Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Rage

by Annabeth Leong

I don't like exercise that focuses me on my appearance. In all too many classes I've attended, I've heard the instructor yell, "Think about that bikini body," or, "Work off that pizza you ate on Saturday night." This bothers me for feminist reasons, but mostly it bothers me because it's not what I'm there for. Exercise has sometimes made me look good as a side effect, but wanting to look good has never kept me coming back.

Striking drills are my favorite physical thing to do. I like to let go on a punching bag or strike shield, gloved or ungloved, with fists, with elbows, with the heels of my hands, with feet, with shins, with knees. When I do this, I get to a place I can't access any other way. My mind is blank and focused and I lose all sense of time. It is pure and perfect and I am never looking at the clock or wondering when it will be over. I can go until I won't be able to move the next day, but I don't give a fuck what it does for my bikini body.

Here's what I'm looking for:
the cessation of mental noise
relief from all my words, words, words
the flex of flesh
the joy of bunching and releasing muscle
feeling strong
feeling fucking deadly
the thud of impact
the crisp sensation of a quick, precise strike
the noise
the rage

More than anything else, it's the rage. I doubt you would think it to look at me. I actually have a lot of trouble expressing anger, or even feeling it except for when it's just me and the strike shield. I just know that there's a lot of it blocked up inside me, and this is the only thing that gets it out.

I don't picture the face of an enemy. I don't think of anything specific. I actually don't think of anything at all. It's just something that takes me over after a few hits. It's there in my chest, and it is one of the coldest, cleanest things I know.

Sometimes, I think about the stories of berserkers, and I think that I would be one if the time and place were right. Knowing what fills my body when I'm striking, I can see myself in a battle frenzy.

I have trouble explaining this to people, and I'm frustrated by the way a lot of exercise classes pull me out of this feeling. I often get the idea that women are supposed to exercise to look pretty, and that people are taken aback if I try to say that I'm there to give this rage somewhere to go (I think this gets accepted for men as a way to turn negative feelings into something positive).

I like the white sensation behind my eyes strike after strike, sweat pouring off the end of my nose, muscles burning along the sides of my ribcage, but I also don't want this stuff to stay inside me. I need to sweat it out because I'm pretty sure it poisons if it congeals.

For my bachelorette party, I took the girls for a private lesson at a boxing gym. I always notice how most girls need to be taught that it's okay to hit something without holding back. They start out tentative. They need to be encouraged. My response has always been deep gratitude that this, finally, is something that's okay for me to hit without holding back. I think some of the most thrilling words I've ever heard are Brad Pitt's, from Fight Club: "I want you to hit me as hard as you can."

I liked watching the other girls get it, but mostly I was too caught up to look out for anybody else. At that party, the instructor made a comment. "Who is it?" he asked. "Mother-in-law?"

I didn't know how to answer his question. He was thinking way too small. It was a continent. It was, as the Violent Femmes would say, "Everything, everything, everything, everything."

I often think of the hulk's line from the recent Avengers movie, when he explains his secret, the reason the transformation to the beast is always available to him. "I'm always angry," he says, looking mild-mannered as he does.

As a writer, it's strange to think of how I need this blank space to express the rage. I've written a few things out of anger ("Risk Rider and Dare Take the Con" in Coming Together: For Equality), but mostly the emotion makes my hands shake too much to type. The rage seems too intense, too unfeminine, too scary, and too far beyond words.

People are constantly being exhorted to exercise these days. For their health. For their appearance. Because it's one of the things we're supposed to do. As with many other things, I think it only works if you find your own reason. And this is mine.


  1. The way you describe your state when engaged/enraged sounds markedly similar to a zen state, where you react naturally, not with precision or preplanning, but with abandon. Eventually you'll turn whatever act into perfection if you become familiar with that state, creating pathways for running excess energy to escape physical brakes the psyche employs to hold us back day-to day. Sorta cleans out the pipes, so to speak.

    But one kinda personal experience: Momma X took several of those 'Weekend Warrior" classes years ago, when she was in her forties. They brought in big, tough guys in padded protection and have them pseudo-attack the women in the class . She broke her foot on one of the guys. Hehe. Glad it wasn't me she kicked for lots of reasons. Glad she got that one out of her system.

    1. I was trying to respond to this earlier today, but my responses kept disappearing into the ether...

      In any case, I like that you compare it to zen. That makes it sound less intense/scary.

      Also, I've always wanted to take one of those classes! I've sparred but have never had a chance to unload on someone protected by padding. Everyone is probably safer now that Momma X has had a chance to unleash the fury :)

  2. I think the capacity for rage may be hardwired into us from prehistoric times when that kind of violent focus was necessary for survival. Women are conditioned by culture now to repress it and not admit it exists in them, which of course just makes the rage all the more intense.

  3. Fascinating post, Annabeth, especially since the way you usually express yourself here and in your stories probably prompts some readers to think, "But you don't seem like the raging type" (which would help explain the value of an outlet). Expressing rage against a punching bag or well-padded person seems much healthier than trying to hold it in until there is an explosion or a steady leak.

    1. That's why I love that moment in The Avengers. The way Mark Ruffalo plays the Hulk, he seems so mild-mannered.

  4. I can't really identify, Annabeth - maybe my rage is too deeply hidden - but I totally believe this. I'm also quite certain that this sort of outlet is a healthy activity.

    It sounds as though this kind of violence against the inanimate is a sort of meditation, something that keeps you spiritually balanced.

    1. Thanks. It's interesting because people have often told me to try yoga (which I also do, but don't find satisfying in this way). There is an idea floating around that one shouldn't "perform" one's rage. I find that trying to suppress it just makes me feel it more, though.


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