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The Surprising Value Of Anger

by John P. Weiss on 3/18/2017 6:44:37 AM

This post is by regular contributing writer, John P. Weiss John is an artist and writer living in Northern California. He studied landscape painting extensively with Scott L. Christensen and served as editorial cartoonist with several newspapers. John is also a retired police chief with over 26 years of law enforcement experience.



“Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”


- Dylan Thomas


When Bob Lee called me several years ago, I figured it was just another work related matter. As Chief of Police in my community, I was accustomed to calls from the District Attorney.


“Hi Bob, I hope we didn’t mess up an investigation or something,” I said over the phone with a chuckle.


“Nope, not at all,” Bob answered. Then there was a pause. Pauses always make me uncomfortable. Especially from the District Attorney.


“John, you’re one of the most creative, artistic guys I know.” Bob paused again, clearly buttering me up.


“The County Treasurer just backed out and you’re the perfect guy to bail me out,” Bob continued. He added, “It’s a silly little thing, really, but something to cross off your bucket list.”


I didn’t have a bucket list. Bucket lists are about achieving life goals before you kick the bucket. I didn’t plan on kicking the bucket anytime soon, so I figured not having a bucket list insulated me from the inevitable.


“So Bob, what’s this ‘silly little thing’ you want me to do?” I asked warily.


“I want you to dance in the Nutcracker with me this Christmas,” Bob answered.


“Dance in the Nutcracker? Like…ballet?” I said.


“It’s a silly little thing, really,” Bob replied.


A wakening experience


A recent article in the Wall Street Journal chronicled how “retirement communities and colleges are teaming up so older learners can audit classes.”


The article introduces Henry Nusbaum, who will soon be turning 103 years old. Henry is taking a college class on Medieval history. He wears a head set to hear the instructor better and keeps extra pens in a pocket on his walker.


What struck me in the article is what Henry had to say about his intellectual curiosity:


“This, to me, is a wakening experience. I find the way to continue to enjoy life is to live it, to be involved, to participate in as many programs as I could gracefully, without interfering.”


Henry lives in a retirement community where he and several other residents in their late 80’s and older can audit classes for free at the adjacent college.


The article noted the “popularity of higher education in the later decades of life. The National Center for Education Statistics counted more than 66,000 people over the age of 64 enrolled in degree-granting postsecondary institutions in 2013, the most recent year for which the figures were available.”


There are similar arrangements around the country, whereby older folks can audit college classes for free. They don’t have to take the tests or do the homework, but some do.


Beyond the enrichment and intellectual stimulation these classes provide for the elderly, another plus are the cross generational conversations that occur with the younger students.


Clearly, the zest for life and intellectual engagement doesn’t have to evaporate in old age. Some make the decision that they’re simply not done yet. There is more to learn and experience.


I’ve seen two kinds of spirits in the assisted living community where my mother lives. The first are the ones who have given up. There’s no more fight left in them.


The second group are the spirited ones. Often they’re angry. They’ve still got things they want to do. Stuff they want to say and learn.


They’re the ones that “refuse to go gentle into that good night.” They’ve decided to tap into their anger and use it as fuel to move forward.


Weekends with Drosselmeyer and the Sugar Plum Fairy


The last thing I wanted to do was perform in the County’s Nutcracker production. My job left precious free time for family, exercise and artwork. Bob told me that that there would be several rehearsals each month leading up to the big production.


I liked Bob and didn’t want to disappoint him. I also knew it was important to have good relations with the District Attorney’s Office. Begrudgingly, I agreed.


It wasn’t long before I regretted it. The rehearsals turned out to be every weekend leading up to the big night. Every Saturday for a few hours, I had to go to rehearsal.


I got to know the performers playing Drosselmeyer and the Sugar Plum Fairy. They taught us how to apply stage make up and dance. The teasing from the guys at the police department was relentless. Here’s a photo of me in character.


I started to resent the commitment that I had signed on to. I quickly got tired of the grief I received from my coworkers. Even my family started to complain about the time away.


The experience was making me grumpy and angry. I felt a bit put upon and irritated that I had no time left for my painting and writing. But then I decided to channel my anger. I decided that I’d show everyone, by willing myself to do a great performance. “Like it or not, I’m going to make this a positive experience,” I told myself.


Keeping PACE with my artwork


I retired from my law enforcement career last December. Finally, I’d have the time to start painting more. Sometimes, however, things don’t go as planned.


My writing schedule for my blog, newsletter subscribers and other websites had increased substantially. To support my wife (a hospice nurse) I took over more household duties like laundry, vacuuming and making dinner. I was also exercising more. But I wasn’t painting much.


