In Phoenix, as in other older cities, there are alleyways in residential areas. The alleys are graveled paths behind houses, there for trash and recycling pick-up, as well as access to backyards. In Phoenix, all residences have fences–mostly block walls.
Originally, the block walls kept out the javelinas; now walls offer privacy and protection. There are a lot of swimming pools in Phoenix, and block fences keep kids from wandering into pools and drowning.
The alleys are shady and a break from asphalt, and I like to wander down them on my morning walk. The only downside is the number of dogs who find me a potential threat and bark.
I often joke that everybody in Phoenix is required to own two dogs, one of which must be barking at all times. When I walk down the alleys, I believe it myself.
This morning, two dogs were crazed at my presence in the alley. They raced back and forth along the chainlink fence, unified in their snarling and barking, even when I spoke in soothing tones. As I passed the fence and they could no longer see me, the dogs became aware that they were both squeezed into one corner of the fence. Their anger, unleashed, could not be satisfied, so they turned on each other. No damage done, but there was a lot of angry snarling and snapping. Most likely, the dogs were litter mates and friends. Not when they were both angry and jammed into a small space with no place to direct their anger.
It made me think of how common anger has become. Outrage is the new slack. We seem to feed, and feed eagerly, on fury, anger, bad behavior, and pot-stirring. What was once relegated to bad reality show is the stuff of our real lives. We are all vehement in our demands, our emotions, our space. People we love, who don’t agree with us, are targets for our snappish behavior. In no situation more than in politics.
After all this free-floating anger, I’ve decided to manage what I expose myself to. Drama isn’t for me. I begin to think it’s real. Often, when people ramp up the cranky, I forget they are just creating their reality and I am just walking through it. I believe the emotion is real and what they believe is real. That’s the danger part. I could be the next snarler and snapper. It’s not what I want for myself. There are some people whose posts I don’t look at on Facebook. I haven’t deleted or unfriended them, I simply keep scrolling. They have their beliefs and they don’t match mine. Neither one of us has a slightest hope of swaying the other. So, bless them, and move on.
Yes, I am still a news junkie. But I manage it the same way I manage added sugar in my diet–steer clear of temptations that don’t support my health. I’m not going to quit watching news, but I’m not getting involved in any dog-fights, either.
—Quinn McDonald is a writer and urban naturalist.