by JM Golder
When I was eleven years old, I read Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Yearling. A best seller in 1938, it tells the story of an American frontier family, living on the edge between wilderness and civilisation. The hero, a boy named Jody, adopts an orphaned fawn, which, in its grace and gentleness, becomes his source of inspiration in a harsh and impoverished life. Later, the deer eats the family's corn crop and Jody's beloved and beleaguered father forces him to kill it. Its death is brutal and bloody, and it stood for the loss of something bigger which I didn't quite understand, and it broke my heart.
That's what started my state of rage. What started yours?
If you're reading this, I'm sure you have one. For most of my life I felt alone in my angry ambiguity toward humanity. I grew up in a middle-class suburb of LA County in the 1970's. I met people whose connection to nature was their horses, chewing dry hay in dusty pens, or their dogs, lonely in their well-fenced yards. People who, like us, spent a week each year of their summer holidays visiting one of America's national and state parks, museums to wildness and poignant symbols of exactly that bigger thing which The Yearling taught me to mourn. Back home, I was a helpless witness as field after field, where I planted apricot kernels or searched for grasshoppers, turned into a housing tract, strip mall or parking lot.
But I never met other people who felt angry about all this. I'm sure there were others. But outside of books, I didn't meet them.
Now, though, everyone is angry, and they are happy to share. Almost every day we hear about a new precious thing we are losing, may lose, or have already lost, and we feel helpless to do anything about it other than share our frustration with our loved ones, on Facebook, in blogs or even on the streets. It might be progress toward equality, on the one hand, or privileged economic or social status, on the other. It might be belief in a future that will be okay to bring a child into, or it might be the right to make decisions about our own bodies. I’ve lost my respect for national institutions, like our university in Cambridge, which has refused to divest from fossil fuels despite overwhelming scientific consensus and passionate student advocacy. Most worrying of all, at least for the future of civilization, I think people have lost their belief in the goodness of their own societies. How can we be good, how can we be enlightened, if our society is destroying the planet? And if we start to believe we are not good, how bad will we become?
Anger can be a horrible and destructive force. When we let go and lash out at those around us we more often than not leave irreparable devastation in our wake. But it can also be lifesaving. When my sister was attacked in an underground car park, her instant reaction was rage. She whacked the perpetrator with her handbag, shouting "How dare you! How dare you!" He ran, and hopefully thought twice before attacking another "helpless" female. I've also never forgotten some advice from a writing workshop with playwright Jaki McCarrick. "Write about what makes you angry," she said. "It's a great motivator."
So I'm back to that pretty deer. Symbol of all that is wild, and other, and from the precarious edges. Symbol of the way humanity sets itself – with deadly force - against nature, yet mourns its loss as we mourn our kin and fellow travellers. Why have we done it? Why do we keep doing it? How do we stop?
I'm mad as hell, and this time - for once, for all, for god’s sake - I don't want the deer to die.