them. You should save your anger for things that deserve it. Things like inanimate objects that fail to perform the function they were designed for.

This post was inspired by the fact that I hit my forehead on the corner of my bedroom door as I was cleaning out the cat’s litter box this morning. First, there was pain; then, there was rage beyond measure. I slammed the door harder than I’ve ever slammed a door in my life. A few seconds later, I was calm again.

Not once in my 33 years on this earth have I ever slammed a door because a human being pissed me off. But I have frequently slammed doors because the door pissed me off.

The logic at work here is impeccable. I don’t get angry with people because I take it as read that people are not to be relied upon. This is not cynicism! This is basic respect for human flexibility. People are complicated, and their lives are full of unlooked-for variables. Any intelligent person is going to change their opinion, or their course of action, based on new information and new circumstances. We’re adaptable creatures. People who remain fixed points in a changing age are blockheads. I take care not to associate with blockheads.

Inanimate objects, on the other, are meant to be relied upon. That is literally the reason they exist. A person who decides that a career in A/C repair is not for them is noble and brave for starting a new life as an interior designer. An air conditioning unit that decides not to cool your house in hot weather is scrap metal.

I maintain that there is no more worthy object of furious, blistering anger than a functional object that ceases to function. How dare it? It literally had one job. Failure to perform that job is a betrayal, and that object deserves the fate of all traitors, which is to be wiped off the face of the earth and blotted from memory.

If you’re my friend, and you call me at two in the morning in tears because your significant other is leaving you, I am going to listen with quiet sympathy. I will be thinking things like, You knew she was allergic to cats when you met her, and other justified sentiments that boil down to “what did you expect?”, but I’m not going to say any of them out loud. Because you’re a human being, and you’re complicated, and even assholes like me can have social skills.

But if I’m borrowing your car, and the car breaks down on the side of the road while I’m ten miles from home, then I’m sorry. Your car is now a rusting pile of component parts at the bottom of a ditch. That’s because I tore it apart with my bare hands. But I’m sure you won’t be angry about that, because now you’ve read this blog post, so you knew what to expect when you loaned it to me.

*

Brittany’s car is currently an intact pile of rusting parts stranded at a friend’s house because she lacks the money to have it repaired by people who have more patience for non-functional inanimate objects than she does. If you enjoyed this post, please considering throwing a couple of bucks in the hat to help make it function again, as God intended.

Language and Light

“If I’m confused, or upset, or angry, if I can go out and look at the stars I’ll almost always get back a sense of proportion. It’s not that they make me feel insignificant; it’s the very opposite; they make me feel that everything matters, be it ever so small, and that there’s meaning to life even when it seems most meaningless.”

from A Ring of Endless Light, by Madeleine L’Engle

The Christmas I was sixteen I wrote a letter to Madeleine L’Engle.

Like most people, I encountered L’Engle’s writing first in A Wrinkle In Time and its sequels as a child, but I went on to read almost her entire bibliography of more than fifty books my junior year of high school.

My favorite was A Ring of Endless Light. I considered it the most important book I had ever read; the intensity of my feelings about it defied articulation. I considered it almost another Gospel. It conveyed the essentials of everything I believed to be true about life, death, God, and the soul with beautiful imagery and simple, transparent language. Madeleine L’Engle was the writer I most aspired to emulate, and her characters were the people I most wanted to be like. The first book I published I intended to dedicate to her.

ROEL

Continue reading

Memo: Don’t Compare Homeless People To Stray Cats, You Will Make Brittany Shriek Like A Tree Monkey

treemonkey

“Homeless people are not animals! Also, feed the damned animals, what is wrong with you?!”

I’ve decided not to write about my epic saga of homelessness or related adventures anymore, or at least not for a little while. While my finances are still terribly precarious, and my PTSD is still quite T, I am a much happier and healthier person than I was when I started this blog a year ago.

It’s easy to get stuck in past traumas. Hyper-vigilant people don’t necessarily stop hyper-vigilating just because they’ve reached safe harbor. Sometimes you have to locate your own off-switch and firmly instruct your brain that it’s time to think about other stuff now.

