Cranky Ann is my workplace alter ego. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that she is my truest self.
It all started a couple of years ago, when a co-worker tweeted this image:
I printed it out and taped it to my desk, and Cranky Ann was born.
Cranky Ann is the vehicle for and receptacle of all my snap judgments, my short temper, my indignant opinions on completely subjective and benign topics.
When I hear myself make one of my patented pronouncements–thoughtfully informed and nuanced statements like, “I hate balloons/Minions/the Charlie Brown Christmas Special–I catch myself. We all laugh and blame Cranky Ann. And if by chance the statement has a dash of utility, a breath of truth interwoven with the cynicism–the classic example is rule #1, “Fruit is not dessert!”–it gets added to Cranky Ann’s Rules for Living. The updated list is periodically printed and displayed on my desk and I try to remember to take it down before distinguished visitors come through the office.
Whatever gets you through the day, right?
Actually, Cranky Ann is really important to me. Her appearance is an outward sign of my relatively recent and hard-won ability to acknowledge, accept, and have a sense of humor about this side of myself.
Those who love me and those who’ve lived with me–not to mention those rare, precious few at the intersection of that Venn diagram–will report that I’ve always been cranky. That’s nothing new. But I used to be a lot, well, crankier about it.
For years, YEARS–like, my whole life–I’d feel guilty and angry about my moodiness, my whiplash opinions, my sharp tongue, my impatience. I shouldn’t feel this way, I shouldn’t be this way…and I certainly shouldn’t show or speak these things out loud. Like Marmee taught Jo in Little Women, I should press my lips together and walk out of the room and carry on rolling bandages or something! But this didn’t really work, either. I’d just be silently and inexplicably raging, always feeling like an irrational failure, and the results were….unpredictable, to say the least.
11 years ago when my dad gave me a t-shirt that said “High Maintenance,” I nearly had a meltdown, thereby proving the t-shirt correct. (The joke might have gone over better if he had obtained a matching shirt for himself. We are, after all, difficult for basically all the same reasons). I had this picture in my head of a super chill, unruffled, content, reasonable person. I believed in this image, and desperately wanted other people to also be convinced of it. And these contortions rendered me entirely unreasonable and, ironically, more difficult to be around.
Today, I think I come off a little colder, a little harsher, a little IDGAF-ier than I used to.
I also have a lot fewer unpredictable rages and crying jags. So that seems like a good trade off.
Being Cranky Ann means being more aware of what pisses me off and why–it’s not such an indiscriminate fog. I can give it a name and I can see it coming. And that is, you know, useful.
Being Cranky Ann means being cool with the fact that annoyance, frustration, displeasure, anger, are among the many acceptable responses to various things that happen. Indeed, sometimes they are the only reasonable responses! And that, perhaps, I am more prone to these reactions than the average bear. And it’s fine to let that show.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t until I got cool with the fact that I’m a bit of a crank and that’s just the way it is, that I felt ready to seriously consider becoming a parent. Before then, I felt inadequate–like I was just failing over and over and over again to be the arbitrarily “better” person I wanted to be.
Also, and more importantly, I didn’t trust myself to be responsible for a small and helpless person when my own reactions to things felt so alien and out of control. Not like a person’s never gonna lose it or have a meltdown–I do, still, sometimes–but I needed to be in a more consistently predictable place–more self aware and able to manage my own shit–before I could hitch a baby to that train.
It turns out not constantly battling and beating down your nature is a good start. And probably also good practice for not battling and beating down someone else’s emergent nature.
And so! If you’re cranky and you know it clap your hands!
OK. Yay! I yam what I yam and all that. But now what?
Being Cranky Ann is a badge of my realization that a person who is moody, prickly, short-tempered, who sometimes says hurtful, thoughtless things can still be loved and liked, valued and valuable. I know this to be true, because in fact I love and like and value other people who embody all of these things (along with their many and varied strengths). I can live with this. I can revel in this.
Being Cranky Ann is not, however, a license to be rude or cruel. And it’s still not a good idea for me to speak aloud every damn thing that comes into my head.
It’s easy for a person like me, with cranky tendencies, to get too cynical and closed-minded. I regret immediately when someone I care about tries to share something with me and I shoot it down–when in fact my snarky opinion on the thing in question wasn’t called for at all. It happens more often than I’d like to admit.
It’s easy for a joke to slip into a habit, which becomes a state of mind.
