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It’s happening again. The generational turnstile is clicking forward a third-rotation, sweeping from mystic Generation X to the text-message tapping, social-media snorting, Obama-loving, Gaga-blasting, vampire-lusting gang that goes by Millenials.

They say Millenials like to make decisions by consensus, with widespread buy-in and an air of wonderful, impossible democracy. They are conversational, and thoughtful, and excellent at holding hundreds of personal relationships. Also, they’re accustomed to positive reinforcement, truckloads of it, slathered on like suntan lotion before an afternoon of poolside Twilight skimming and iPhone gaming.

Personally, my biggest lesson from working with and managing the lot is that you can’t tell them they screwed up directly. It doesn’t work. They draw quiet, and sullen, and sulk; something dies in their soul. It’s far more effective to lay a good hard base of compliments, then scatter constructive comments among a hailstorm of positive reinforcement.

I can’t blame em. It sucks to be told you screwed up.

But the brutal motivational power of failure has, ironically, helped kickstart my career. I’ve been rejected hundreds of times, from literary journals you’ve never heard of, from agents you don’t care about, from publishers you’ve never considered beyond a passing thought. Every time it stings. Every time I put my head down and ram against the wall, a little differently. Eventually it dents, cracks, buckles, and gives way.

Part of that’s my personality: I’m the rambunctious definition of a red-headed Aries. But I also came of age listening to Axl Rose and Chuck D raise unholy hell and watching Arnold Schwarzenegger and Van Damme destroy city blocks. Madonna danced with crucifixes and Sinead O’Connor tore up the pope. Our cultural icons were human battering rams, “no” a word you kicked in the gut before trashing its hotel room.

I failed plenty growing up. Missed a block on a screen pass; bombed a chemistry test; slid a particularly evil insult at a sibling. And people smarter than me–my parents, bosses, teachers, coaches–let me know about it with careful, clear, colorful terminology that stuck in my skin like poison arrowheads. Gearshifts rocketed into sixth, dials whirled up to 11, and I whipped back to work like a provoked rattler, fueled by a deep, scalding, unstoppable anger.

Take my debut novel, The French Revolution. Rejected by 30+ publishers, I was frustrated and peeved. Charged with the simmering rage of powerlessness, I got to work and created a spreadsheet of all the publishers’ feedback and plucked three core nuggets of honest literary criticism from a forest of niceties. Then I spent three months revising the manuscript before re-submitting to more publishers. After a few months passed, and the book wasn’t getting any traction, I released the book on Twitter and made headlines worldwide. Two months later I landed a book deal; The French Revolution was released in easy-to-read hardcopy form a few weeks ago.

I don’t want to be that old fogie moaning about how kids today don’t know their toenails from their asshole. But converting failure into directed fury has been vital for me to pull out of ruts, to run through life’s walls, to get shit done. I feed off the primal, hyperproductive emotional power, and go back to work harder than ever.

So, a reminder: anger can work for you.

Let it.

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Matt Stewart Matt Stewart's debut novel, The French Revolution, has been called "wildly imaginative," "brilliant," and "an excellent achievement" by people he's not related to. He's mildly infamous for posting the book on Twitter first. You can grab his free French Rev iPhone app via his website, Twitter up, Facebook in, or simply share pleasant thoughts.

28 Responses to “Remembering Beautiful Anger”

  1. Art Edwards says:

    Burn whatever fuel you got in the tank.”

    -Gary Busey

    (Not really. Me.)

    Welcome, Matt!

  2. Matt Stewart says:

    Thanks Art. Let’s go flip over some cop cars sometime.

  3. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    My daughter’s world at school is so different than mine was — completely sanitized. Everyone’s a winner in the talent show (and everyone gets to be in it — which explains the boy who rollerskated in circles to “Rocket Man”), everyone gets the same reading award whether they read two books or twenty-two books over the summer, no one keeps score at their soccer games. *sigh* There’s no way these kids are ever going to survive the zombie apocalypse.

    Nice job kicking “no” in the gut. Congrats on the novel and welcome!

  4. Dana says:

    What’s in a name you ask? Esmeralda Van Twinkle – now THAT’s a fucking name!

    Another one to add to the list. Congratulations Matt!

  5. Gloria says:

    I’m a red headed Aries, too!! (To be precise, a red headed Aries with an Aries rising born in the year of the Fire Dragon.) So, I relate to kicks in the teeth being motivators, as well as the power of a “fuck you!” attitude.

    “But converting failure into directed fury has been vital for me to pull out of ruts, to run through life’s walls, to get shit done.” Yes! I love this.

    I am raising two millenials. I am trying really hard to teach them these great old school lessons (pull yourself up by your bootstraps and soldier on!) without making them feel like I don’t understand what ideals they are growing up around. It’s a tough balance.

    This was a great read. :)

  6. Matt Stewart says:

    Hot damn you guys are nice. Thanks for the warm welcome!

