Tag Archives: brown university

Why Anger is Useful


angerI once took a course in college called Anger. Because I went to Brown University –  which has a reputation for being a bit groovier than the rest of the Ivies – it’s easy to mock a course called “Anger.” As one of my fellow Brunonians once quipped – “What did you do in that class? Hold hands, sing Kumbaya and pass around a ‘talking stick‘?

Sort of. There was a final project where you were encouraged to develop your own personal reflection on anger. One person did an indigenous dance. Someone else sang a song. I read aloud from a short story I’d written about discovering that my college boyfriend was cheating on me.

But most of the course was about reading. Each week, the professor would focus on one text –  the Old Testament, Moby Dick, Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The students would write a one-page paper on the text and discuss it.  The punch line of the course  – but one you only came to once you’d digested all of these treatises – was that anger, in the end, was really about sadness. When we feel angry about something, it’s because we are actually hurt by someone or something. And anger is the emotion we often use to express that sadness.

That insight rung true to me then and it rings true to me now. I’ve been really angry lately. In one instance, it’s with a relative of mine who has proved to be a real disappointment. She’s done some horrible things, including to me and other members of my family, and some of those things are not fixable. In another case, I’m angry with a friend who didn’t show up for me when I asked him.

But when I sat down and thought  – and, more importantly, wrote about these experiences in my journal – I realized that I wasn’t really angry with either of these people.

I was sad. I was sad because in both instances, the people in question revealed a side of themselves that I either hadn’t seen before or didn’t want to see. And in revealing these less appealing sides of themselves,  I experienced a sense of loss. Loss for the person I thought they were – or perhaps more truthfully – loss of the person I wanted them to be.

Letting go of anything that matters to you is profoundly sad. It could be selling your childhood home or being laid off from the company you love or breaking up with your therapist. And, let’s face it:  feeling angry is a heckuva lot more comfortable for most of us than feeling sad.

But one of the realizations I’ve come to as I age is that I’m actually better off confronting sadness than avoiding it. So in embracing my own anger of late, I have tried to observe that feeling, peel it back and allow myself to feel the enormous grief of accepting what is, what is not, and what cannot be.

I won’t lie to you:  it ain’t fun. But it does feel more honest.

Image: Anger, Angry Bad, Isolated Dangerous by Geralt via Pixabay


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Alumni Magazines: Why Do We Read Them?

Hi, there.

Yes, it’s me. I’m  back from my self-imposed vacation. Not nearly as relaxing as I hoped. But yes, I did the deed (and have a killer tan to show for it!) Just kidding.

I’ll be posting on Wednesday about what I learned while I was away. But today, I’d like to turn my attention to an entirely different matter:  alumni magazines and why we read them.

You see, while I was “on vacation,” I went to yoga one day. And because I arrived early, I began reading a magazine, as I often do. But I got so engrossed in what I was reading that the instructor actually had to “instruct” me to put the magazine down. (Yeah, I’m also the sort who fails to notice all the “silent zone” signs posted around the building. The first time I ever did yoga I walked blithely into class blathering away into my cellphone…what can I say? I’m a yoga convert, not a natural.)

As it happens, I was reading my college alumni magazine, the Brown Alumni Monthly. There was this fascinating story about a woman named Wendy Walker who ran away from home the summer before college because she’d had a falling out with her parents over getting engaged to her high school sweetheart. The story was all about how she very nearly never made it to Brown. And I got so caught up in trying to imagine not having gone to college at 17 in order to get married, that I failed to notice the hush that had settled in over the yoga studio as people quietly assumed their lotus positions.

Then, after class, a complete stranger walked up to me and said: “Are you reading your alumni magazine?”


“I hate those things,” she said.

“Why?” I asked, intrigued by her over-share. (As an American, I frequently strike up conversations with complete strangers in London, but rarely find the favor returned.)

“I think they’re so phony. You read them and everyone sounds so great, but then you talk to your friends from college and everyone’s depressed and miserable.”

“They are?” I thought, but kept it to myself.

But her comment got me thinking. Why *do* some people love reading alumni magazines and others hate it?

I read them for stories like the one I just mentioned, because I find it exciting to live vicariously through other people’s lives. (Needless to say, they also motivate me to try on alternate careers…i.e., what would it have been like if I’d moved to LA to become a television writer?)

But I could easily imagine reading them to derive a sense of shadenfreude (e.g., “Ha! I knew he was a loser!”) or to satisfy an erstwhile curiosity (“Wow! Did that couple who hooked up on Hawaiian night really end up getting married?”)

Or perhaps it has something to do with school spirit. I remember back in High School we were asked to design a poll about our school, and a classmate of mine asked the question “Would you attend a reunion in 10 years?” as a way to measure “school spirit.” So perhaps avid reading of alumni magazines is yet another indicator of high school spirit. (Yeah, I know. I went to Brown. Everyone has a lot of school spirit there…)

But the truth is, in my case at least, I love reading alumni magazines even for schools I didn’t attend. I used to teach at the University of Chicago and so I still get their alumni magazine. And even though – true to that school’s spirit – the magazine reads more like The Economist than your average alumni magazine, I still pore over it every month.

So today I’m trying to figure out what committed reading of alumni magazines is a sign of:  Middle-age? Nostalgia? Displaced cheerleader syndrome?

And I’d be curious to know:  Do you read your alumni magazine and, if so, does it fill you with fascination…disappointment…or dread?



For those who are interested, here’s my piece in PoliticsDaily on the latest round of immigration reform in the UK.


Image: Fall 2008 Catalogue by Lower Columbia College via Flickr under a Creative Commons License


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