Snow, Anger, and Peace

Snow in western North Carolina
photo by Katie Winkler

It is snowing here in Western North Carolina. Our first big snow in a while and so beautiful. My husband and I have made preparations: I went to get what groceries I needed and tried not to go crazy (come on guys, even if we get snowed in, it’s not like we are going to starve in the day, maybe two, it will take to dig out). We ran the dishwasher and washed a couple of loads of laundry just in case our power goes out, which is possible with the high winds that are predicted for later in the day. John didn’t forget the birds either. He wiped off the five inches of snow on the tops and refilled them this morning, so now I’m watching the cardinals, titmice, chickadees, woodpeckers, wrens, juncos, and rufous-sided towhees as they take turns at the well-stocked feeders.

All is at peace.

So what’s the anger all about, Mrs. Winkler, you may ask.

It’s the title of a book many of you no doubt have already read but is totally new to me–Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Master and Buddhist monk. The book is a Christmas gift from a dear friend, inspired by a long debate we had a couple of months ago about the “value” of anger. He didn’t see any positive effects of the emotion, and I recognized its destructive nature but argued that feelings of anger, correctly channeled, can have powerfully positive effects.

After reading the book, I am convinced that our friendly argument (I know–an oxymoron, especially these days) was more a semantic one than anything else. Anger, written from a Buddhist perspective but aligning with my own Christian worldview, seems to address both our points of view.

The first thing I noticed and had to get used to was the simple and repetitive nature of the writing. Having just read Rudolf Flesch’s The Art of Plain Talk (see my review in my last post), I appreciated the simple nature of the language, but the repetition distracted me at first, until I moved into the rhythm of the work and realized its purpose as a meditation on anger.

Throughout my first reading of the work, I noticed that Thich Nhat Hanh tends to emphasize the following:

  • Acknowledging the anger you or someone else feels
  • Recognizing that it springs from suffering
  • Taking “good care” of your own anger as much as you can
  • Asking for help

Throughout the book, the author repeats these basic ideas, explaining it in different words and contexts while offering many real-world examples. This will be a book that I’ll read again. I’m sure I will glean even more wisdom from it next time around.

One of my favorite parts is “Chapter Two: Putting out the Fires of Anger,” where Thich Nhat Hanh discusses how dealing with your own suffering and anger can help other people dispel any anger they have with you: “A transformation will take place in the other person…just by your behavior” (42).

Another chapter that speaks to me is “Chapter Seven: No Enemies.” In this part, the author speaks about the effect of alleviating anger on a community, even a nation. One section of the chapter is entitled “Compassion is Intelligent.” He writes: “If you think compassion is passive, weak, or cowardly, then you don’t know what compassion is. If you think that compassionate people do not resist and challenge injustice, you are wrong. They are warriors” (130).

I love this. Reading it and meditating on it has been invaluable to me because I have always seen my so-called “righteous anger” as the thing that makes me a courageous fighter. Now I see things differently. Perhaps my anger towards injustice lights a flame, but the results will only be positive if, if I dissect that anger and channel it, developing compassion for those with whom I am angry by trying to understand their suffering as well as my own.

Much of what Thich Nhat Hanh says resonates with my own Christian beliefs:

  • Matthew (7:12): “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you. . . .”
  • Mark (12:31): “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • Ephesians (4:26): “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger…”

You see, my friend and I are not so far apart after all. None of us are. So my wish for all of us in 2022 is that we would find that peace that passes all understanding in our hears and our minds (Phillipians 4:7).

Stay tuned for next blog post when I review the unusual but wonderful little book that my daughter gave me for Christmas, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig.

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Just a few updates:

I am now accepting submissions for the Spring~Summer 2022 edition of Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal. For complete information se my submission guidelines.

My podcasting studio–photo by Katie Winkler

Also, drumroll please, I will be resurrecting my podel (podcasted novel) called CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical sometime this month!!! It has been a long time, but last semester was just too intense (sooooooo much grading). I had little time for any of my passion projects, but I’m itching to get back in the saddle with some new material. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then I hope you will listen to the first 12 episodes. You can find the podel on most podcast platforms, but here’s a link, too: CAMPUS.