This is me, doing that. Or fixin’ to do it, as they say in Raleigh.

Before I leave the topic behind entirely, there are a handful of sentiments about homelessness that I need to get off my chest. These are things that I learned while I was homeless, the stuff that surprised me or took me off guard. Stuff that I wished folks understood about people like me, and stuff I wish my friends understood about the homeless people I encounter now.

Continue reading

Artifacts

(Trigger warnings for discussion of child abuse and suicide below.)

For various reasons, I am a person who doesn’t own a lot of stuff. Just for example: I have three pairs of shoes. One pair of flip flops, one pair of ballet flats, and one pair of Batman Converse high tops, which explains everything you need to know about the current state of my right Achilles tendon, according to my podiatrist. I own a bed, a lamp, a small book shelf, a card table, and about 150 books. My car is 15 years old. The most valuable thing I own is my Macbook Air, which was a gift from my literary agent. And while I would like to, say, own more clothes (and therefore do less laundry) I am mostly okay with all of this. When you’re poor and you have to move a lot, minimalism is convenient. But when you’ve lost things you care about, it makes you more materialistic, not less. Everything I own is important to me, because I had to make an effort to keep it.

My books are the best example of this. When I became homeless in 2012 I didn’t have much, but I had a personal library of about 700 books, and giving away so much of it was nothing less than heartbreaking. Every gift of money I got as a kid went into my book collection, every Christmas and birthday, every $20 bill I wheedled out of my parents. My library was to me what a varied and stylish quality wardrobe is to some people, a way of presenting to the world the image of myself that I wanted to project. I often sat and looked at my books and took pleasure in the thought that a stranger walking into my room could get a sense of my personality, my interests, even my abilities, just by looking at my book cases. I dreamed of the day my own published novels would join them. The books in which my name appears in the acknowledgments had a special shelf of their own. Ego and memory and history and sentiment and accomplishment were all wrapped up in that book collection. Disbanding that carefully curated bibliography felt like an act of self-harm.

2015-08-22_1440276222

(The author, age 6, Christmas 1988. The box was full of books. My 3 year old cousin is baffled and intrigued. What do they do?)

Continue reading

My Testimony

On July 8th, 2000–fifteen years ago today–I stopped believing in God. I didn’t think I was going to write about this. I’ve neglected the blog lately, and there were so many things I could have written about instead–much nicer things to dwell on after a long hiatus. But writers don’t always get to choose what they write about. And a damaged writer probably has less choice than most. lookup

(This may or may not be an actual photo of my camp, stolen from a stranger’s Myspace.)

Continue reading

She’s warm.

Spring is a good time for new things, right? Spring is a thematically appropriate time to introduce changes into one’s life, and then write about them.

The life I lead here on Crowded Little Street, Southwest Baltimore, is very unlike the life I’ve had anywhere else, and by that I mean, my life is very normal. Astonishingly so. It’s the kind of normal I didn’t think actually existed outside of sitcoms. My roommates and I hang out and play video games. We have Burrito Night. I can walk to the grocery store and the coffee shop. I’ve had a recent uptick in my freelance work, so lately I haven’t had the crushing despair of hanging around an empty house, unable to enjoy the solitude because you’re not allowed to enjoy days off when you’re an unemployed bum. Oh, and I have a cat! If you follow my Instagram, Twitter, or Tumblr, you know this already, but here’s a picture anyway.

Mina window

Not pictured: the photographer writhing with glee, because the cat and MouseBear are friends, and she ACTUALLY PULLED HIM OVER SO THEY COULD BE CLOSER AND SNUGGLE, GOD SHE’S SO CUTE I’M GONNA DIE

So I have a house, human beings, a cat, and (brief, temporary) employment. The support group I started in December is getting more members every week. I love the novel I’m writing. My essay about why Ophelia is the most important character in western literature was published on The Toast not long ago! And I just got my contributor’s copies for Companion Piece!

