Wednesday, October 22, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: May 29, Mon. 1978 at 9:50 PM

"The date Fri. night that T. set me up with didn't work out. T. said C., the girl I was supposed to be with, was being a bitch about the whole thing. I agree, but what can I say? C. is seeing an ex-preacher or maybe he still is a preacher, who's wife is a lesbian, so C. fucks him. The guy was possibly going to drop by the bar we were at, which was ridiculous because C. was supposed to be with me. I kind of ignored her most of the time she was there, because I had a bad impression of her before I ever met her. C. left and T., D., Todd's date and I went to another bar to play backgammon. I felt totally out of place, but fortunately, I was too drunk to worry about it. T. and D. were displaying signs of affection while I was sitting there like some kind of fool. As it turns out, T. may move in with D., who's 24, while T. is only 20. D. might try and set me up with someone next, but somehow I don't think so. I'm tired of being set up. So much for that."

MANHOOD REDO: I've never really understood dating, probably because I'm reluctant to play the role expected of my gender. And I'm not referring to some 1950s-60s scenario where you rush out of the car to open her door. The show "Mad Men" on AMC seems to suggest that those platitudes and pleasantries were largely superficial, spiked with an undercurrent of misogyny and betrayal - at least in the world of ad men.

When I was in high school, R., a junior when I was a senior, came running out of the school to tell me and a few other guys that he'd told L., a cheerleader in his class he was going out with and someone I went out with a year later, that he "loved" her. It was clear that he only said it for "effect," meaning he didn't really love her; he wanted her to think that he loved her so that she would be enamoured with him. His statement to her befuddled me. At 18, I knew I didn't know what the hell it meant to love someone, was pretty sure he didn't know, and had no idea how long it would take for me to know.

Abby and I never really dated in any official sense. There's a stigma against romantic involvement between friends - too much like a brother/sister relationship, not enough fire, I suppose. But friendship's always been at the base of our connection. I just like hanging out with her. We do that a lot.

Monday, October 20, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: May 22, Mon. 1978 at 10:00 PM

"My dad and I tried to put some windows in our converted garage/playroom today. We are slowly getting the first one put in, but I have reached the conclusion that neither of us are carpenters."

MANHOOD REDO: I haven't been keeping up with the blog. Work has taken over my life these past few months and left little energy for outside projects. I haven't worked on my novel in ages it feels like. Although I have had to find a little time for home repair. A while back a large tree branch smashed through our front porch handrail and knocked off a step during a storm, so I did a temporary patch job.

I don't really remember replacing garage windows as it's described in the above journal excerpt; it's hard for me to believe Dad and I tacked anything this major in terms of home repair. Mainly, I remember working on the cars with him back in the days when you could do that yourself without anything in the way of complex electronic equipment. He taught me how to adjust or change the points and change the plugs, and there's probably something I'm forgetting since it seems like there was a third task. We just wanted to save the money.

He doesn't work on his car anymore and neither do I. Home repair and car maintenance aren't very strong aspects of our masculinity. If I had more time and a friend who lived close by who could mentor me, I'd probably get into it more. I did refurbish the kitchen windows when we had a contractor remodel the kitchen.

I wonder what manly tasks fathers and sons do together nowadays?

Monday, September 15, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: May 21, Sun. 1978 at 7:50 PM

"There was a bomb scare at the Avalanche Journal [newspaper] Saturday. There was no longer any serious danger when I got to work, but you still had to sign in and out. A Pinkerton's security guard made sure you signed in and out (if he was awake he did)."

MANHOOD REDO: I actually remember this incident, although not specifically what it was about. As the person in charge of the newspaper dock at night, I had to sometimes go upstairs to the insert room, and each time before I went up the stairs, I had to sign the form the Pinkerton guard had. While it was initially an out-of-the-ordinary and therefore interesting experience, after two or three times of dealing with the guard, it grew kind of old.

Looking back, I'm wondering why anyone would threaten to bomb the AJ. I suppose something might have been published that pissed someone off, like the time an editorial called the area farmers "goobers," and they completely surrounded the building with their tractors so that none of the AJ trucks could leave to deliver newspapers.

I'm more inclined to wonder, though, whether it was a former employee threatening to "go postal." Masculinity can be a lonely business without much in the way of support. It seems to me that most of the men who have committed workplace violence, lashing out with guns and other weapons in places of previous employment, like Patrick Henry Sherrill, who originated the term when he shot two of his ex-supervisors and then a number of other post office employees, are loners. I can't help but think that if they had a better support system, they might be less inclined to feel all is lost and so there's nothing to lose.

Obviously, they also don't know how to handle their anger.

Some workplace violence is connected to domestic violence - an ex-husband or boyfriend kills a woman at her job. This doesn't surprise me since I would assume that the forces driving men to kill at work are similar to the same forces that drive a man to commit violence at home.