I adjusted my morning schedule and finally started painting, but the work was rusty. Stale. I could tell I wanted to change things up and develop a new direction for my art. Unfortunately, I was in an artistic funk.


A reader of my blog was kind enough to send me a discount coupon for the upcoming Plein Air Convention and Expo (PACE 2017) this April in San Diego. And you know what? I considered not going.


I was angry that my painting was not further along. I thought maybe I should just use the time in April to do a ton of studies.


But then I started to channel my anger. “If you’re unhappy about your work, do something about it. Stop making excuses. Go the convention, get re-inspired and stop this whining,” I told myself.


So, I’m signed up to attend the convention and excited to invest in my artistic growth. All because my anger motivated me to take action. I guess sometimes the best way to keep “pace” with your artistic growth is to channel your anger and frustration into something productive.


The surprising value of anger


Here’s the thing about anger. It can be destructive. I read somewhere that “anger is a hot coal you throw at the person you’re angry with. But you still burn your hand.”


Unresolved anger can lead to health problems and endless unhappiness. But the reality is that we’re all human. Sometimes we get angry. At ourselves, other people or circumstances. What matters is what we do with that anger.


The surprising value of anger is that, when properly channeled, it can fuel positive action and solutions.


Remember my district attorney friend, Bob Lee? He died two years later, in his early fifties, of cancer. Looking back, I was so glad I channeled my anger about those weekend Nutcracker rehearsals into seeing my commitment through.


After opening night at the Nutcracker, the entire cast celebrated backstage with champagne. I remember Bob was beaming as he looked at me and said, “Wasn’t that great! Cross it off your bucket list, John!”


It might have been a “silly little thing,” but fortunately I was able to channel my anger. I stayed the course and danced in the Nutcracker. It’s something that I’ll always cherish.


I suspect my experience at the Plein Air Convention and Expo this April will also be a positive experience. Much like taking college classes is for a 103 year old gentleman who still wants to learn.


So, whatever you’re angry about, channel it into something productive. Work toward that solution, and I think you’ll be surprised and happy with the results.


Have you channeled anger in a positive way? Share a comment below. 




Editor's Note:

If you’d like to embrace simpler analytics that drive better marketing decisions, I highly recommend that you give FASO a try. To sign up for a free, no obligation 30 day trial, click here. And once you become a paying member, we’ll promote your website to over 22,500 collectors! You’ll also get a great looking website and amazing marketing tools that automate many common marketing tasks for you.


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Backstory: About Clint. Email EditorTwitter. Republish. ]

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Topics: advice for artists | art appreciation | creativity | FineArtViews | inspiration | John Weiss 

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Greg Douglass
Hi John,

Really enjoyed this (as I have many of your other articles) and just what I needed to hear...inspiring.


Greg Douglass

Susan L. Vignola
Great article, John. Sorry to hear that your friend Bob died. Anger can be very useful. Some people who are angry simply rant and rave indiscriminately. Focusing one's anger towards a positive goal can provide the oomph and the impetus to get over the obstacles we tend to place in our paths. Have fun in San Diego at the Plein Air Convention.

Sally A Ayres
I always enjoy your articles. Love how you weave real life episode into wisdom about art making.
A conference is just what you need to get you jump started. I also found that the daily routines of life were interfering with my art time, so I finally decided to go back to old habits from my days of working. I now get up between 5:15-5:45, exercise and then go straight to my studio to paint until about 8 when my husband is making breakfast for us. I find if I get some time there in the morning, I am more apt to return later in the day to get back to work. Good luck! Retirement requires a lot of adjustments.

Joanne Benson
Hi John,
I enjoyed your article, as always, and admire you for sticking it out in the Nutcracker despite the ridicule from your coworkers! I'm sure it was a good experience and your friend surely appreciated it. Sorry for your loss. I hope your family came to see the performance. I've often done things reluctantly (inner anger at bay) and been pleasantly surprised by the good things that come out of it. Happy channeling!

Have a wonderful time at the plein air convention! That will be an awesome experience.

Sometimes we need a little extra push to get us going and anger is one way to achieve that. Thanks for sharing a great story and some good advice!

Inez Hudson
I truly enjoyed reading this. I've learned over the years that anger is a waste of time, unless it's put to good use. Humans were given this emotion for a reason. It helps us to solve problems. Thank you for posting your story.

Once again, you are right on, John.
While my paintings always reach for joy, resolution, and gratitude, for years I worked from angry energy almost exclusively, simultaneously feeling guilty that my impetus was so "negative." I knew painting was saving my life, but somehow it felt wrong to be painting to discharge anger. "Raised female" in an older-fashioned culture than we have today, anger was simply not acceptable; we were taught to change/harm ourselves rather than dare to feel anger. Now that my life has changed for the better, it is clear to me I might not have survived without channeling the pain into my art, and the work from that period remains true and strong. Needless to say, I firmly believe art saves lives, and the BEST channel for anger is the proactive one.

