My father was born and raised in Paris. He was actually Swiss, hence my last name, but he grew up in France and only came to the States in his twenties. As a child I remember feeling ever so slightly embarrassed by my obvious “American-ness” something my father was often critical of in not so subtle ways. One of his complaints was regarding what he felt was an American preoccupation with “happiness”. One of his favorite phrases, repeated to my annoyance when I was a teenager, was “no one ever promised you a rose garden.” (It was an interesting statement coming from someone who lovingly tended to his rose bushes that accented an enormous cactus/rock garden in front of our ranch-style house.) I hated when he said that. I can remember driving in the car staring out the window, talking about the injustices of the world and our society and feeling it was all too much to bear and he would come out with the thing about the rose garden or another of his favorites, “it’s a wicked world” and I would silently scream in my head, while saying nothing.
It’s snowing right now. My studio windows look north onto a bridge where hundreds of commuters barrel along to and from Manhattan. On sunny days to my left the Manhattan skyline beckons in all its grandeur, to my right massive factory buildings rise up, grey concrete and windows where I can see heavy machinery, artist’s studios and manufacturing. Often, on the street my studio building occupies, film crews shoot TV shows I’ve never watched, parking is suspended, barricades are set up and large tables laden with food, none of the actors will eat, take up space on the sidewalk. But this morning it’s snowing. Manhattan is completely obscured by heavy, grey clouds. Different sized flakes whirl about as though unaware that gravity will eventually win out.
I spent most of my teens in a state of confused, directionless, rage. Eventually all that anger found its target… me. For the next few decades I took my upset and sense of injustice and dumped it on my self over and over until I had all but forgotten there was anything else to be outraged about. Slowly over time that changed. I learned to have some acceptance, I learned that my anger was not the single worst thing about me, to be buried and beaten down and hidden. I learned that other people’s anger, while uncomfortable, would not kill me. I learned about myself and I began to see that my resentments led me to behave in ways that would eventually crush me. My addictions (click for more on that) were all about rage, debilitating resentments turned inward. I learned the only way I could crawl out from under my addictions was through honesty, acceptance, compassion and love. I learned I could feel rage, but that I had to learn how to respect and care for it. I am still learning. I haven’t gotten it all figured out yet. I still falter and make missteps, but I know the key points so that I don’t completely fall off into self-destruction.
Anger. What is it telling me? I have to keep my actions honest. I have to keep conflicts centered on separating feelings from facts. I have to try to recognize when I am responding with judgment, prejudice, privilege, superiority or defensiveness (this is no small feat!) I have to step away and ask myself – am I being honest? Am I being willfully hurtful? Am I intentionally or unintentionally being manipulative? Am I afraid? If so, what of? Am I speaking from truth or because I want others to think well of me? Am I placing principles above personalities? Am I practicing these principles in all my affairs? Am I gossiping? Am I feeling superior or conversely inferior? Am I demonstrating any of these things in my behavior? What can I do to support those I care about and love? What can I do to be of service? What is the next “right” action in the face of conflict? Sometimes the answer to this last question is to be present and enjoy the snow falling outside my window and to see the beauty in its gathering on the rooftops and farther below on the ground. Sometimes, not always, but sometimes, taking care of myself so that I can take action at a later point means doing absolutely nothing in this moment.
January 2013 – The Chrysler Building at night