It’s easy to get into a weird cynical cycle of being negative about other people’s negativity.
Parenting has of course added whole new facets to this–but in ways I didn’t really expect. I feel like I have been crankier than ever lately with everyone except the baby–sometimes falling into straight up shrewish-wife-from-sitcom-territory over, like, laundry and dishes and shit, which is really frightening.
There are many things that come easily to me, but gentleness is not one of them. It takes a lot of effort to sustain and frankly sometimes I just get tired and stop trying. But also, spending a huge amount of emotional energy coaching a baby through her first year changes the way you see other people. I see how she is learning all the time, but how she can’t yet do anything. How frustrated and overcome she gets by the world, but also how she is adapting constantly to make sense of it all. Or, you know, sometimes refusing to, with melodramatic results. It’s amazing and exhausting to participate in. And it leaves me with just no patience for 30-, 40-, 50-year-old people who I now know literally behave like babies. (Even though I recognize this whole post is basically about how I am one of these people)
In other words, sometimes I’m just plum out of gentleness, but other times I’m hoarding it on purpose, thinking, “Why would I treat you, fellow adult, with the same measure of coddling I offer my infant daughter? You, get your shit together and then I won’t have to lose mine.”
But of course there’s more to it than parceling out warmth according to my secret merit-based scale. The way I talk to and treat my husband, my parents, my friends, my co-workers, can’t be separated from the way I talk to and treat my daughter, because she is a witness to all of this. She will learn from my example in all these interactions.
And in fact, Cranky Ann is a model I want her to see. I dream of a home where we can just say what’s on our minds, apologize when we’re wrong, and move on, rather than turning everything back in on ourselves. But sharp words and hasty responses hurt.
Actually, after I remembered that thing above about Marmee pressing her lips together when she is mad, I went back to Little Women and re-read the whole section, which I did not remember in detail…and found it…arresting?:
“ How did you learn to keep still? That is what troubles me— for
the sharp words ﬂy out before I know what I ’m about; and the more
I say the worse I get, till it ’s a pleasure to hurt people’s feelings, and
say dreadful things. Tell me how you do it, Marmee dear.”
“ My good mother used to help me — ”
“ As you do us -— ” interrupted Jo, with a grateful kiss.
“ But I lost her when I was a little older than you are, and for years
had to struggle on alone, for I was too proud to confess my weakness
to any one else. I had a hard time, Jo, and shed a good many bitter
tears over my failures; for, in spite of my efforts, I never seemed to
get on. Then your father came, and I was so happy that I found it
easy to be good. But by and by, when I had four little daughters round
me, and we were poor, then the old trouble began again; for I am not
patient by nature, and it tried me very much to see my children wanting
“ Poor mother! what helped you then?”
“ Your father, Jo. He never loses patience, –never doubts or com-
plains, — but always hopes, and works and waits so cheerfully, that one
is ashamed to do otherwise before him. He helped and comforted me,
and showed me that I must try to practise all the virtues I would have
my little girls possess, for I was their example. It was easier to try
for your sakes than for my own; a startled or surprised look from one
of you, when I spoke sharply, rebuked me more than any words could
have done; and the love, respect, and conﬁdence of my children was
the sweetest reward I could receive for my efforts to be the woman I
would have them copy.”
I mean….not that a 19th-century model of “the sweetness of self-denial and self-control” is exactly what I’m going for. And there’s something unpleasant about Mr. March as model here, since he’s pretty much responsible for the fact that the family’s in ruin, and it’s only because of Marmee’s badassery that anyone gets any oranges for Christmas at all. And who really wants to be Beth when there’s Jo? But still, there’s some stuff here that hits home.
So how to find the balance?
Being Cranky Ann means I don’t feel compelled to agree with, accommodate, be best friends with or number one helper to everyone who approaches me.
Being Cranky Ann means channeling anger, frustration, and indignation into solving problems, not lashing out at people. Which means I still (always) have work to do.
Being Cranky Ann doesn’t get me off the hook. But it does mean I don’t have to do this endless, exhausting work alone and in the dark hoping no one will notice. My friends can laugh at/with me, or call me out, as the situation warrants. I’m more conscious of my habits of mind and patterns of speech and what I’m doing this for, all of which helps.
And finally, being Cranky Ann means holding fast to those few unalienable truths. Fruit is not dessert.