Like many men my age I’m liable to sound off a bit. On occasion. For good reason. And there are many good reasons to be angry about many real issues. However, anger can become a default emotion for many men my age. It’s the other side of depression and (perhaps) it’s better out than in. Inward anger is linked by the more holistically minded to many bodily symptoms of ill health – and even the most Cartesian of medical minds admit that stress induces high levels of cortisol with a knock-on effect that’s not only bad for the waistline but is linked to Type 2 diabetes etc.
Grumpy is a stereotypical attribute of older men but vary the adjective a little and other stereotypical irascibilities come into focus: peevish, waspish, nippy, surly, petulant, bitchy, thin-skinned, aggressive, high-maintenance, demanding, hard to please, not amused. There are many manifestations of habitual anger and a bit of wordplay will ensure that’s there’s one demographically suited especially for you.
Nowadays many of us feel that we are justified in having anger as a default reaction to the wrongs of the world. We would all be quite happy if not for the treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers, if not for climate change denial, if not for cruelty to animals, if not for racism and homophobia and misogyny, if not for the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, if not for Teresa May and Donald Trump. If only these things would change, we would get back to being out usual bubbly happy-go-lucky selves. If only.
And just Zenning out or doing yet another spa weekend/ Tough Mudder/ Marvel Comics Movies binge/ (insert favourite displacement activity) can feel a bit of a cop-out. What do we do? What can we do? In the face of all that’s wrong, isn’t that the basis of our communal, continual, ever-present, exhausting, anger?
And for those of us whom the powers-that-be (higher, lower or just purgatorial) have tasked with the burden and duty and privilege of caring for a specific vulnerable person (or several at once) then all these political concerns become so personal that at times it’s simply unbearable.
And that’s when I take my trusty Ben for a walk. Along the banks of the beautiful Forth and Clyde canal. Which winds beside the remains of the Antonine Wall, one of Scotland’s most unknown, unprotected, and uncherished cultural legacies. And on that walk through this place of Victorian and Roman imperial heritage there are empty bottles of Buckfast (cheap fortified wine made by English monks) and cans of beer and their plastic rings and the supermarket plastic bags they came from, tossed about. If they haven’t already been smashed/ thrown into the canal or set on fire along with the grass.
And it usually makes me angry. But tonight, I found myself thankful that the local youth had had the grace (this time) not to chuck the bottles at the stank just below the swings. An empty bottle is better than a broken one. And on my way back, Ben still sniffing and gambolling about – because his default emotion is either highly energetic or very lazy joy – I picked up the plastic bags, snapped apart the plastic beer rings and put them and the cans and the bottle in the bags, took them home and recycled them.
It’s not much. It’s just guerrilla litter-picking. I don’t do it all the time. But when I do engage in this little sporadic and disorganised warfare against hopelessness, I can feel my cortisol levels drop and my grumpy face relax. A little.
There are so many of us. We have such energy. Just think what we could do. Just think what we do do. Now and Zen.
Thanks to Karen Arnold for releasing her photo Old Bridge on Canal into the public domain.