Once upon a time I lived in a big room on the second floor (first floor we would say in Europe) of a very big early 20th century house that had been turned into flats. My landlady sold mutual funds; keenly interested in never having to be economically independent on anyone else ever again, I routinely bought mutual funds. I was rather susceptible to sales pitches as I had just done the unthinkable and run away from my then-husband. My landlady was a shark.
The big room came with a chest of drawers/cabinet. I soon added a futon that served as a sofa by day and as a couch by night. There must have been a table, for I remember sitting up at night before the big bay window conjugating verbs. My work ethic was admirable: I reviewed three years of high school Italian, first year university Latin, even first year Greek. I had neither a television nor a computer.
I also got up early every morning and went to the gym. Then I went to work. Then I went home to have supper before going down, three nights a week, to the boxing club. It was open only three nights a week. If it had been open five or six nights a week, I probably would have gone five or six nights a week.
On Sundays I went to Mass. I could go to Mass at only one church--the church of the priest who had said "Honey, get out when you're young"--without feeling like I wanted to kill somebody afterwards. The closest evening Mass was in a low-ceilinged church of astonishing, possibly architectural prize-winning, modernist ugliness and the entire congregation seemed grey, exhausted, and only going through the motions. This was the one period of my life when I sometimes skipped going to Sunday Mass. My justification was there was no point going to Mass if it made me that angry.
In hindsight, evening Mass--so quiet, so dull, so lacking in the great choir and the shining personality of the pastor uptown--was the one place where anger could catch up with me. It was like my very first Christian yoga class in Boston. It was not until I took that class that I realized that there was something wrong with my foot, and that it was absolutely killing me. I hobbled away and waited for hours and hours in the college clinic (so much for snappy American private health care) to discover I had very slightly fractured it weeks before.
It amazes me that I could not have gotten rid of all that anger just through all the work I was doing. I mean, I was always working. Exercise, detailed-oriented job, exercise, verb conjugation. I ate only 1300 to 1500 low-fat calories a day: I diligently added them all up. (An apple has 90-110 calories!) No wonder my family began to mutter words like "gaunt" when I came to visit. It amazes me that I didn't simply burn up the anger when I ran out of calories.
Boxing is a traditional Catholic cure for frustration (especially sexual) and anger. It seem like Irish-named priests in the early 20th century were always founding boxing clubs, were always sending boys to square off in the ring. Since I was in a boxing gym for up to nine hours a week, you would have thought my bruises and occasional swollen nose hid the tranquility of a nun, but no. Maybe boxing works like that for guys. (If I had a son, I would encourage him to try it.) It certainly staves off boredom. For adrenaline, there's nothing like getting into the ring and facing another violent member of homo sapiens sapiens for purposes of violence. But it did not get rid of my anger, the anger of which I was barely conscious. Mostly I thought I was lonely.
The bedsit was heaven compared to what I had left, but some nights the walls just closed in. And this brings me back to the night I was thinking about this morning: the night I went to a dance club by myself.
There are a lot of things you might not want to do by yourself, but are perfectly doable. You can eat in a restaurant by yourself; nobody but the servers will notice. You can go to the cinema by yourself. You can even go on holiday by yourself. But I do not recommend that you leave your bedsit (bachelor apartment) late at night, walk past blocks of empty parking lots in a depressed area of town, go to a noisy dance club where you know no-one, knock back alcopop until you are drunk and then walk back past the empty parking lots at 1 AM. Although nothing bad happened to me, that was a stupid and irresponsible thing for a woman to do. At the time I thought I had been pushed out of the flat by loneliness, but it was probably not wanting to be stuck there with my anger.
I don't remember if this was before or after I finally picked up the phone and called a psychotherapist--a Catholic psychotherapist, one who advertised at the back of my comforting church. But it was in therapy that I was forced to sit still with my anger and at last begin the long task of loosening its hitherto anonymous hold on my life.
"But Marmee," says Jo in Little Women, "you are never angry."
"I am angry almost every day of my life," says Jo's saintly mother, and as a child I thought how wonderful she was to experience daily rage and yet be such a joy to be around. But what Alcott didn't mention, and what I don't want to forget, is what a blessing anger can be.
Sure, anger drove me out into the dangerous night because I couldn't stand to be alone with it. But it also propelled me into good physical health-- when I was 29 the examining nurse told me I had the heart of a 14 year old. It drove me into boxing, an experience I would not have given up for anything. It helped me to reclaim Italian and Latin and to come to grips with that bugaboo of first year uni, Greek. It thus prepared me for three years of solid academic work. Above all, it got me out of a bad marriage sooner rather than later.
So I conclude this morning that there is nothing wrong with anger in itself. (It is certainly superior to depression.) The moral questions are What should you do with it? and How do you make anger your servant, not your master?
Update: Prudence, not anger, drove me back to my computer to mention that your former boxing career is not usually something you want to mention on a first date with an NCB. Believe me on this. Few good and licit things undercut your careful projection of Devout 21st Century Catholic Femininity than your past or present ability to beat the stuffing out of somebody. Meanwhile, the Not Nice Not Catholic Not Really Anything Rats love it because they think this might mean you are kinky. Again, believe me on this one; don't find out the hard way. Revelations of martial arts prowess should really be left for later.