I don’t get angry very often. Like, truly, soul-deep indignant. I get irritated and frustrated plenty, especially at my children, who seem to have a real knack for unlocking the worst aspects of my temper. I have yelled crazy person things at my kids. The other day, after breaking up yet another fight over water bottles, I shouted, “I don’t care if you’re dying of thirst in the desert, you don’t drink from each others' jugs!” Erm... (Henry, age 8, later refused to wear his seat belt because what was the point, when one’s own mother didn’t give a fig about you dying in the desert?)
But anger is a different emotion from annoyance. Anger takes a level of commitment, a belief in being wronged when rightness was deserved, that I just don’t typically have. I’m too tired to be angry mostly, too aware of the human condition to ignore the struggle of the person I should be angry at. Too passive. Even when things were at their worst in my marriage, when I knew I should be livid, I couldn’t muster anything more than a muted, short-lived distress that blew out like a birthday candle at the faintest breath of remorse.
This all changed a few months ago. It started with a picture. I was asked to be part of Jose Angel Saenz's wonderful and beautiful project, "Faces of Boise". It was a neat experience, if a little disconcerting. The photo, as you can see, is raw and real and rather stark. I didn't like it at first, I felt naked, he didn't even give me a moment to pause and put on lipgloss. It was so quick. I stepped in front of the camera and click, click, we were done. There was no time to muster the fake, charming smile I've perfected over the years, no time to pose. When he showed me the picture, I thought I looked old and kind of smirky.
But the more I looked at it, the more I realized how honest the photo was. That the reason it made me uncomfortable was that Jay had captured me in the moment, had captured a perfect portrait of my soul. That this was where I was really at, with no pleasant veneer, no united front, no social media best foot forward. I looked sad and tired because I AM sad and tired. Seeing myself so exposed, seeing how fragile and human and imperfect I am caught me by surprise. I decided I had comedian eyes: jaded, weary, wiseass, resilient, with a tiny spark of joy that couldn't help peeking out. I loved it because (omg, pardon the fields of cheesiness) I loved myself.
He posted the picture on Facebook in his artist album and I shared it. Which is...let's say, a fairly new experience for me, allowing people in on my fragility and imperfection, being real with people and trusting that they will love me for who I really am. I have been described as "an island", a person who doesn't need anything from anyone, who doesn't let anyone in close. My ego wants to preserve this idea that my being removed and unknowable made me seem mysterious and nonchalant, but one of my best friends assures me that I just came across as "an aloof dick most the time".
So, I shared the picture, and within minutes I got this comment from a relative, with whom I am not, and have never been, close:
"I think you look tired and a bit strung out. Take some time to pause and reflect....love you lots."
For the first time in years, maybe ever, I was angry. This is on the artist's page, remember, she said that on his professional gallery page, on the picture I had shared because I was honored to be one of the 150 people featured in his project. Strung out? Like, as in, on drugs? I don't smoke, drink, do drugs, or even eat dairy. It's not a sexy, alluring picture of me, I get that, but this is who I am, what I look like, everyday, as I'm ferrying kids around and doing a job I love for almost no money. I wrote out "FUCK OFF, YOU" several times before I made myself calm down and answer like an adult:
"Wow. What a strange, passive-aggressive, condescending thing to post as a comment. I think I look very human, no more tired or strung out or in need of a pause than any other parent/artist/person. I think Jay captured my resilience, my balance, my ambition, and my sense of humor perfectly, and I am incredibly proud of this picture."
BOOM. Situation, handled. I was surprised by my ire, usually I would internalize her criticism, not be able to see that her comment is about her, really, not me. Stand up comedy has given me this. The gift of self-respect, of commitment. It has given me the ability to know a heckler when I see one, and not to let their shit interrupt my shit. On stage, as in life, it's just you, no one else will fight your battles, no one else will protect you. You have to be your own muscle, feel free to bounce anyone from your show who doesn't deserve to be there. Drama is for the theater, comedy has taught me to be who I am, to do what I do, and be proud of myself. Also, when in doubt, do a dick joke.