This is the most common question I’ve been asked for as long as I can remember. From high school through to the last argument I had “Why are you so angry?” pops up again and again. Everyone I talk to on almost any given subject is convinced that there is some one thing in my life that is bugging me, and that if they can just fix that one thing I’ll be happy.
I’m not angry, I’m intense. This would be my explanation. I’m focused on whatever it is that I’m talking about, writing about, thinking about. It comes across in nearly every conversation, in nearly any documentation, in almost any interaction. I’m pretty sure it freaks most people out and I have no idea how to turn it off.
The quickest way to get me to feel actual anger is to ask me why are you so angry? when I’m simply responding with emphasis. This tendency to fly off the handle has gotten me sent to many headshrinkers over the years. Thoughtful types who purse their lips and want to dig through all the detritus in my head to find out what makes me tick. They would press me to get past the anger masking the real emotion so that they could help me.
Let’s say I’m angry, just to admit a point for debate. Why would I be angry?
I have always been a smartass. My father made sure that I knew this at a very young age, informing me “you really are a smartass, aren’t you?” throughout most of my youth. The internet age has given me a synonym for smartass. Troll. I apparently trolled my parents and teachers pretty frequently. I was sent on mysterious errands in Sunday school for asking things like “who made god?” or “where did the extra loaves and fishes come from?” I had no idea I was being a smartass. The questions occurred, and questions need answers. There were always more questions than there ever were answers, and I’d bet one of my limbs that the first time I was labeled a smartass was when I observed this fact to an adult. Why couldn’t they answer my questions? I thought adults knew everything.
Standing apart and observing others with a clinical eye when most people are too busy, too caught up in the rough and tumble to notice the larger picture. Disturbing the peace with my questions, my unwelcome observations. Daring to call down the wrath of adults and spending more hours sitting in a corner than I probably ever did on the playground, just to gain an insight into behaviors that puzzled me, patterns and habits that baffled me.
Stuck in the middle of Kansas surrounded by people that I could just barely relate to, forced to participate in rituals that I had no interest in. Church? Football? Rodeo? That last one is the kicker I will never understand. What purpose is served by rodeo? In the medieval guilds you would call what rodeo does a demonstration of skill. A demonstration that a journeyman attempts in order to be hired on somewhere as a master. I guess if I had a need for horse riders or cattlemen, I’d go to a rodeo to find them. Luckily for me, I don’t need any of those so don’t need to go to the rodeo. The inscrutability of rodeo is tangential, though. It is a speed bump in the middle of nowhere that makes you ask, why? The speed bump is irrelevant, the question is important.
Why am I so angry? Well, there is a start right there. If I’m angry at all. Am I really angry?
I was first clued in on the synonym for smartass while in a Compuserve chat group way back at the dawn of the internet. They called me a troll. In hindsight this label was indeed accurate. I was trolling then. Internet trolls do seem angry about something, although what they are angry about is open to question. The wife insists I’m not a troll because in her eye trolls are evil creatures. Trolls are not evil, trolls are misanthropes; and all of us are misanthropes outside of our comfort zone. I was called a troll because I didn’t understand and wanted to know. Wanted to know about being other kinds of people than I appeared to be. I appeared to be, still appear to be, a white guy who appreciates his guns, cars and the company of women. I understand that. That is life for the average male in the midwest. It’s not enough for me, but it appears to be enough for most men.
I wanted to know, so I went outside my comfort zone which is the only way to learn anything and started asking questions, making observations. As I have always done. As I will probably always do. I asked, I read, I listened and I learned. Because I learned I became sensitive to the misuse of various words, which I have even wrote about in the hopes of educating others.
If you don’t listen to the answers to your questions, if you don’t learn anything from asking questions, you are worse than a troll. You are wasting everyone’s time asking questions that you have no intention of internalizing the answers for. You are tormenting others just to hear yourself talk. You are engaging in casual conversation, conversation without feeling. Conversation without meaning.
I loathe casual conversation.
If I am angry, a point which I do not concede, then the demand to engage in meaningless banter on a near constant basis is probably the biggest reason why. I do not speak to hear myself talk. I’m not quick on the uptake and most wit goes right over my head on first pass. It is only later that I will piece together the joke and then facepalm over the stupidity of not getting the point while the conversation is occurring, when it would have done me some good.
It takes mental energy to engage in small talk effectively. To be witty in a casual fashion. Far more energy than I care to devote to a brief conversation with a stranger whom I will probably never meet again. I have always had goals that were far more important to me than witty banter. Goals which consumed most of my mental energy. When the adults around me failed to produce answers to my questions, I turned to the only source available in 1970’s Kansas. I went to the local library. For most of my life I have wandered around with my nose stuck in books. Books were the only place where answers could be found, where stories that interested me were being told.
What was real? Where are we going? Where did we come from? Every question answered produced at least two new questions that needed answers. A never-ending task of education which now extends out beyond my mortal existence. Another good excuse to be angry. Frustrated by the limitations of life itself. I will die still needing answers to questions that will never be answered. If that doesn’t piss you off, you aren’t thinking about the problem.
Thinking. Thinking about thinking. Thinking about thinking about thinking. The philosopher’s dilemma. Is this me thinking or is this an outside influence causing me to come to a particular conclusion? Am I angry or does my thinking make you angry which you then reflect on me? I’m thinking the latter. Of course I would think that. You would think that in my place.
I’m thinking that most people hate thinking so much they’ll pay to undergo pain in order to stop themselves from thinking. I’m thinking I’m not angry but that you wish I’d stop troubling you with my thinking, my desire to make you think. You are angry because I’m thinking and thinking makes you angry. I apologize for not having electric probes for you to blank those thoughts with. Is it sadism to make people think knowing that they would rather endure pain than think? Am I the jackass whisperer? If I’m not, am I the jackass? It’s probably best to leave the jackasses to their electric shocks and not taint myself with their pain.
“Casual conversations, how they bore me. Yeah, they go on and on endlessly. No matter what I say you’ll ignore me anyway. I might as well talk in my sleep, I could weep.”Supertramp
Editor’s note. This narrative was originally interwoven with the narrative contained in The Unappreciated Art of the Troll when I first wrote it. I set it aside and then left it out of the second draft. Still, enough of my own experience is in this narrative that I thought I ought to at least publish it on the date it was written. So here it is.