Writing Hopefully

I was afraid I had lost my voice.

Three and a half years ago, I walked away from a ministry I had founded and built for 12 years because it was killing me.

The Rabbi Abraham Heschel said something to the effect that the Biblical prophets were enraged by things everyone else assumed were “just the way things are”. For the first 12 years of my career, I was enraged all the time. If someone died in the woods because there was no trans-friendly shelter for them, I not only became angry – I took it personally. I saw it as a personal affront to me and my work.

That sort of rage is… useful. That sort of rage helps you win fights, helps you change things, and will give you focus and clarity when everyone else is in a fog. It also makes you hell to be around, will risk your deepest relationships, will drive you into deep depression from which you may not survive, and is generally unsustainable.

The worst problems to have are those that are destructive, yet socially reinforced. In our social media driven world, the sort of rage I used to have is celebrated and applauded. We love people who are angry like that, who are “passionate” and “vulnerable” and who “tell it like it is”. On social media, anger is celebrated and reinforced.

I used to routinely “go viral” writing about things that made me angry. And I was good at it. There are people who ended up with large book deals that are worse at being angry on the Internet than I was.

But the depression that follows long periods of unresolved anger almost killed me. Literally. So, I have spent the last three years trying to not be angry. Oh, it still happens sometimes, and all the old anger comes back and my body knows what to do – the flared nostrils, the tingle in the upper back, the accelerated heartbeat, that vein that pops out on my right temple.

When it happens, it’s like like welcoming back an old friend – but the old friend you used to get high with when you skipped work and cheated on your spouse, who met your emotional needs but in a way that was corrosive and slowly suicidal.

It feels good to be angry. And it scares the hell out of me.

That was part of my blog silence until this Fall – having written perhaps 5 things in the prior two years, and having nothing I’ve written published since I left. I didn’t know how to write when I wasn’t angry, and was unsure if I had anything to say if I wasn’t angry. And I can’t do that again. I’m not interested in being that guy any more. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t survive being that guy, actually. And I want to stick around.

I was afraid, though, that I had lost my voice. I didn’t have any words. And God almighty, the world needs words right now. There is a lot to be angry about these days. And my personality type is such that I will always have a dissatisfaction with the world as it is, and will dream of the world as it could be, and will work to build that better world. But it’s a quieter, more gentle anger these days.

And slowly, the words have been coming back. I’ve been learning that hope is also an emotion, and one worth sustaining and building on. I like me better when I’m hopeful. And if I can’t write things that make people angry in ways that make me popular, perhaps I can write things that make people hopeful in a way that makes the world better.

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