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Good and Angry

About a week ago I read the final book in Naomi Novik’s Scholomance trilogy, and found it … far more satisfying than most of the other books I’ve read recently, even ones that are arguably quite good. After some reflection, I decided this was because the narrating character, El, has an emotional range that begins at grumpy and escalates to rage incarnate. (Novik makes a joke of it, late in the book: there is one point when El is emotionally overwhelmed and she sits there for a few minutes “until one single feeling came up to the surface above all the rest, and if you can’t guess which one it was, presumably you’ve only just started reading at this particular point in the story.” I LOL’d.)

This only works because El also has an extremely strict moral code, and she’s working very hard to do the right thing at all times: she is literally ‘good and angry’. (In the vernacular of my childhood that phrase was used as a signifier of slow-burning intensity, like “After he’d done that three times, I finally got good and angry.”)

I also am pretty much rage incarnate at this point, and yes that intensity has indeed been building for a long-ass time. Years in some cases, decades in others. Like El, I am still working intently to conduct myself in a moral fashion. Unlike El, I do not have literal world-ending powers of destruction, which makes my experience rather less satisfying than hers. No, in fact I seem to be entirely powerless to change any of the things that I am angry about, even on an individual level, much less a global one. Which is exactly why watching El set some shit right was so attractive.

My ability to keep my own anger under control is no longer as firm as I would wish. For two whole days of last week I could do nothing but sob (I cry when I’m angry) and rant about various slow-moving ninety-car pileups. I did manage not to attack anyone in my rage, and I was more grateful than usual for Jak, who listened to my ranting for several hours. After two days I was able to stop spilling over, but my rage reservoir is still so full that nothing but surface tension is keeping it in place.

This is not a great way to live, but I am not seeing any alternatives.

The kitchen work essentially finished last week, but we are still under construction; yesterday a different team started on the walls in the great room (which is adjacent to the kitchen and is part of this renovation phase). This is simply a replastering and painting, and should be completed sometime next week, at which point we should be done with workers inside our house for … many months. I don’t yet know when we’ll have enough money / emotional resilience to start phase two of the renovations, but it definitely won’t be soon.

I’m working on a pair of kitchen before-and-after posts. The curse of detail orientation means I am still hyper-aware of all the things that are Not Right, but I expect that as I find workarounds for some things and get accustomed to seeing the rest, I will stop being frustrated by them. Even with those issues front-of-mind, the quality-of-life improvement between last year and now is staggering (never mind the past nine months). So much better. So much.

In the meantime, I will leave you with a picture of a cat. We need to discourage claw-stropping on the new furniture that will be arriving over the next few weeks, and I was very unhappy with the expense-to-quality ratio of mass-manufactured cat trees. So I roped (haha) Jak into helping me build our own scratching post. It’s been a hit.

A young, solid black cat, lying on a carpeted shelf above a post covered in twisted rope, gold eyes staring directly at the camera.
a rare still capture of the fast-moving and shadowy Ricochet
Published inAbstractionsPetsRemodel

6 Comments

  1. Alex Alex

    Do sisal scratchers work for you? mine ignore then and I have to use cardboard ones, despite the mess.

    • Karawynn Karawynn

      In my experience, it entirely depends on the cat. My first cat, Misha, wouldn’t touch sisal, and as a result I too ignored sisal scratchers in favor of looped carpet and/or cardboard — for a long time, through several cats. But recently I bought a very small cheapo piece of cat furniture that included a sisal post and discovered that our youngest current cat (Rikki) loves the stuff and our middle cat will use it occasionally. (The other one, Sammy, is twenty years old now and basically doesn’t scratch anymore.)

      So yeah, if you’ve tried sisal with your current clowder and no one is interested, sad luck. But you could still build a sturdy post and cover it in looped carpet — that’s what I did with Misha, all those years ago.

      • Alex Alex

        I remember Misha, and that photo of him rubbing your cheek. Jasper now does the same to me.

        Yeah, carpet is a good call. Artemis has nearly dug her way though the carpet on the stairs, and I have some leftovers. I can wrap some round the sisal on the cat tree.