Booking in the New Year

At work, in our faculty work room, is a white board, left over from the days when the long, thin room was an awkward and undesirable classroom. After much complaining, the room was repurposed for its current, much more appropriate purpose.

I think it was my late friend and colleague who first started writing fun questions on the board for her fellow teachers to answer. She was like that–trying to find ways to bring us together, reveling in her new found profession, interacting with faculty in the room where she had been a student, my student, and then become an adjunct, using the room as an office and meeting room amidst the sound of copier, shredder, refrigerator, and ice maker.

But she loved it because she had become a teacher, something she never knew she wanted to be and found out she was born for. When she received her master’s, now qualified to teach more than developmental classes, my friend left the faculty workroom for her own office at the college, now a full-time instructor who became the faculty advisor for the writing club and school newspaper, one of the most innovative instructors I’ve ever known.

My friend left us much too soon, succumbing to the effects of an aneurism she experienced at the college right before her class was about to start. But her friends continued to write questions on the board, the faculty, most who never knew her, continue to post their answers, sometimes half-heartedly, though, as more responsibilities are piled on us, as we are forced to learn more systems that are supposed to help make our work, or someone’s, easier, and as morale sinks lower and lower.

When I returned to work after the holidays, someone had written a new question on the board: What is your New Year’s resolution? Trite perhaps, but I was the first one to answer it–Read more good books.

So, my dear student, colleague, friend whom I miss so much, I will try to stay true to my resolution for your sake, knowing that your spirit remains in the faculty workroom and meanders down the halls and into the classrooms.

Here are descriptions of two books I have read so far in 2022 (pictured above):

Leavings by Wendell Berry–This collection of poems is amazing. Published in 2010, the book speaks of Berry’s personal and our global place, of what its like to grow old and feel hopeless, yet strangely grateful, of continuing to fight the good fight–rescuing our planet from the greed that threatens to destroy it. Listen to his words from Sabbath Poems: 2007, VI:

“Those who use the world assuming/their knowledge is sufficient/destroy the world. The forest/is mangled for the sale/of a few sticks, or is bulldozed/into a stream and covered over/with the earth it once stood upon” (90).

“It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old,/for hope must not depend on feeling good/and there is the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight./…The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?/…Because we have not made our lives to fit/our places, the forests are ruined, the fields eroded,/the streams polluted, the mountains overturned. Hope/then to belong to your place by your own knowledge/of what it is that no other place is,/ and by your caring for it as you care for no other place, this/place that you belong to though it is not yours, for it was from the beginning and will be to the end”(91).

Leavings left me with hope–nevertheless. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because my place is good and true and holds me close, safe from a world that does not value it, or me.

The Art of Plain Talk by Rudolf Flesch–The 1946 classic instructs how to create clear, concise prose. I came to the deserted campus during the break to pack up some of the many books in my office as we prepare to move to our shiny new building and I begin my divestiture as I prepare for my retirement. I found Flesch’s book and realized that although I may have read it years ago, I couldn’t recall anything about it. So I brought it home to read before I give it away.

Although the book is a bit dated, the points Flesch makes about the importance of clarity and conciseness are well-taken One of the biggest issues I see in student writing is wordiness and the author offers many examples of ways to cut down on the verbiage.

Here is one statement that reflects the essence of the book: “Plain and simple speech appeals to everyone because it indicates clear thought and honest motives. Here is the point: Anyone who is thinking clearly and honestly can express his thoughts in words which are understandable, and in very few of them. Let’s write for the reader and not for ourselves. Make the writing do what it is intended to” (130).

Good advice to share with my students.

Next post, I will write about the books I’m reading now:

Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh, given to me by a dear friend following a long conversation about this troubling emotion. Hanh, a Buddhist monk, gives practical advice on dealing with anger–not denying it, but embracing it and changing its destructive energy so that it can do good in the world.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig, a special Christmas gift from my dear daughter. It is an unusual book, a collection of invented words and definitions to describe feelings for which English has no words–some short, some essay length. Very cool. My daughter knows me well.

Fight Songs: A Story of Love and Sports in a Complicated South by Ed Southern–Ed is the executive director of the North Carolina Writers’ Network, a terrific writer, and my friend. I am enjoying his interesting work, written during the pandemic.