THE CURMUDGEON PERSONA

W. C. Fields  by  Insomnia Cured Here  is a Creative Commons image licensed under  CC BY-SA 2.0

W. C. Fields by Insomnia Cured Here is a Creative Commons image licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

“Start every day off with a smile and get it over with.”     — W. C. Fields

I have a persona. I am a curmudgeon.

Well, maybe it’s more than a persona. I have been playing the role so long that sometimes it’s hard even for me to tell where the bright, sparkly, pleasant “real me” leaves off and the dark, pessimistic observer and critic of—let’s be honest: just about everything—begins. It may be (and I’m just saying may be) that a drop or two of actual curmudgeonliness have entered my personality and wreaked their corrosive effects. If you play with fire, you run the risk of getting scorched from time to time.

Mostly, though, I think it’s an act. I go over the top sometimes in an effort to increase the comedic effect of my curmudgeoning. (Curmudging?) And comedy is a big part of the point of being a curmudgeon. I like to blow off steam about all the things I find unacceptable or idiotic in our culture, but if I weren’t playing it for laughs, the corrosion would have eaten much deeper by now.

And that’s simply not the case. Below my crusty exterior hides a soft nougat center. I can be very tender and caring (when I’ve had a nap and the barometric pressure is just so), and there are even some people I like and admire. I had somebody tell me recently that I had a very kind face. I asked him to repeat it, because I wanted to get it right. “I’ll tell my wife you said that,” I told him. “She’ll get a kick out it.”

“I’m always on the lookout for something good about people. Often months go by.”
— Andy Rooney

Kindness, however, as admirable a quality as it may be, as high a standard of spiritual development as it represents, simply isn’t funny. Being a curmudgeon is. Or can be, I should say. There are times when the persona wears on me; when the carping and negativity pass a certain point and there is nothing humorous about it. That’s the best indication I have found within myself that I have rounded the corner from curmudgeonliness to bile. Simple, unadulterated, acid-taste-at-the-back-of-your-throat bile. That’s when I know that the germ of anger that provides the edge to the humor has sprouted into something really toxic, and it’s time to back off.

There’s an episode of M*A*S*H in which Sidney Freedman, the Army psychiatrist who was a recurring visitor to the 4077th, is feeling depressed and as a form of self-therapy decides to write a letter to Sigmund Freud. He describes each of the main characters and does a little psychoanalysis on them. When he comes to Hawkeye Pierce, he says, “There’s a link between anger and wit. Anger turned inward is depression. Anger turned sideways is Hawkeye.” That’s the way I like to think about my curmudgeon persona. I know about depression, and I know there is little to nothing funny about it. But, like satire, curmudgeonliness is (or can be) an amusing and creative rather than dark and destructive way of dealing with anger.

This blog is my attempt to put some of my anger-turned-sideways out there in the hopes that it, like good satire, will both make you laugh and make you angry enough at the absurdity and unfairness of life in this world to turn your own anger sideways in creative ways. Together, maybe we can make a difference. Curmudgeons of the world, unite!