© James Joyce
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I’m unsure if I’m an angry person or not. Are you an angry person? At what point do you cross a line from being an unangry person to being an angry person? Is anger a good Darwinian thing or is anger only for losers? Is anger sexy? Is it possible to go from being an angry person to being an unangry person?

I know three angry people who have had significant concussion trauma — two fell off bikes and one fell off a Jeep. These three were, to be specific, reasonably angry people — certainly Type A and inarguably driven — and always quick to flare up. After the falls, all three were fine, except their personalities changed and the trio became mellow earthy-type people. They didn’t lose any memories but they did become . . . different. After a while they drifted away from their old friends and formed all new kind-of hippie relationships. It didn’t feel sad and there were never any bad feelings — it’s just strange to see someone become someone new and it makes me wonder how many subpersonalities lie dormant beneath any of our outer beings, just waiting for a whack on the head to create a New You and a New Me.

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My father once said he was really PO’ed at someone and I thought it over, and shouldn’t it technically be that he was P’edO? I need a grammar stickler right now.

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Andy Warhol had a wonderful saying about the 1970s. He said that in the 1960s people went out at night to get pissed off; in the 1970s they went out to get pissed on. These days people go out at night to buy USB memory sticks.

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A very common place to see anger erupt is when you’re driving, when some angry guy (it’s almost always a guy — yet it’s somehow way scarier if it’s a woman) barges into your lane or does something highly annoying or simply wrong to you — and (s)he knows damn well that (s)he’s doing this — and so you don’t let them into your lane and they go crazy and swear and flip you the bird and take an iPhone photo of you and your car like it means something. I guess the message here is that everyone goes through their day accumulating anger energy, sort of like accumulating a static charge, and a traffic infraction creates a massive sudden discharge. But what if a traffic flare-up never occurs? That same person goes home like a can of well-shaken Pepsi just waiting for someone to accidentally open them up — and it ends up being a mess. Maybe we should encourage traffic flare-ups — maybe the Scandinavians are already on to this and have special road lanes designated for angry people in need of a discharge. (Note to self: discharge is a seriously unattractive word.)

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Nobody can resist looking at a good angry celebrity mugshot. Actually, nobody can resist a mugshot, period. Are those the cold dead eyes of someone who dismembers cheerleaders? Why yes — yes they are. I can see it there as clear as day. I’ll make a mental note of it and be watchful in case I see that same look on someone who seems outwardly to be a good citizen.

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© James Joyce

I’ve always wanted to go to anger management therapy but I don’t think I’m angry enough. It’d be so great — a calm, trained professional giving me smart tools to better navigate my days without flare-ups. I could become . . . a new Gandhi . . . I could . . . stop right there, Doug. The only way people end up in anger management courses is if a judge tells them they have to. And even then, does the process work? Maybe the judge should just whack angry people on the head and give them a yoga mat.

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Anger isn’t the same thing as hate. Anger has an off switch; hate doesn’t. The two are connected, and much of modern discourse seems to be about that point when hate ignites into anger. That might be the difference: hate turns into anger, but anger doesn’t turn into hate — anger left alone, merely remains anger. I wonder what the daily news would be like if there was a small icon in the corner of the screen that told you how much of what you were seeing was anger-related news — and how much of it was hate cloaked in anger.

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I read this really great thing on Reddit a month ago: “Nice people aren’t necessarily good people.” Think about it. It’s good advice. Seemingly nice people can and do propagate hate all the time; angry people don’t propagate anger; they mostly keep their anger to themselves and store it in their body and then they die when the anger manifests itself in the form of some hideous disease.

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I remember the Iranian hostage crisis that ran from 1979 to 1981. On TV news, the hostages were frogmarched around the captured US embassy in Tehran and it was during the 444 days of the crisis in which DEATH TO AMERICA hit the rhetorical tipping point and became a news-hour cliché. I don’t think anyone on any side of the political equation realised quite what a significant historical event the hostage crisis was or the profound echoing it would have into the next century. My mother walked into the TV room one night and looked at yet one more angry mob of screaming men and said, “Those guys don’t need to be protesting; they just need jobs.” That was also good advice. Unemployment was high in Iran in 1979; there wasn’t much else for guys to do. This is an oversimplification, yet boredom is definitely a cofactor in late 1970s Iranian politics. Boredom fosters anger. Think punk rock.

