It's All the Rage

by Diane E. Dees

I have few good stories about my mother, an extremely difficult person. However one stands out in my mind, and it concerns my love for reading. Even as a small child, I read for hours on end. My school did not permit me to check out books above my assigned level, so the sixth grade boys with whom I rode the school bus checked them out for me. One day, my mother saw me returning a book to one of them, and asked me why I had borrowed it.

When I explained that I was not allowed to check the book out myself, she became upset. The next day, she visited my school and demanded that the principal give her a rational explanation for why I could not check out books that were easy for me to read. He could not offer her even one. Instead, he changed the policy, giving all children access to any books they wanted. I lost an opportunity to bond with the older boys, but it was worth it.

It is impossible to know just how much a reasonably insignificant childhood event affects us, but I often wonder to what extent that incident shaped my inability to accept meaningless, misguided, and unjust decisions made by authority figures. Like most girls, I was brought up in a culture that told me I had no real say in matters of importance, and that it was my job to be "nice." My mother, despite moments like the one described above, generally was passive and resentful. During my childhood and adolescence I accepted many of the roles assigned to my gender.

Then some experiences happened that built my self-esteem. I had a seventh grade teacher who saw my potential and went to great lengths to nurture it. I was on my high school and college debate teams, and from those experiences, I learned how to listen and think critically and respond rationally.

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The most significant event to influence my character, however, was the advent of the second wave of the women's movement. Like many young women of the time, I read and heard voices communicating what had been in my head for years, but for which I had no clear words. That is the strength of a movement: You realize you are not alone. I became a feminist activist and endured the put-downs, crude remarks, and dismissals that came with the territory. I marched, wrote letters, lobbied legislators, and had a radio broadcast.

Being an activist helped me to realize how many issues made me angry—racism, discrimination against gays, discrimination against the disabled, and the individual and institutionalized abuse of animals. That is a lot of anger for one woman to carry, and it cannot be carried lightly. Moving from the city to a predominantly conservative community didn't help. But I cannot hold on to too much anger. I blog daily and sometimes write letters to editors. I also sign petitions and join letter-writing campaigns.

I cannot fight all battles—I know that. But I can make the time, here and there, to contact news reporters when they write something I find offensive, or a corporate executive whose company's policies are harmful to people, creatures, and the Earth itself. I have seen the power of the World Wide Web in confronting unjust people and policies, and I am glad to be part of a people's movement that sometimes forces those in authority to back down from performing behaviors that are sexist, racist, homophobic, or otherwise cruel and unjust.

In a way, anger is my legacy. My father had a terrible temper, which occasionally exploded, though never in my direction. My mother seemed angry all the time. Anger is bad for you if it is held in, or if it is released inappropriately. But on its own, it is just another feeling with which people must decide what to do. I actually am fairly slow to anger in interpersonal relationships, and when I become angry, I usually can get past it quickly. I also do not waste my pique on harmful activities like road rage.

It is, rather, the world out there that is the object of my sustained anger. When people in charge make decisions based on bigotry, ignorance, greed, or ineptitude, my inner fire rages. When others passively allow the decisions to stand, I feel a white flame inside. Even though I get discouraged constantly fighting uphill battles, I do not know any other way to be.

I always confront appropriately, but I do confront. Perhaps it is the memory of my 5-foot, 1-inch, often passive mother standing in the principal's office as she challenged him to explain the school's senseless library policy that inspires me. After all, my mother not only did the right thing, she got results.

BIO: DIANE E. DEES, a psychotherapist and writer in Covington, Louisiana, is a regular contributor to Moondance. Her short stories, creative nonfiction, poetry and political commentary have appeared in many publications. Diane and her husband, Orvin Tobiason, are the webmasters of princesscafe.com, the world’s only virtual rock and roll restaurant. You can read her blog at dedspace.blogspot.com. Contact Diane at: dianedees@charter.net

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