That’s all it takes to make me quite content, apparently. Compared to where I was a year ago, it’s pretty much paradise.

So naturally, in the face of all this goodness, the advent of sunshine and spring weather is making me nostalgic for my childhood. Which, as long time readers of this blog will know, was, occasionally, a barren wilderness full of thorns and locusts, etc.

Continue reading

Surprising New Emotions

Since the time of my last post, I have, once again, moved to a new apartment.

This brings me up to a total of seven addresses where I have resided since March of last year. And while I’m happy to report that this was my best move by far (I’m sharing a renovated rowhouse in the city! I had a real flesh and blood friend to help me haul my stuff!), I learned something kind of shocking about myself this month. Namely, that I am capable of feeling homesick.

Seriously?! my brain demands of me, outraged by its own short term memory. How can you be homesick for a place where you were miserable and lots of bad things happened to you and also, as a teenager, your metric for personal success hinged on whether or not you were still “stuck” there as an adult? 

I agree, brain. It’s very confusing. I mean, I grew up in Raleigh. It’s a city of a million people, yet it always comes as a kind of shock when people from out-of-state have heard of it. And it’s not as if anyone still lives there. My parents moved to Kentucky two years ago. My high school friends are all in places like Chicago, D.C., Boston, New York. My college friends are teaching abroad or finishing up Ph.D.s in different parts of the country. By contrast, this time last year, I was living down the street from my old high school. I’m not saying this made me a failure, but by the time I left, I felt like I really needed to get out of North Carolina, if only to prove to myself that I could.

Continue reading

Genre Writer

When I was in high school, I knew that I wanted to be a writer, but not any particular kind. I wrote all sorts of different stories as a teenager, and the only goals I had were to entertain myself and to make my friends laugh and flail their arms and demand more.

My first novel, composed at age fifteen, was a magical girl story with heavy anime influences. The main character was an immortal queen whose life was tied to the life of the land she ruled. I was especially proud of the three crucifixions in the last chapter.

Sailor-moon

(Anime was really fucked up in 1997, just saying.)

Another story followed the adventures of four young women, all thinly veiled portraits of me and my friends as adults, as they pursued successful careers in the arts in New York City. Another was a hardboiled mystery featuring a main character who was basically the Cigarette Smoking Man from the X-Files.

The real headliner of my adolescent writing career was A Society of Like Minds. I started Society the summer of 1998, when I was 16, and I worked on it devotedly over the next two years. Society was a work of historical fiction that reflected my obsession with the English Romantic poets. My characters were all vaguely aristocratic and vaguely scandalous: one had a French opera singer for a wife, one had a mysteriously dead husband, there were rumors of infidelity between sister- and brother-in-law, etc. They all lived together in Florence and had strong feelings about society and God. I am still convinced it is some kind of masterpiece, and I occasionally pour over the old manuscripts with giggling and glee.

romantic-poets-gothic-001

(Remember that time Gabriel Byrne was Byron and Natasha Richardson was Mary Shelley and Julian Sands made out with a woman who had eyes for nipples?)

Continue reading

The Imitation Game, Bitch Planet, and Elementary: Media Miscellany!

Lately I’ve had so many ideas for new blog posts that decision anxiety has stopped me committing to any of them!

“What do my readers crave? A review of The Imitation Game, the first movie I’ve been to see in a theater since Iron Man 3? Incoherent babbling about how much I love the current season of Elementary? A pros and cons list of whether I should get an undercut? Photo post of me posing with both issues of Bitch Planet?”

Back in the days of LiveJournal, I could have settled this with a quick poll. But Word Press, and indeed every blogging tool I’ve worked with, is inferior to what LiveJournal was before it turned into a wasteland inhabited only by Russian spambots. So, since I cannot quickly and conveniently determine your desires with the resources available to me, I’ll just have to dump everything on you at once and hope everyone gets what they need out of it.

Reviews with minor spoilers for The Imitation Game, Elementary, Bitch Planet, and my ultimate decision re: cutting my hair below the read more.

Continue reading