Monday, January 24, 2011

The Summer of My Malcontent

by Sophie


Fury is generally considered a transitive emotion, which is to say that it requires an object. One is understood to be furious at or about something. Unlike sadness, or despair, or good cheer, which can take up residence in and even define one's character, we think of fury as coming and going with the tides of circumstance. Something or someone makes us furious; when that thing or person is removed, the fury goes away.

But a number of summers ago, fury erupted within me without provocation and, over the course of days and then weeks and finally months, settled in and showed no signs of abating. What's more, though I could catalog quite a few things over the course of four decades on earth that I had reason to be angry about, that particular summer was relatively calm. No one wronged me grievously, I didn't quarrel with anyone in particular. The events that stand out over those several warm months include my first mystery writers conference, a quilt project that took over the spare room with its thousands of multi-colored patches, a family reunion trip to Rhode Island.

And rejections. Dozens, scores, of rejections in my mailbox, my inbox, scrawled on slips of paper and returned to me with breathless speed in reply to my emailed queries. Was it this mountain of rejections that finally pushed me over the edge? Maybe...but that doesn't feel quite right. It's more like there was a vein, or perhaps an underground lake, of fury waiting to be tapped - for years, maybe - that found its way out that summer.

I experienced it as energy, first. That was the summer I began to have trouble sleeping (something that plagues me to this day), and I felt a restless, irritable sort of urgency from the moment of waking until I finally drifted off at night. I started going to the gym more, and as I pushed myself on the stepper or the bike, I found myself chanting in my mind to the rhythm of the machine - "you-can-not-make-me-stop-i-will-never-stop-i-will-not-give-up"

I was kind of taken aback by this. Who was "you"? My rejectors, certainly - those agents and editors who failed to see my promise - but it was more than that. It was anyone and everyone who got in my way, cut me off in traffic, snubbed my children, overcharged or underappreciated or took me for granted. It was everyone and no one. It was just everyday life, according to the few friends I confided in, the irritation of living, sharpened by middle age.

But I knew that it was more than that.

I lost weight. I wrote more. I took great care not to channel my fury on my children. I read books that I thought might wick some of the angst away - that was the year I discovered Ken Bruen, Ruth Rendell. I dared to write about violence, something I had always shied away from. All of this helped. None of it, however, erased the fury at the core.

In time it settled, as a viscous liquid fills a plastic bag, seeping into pockets and folds of my inner life. There it remains, and I suspect it's permanent. I've heard that fury is the result of the onset of menopause, but I think that's just another way to marginalize middle-aged womae; in my experience, hormonal changes lead to frayed-edge irritability more than anything. No, my fury feels like my own, and evidently I'm keeping it. I hope to find ways to make the most of it.


L.G.C. Smith said...

I think you make excellent use of your fury, and I admire that. It often comes down to "What are you willing to fight for?" There are points in our lives, possibly hormonally fueled, although that doesn't mean they aren't hugely significant, when we fight for our souls. Fury goads us down treacherous roads we might not otherwise brave. It usually works out. For functional folks. I'd say it's worked well for you. :) Great post.

Sophie Littlefield said...

well darlin...perhaps you won't be surprised that i thought of you at times while writing. with admiration of course. :)

Juliet Blackwell said...

No one makes fury look as good as you do, Ms. Littlefield. Seriously, I love how you've used anger to forge your determination, and you're certainly getting it done! Love this post ;-)

Unknown said...

I remember that summer and I'm still in awe of your response to the fury. Look at you now. :) xoxo

Mysti said...

For me, fury is steeped in deep knowledge, purer than anger, which can just be resentments nursed to the boiling point. Fury, I trust.

Anger leads me to say things I immediately regret. Fury leads me to actions that I have usually put off for far too long :)

My writing jumps up a notch when it is something I love without reason, or have a full head of righteous fury built up.

It's so hard for women to admit to any negative feeling in public. Your courage has always and continues to amaze me, Sophie!

Rachael Herron said...

Damn. This is a fine, fine post. (I had to write my own before reading yours, and now I almost regret that.)

Julie's right. Your fury looks good on you.

L.G.C. Smith said...

Mysti, I like your distinctions between anger and fury. Food for thought there. I may come back to that next week. :)

Mike Wiecek said...

Gee, I remember that family trip to Rhode Island, and you seemed cheerful enough to me :)

What's remarkable is that you're able to channel fury or whatever into productive work -- rather than simply flaring up at innocent bystanders, as many of the rest of us tend to do. I'll have to try that. What can I be furious about tomorrow?