To be or not to be … addicted

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

Last week I submitted to my writers group a possible column that I was calling “To be or not to be . . . angry.” It was about our president, and I had been struggling with it for days, ambivalent, writing and rewriting. I couldn’t understand my confusion, but I knew I could get help from my group of pros. And boy did I.

Their written critiques woke me right up:
• “What are you trying to accomplish with this?”
• “Seems all over the place.”
• “Is your identity angry? Or is it just one of your selves?”
• “Confusing.”
• “This piece devolves into invective. What does it do for you or the reader?”
• “Reread three times; still confusing.”
•  “Succinct rendition of many things about Trump, but when it’s all said and done, I’m not sure it accomplishes much….”
• “Sarcasm and irony amusing, but…?”
And my favorite critique, however humbling: “Are you, like him, addicted to outrage?”


The statement about political outrage as the new addiction was too close to the bone. We discussed this. I allowed that I had fallen into a trap: used by the highest office in the land, outrage is employed either skillfully or unwittingly with blatant scorn and diatribe to make a point, ramble, react or get even; and so I used it, too.

I adopted the tactic and for more than a year was outraged . . . and I kind of liked it. People who tired of me told me to quit following the news, and I would respond that it was my duty as a citizen of a representative democracy to keep myself informed and to speak up. I prided myself on not watching TV, but I certainly used a dozen other ways to keep informed. Or as the case may be, outraged.

After last week’s writers group, I said to myself, “Enough. Either take up tatting or move along.”

On my desk is a quote by author Jean Shinoda Bolen: “Death of the old form and new life or birth are fundamental to initiations.” I’ve had this quote floating around near my work area since I became a widow, a time of difficult “initiations.” It sometimes helped me, and other times annoyed me, I’m sure because the sentiment is a truth.

Today I think it refers to this: That we are in a period of real change in the world, with any luck the change from the “old form” – how things have been for 5,000 or more years of war and mayhem – to a period of “new life or birth.”

As we all know, any period of change, whether we choose it or it is thrust upon us, is uncomfortable, even frightening. It can be as awful as more war, bad leaders, unrest next door, outrage across the globe. The 20th century is chock full of these instances; the 21st century has seen no slackening. But I can only think that within the tumultuous period of my lifetime we have been approaching that word that Bolen used – “initiations” – beginnings.

We humans may be in the dying throes of the last of a breed/behavior/reaction. We may be on the cusp of thoughtfulness. I’m hoping so because it beats the gloom of doom that I’ve used to foster anger since the last election. If I can turn my thoughts of death to rebirth, I will be doing myself a service.

I am not giving up on the news – I think I was taught this at my father’s knee, and what we learn at the beginning can set the tone for life – but I’m going to attempt to be neither addicted to it nor reactionary to it.

Writing about an administration, either in praise or questioning, is what writers with a political interest do. To what I hope are times of change, I will move along, writing now and then thoughtful rather than angry responses to an administration that, like all of them (some more than others), bears watching.

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