  7. Laura Bogart says:

    Welcome, Matt. If I was still teaching, I’d hand out your essay to my students. I worked for a year and a half at the college level, and I was gobsmacked at the level of hand-holding many of my Millenial-aged students expected, and the way they crumbled at the slightest bit of criticism. We’ve created a rather infuriating paradox where everyone expects an A+ and yet nobody knows how to put in the work to earn one. You’ve articulated the value of a good ass-kicking with some real verve and wit. I am going to integrate “kids today don’t know their toenails from their asshole” into my everyday talk.

  8. Zara Potts says:

    Welcome aboard, Matt.

    Wow. I get you. I too am amazed at Gen Y and their inability to take criticism so well. Having said that, who can? But what I think is the biggest difference between ‘them’ and ‘us’ is the expectation that everything should come easy. That they should be instantly promoted, or have a pay rise, or not have to work their way from the bottom up. Plus, they don’t seem to be able to recognise when they themselves have not done a good job.
    I know, that I am always much harder on myself than anyone else, and that has seen me through some tough times and helped stand me in good stead professionally. But I don’t know that Gen Y or the Millenials have the same sense of personal introspection.
    Oh God, listen to me. I sound like an old person. Gah!

  9. Becky Palapala says:

    Hallelujah, amen, and thank you.

    Astrologically speaking, I’m all fire and water, so steam is a way of life. If it can move a train, it must be good for something.

  10. Yes.

    In the pre-Internet days of my adolescence, anger and boredom worked wonders. The mix made us start shitty bands and write shitty poetry and walk around and irritate our shitty neighbors.

    Millenials don’t seem to be too angry, nor are they ever bored. So much to be preoccupied with. But what to look forward to?

    I look forward to reading The French Revolution.

    Cheers,
    JB

  11. sheree says:

    Member of The Jones Generation here. All we had was fury and rage. Worked for me and Joan Jett. Great post. Thanks for the read. Look forward to your future posts and reading your book on the french revolution.

  12. Matt Stewart says:

    Thanks all – let’s get wasted and break stuff. Also, enjoy the book!

  13. Joe Daly says:

    Welcome aboard, Matt. Anger is entirely appropriate for people who know how to use it, as you quite obviously do.

    I was always a big wall puncher. Seemed too rude to hit people, but walls can really take it like champs, yanno? But I learned to never estimate the soothing power of driving a fist through drywall. If anything, you feel like such a jackass when you’re done that you’re no longer angry.

    Looking forward to seeing more of you around here!

  14. Sara H says:

    Hmm… Born in ’83 might put in me in that weird void that is not really Gen X, but definitely not Millenial either (and I have a 6 year old redheaded Aries daughter, so high-five?). But then, I also get cranky about labels.

    Anyway, I’ve always been a big subscriber to the idea that when something isn’t going the way you’d like, quit complaining and do something about it. Go kick ass when necessary, stand tall, stand proud, learn to take a hit. Etc. Etc.

    PS: Welcome!

  15. Simon Smithson says:

    SHUT UP! ALL OF YOU SHUT UP! STOP BEING SO MEAN! WHY ARE YOU BEING SO MEAN?

    Heh.

    I think carrot and stick are both great motivators. It’s a delicate balancing act, to be sure, but at some point, boundaries have to be formed. If everyone wins at everything, all the time, what’s the point in trying? Why create anything?

    At the same time, you want to make sure there’s actually a reward on the other side of gritting your teeth and thinking Well I’ll show you, fucker..

    Welcome to TNB, Matt!

  16. Matt says:

    I’d crack a joke but I’m too busy boiling in the cauldron of my own rage. There truly is something to be said for “fuck this shit–I’m going to kick some ass!” as a motivational force. I mean, seriously–I could stuff a pillow with all the rejection notices I’ve collected, and if I were a millenial, I’d cry myself to sleep on it every night.

    But I’m not. I’m going to create, damn it! Those bastards won’t keep me down!

    By which I mean, welcome aboard, Matt.

  17. dwoz says:

    There’s a famous landmark in Cambridge mass, just off the MIT campus on Massachusetts Ave, A large brick building. In 20 foot high letters, is painted the sign

    “Storage Warehouse
    Fire Proof”

    When you’re sitting at the traffic light waiting to go into Cambridge, part of the sign is cut off by the edge of another building, resulting in:

    “rage Warehouse
    ire Proof”

    …or at least, it USED to be there…it burned down.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Hey dwoz — One year in the mid-sixties I lived on Clark St in Cambridge, just off of Hampshire, near Reardon Sq.

      It was equidistant from the Necco factory and a tire recapping place. Ah the odors, each swapping the other out, both awful. Candy! Rubber! And there was a combination of winds that brought them both together.

      Not sure what this has to do with rage, except my rage at not having enough money not to have to live on Clark St.

      Matt, this is just so you know that even on TNB, threads get hijacked. If you don’t like it, get pissed off.

  18. Matt Stewart says:

    If I get you guys really mad, will you hijack something bigger? Like nytimes.com? Or my subway train?

  19. Matt Stewart says:

    what about hijacking a tweet?

  20. […] the other day, I came across this link while reading an essay online.  It’s a Wall Street Journal article from 2008 about our generation… and […]

  21. I enjoyed what I read I too am an aries fire dragon,just remember not to burn yourself up in those rage induced moments.

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