What I needed to read, this morning!

I'm contacting my nearest college to see about auditing a class. Thank you

Elvira Glanville
Loved the article. Probably because it truely resonated with me. I learned to channel my anger as a younf girl thanks to a wonderful teacher i had. I think of all the life lessons ive had over the years hers was the most constructive and valuable.

Kala Zurbriggen
John, I really loved your article. Just remembering that life want always easy for the elderly, and to see how much impact they can still have on the people around them is inspirational. Channeling anger is another way to have fewer regrets when we reach that age. Thank you for your compassionate heart.

Donna Tate
Terrific article. Always look forward to your commentary.

Jill Carel
I appreciate your many wonderful sharings! Living may not always be easy. There can be surprises, unexpected twists and turns, that seem to derail us from whatever direction we think we're taking. I retired from 37 years of working for municipal gov't with certain expectations that got derailed by a bout with cancer -- that led me to lifestyle changes that appear to be working well.
I see a great amount of wisdom and balance in your postings that touch and inspire many people. I applaud your self-awareness and willingness to share from a deep soulful place within yourself. Thank you for your courage and vulnerability. You exemplify many qualities that inspire and delight us.

Mark Brockman
First John, you look quite dashing in the photo.

My mother in law is in a retirement community, your assessment about those who have given up and those who have not is quite correct. My mother in law does nothing but play bingo, she has little curiousity, but then she has always been that way. She was always a spectator never got involved. My lesson from her is to be involved where I can.. Art helps.

As to anger, Andrew Wyeth said he used anger quite a lot to do his paintings. I've channeled it myself on occasion in my work. It helps to relieve the anger and gives the work an interesting mood. But I dislike anger and being angry, so I dispose of it in many ways, one being through my paintings.

Would love to have seen you dance ballet, bet you were good.

Christopher Newell
via have a tree full of Lemons! Can't say a whole lot about your makeup except maybe, in comparison, as an artist, your makeup is superb. When starving becomes an issue I'ii buy a glass of that LemonAde.
well done son!

Ann prins
Loved this article! I am a fan of life long learning - I have always been a learner and I keep on reading, painting, traveling as long as I can. I believe in enjoying life as much as I can - one gets what one gets out of life by being positive and using anger in positive ways !

Over 30 years ago a friend talked me into taking sailing lessons. I thought I was signing up for holding a rope on a big thing, it turned out to be a one person Laser. Now I am very dyslexic, Have little sense of balance and don't like water, especially cold Canadian lake water. I spent a lot of time in the water getting that boat upright AGAIN. On the last day we had to sail out and tack back against the wind. It was a miserable, cold blustery day, I tipped over 6 feet out from the dock. I was wet cold and miserable when the wind caught me again and somehow I ended up far from shore. Then I got angry and I forgot all about left and right and I sailed that bloody boat, tacking close to the wind back to where it was supposed to be and back to the docks. Half way there I realized I was having fun.
I passed the course much to my teachers amazement. "How did you do that? I was going to fail you!" "I got angry and stopped analyzing"

This experience has stood me in good staid for many years. Learning to harness anger and channel it was life changing.

Another great message ,John.
I plan to be in your area this July (no date yet ) but would love to discuss your PACE experience.

Susan King
John, I ALWAYS read your blogs and newsletters because you never fail to inspire and/or entertain.
This was another particularly good offering. Being almost to the "medicare years", it really hit home and I am glad that my natural curiosity will be with me for a long time.
Have a blast in San Diego next month!

John P. Weiss
Thanks one and all for reading my article and commenting. I enjoy everybody's thoughtful feedback. None of us want to feel anger, but it can be channeled into positive outcomes, as many of you noted. I'll be sure to share insights from the Plein Air conference and expo in April (John Buxton-contact me via my website regarding your July visit). Best wishes to all with your creative passions!

Love reading your articles. Yes, turning adversity into positivity can be challenging, but more than often there is always a gift or lesson. I too am one of those life long learners, not yet of age to get courses for free, but learning is my religion.
Hey great shot of you in costume. Good on you for accepting and following through. Keep painting and writing, you are an inspiration.

Lori Woodward
John, you'll enjoy PACE. I attended last year in Tucson (I have family and friends there), so I decided to go and stay a few weeks.

Anyway, it's educational, fun and a great place to meet artists with a great attitude.

Your life sounds a bit like mine did a few years back. I was writing weekly blogs for Fine Art Views and American Artist Magazine's online site. I also was writing 8 or so articles a year for American Artist publications and had my own column. Writing certainly took over and left me little time to paint. AND yes, I do some housework too.

