going all erin brockovich on your ass

Paul and I have been watching Leverage, have burned through all three seasons on dvd, and are now waiting impatiently for the new season to start in a few weeks. It’s a great show for many entertaining reasons, but I think my favorite part is Elliot Spencer, the “hitter” for this team of thieves, professional butt-kicker, and one terminally angry guy. I find myself bouncing around in happiness every time Elliot gets so angry he starts stuttering. He’s so mad all the time! I love that.

Okay, backstory: I was this timid, shy, kid—my family called me “mouse” and joked about how I could be in the room and no one would notice. I know, right? Hard to imagine, this loud-ass, foul-talking, permanently annoyed person that I have become was ever a scardy-pants wimp, but it’s true. So what happened? I’ll tell you. I was about twenty-two, I was standing in line at a big hotel, waiting to check in, exhausted after a long flight, holding too-heavy a bag, shoulder aching, waiting and waiting and freaking waiting for my turn so I could get my key, get to my room, and get unconscious—and this woman, this tiny, rampaging woman, stomped to the front of the line, imperiously demanded the manager, and proceeded to rail on the poor check-in people…and get every single thing she asked for, plus free room upgrade, someone to carry her luggage, and no waiting. Oh, the injustice!

I was dazzled by her power.

Not quite consciously, I started cultivating the path of Righteous Anger. No longer would I be the polite wuss people cut in line in front of. And five years later you’d never have believed I was ever called mouse. Around that time I had several co-worker friends on a similar path, all 8th Level Masters of the Comic Rant. I studied at their feet. They could deliver a side-splitting tirade at a moment’s notice, of the kind that would singe your eyebrows, or possibly leave a crater if you happened to be standing at ground zero. It was awesome.

Because it turned out getting a good burn on was not only empowering, it could be hugely entertaining. Here’s an example, a mild example, the lemon rant from Portal 2, courtesy of Mur Lafferty:

All right, I’ve been thinking. When life gives you lemons? Don’t make lemonade. Make life take the lemons back! Get mad! “I don’t want our damn lemons! What am I supposed to do with these?” Demand to see life’s manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give you lemons! Do you know who I am? I’m the man who’s going to burn your house down! With the lemons! I’m going to get my engineers to invent a combustible lemon that burns you house down! –Cave Johnson

See? It’s funny. It’s like performance art, with flames. Think of Julia Robert’s Oscar-winning performance in Erin Brockovich. Think of the energy you feel watching her tear the heads off those water company assholes. Think of the biker-boyfriend-to-be falling to his knees, practically in love on the spot, after her “I’ll give you a number” rant. It’s fun to watch, and, in the right circumstances, it’s really fun to do. You get a good head of steam going, and then ride that power, directing it with your creativity to create a Perfect Rant. I mean, sometimes you could feel the heat of it coming right off any one us when we were riding a good one. It’s true: a creative, surprising tirade has the power to inspire and ignite people.

By the time I hit thirty, people did not mess with me. Not getting stepped on, not being afraid, these were good things for me. I was this tiny bomb, looking for a fight. My plan had worked.

Then I had kids.

Turns out, being able to creatively and hilariously get mad is an absolutely USELESS skill in being a parent. It was like training for a decade to be a world class figure skater and then finding myself living in the Sahara. Wtf? What am I supposed to do without any ice? Being out in the world, yeah, having a “make my day” gleam in my eye could be a real plus. But at home, with people I loved…not so much.

Duh. Suddenly all these neurons and reflexes I had trained to heat up on command were going in exactly the wrong direction—because when my kids pissed me off, what I needed to do was not to go off on them, what I needed to do was calm the fuck down. Way down. Kids need peaceful, calm, steady energy. They thrive in an atmosphere where no one is ever going to go off on them. And I wanted to be that for them.

Not to mention my poor husband. Because no matter how satisfying, in the short term, tearing one’s spouse a new one can be, it is not the kind of activity that makes him wake up in the morning saying, “You know, honey? This marriage just keeps getting better and better.”