        During lockdown I was thinking of makeing a giant shredder-like contraption to turn cardboard from boxes into inch wide strips, which I could then bind together as scratchers. But like most of my ideas I didn’t implement it, and now I don’t get so many boxes.

  2. The idea of anger generated from an over zealous moral code is an interesting one. First I would like to comment that anger should always be dealt with. Left unattended it is a toxic and dangerous force. Best is to look deeply into the conditions that give rise to the anger (moral code or other). Then look at the specific triggers. All of this can be dealt with gently and slowly.

    My personal feelings about moral codes is that they are a bit like clothes, they should be worn loosely and comfortably. Some folks are much more strict than I, but I’d still say that if moral codes are leading to anger then something’s gotta give.

    Right now I’m over busy with too many activities (Poetry group, writing workshop, two book clubs, Thursday Zoom meditation, grandchildren, and taking care of a partner who has covid) that I have piled on top of life in general. Okay, on and on, but I’ll stop here for now — thanks for reading..

    • Karawynn Karawynn

      I was not intending to say that anyone’s moral code was generating anger, nor would I describe either mine or El’s (the character’s) as ‘overzealous’. Of course, someone with a comparatively lax moral code might disagree.

      My anger almost always centers around injustice: basically people being shitty to each other always upsets me, and the closer to ‘home’ that shittiness is, the stronger my proportional reaction. Occasionally my anger is triggered when I identify an individual person or entity intentionally or continually treating me (or someone I care for) badly, but that’s not what I’m dealing with right now.

      Rather, I’m watching my country slowly and systematically perform the metaphorical equivalent of eating its own young, which is painful as fuck, and also enraging. And even when I can bring myself to ignore fascism and environmental catastrophe for a few minutes or hours, the stupidly disastrous way that almost everyone is continuing to respond to the pandemic has such a profound negative impact on me personally that it’s not ever possible to escape it.

      I can affect none of these conditions. The only change that I could even theoretically make that would resolve my anger is to become the kind of person who doesn’t care about any of them. Which one, in the case of Covid is likely to be self-destructive; two, is not the kind of person I can imagine ever wanting to be; and three, is likely not even possible in any case, because I seem to have picked up both ‘intense empathy’ and also ‘intense response to perceived injustice’ from the Autism Salad Bar at conception.

      (Okay, there is one other option, which is to care but react with depression and despair instead of rage —- but I’ve tried that before, and it is definitely worse.)

      And yeah, I can see how a certain sort of person might believe my ‘overzealous moral code’ is the root of the problem, but they’d be the same sort of person who’d say the problem isn’t slavery and racism, but Black anger, or that the problem isn’t the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, but Jewish anger. So I’m not going to take that argument at all seriously.

      The point of the moral code, in the context of this post, is in controlling the expression and consequences of one’s anger. In El’s case, her moral code keeps her from accidentally destroying the world in her (extremely righteous) anger. In my case, it’s about things like being careful not to vent my anger on someone who doesn’t deserve it — much smaller-scale, but still important in the limited context of my relationships. I’m betting Jak would not be best pleased if I relaxed that aspect!

      • Great, I get where you are comming from. We were born into a ship of fools. We can all do our little bit to avoid hitting the iceburg but, frankly, it doesn’ t look to good. Love is a powerful force. It can work miracles. This works by concentric circles. The first person we show love to is ourselves. Love yourself first and most. Then expand out to the person closest to you, probably Jak. Then all those in your surrounding circle. If possible expand even further to those you feel are the problem. Tryng to love these people is the most difficult part of all this. It doesn’t imply appathy, but trying to understand the causes and conditions that led them to become the way they are. How were their lives different than yours. Communication, even very minimal communication is the key. The declarations of those on the other side are met with silence followed at an interval by examples (examples work better than stating princples) of the many harms. Maybe just one example. Some small human bridge might be built.

        Although I make these recommendations I can’t say I have had great success applying them so far. Progress has been truly minimal. I would only ask if anger and rage would work any better. This brings me back to the beginning concerning the toxic effects of anger on the self.

        I am in no way suggesting to compromise on principles, this is a metter of stategy. Anyway, I wish you a deep inner calm (even in the midst of the flames) and cool wise action. Let me know what you think.

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