David’s “The Anger of Achilles”

I’ve been upset the last few nights, sleepless over something rather innocuous — a writing prompt that I saw on someone’s blog:

“Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word.   Explain why you’re choosing that word.”

I saw a few of the responses from other writers, many which were about commercial success, accomplishment, or internal transformation towards a healthtier lifestyle or mindset.

When I tried to truthfully come up with my one word, all I could come up were words like illness, death, frustration, and loss.

This made me angry.  So much so, that I haven’t blogged in five days, not knowing what to do with this odd feeling sitting in my gut.  I’m not comfortable with the emotion of anger.  I’m also hosting The 2010 Blogger Christmalhijrahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert on December 15, and I was fearful of creating a negative vibe on this blog.   After all, what type of Holiday concert impresario feels, of all things, like a Scrooge?

Don’t get me wrong.  I love working with you on the concert.  Hearing your voices gives me immense joy.  But my negativity was scaring me.

Many of my friends are believers in positive thinking.   I tried to re-frame my relation to my past year by changing my one word to something more uplifting.   Rather than seeing 2010 as a year of death (both of my in-laws), I decided to use the word “strength.”  Sophia and I endured the year, despite the long hospital visits, the changing of the bed sheets, the decisions made, and the funerals attended.  I was “strong” enough to make it through the year in one piece, despite marital woes and graying hair.  It just seemed an insult to the memory of those that passed, to interpret the year in a positive light.

All year, I have been obsessed with the popularization of the word “branding.”  Perhaps branding should be the entire internet’s choice of one word to represents 2010.  While there are different interpretations of what this word “branding” means, I see it as more appropriate for consumer products like print cartridges than the world of living, breathing, human beings.   Once we sell ourselves like soap,  we are forced to be unrealistically upbeat, “inspirational,” and photoshopped.  I just cannot “market” 2010 as “strength,” even to myself.

So what should be my one word?  I’m afraid of telling you that 2010 — to me — was mostly about “death” and “anger.”  I know that sounds harsh, and it is embarrassing to admit.   We tout authenticity and honesty, but I have a feeling that we mostly day that to sell our seminars.

There is no post more symbolic to me on this theme than my very first post of 2010, written on January 3, 2010, titled “The Incident in the Car.”  I was still in New York at the time, not aware of what my year was going to present to me.  I decided to start my new blogging year with more focus on writing, more like a memoir, hoping to give my readers a fuller view of my life experiences.  Without my fanfare, I spun a small memory piece about high school-angst.  This short post caused a storm of outrage against me, with total strangers coming to my blog accusing me of crimes akin to kidnapping the Lindbergh baby.  I was also unfollowed on Twitter by several bloggers, including some who later touted “authenticity.”  Others were quick to comment on that day because of the “buzz,” but never once showed up on my blog for the rest of my difficult year, more concerned with a completely minor event from decades ago than anything to do with my current life.

Was I wrong to bring up this somewhat dramatized tale of overheated teenage frustration and insensitivity, especially to an audience of women?  In terms of blogging and branding, probably YES, that is if I see my blog’s goal as primarily a PR tool.

When I look back over my archives, I get angry over the experiences of my last year.  It wasn’t a good year, and maybe it is too soon to learn any “positive lessons.”

I tossed and turned the last few nights, not sure whether to talk about my negative emotions.  I was worried that you will brand me as “Neilochka, the angry guy,” or “Neilochka, the one associated with dead people.”  The biggest danger to this increasingly online world is that we easily mix up words and images with action and intent.  If I write a fantasy post about sleeping with ten women, you can not really judge my real-life actions, just my rather bizarre mind.  Even in my most lurid fantasies, I am always polite, even serving breakfast the next morning to all ten of these women.   If you want to judge me solely on my writing, that is your prerogative, just as it is your right to publicly praise another writer, when you know that he is — in reality — sending pornographic photos to all of your friends.  We live in a bizarre world where image is more important reality.

We should remember — as writers — that the first great book, if not the very first book of Western Civilization is Homer’s Illiad.  And the very first word of that book is “menis” — anger.

Menis means “anger, wrath, rage,” and the menis referred to here is specifically that of Achilles, the hero of the Iliad, Homer’s epic poem about the Trojan War. Achilles is enraged at Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek army, for taking one of Achilles’ hard-won prizes, a slave girl, Briseis; moreover, menis is what the entire Greek army is feeling, as the Iliad is set in the tenth year of the Trojan War. The Greeks have been away from home for all those years and are restless and uneasy about the outcome of the war, and about whether they will ever return hom; their rage simmers just below. Achilles’ anger over his slighted honor is so great that he almost kills Agamemnon and is stopped only when Athena, the goddess of wisdom, pulls him by the hair and stops him.

What I like about ancient literature, including the Greeks and the Hebrew Bible, is that the  writers don’t sugar coat human experience.  There is death and joy standing side by side, like Achilles and Agamemnon.   Anger and celebration.  War and love.  Writing is not only an imitation of a glossy Martha Stewart magazine.

I’m not the best person to be pontificating about writing the full range of human emotion.  I’m mostly a light, funny writer.  That is a large part of my personality.  But I would hate to shy away from dealing with my three-dimensional life, because I would be judged, or it didn’t fit my “brand.”

Which brings me back to the Holiday Concert.  I’ve been hosting this concert for five years, and this is the first year where I feel a bit disconnected.  I am trying hard to reconnect with my Holiday Spirit.  But it doesn’t really matter.  I enjoy participating, and I love to see YOUR  joy.

If I can attempt to be inspirational for a moment, I would like this year’s concert to be able to embrace our inner Scrooges.   Not everyone has large extended families, or colorful Christmas trees in their homes.  Christmas can also be a lonely time for many.  Why should we hide these feelings? I prefer — at least this year — to take my inspiration from Homer’s Illiad rather than some internet guru.  In Homer’s world, anger and frustration were allowed.  Anger is even the honor of being the first word.  As I reflect on 2010, it will be impossible for me to solely focus on joy, even during the concert.  I will be a bit of a Scrooge.  Shit happens.  There will be those that we have lost.  Opportunities missed.  Friendships broken.  We should be able to celebrate the good — and mourn at the same time, not hiding the “negativity” in the a locked closet like a batty uncle, but embracing it as the stuff that makes us human, like the Greeks would, soldiers away from home at war, restless and uneasy with the future.

Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word — Anger.