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The Skinny By Elaine Langlois

Your Right to be Cranky

Cranky women of the world, unite! Your right to be cheesed off is under attack!

An organization called Smile Mania recently staged its second annual Great American Grump Out, an event, also observed in Canada, which urged people "to abstain from being GRUMPY for 24 hours."

Can you imagine? Going without grumpy is like going without a double chocolate latte or fuzzy slippers.

So what did people do during the Great American Grump Out, besides grin incessantly like a Stepford Wife?

If you belong to Smile Mania, you probably spent the day handing out smile cards, clown noses, and bananas. The Smile Mania folk are fond of bananas, not because they have lots of potassium but because "When you look at them sideways, they look like smiles."

The group also conducts "happiness exercises" and "smile-related events," the nature of which I am trying not to imagine. For me, smile-related events coincide with the arrival of checks in the mail or learning that I do not have to create yet another costume for a school play.

Smile Mania encourages "drive-by smiling," which involves standing at an intersection and waving cardboard smiley-faces at passing drivers, an activity perhaps more likely to encourage road rage than prevent it.

Personally, I identify with Mr. Furious, a second-string superhero in the movie Mystery Men, whose "power comes from his boundless rage." When troubles trikes, Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller) gets mad. "Temperature rising!" he seethes. "Vision blurring! Rage . . . taking . . . over!" Usually he yells. Sometimes he fights. Occasionally, he jumps up and down on cars.

Managing anger is like managing work: no matter how much you do today, there will always be more tomorrow, because life is always giving us new things to be angry about. For instance, lately I've been musing on the fact that people who write poetry earn substantially less than people who create dancingmarshmallows. And that some parents routinely park in school fire lanes, endangering everyone in the building including their own kids, because they can't be bothered to walk the few meters from the parking lot.

Workplace inequities, inane societal expectations, corporate greedheads, lying government leaders! It all makes you want to take a large, heavy bucket and whack somebody on the head.

But of course, women aren't supposed to get mad. As Harriet Lerner notes in The Dance of Anger, angry women are labeled as "shrews," "witches," and worse. We're supposed to nurture and soothe and keep everybody in a good mood.

What we need is an organization for angry women, maybe named the Lucy Van Pelt Institute. Remember Lucy? She was the little girl in the Peanuts comic strip who was always crabby. In fact, she was proud of it. "The crabby little girls of today," she proclaimed, "are the crabby old women of tomorrow!" Once, she was crabby for 1,000 consecutive days. She was so crabby, she forgot how to smile. Now there is a role model for you.

Every door at the Lucy Van Pelt Institute would have a welcome mat with the message "Go Away."

At the Lucy Van Pelt Institute, we would get in touch with our inner negativity. We would view a daily staple of television programs featuring irascible characters like Oscar the Grouch and Yosemite Sam. We would watch movies like Grumpy Old Men. But our favorite movie would be Network, specifically the part where TV broadcaster Howard Beale encourages people to lean out their windows and shout, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

We would also explore ways of expressing anger, beginning with verbal insults:

  • Are you always this stupid or are you making a special effort today?

  • Perhaps you should consider voluntary euthanasia.

Floating around the Internet is an applet that generates insults like these from a collection of Shakespeare's words and phrases:

  • Thou pribbling beef-witted pumpion!

  • Thou reeky, ill-natured coxcomb!

  • Thou mewling elf-skinned clotpole!

We would workshop angry outbursts that cause others to scurry about being apologetic and servile. Then we would progress to full-blown temper tantrums--down on the floor, kicking our heels, waving our arms, screaming at the top of our lungs, and turning purple.

We're going to need this kind of support to hold our own against the relentlessly pleasant. Smile Mania's "grump patrols" and plans for "no grumping zones" make me shudder. Mr. Furious, where are you?

© 2003 Elaine Langloi

Thanks to everyone who sent greetings on the Skinny's anniversary!