So, do you want to be a writer or a painter? It's hard to do both and excel at both. I know this from experience. I think you're an excellent writer and that's something most artists just don't do.

Going to PACE will most definitely get you interested in painting more often - it did for me. The problem with writing is there are deadlines (a good thing). Painting can easily be put on the back shelf when there are deadlines looming.

I'm not sure what the answer is - I haven't totally figured it out yet. I think you're better at managing your time than I am. It's been interesting and fun to hear about your journey.

Hope PACE is a super good experience for you.

John P. Weiss
Rita- Thanks for the nice remarks. Mark Brockman made me laugh with his "you look quite dashing" comment about the photo.

Lori- Yes, juggling art and writing is a challenge. And I'm also a cartoonist! Ugh. Mostly it comes down to effective time management. All the best to you.

Dot Marion Lewis
Ballet for the people! Good story. Turning frustrated anger into creative energy, is great. Requires some foundation or stability in any case. Not every one can do it.

Thank you very much for another well written article and that hilarious picture of you in character. So very fun.... glad you had the experience and what a story you tell. I myself have often thought about going back to school. I like the online offerings also but miss the personal real life contact. Ain't we lucky... to still have all these wonderful choices!

John P. Weiss
Dot- Yes, some folks have trouble controlling their anger. But when channeled, it can be useful!

Renate- You should go back to school if you're able. There's no substitute for the in classroom discussions and interactions that happen! Thanks for reading.

Dorothy Thompson
Oh yes anger does get me. But I am learning to be angry and then talk to myself - what can I do, what purpose will staying angry serve, and finally, let it go. Move forward without anger, but with a plan and a positive outlook. To do otherwise seems to allow defeat to take the upper hand. Thank you for such a great article! You were a gem to do what you did for your friend!

John P. Weiss
Dorothy- Good for you for talking to yourself when you get angry. You're absolutely right, there's no purpose to staying angry. Letting it go, or channel it into a positive solution, makes more sense. Thanks for reading and commenting here!

Terry Gay Puckett
Please elaborate more about channeling anger. I would like to know how you do it. I need directions, please. I talk myself out of it sometimes, but I would love to know how to direct it into art work.

Frans van Baars
Thank you for your writing about anger I am 80 and started painting prior to comming to the USA in 1956 Did mainly drawing while in the navy,Imet my wive in the early 80 tees Stil painting , She was a sweet young thing 14 years younger,and I thougt that I had found the right person to take care of me in my old age.God had other plans.For the last 23 yearsI am the one taking care of her .My painting slowed ,stopped doing shows etc.and yes I got very angy I also made every excuse that I could think of Then one day I looked around me ,started to folentair in the soup kitchen and began to look at the poverty around me .This made me angry again but this time it was not at myselfbut at the fact that the richest nation in the world had this much poverty in its borders . So my purpos now is to record that poverty in my paintings it releaves my anger has a purpose and in time I am hoping to show it to the I would love to have seen you in the Nutcraccer With thanks Frans van Baars

John P. Weiss
Terry- The way I channel anger is to first isolate WHAT exactly I'm angry about. Sometimes people feel anger but aren't sure what it came from. Second, I ask myself "What's the most productive way to deal with this anger?" The key word there is "productive." For example, if my artwork was turned down for a show, I'd acknowledge that I was angry about the rejection and then see if one of the judges could tell me what I need to work on. Beyond situational anger there is also deeper anger that people have from childhood issues, etc. Therapists can help. The deeper question to ask yourself is, "And now what?" The path forward usually involves action. Some pain we can never escape, but we can learn to live with it and still enjoy life. I hope this helps somewhat.

Frans- You are a good man. In helping your wife and your charitable heart towards the less fortunate. Recording the poverty you see through your art will help bring attention to the need. Best wishes with your art and efforts to combat poverty.

Elizabeth McCambridge
"The surprising value of anger is that, when properly channeled, it can fuel positive action and solutions." Thank you. My husband (the artist) and I enjoy your essays a lot. I have channelled my anger over the political situation into becoming an activist and a lobbyist. I'm at our state capitol twice a week delivering letters, attending rallies, making phone calls, speaking with my Senators and Representatives about the issues that are important to me and recruiting others to do the same. It brings me solace and a feeling of doing something valuable. You have great advice, always, and a style of writing that keeps me reading. Thank you.

John P. Weiss
Elizabeth- Thanks so much for your kind words. Yes, in the arena of politics it's wise to channel your anger into productive action. Contributing to the solutions you believe in rather than complaining from the side lines. And this approach holds true regardless of political orientation. My best to you and your husband.


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