16″ x 20″ Oil on Board 2012

Like everyone else, I get angry from time to time. It can be anything from a slight annoyance to a tizzy fit. There’s no way this series was going to be complete without addressing anger.

For my painting I chose an animal with which I’d had an encounter in childhood. I was junior high age, and my friends and siblings and I were hiking in the country with our dogs, a pack of 5 large purebred mutts. The dogs came upon a badger, and very quickly had him surrounded. We helplessly watched as the dogs barked and taunted the badger; our yells and commands for the dogs to back off were fruitless. Although the badger was almost as big as one of the smaller dogs and looked rather menacing with his bared teeth and arched back, we were convinced he would soon be torn to shreds. Well, not so. An initial attack from one dog left the big canine yelping away with his tail down, nursing a bloody foot. Another dog took a shot only to be turned away seconds later with a scratched face. It didn’t take but minutes before the whole pack was high-tailing it down the trail while the little badger waddled away into the bushes. I’d never seen such a ferocious animal.

I chose the butcher image for my badger mostly because of the occupation’s dealings with blood. Explanation seems a bit superfluous here. While I painted the meat slabs I had the most delightful time blending luscious reds and marbling whites. The powerful colors and shapes seem to match the commanding concept of the subject. I had intended to allow myself a really gory and disturbing depiction for this painting—a true send-off for my anger. But in the end I tidied up the meat, left the apron clean and starched, the knife gleaming. I portrayed anger the way I want others to see it in me. I had it, dealt with it, cleaned up after the mess, and have the aftereffects to prove that you better not mess with me.

Anger happens to everyone, and it’s a normal and reasonable response to injustice. Not much good change would happen without it. It is a catalyst for healthy forward movement when it is recognized as natural and given a safe outlet that doesn’t harm others. It propels us to take action that solves problems. It is the impetus for boundary setting.

My three favorite ways to get out anger in a constructive way are: doing heavy physical work in the yard, venting to friends, and writing about it. I usually start with the yard work because in a pretty short period of time I end up exhausted, lighter, and less blocked. To get clarity I talk to a friend who isn’t afraid of my strong emotions. Something about sharing your stuff with another person makes it real, easier to understand, and (if the other person is understanding) validated. The writing is helpful because I usually come upon with surprising insights that wouldn’t surface any other way.

After I’ve faced my anger from as many angles as it takes to release it, I’ll usually be left to contend with its accompanying emotions. Sometimes more tender emotions, such as sadness and guilt are uncovered. Or maybe I’ve unearthed a hidden pattern in myself I’d not seen before. At any rate, anger usually isn’t a random emotion that rears up all by itself. It plays a part in a drama that, if followed diligently to its source, leads to deep healing.

It’s when anger is improperly handled that it gets a bad name. I’ve made huge mistakes in this area many times in the school of hard knocks, and nothing knocks harder than using anger in the wrong way. Taking out fresh volatile emotions on the nearest person is a sure way to find the worst in myself and others. Somewhere hidden in the chaos of the moment there might be an intention of working things out, but rage offers the very worst chance of that happening. Most people have seen at least a taste of this kind of interaction and avoid it at all costs—another good intention which can lead to rage’s sickly counterpart: repression.

The avoidance of anger just might be a bit worse than letting it out like a maniac. Uninhibited fury shows an obvious sign that something’s amiss. It’s a little harder to deny there’s a problem when a couple is throwing plates at each other than if they are just in different rooms of the house not speaking. Being afraid of anger is common, and evading it seems easier than facing it.

The reward for repressing anger is not that it doesn’t have to be faced, but that it is delayed. It doesn’t turn out to be a great reward, though, because while it’s delayed it pretty much festers inside. And while it festers it colors ones perceptions of everything. I’m given ample chances to be honest during everyday events that trigger my anger, but I can chose to keep repressing it as long as I want. That is, until the festery-ness becomes intolerable, and ultimately worse than the original event that I decided to repress. It’s commonly held that holding anger inward leads to depression. As depression is a common problem today, it stands to reason that our society is paying the price for its rampant avoidance of anger (and other strong emotions.)

I used to think I’d rise above anger. I thought I’d be more spiritual and kind if I stopped being mad. It took a lot of experience with unloading and finding the wonderful secrets hidden under my anger before I came to terms with its power. Anger is an emotional indicator that a boundary dispute needs to be settled. The two unhealthy ways of handling anger—overblown rage and repression—are merely the same thing: fear that the dispute will not be handled well, and that I’ll either lose the argument or lose the other person involved. In other words, I’ll lose control or I’ll be abandoned—both huge primal fears. No wonder I want to avoid it all. But another choice, the healthy one, is to stop, look, and listen when anger arises. Not to analyze it, fix it, or do anything. Just to acknowledge it and give myself permission to have it. With recognition and acceptance of the simple fact that “I’m just mad,” I can detach it from the underlying fear. I’ve found anger to be a weird, uncomplicated feeling without all its scary baggage. Take away the blame and fear of loss attached to it, and anger makes a very important statement to myself. It claims that I am entitled to it. I am worth having boundaries. This silent declaration is one of self-respect, and it is the power that anger carries.

All this tells me is that my anger is an ordinary and expected part of human experience, and is worse if avoided or over-indulged. Making friends with the sour parts of myself is one of the purposes of my paintings, and becoming a BFF with my Badger Butcher is one of the finest partnerships I’ve created.