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A few years back in Rancho Mirage, California, I forgot to eat in the morning. I met a friend for a late lunch and while waiting for a table I could feel my blood sugar plummeting. Lights became too bright, all sounds turned into noise and people in my orbit saw a version of myself I try to keep invisible: Sugar Crash Doug. Fortunately, the head waiter was old school and he saw plummeting sugar in my face and returned 30 seconds later with a large glass of orange juice that I then drank in one swig. Crash averted. I asked him how he knew I was crashing and he told me, “Crashy people vibrate in a very specific way. It’s like gaydar but for glucose.”

People who don’t get sugar crashes think this is all a fake condition, and maybe you’re one of them. But if you’ve ever had a sugar crash, you’re saying to yourself, “See! It’s not just me!” I do think food crashing is more of a guy thing but a few women I know have described it similarly. When I look back at all the times I’ve been angry and difficult, pretty much all of it could have been averted by a glass of orange juice — or a glass of Nestlé’s Quik, now globally called Nesquik. One mid-1970s North American ad campaign was about a state of mind Nestlé called the “fungries” — You’re not thirsty. You’re not hungry. You’ve got a case of the fungries. Nestlé could easily retool that entire campaign for adults, doing a sort of pharmaceutical pop-up shop collaboration with, say, Pfizer, positing Nesquik as an alternative to opioid pharmaceuticals and thus multiplying their profits fiftyfold — and I have just little enough faith in Big Pharma to believe this is something plausible it might do, but it would still have to give it one of those odd 21st-century names such as Kiuqsen (Nesquik spelled backwards) or Quesnik (letters jumbled) or, frankly, any seven keypad characters typed at random.

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© James Joyce

People treat angry men differently from angry women. I once worked with a guy who got so angry from a parking ticket that he put his fist through the office’s glass door. He was swarmed by all the women in the office and his hotness factor went up 20 points. If a woman were to go nuts like my colleague, she wouldn’t get cooing attention and an increased hotness factor. She’d just get gossiped about and then fired. Women inhabit the same world as men, so they must obviously also get just as angry, but I can only guess they conceal it better. Imagine cutting into Angela Merkel’s lane when she’s driving home from the Bundestag. There goes that cool matronly demeanour. And what’s that? She just took an iPhone snap of you too? You’re toast.

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There’s so much to get angry about these days. Fortunately we have the internet to keep us properly sedated, so we’re not all headed out into the world to act on our anger and make a mess of things. Just a few hours back I was in a Manhattan Starbucks, where I went to get one of its protein packs plus a cheese pack, items that are — (unpaid plug here) — amazing at warding off food crashes; one pack buys you 100 minutes of level-headed calm. So I picked out a packet and went to the cashier and paid for it when a small woman to my right began hissing at me — scary, distinctly not normal hissing but 1950s B-movie undead hissing — and her face was a convulsed Toby jug of rage. The woman on the other side of me whispered, “I think you cut into her line.”

Whoops . . . so embarrassing. I apologised but the hisser just kept on hissing, not just at me but at the cashier and, I guess, the universe. She may well be hissing right now. I guess the thing is (whether on or off their meds) some people just plain enjoy being angry, and I’m unsure what point being permanently angry crosses a line into being crazy or damaged. The husband of a woman friend of mine was endlessly angry about political injustice, to the point where it was beyond being a broken record, so I started a Q&A session about his anger and what it would take to make him feel not angry any more. The end state of this argument was that even if world peace were fully achieved, with every human on earth — and all other creatures — being fully happy, then he would still be angry. And then there was a truly awkward silence because people in the room realised the truth of the matter was that he would never be — could never be — happy either. Didn’t see that coming.

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We’re told we all store our anger in different parts of our bodies. I definitely store anger in my neck, but a lot of people I know store it in their stomachs or lower back. I once spent 30 minutes lying on one of those reclining chairs that give you an automatic back and neck massage and I spent the next three days with my neck and upper back inflamed in agony. A police taser could have done a better job at relaxing me or, (and this is merely conjecture), so could Chancellor Merkel administering a judo chop back massage, venting her daily anger at having to be Mom for all of Europe, when all she ever signed on for was Germany. Yes, I do think Ms Merkel, the embodiment of Teutonic cool, could maybe learn something from Ms Toby Jug, the embodiment of barely concealed rage, and maybe something awesome could stem from it . . . world peace? Well, you read it here first.

Douglas Coupland’s new collection of stories and essays ‘Bit Rot’ is published by William Heinemann (£20). @dougcoupland

Illustrations by James Joyce

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