Monday, July 23, 2012

How To Make Anger Into Art


A couple years ago, we listened to a model who has a certain amount of background in psychoanalysis. She remarked that while I seemed like an easy-going guy, there was barbed wire underneath.

She was right. I am a very angry person, and the fact that you missed it doesn't make it not so. I have a geological model of the self - all spherical layers. If you stripped off the layers above my anger, you'd be left with a planet of fire. The anger layer is fire.

Right now, I am quitting nicotine. I haven't had a cigarette in over a year, but now I'm quitting nicotine itself, which I was getting through e-cigarettes. This process, relative to the visibility of my anger, is like kicking a paving stone, and it breaks in half, and an absolutely huge fucking cockroach that was behind the stone freezes for a second, then scuttles out of sight. You can never unknow that it was there.

I have a tremendous amount of pain in my head as the nicotine drains out of the nicotinic receptors in my neurons.

graphic of dubious scientific validity via BBC

I have found that my outbursts of anger, during this withdrawal, temporarily submerge the pain in a sea of glittering pinpoint pleasure. The anger itself is acting as a kind of narcotic. I am not chemically addicted to sadism. But I have the machinery for it. It would be very easy.

This out-of-control anger is completely selfish. I haven't got a thought for anyone else, except inasmuch as I want to hurt them. I want to hurt everyone. I want everyone to hurt, and then to apologize to me, for the pain I am undergoing.


Well, as you know, I believe in the alleged Indian injunction against wasting any part of the animal; the animal being, of course, ourselves. So what are we to do with anger?

The last time I was this angry was in 1996, in Texas. I was so angry I was dangerous. People shied away from me. I couldn't sleep, or talk normally, or calm down, or eat. My weight dropped to 163 (I'm 6'1" - that's a very low weight). I was drifting toward becoming a stalker. I fled Texas, to flee myself. It took another year to disentangle myself from what I was in Texas.

During the Texas period, I used anger, quite consciously, as an energy resource for exercise. I ran a lot - about six miles at a go, 4-6 days a week. I ran at night, on the rubber track at UT-Austin, among the snails and bats and herons, when it was cool enough to go outside. I ran for hours. And I reflected on my anger as I ran.

What is anger? Anger is a form of energy. There are some things to be learned from anger, and that's why I'm writing about it. But whatever there is to be learned from anger, and about anger, this is dwarfed by the amount of energy represented by anger, if you are at all an angry person.

What I'm saying is that you will learn everything there is to learn about anger in the first 32 minutes, and anger lasts 24 hours. The other 23 hours and 28 minutes of anger are nothing but energy. Featureless energy is usable only as a fuel.

Unfortunately, anger is not quite featureless. It wants to fuel destruction more than it wants to fuel creation. So look, o ye of anger - there is a little bit of self-modification you have to engage in if you have positive goals, and anger to burn.

What you have to do is build a kind of scrubber. You must pass the anger through this scrubber before you fuel your work with the anger. What is the scrubber? It is hate. Feed your anger into the scrubber, and use the scrubber to hate your anger, to scourge your anger, to punish your anger; use it to discipline your hand, and your mind, and your eye. Your anger will be turned against itself, and when it burns, it will burn clean.

I am currently using my anger to fuel the underdrawing of Inanna #1, a tedious process which has been going on for days. I have a whole blog post to write about what my Inanna #1 method is teaching me, but this isn't that post.

what it's like to draw on a 7-foot-tall canvas

Inanna #1 is about air, light, color, beauty, and life. It is safe to say that I am feeling none of those things right now. Not only am I not feeling them, I don't believe in them. I think they're all pretty much stupid.

design sketch: junior goddess Inanna discovers the me, or power-object, of life, depicted as a pregnant woman

But I did feel them at one point, when I was coming up with this painting; or at least, the Sumerians felt them when they wrote the myth the painting is based on. Or if they didn't feel them, they wrote some myths down in such a way as that it was possible to misinterpret the myths as implying that the Sumerians felt them. At any rate, sometime along the way, an idea was generated, that somebody, somewhere, believed in air, light, color, beauty, and life. And those seem like pretty nice things.

Inanna, incomplete underdrawing

I don't have anything insightful to say about anger, in my painting; at least nothing I can say while in the depths of it. But I do have some insights about air, light, color, beauty, and life, which I was already in the middle of working on, when anger, like a thief, found my house. I am enslaving my anger, and using its energy to continue what I was working on anyway. It takes a lot of hours and a lot of concentration and patience to draw the drawing for this painting, and I'm charging it to anger's Visa.

This seems like a more appropriate option than just killing everybody. I have zero faith in air, light, color, beauty, and life right now, but I do have faith in my hatred. My hatred is pure and powerful; it is forged from anger, it is at the first logical remove from anger. I can aim it at anything I like, and I aim it at its source. This is how you make something good out of something bad.


That was what I was like in early 1996.

My headache brutally reminded me that we will always be everything we have ever been, if only we can locate the correct address in our vast internal directory structure. I reappeared at my grisliest to myself, shimmering horror. And then my headache moved on.

Now I simply feel as if somebody were rolling a dull probe around the frontal bone of my left eye socket:

This hurts, bad, but it can be supported. Perhaps you have never been an addict; perhaps you haven't had the counter-intuitive experience, in breaking an addiction, of regret, that you cannot reasonably return to your addiction now that you've put in the suffering to detach from it.

So much for nicotine.

I do not quite believe in air, light, color, beauty, and life today. But I am not consumed by fury either. I am merely sick, and hopefully getting better.


  1. Bless you, brother. My heart aches for what you're going through, but I'm proud of the strength you exhibit in enduring it, and the character you display in making anger your bitch. Good luck in this difficult yet productive phase, and congratulations on your progress thus far - both in your battle, and your under drawing for this very special project.

  2. Damn Ed, thank you. I really appreciate that. I was just explaining to Christine over FB that I'm ashamed to have these feelings, but I feel like if I conceal something so important in my own process, I'm not really sharing the exact mechanism of my work, and therefore offering a half-truth or an outright fraud, which is no use to the reader. So sometimes, I have to be embarrassed. Your support in the face of that means a lot to me. Fucking nicotine.

  3. Congratulations that is huge!
    And what you are experiencing is not unusual, after forty years as a smoker I have been nicotine free for fifteen months. There was times my barbarian urge was to go on a rampage. It is a hard thing to do and especially harder if you do not have something else to focus that energy into.
    You’re doing great!
    Hang in there.

  4. I just Googled "anger into art" and came across you. I am 8 months off alcohol with a theory it takes 3 months to clean the brain - perhaps it thus takes as long with nicotine?

    1. Congratulations on overpowering your addiction - my anger is better now, but not entirely gone, and clearly still chemical - I've heard 6-12 months for nicotine. I'm not sure that I'm conforming with what I've heard. I hope your quit state persists and strengthens.