[cancer] Updates, lessons and the nature of anger

Slept over nine hours last night, thanks to the Lorazepam tango. Dreams were sort of a PowerPoint format about how to organize my life and life issues in little boxes with connecting lines and flow charts. Sort of metadreams. Was I examining the structure of my undermind, or was I simply working too hard this last week at the Day Jobbe?

Fatigue continues its reign of terror. I become slowly harder of thinking, to the point where I let myself get drawn into one of those no-win Internet tempests yesterday. I won’t bother with any linkage, but suffice to say that a statement on my part that I felt unsafe in a certain situation was met with angry jeering, abuse and obscenity. The self-fulfilling irony of this was apparent only to me, it seems.

To be fair, a few folks engaged directly, one of them kindly and carefully, though another was mostly showing off their rhetorical snark skills. (Yes, a college education is a wonderful thing, I have one, too.) So call it a net loss for me, which I knew before I ever opened my mouth. My one regret was that this fubar took place in the comments section of an innocent bystander. The end score was about 50% nasty cheap shots, 25% smug patronization and 25% actual constructive engagement. Which is actually a pretty good ratio for an Internet comment slugfest.

I know how satisfying it is to have a cause, to pounce on the wicked, the unrighteous and the foolish. I was once young and angry all the time, too. Now I’m middle aged and angry sometimes. But somewhere along the way I decided that justice tempered with peace was a lot more important to me that being completely, absolutely right all the time. (I’ve been down that road. I know people with permanent addresses on that road.)

The cancer experience has only deepened that realization. I can’t count the number of times people have said to me some version of: “Man, this really stupid thing happened — oh, never mind. You have cancer.” It can’t be about cancer all the time. Everybody’s problems are as big as they are. I don’t mean to equate “where’s my next meal coming from” with “where do I invest the next million from my trust fund” — to name theoretical extremes — but if I spent all my time being outraged about my cancer and insisting it was the most important thing there is, there’d be no room left for understanding, compassion, friendship and love. Or listening to what other people have to say, whether I agree with them or not.

At least there’s no debate about cancer, nobody arguing (or pretending that I’m arguing) in favor of it. Issues of social and economic justice, gender and race, family and life are so much more dimensional and complex, and so influenced by the experience and eye of the beholder. But I’m finding more and more that a little compassion and a little peace help me think about this stuff in a much more nuanced way than screaming anger does. And that in turn makes me a lot more patient and accepting of the screaming anger that others direct at me.

Cancer’s an odd teacher, imparting odd lessons. One of which is that life’s too short to be angry all the time. I’d rather communicate. With myself, and with the world.

19 thoughts on “[cancer] Updates, lessons and the nature of anger

  1. Link Miller says:

    Jay,
    Thank you for your amazing post during this incredibly difficult time. I lost my best friend to cancer 5 years ago. Not a day goes by…
    Anyway, your posts are thoughtful, inspirational, and yes, the 50/25/25 ratio for a internet slugfest is a decent score. Be strong and keep fighting the good fight. I will pass your website on to others who will bennefit greatly from your writing.
    Respectfully,
    Link

  2. Steve Ramey says:

    This is a wonderful post. Thank you for taking the time to compose it. It’s so easy to get hung up on righteousness as our increasingly polar world attests.

  3. Dawn B. says:

    Lovely Jay. Absolutely lovely. I’m sorry about the internet slugfest and I hope that you continue to find odd bits of wisdom as you beat this thing.

  4. Cora says:

    I’ve seen the slapfight (via the “helpful” screenshots one of the usual suspects took) and I’m sorry you had to put up with that sort of thing.

    1. Jay says:

      The part that has baffled me since this slapfight all began a year and a half ago is that I’ve never been anywhere but on the same side as all these angry people, in terms of my philosophy, worldview and actions.

      1. Cora says:

        I was also surprised at the authors who got caught in the crossfire of the this neverending fandom slapfight. For while there certainly are authors who project problematic attitudes towards race, gender, sexual orientation, etc… in their works and public statements, you have never been one of those people. Nor are the other writers who were targeted, at least as far as I know.

        I largely stay away from these discussions, partly because of the high potential for ugliness and partly because they strike me as extremely American in both rhetoric and POV. All countries, including my own, have racism of some kind, but it’s often very different from the US permutation of racism. And the whole privilege concept strikes me as extremely divisive. In my own time at university, I’ve seen the phenomenon termed “structural racism/sexism/etc…”. Same concept, but less loaded and therefore more useful.

