“YES. That’s IT!” I thought, putting down the newspaper clipping.
I gazed around my bedroom, its dusty rose walls matching my new 15-year-old style: shabby chic. My artwork -mostly sketches of my favorite actors- filled the walls, and next to my desk, where I spent long hours writing fan fiction, sat a collection of intensely sincere CDs by singer-songwriters I worshipped.
On top of the stack was Jewel’s Pieces of You, an album I listened, warbled, and cried to for roughly 99.98% of 1997. Which is probably why my dad thought to hand me that particular news clipping, featuring an interview with Jewel herself. The title quote was, “Do I have to be angry to be intelligent?”
I thought back to my 8th grade class, who, at the end of the school year, had voted me “Most Likely to Host QVC.” As a sensitive, straight-A student who’d never once thought about peddling jade brooches while sporting a fake tan, I was flummoxed.
“Why?” I finally worked up the nerve to ask my classmates.
“Because you’re always smiling!” they replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
I inwardly scoffed. I shared a home with not one, but two, bonafide geniuses, and while I never reached their intellectual heights, being smart was THE MOST IMPORTANT THING.
By the time Jewel’s quote found its way into my hands a year or two later, I felt completely misunderstood. Just because I was smiling and non-threatening, did that automatically make me clueless and dopey?
“PREACH!” I wanted to cry as I read the article.
Jewel, a fellow blonde who, like me, loved art, animals, nature, and poetry, had had a similar struggle in being taken seriously. And while I use the word “struggle” loosely, fully acknowledging the privileged place from which I write, this issue has resurfaced in my life time and time again.
In fact, by the time I was an adult, I had almost entirely stopped reading -once my favorite pastime- because the books I wanted to read weren’t the “smart” ones.
After what felt like a brief hall pass to study creative writing in college, I had to choose a career. I wanted to work on screenplays, but was that “smart”?
So, naturally I picked a career that looked intelligent, even if it was laughably opposed to the artistic, spiritual, independent person I actually was.
During my 20s and 30s, not a single person genuinely questioned that choice. In fact, it was usually admired and celebrated – or completely ignored because it was sooo obviously the right decision. Just like going to college, having a steady corporate job meant you were smart. And smart, much like extroversion and facial symmetry, wins.
The first time I decided to rebel, I did it right here – by starting this blog!
It was 2011, and I was now a married homeowner (more “smart” decisions). I called it “Go Guilty Pleasures!” and aired all of my secrets – all of the embarrassing, ridiculous, wonderful things that I liked just because they made my heart sing. ‘NSync, Glee, reality TV, dogs in costume, slap bracelets… I had a lifetime of skeletons to reveal.
The blog may have seemed over-the-top silly (and, er, probably still does), but that was the point. I was on a mission to prove, if only to myself, that “smart” and “silly” weren’t mutually exclusive. And if they were? Well then, dammit, I was choosing silly.
Still, though, a part of me was haunted by this notion that I’d never seem intelligent because I was too busy having fun. In 2016, when I became vegan and enrolled in a Humane Education Masters program (so I could seem smart about my new lifestyle), I spent two and a half years studying the world’s atrocities – from human rights to environmental protection to animal rights.
More often than not, I felt enraged by the suffering of my fellow beings and the planet we shared. I wanted to cry and scream and tell people how their choices were impacting ev-e-ry-thing.
But I didn’t.
In biting my tongue, I felt like a failure. I began to wonder if my entire life philosophy -the Golden Rule- needed revisiting.
“My brother called the other day and, for the first time ever, it’s like he read the news. He was PISSED [about the state of the world],” a friend recently said. “I was like, ‘Finally!'”
I stayed silent, wondering for what felt like the ten thousandth time: Do we have to be angry to be intelligent? By now, my age-old question had grown to include: What role does anger have in our lives and in our advocacy?
Is it okay to allow anger to fuel us? Where is the line? Do we break into animal labs and set executives’ houses on fire? What about lecturing our friends?
Or is anger simply a step on the journey? One we use to help pry open our own eyes so that we can better understand ourselves and the plight of others? If someone chooses to operate -and address others- from a place of anger, is this the easy choice or the hard one?
When does anger stop being inspiration and start becoming toxic?
For instance, how would you have reacted to this post had I come in guns blazing, instead of telling a story and then posing the above series of questions?
I get it. When things are f&#*ed up, anger is the first choice. It’s the natural choice. Sometimes we need to light shit on fire (IN THE METAPHORICAL SENSE, people). Anger can inspire change and the courage to point out injustices. But I’m not convinced that anger is the final stop. After all, anger may help shine a light on society’s faults, but will it fix them?
Again recognizing my limited and wildly privileged perspective, I can tell you that working through and past anger is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do – and I do it every. Single. Day. If I can’t? I try to avoid public gatherings and conversation topics entirely.
Because I think you deserve better from me.
Because I think my campaigns deserve better from me.
And because I believe we all deserve to live from a place of peace.
How has anger helped or hindered you?