Oops. Um, yeah. What a gem I was. How did Paul ever put up with me? [Paul says, and I quote, “I didn’t. Because you know I don’t take no shit from my bitches. Now, get me a beer, woman.”] Anyway…

So there I was, ten years into fueling the freight train of vengeance, trying to switch gears. I won’t lie. This was hard. The energy rush of anger has momentum and mass, and the pathways in my body were well worn and smooth. The rush of energy from a good mad feels really…good. The aftermath, however, feels like shit.

I remember looking at my then-two-year old daughter—she was deep in the midst of some serious civil-disobedience about the tyranny of tooth brushing—and feeling my circuits heating up…except I got her side, too. Fuck you, Mom, she was saying with her glaring eyes and her chin sticking out, this is my body and I don’t want that damn brush thingy in my mouth, all right? I felt so proud of her! No one would call this kid a mouse! In addition to that, despite her inborn ferocity, she was just a tiny little girl. Someone I loved. She definitely did not need me yelling at her, no matter how creative or funny my delivery. I needed a new strategy. I needed a new personality.

Cultivating peace is hard. A lot harder than learning how to get mad. All that anger energy is like a flood–and it has a chemical component, too. You have to deal with that. You have to give it another channel to flow through, let it flow away, give yourself time for those chemicals to wing through your system and pass. Deep breathing helps. Keeping in mind that the kids will remember this moment when they are grown-ups, that helps. When things are tense, working to make just the next three minutes explosion-free (and then the next three minutes) helps.

And what helps even more, is working to prevent the angry-flood from ever building up. Eating protein. Getting enough sleep. Seeing the other person’s side. Giving them the benefit of the doubt—always give your kids the benefit of the doubt! Being generous enough to cut my loved ones some slack, that’s the ticket. Because everyone needs some slack in this world.

(God, sometimes I hate that. I get all worked up and I don’t want to be that good a person. I just want my fucking life, fuck off, leave me alone—but I have to stop that thinking. Breathe. That is not how I want to be with my family. They will remember this moment, Lassiter, do you really want to be the Nightmare Mother they tell horror stories about to their friends who are Not You when they grow up? Don’t blow for the next 60 seconds. Remember who you’re talking to, your babies. Breathe. See it from their perspective. They just need a little help, that’s all. This is not the end of the world. Basically, get a mother-loving grip, Lassiter.)

Training my kids to stand up to me and tell me I’m being a bitch, that rocks in the help department. “Mommy, you are yelling too much,” they say to me, and for each other, too. “I know she was being annoying,” Luc will say to me, “But I think you were too harsh with her.” I love that. “You are so right, Luc, I’m a jerk. I’m going to go apologize.” Because apologizing helps, too. “I am so sorry I was such a doodoo head. I wish I had never yelled. I should have not said anything until I calmed down.” They giggle and say, “You said doodoo head. You ARE a doodoo head, Mommy. Doodoo head!” Really, they appreciate a heartfelt apology. They appreciate me not yelling even more, of course. But we do what we can.

The number one step in Patanjali’s yoga is ahimsa. Non-harming. Non-violence. Being kind. Being peaceful. Being non-violent in speech, thought, and deed. Ahimsa. It’s a daily practice. I’m five years in. Maybe in another five years, people will be shocked to hear I was once this ranting crazy person. Okay, maybe not.

If learning how to get mad was like tearing down a dam and learning to surf the flood, then learning how to be peaceful, that’s using all that water to grow those gorgeous, tiered, Balinese rice fields, so that there is never a flood. Just lots of good food for everyone to eat.

But, truth. I miss it sometimes. I think that’s why Elliot Spencer tickles me so much. He reminds me of the fun and the freedom of being royally pissed off and not caring who knows it. But I get it now: rage as a lifestyle is great for a fictional warrior. Not so great for a real-life mom and a wife.

But listen up.  You mess with my kids, and you better have good health insurance.

Because I’m taking you down.

6 thoughts on “going all erin brockovich on your ass

  1. Luc Reid

    That was a delight to read, and the mousiness, the feel-my-wrathness, and the why-did-I-just-yell-at-that-poor-defenseless-kidness are all uncomfortably and helpfully familiar.

    1. maya Post author

      Sylvia, Luc, and Angi, thanks so much for stopping by and for commenting! I’m delighted you liked this.


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