        Though I don’t think it’s just about racism or sexism or homophobia. The same players and same rhetoric appeared in the latest flare-up of the fanfiction controversy as well. Some people just like to argue and don’t care where they shoot their verbal loads. They also seem to bear long grudges for what strikes me as fairly minor offenses. If I’d stop communicating with everybody who has ever insulted my nationality, I could pretty much lock myself in my room, disconnect the internet and never watch or read anything again.

        The best thing is just to ignore this latest flare-up. You really don’t need this sort of crap right now. And there are other cons out there than this one.

        1. Jay says:

          Honestly, the whole business baffles me. There’s an “eat your friends” quality to the way these teapot tempests rage, as the primary targets of the invective are largely people who are highly sympathetic to the cause of the attackers. I don’t know if this is an American thing, or a generational thing, or an insecurity thing, or what.

          1. Anna Feruglio Dal Dan says:

            I have tried to make sense of it for a long time now and this is the best I can come up with:

            It’s siege mentality: and the siege actually exists, so it’s a lot harder to point out that some of the hurt that it inflicts to those inside – the paranoia, the targeting of allies, the closing in of the group – is not inevitable.

            People of previous generations who have been involved in leftist politics and feminism saw much the same phenomenon. Apparently the left prioritizes conflict over group loyalty, which is usually a good thing but leads to this kind of stuff. Coupled with the amplifying effect of the Somebody On The Internet Is Wrong factor, you get speed and viciousness that were probably unknown when the Galilean People’s Front spent all its time fighting the People’s Front of Galilea.

            1. Jay says:

              I also think there are specific aspects of writerdom that amplify the problem. People who are angry and frustrated they haven’t broken in find it easy to assign all sorts of malign reasons for that.

              1. Anna Feruglio Dal Dan says:

                You know, sometimes I think about doing an experiment and submit a story with a male name. But the problem is, even if I suddenly started selling everything, I would never know if it’s because I have become suddenly very good or because some sort of unconscious prejudice worked against me.

                However, I could try with some of my trunked stories…

                1. Jay says:

                  Stranger things have happened…

          2. ‘There’s an “eat your friends” quality to the way these teapot tempests rage, as the primary targets of the invective are largely people who are highly sympathetic to the cause of the attackers.’

            Well, actual racists wouldn’t care if you called them racists. Only people who regard themselves as non-racist will feel insulted by the accusation, and they’re the same ones who are likely to be too startled to respond cogently.

            Actual racists probably don’t have much white liberal guilt, either, which again makes them less likely to respond in such a way as to continue the mudslinging party.

            Imagine the following exchange:

            A: You’re a racist!
            B: Yep, guess so.

            Not very interesting, is it? If B is neither asking for forgiveness nor arguing that the charge is false, it’s pretty much over before it can start.

            Either one eats one’s friends, or there’s no tempest raging at all and there’s nothing for others to see.

        2. Anne Gray says:

          The concept of privilege and structural racism seem very different to me. Structural racism is about what happens to people, and what people, or organizations, or communities *do*. Privilege is a characteristic that alters one’s perception of the world. Without knowing about and acknowledging one’s own privilege one is likely to believe your perceptions reflect some sort of ‘objective reality” without understanding how things around you that affect you are skewed in relation to the experience of others. One might refer to someone else as “speaking from a place of privilege” or mention that “your privilege is showing”, but that’s still referring to their personal blindness, not racism, structural or otherwise.

          I think this post has a good discussion of privilege (with regard to sex and gender): http://recursiveparadox.dreamwidth.org/5046.html

          1. Jay says:

            It’s an interesting and very valuable concept. I first learned about privilege (in this social justice sense) almost 30 years ago, and have spent a lot of time thinking about it and trying to make sure I’m not just bulldozing my way through life.

            Raising a daughter who’s non-white has certainly cast it in sharp relief. She’s one of two non-white kids in her class of 28, and one of maybe a dozen in a school of over 300. Watching those processes has been an entire education in and of itself.

            Perhaps the most frustrating thing to me about privilege is the difficulty in discussing it rationally. Not much I can do about that except be patient and kind.

  5. Seems like as good a time as any (and better than most) to drop in and say that even though I barely know you, I think of you often and wish you well constantly.

  6. Link Miller says:

    Hey Jay,
    This comment is for Anna who mentioned trying to use a male name. FYI I have written a novel under a female pen name (my mother’s maiden name). It’s a great ice breaker at writer symposium. Just remeber its about the quality of the writing, not the name attached to it…for new writers, that is. Course we have probably all read crap, that only got published because of the writer’s name.
    Jay, keep fighting the good fight.
    Link

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