It is overwhemingly men who "go postal," and yet masculinity is rarely connected to the violence. In my view, that is a costly disconnection.

Monday, August 25, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: May 20, Sat.1978 6:45 PM

"I started reading The Notebooks of Thomas Wolfe.He excites me. He became so immersed in the world around him. I have only read You Can't Go Home Again by him. I started The Web and the Rock, got about three-fourths of the way through and wasn't able to finish it. It became too much of a struggle. It also became very boring. You Can't Go Home Again was a much better book; more cohesive. I also have Look Homeward, Angel by Wolfe, but haven't read it yet.

"Received a letter from Ida a few days ago. Surprised the hell out of me. I haven't written her back yet.

"I've decided to start writing poetry again. Hope I'm ready for it now. My past poetry hasn't been too good."

MANHOOD REDO: Looking back, I think I was drawn to the study of literature because it seemed like a way into the world of emotions; I suspect that explains the sentence, "He became so immersed in the world around him." Whereas I felt cut off from the world around me, locked in a frozen emotional state, standing on the board but unable to dive headfirst into the messy human world, stuck in a place of feelings stunted by masculinity, Wolfe in my mind could feel everything, enter fully into his environment. He felt all the pains, darkness, and glories of childhood, captured the rolling emotional states of a town, a community, savored the struggles and transitions into adulthood. He reveled in the complexity and comprehensiveness of a lived life. It all seemed so different, such a nontraditional way for a man to be in the world.

The same applied to writing. I could spill feelings onto the page, whether a journal, a story, a poem. I was reading and writing to save myself, to start the thawing process.

Of course, later in grad school, I learned that the study of literature had its own very traditonally masculine qualities. And it became hard to hold onto that deep-seated emotional revelation in stories. Some twenty-five years after grad school, it's still not as strong as when I first began reading literature on my own in my twenties, although there are flashes of it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: May 20, Sat. 1978 6:45 PM

"J. G. quit working at the Avalanche Journal newspaper. They forced him to quit because he was 67. He's a tough old bastard as far as surviving goes. He was working on his ranch and driving the A. J. country truck at the same time. Now I guess he'll just be working on his ranch."

MANHOOD REDO: Work has long been a key part of male identity, and been a way to prove your masculinity. To not work is to lose your sense of self. To not be successful at work is to fail as a man. This probably explains the men who are workaholics. Of course now that women have become a significant part of the workforce, they have some of the same issues since masculine expectations have defined most of our workplaces - at least those not identified with females.

I don't think J. G. was a workaholic even though he probably worked 12 hour days much of the time. I'm pretty sure he just needed the money. His ranch couldn't have been huge, and I would guess that, in the same way small farmers were struggling, he was being squeezed out as ranching became more corporate. I remember him responding angrily to being pushed to quit. I hadn't ever really thought of him as a cowboy, but that makes sense now. Maybe his black horn-rimmed glasses threw me off. He always wore a cowboy hat and boots. Larry McMurtry wrote an essay called, "Death of the Cowboy" for the New York Reveiw of Books. The trappings of the cowboy life still exist - rodeos, horse riding, the Western gear - but the practice has changed significantly. Most large ranches now incorporate more than just raising cattle into their business portfolio as part of their survival strategy. They've become big business.

J. G. was a cowboy, dying.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: May 20, Sat. 1978 6:45 PM

"I have been busy, but not constructively. G. and I have been doing things together. Swimming, tennis, basketball, watching TV. I spent the night at his house last night because my sister with the mouth was having a slumber party. Twelve eighth grade girls in one place tends to erupts into blatant chaos; so I left.

"There is a Black preacher up at work who says, 'Mornin' gentleman,' every night I see him. He does dealer route 3. A dealer route is the delivery of papers to stores and various racks located throughout a certain section of the city. A couple of Sundays ago we had a very late Sunday run. He didn't leave with his papers till somewhere around 7:00 am. I was wondering if he was going to be able to deliver the papers in time to preach. Everyone was joking about it. W. said, 'He's gonna preach while he's delivering papers. I say brothers and sisters! Just a minute, let me get rid of these papers.'

"This preacher drives a big Continental or something like that. A large, expensive looking red car, and puts the bundles of papers inside it. I wouldn't ruin a car like that that way."

MANHOOD REDO: Lubbock's very segregated; it's easy to stay in your white enclave if you want to. Working the graveyard shift at the newspaper dock, I probably came into contact with more African Americans than the majority of white people in the city. Looking back it seems to me that white youth in Lubbock tended to treat older Black men who didn't have white collar jobs as objects of ridicule. Ican't help but think that's going on in the scenario above. Looking back, I wonder why the preacher needed the route; what did we take for granted about his circumstances? I would guess that D. D., a friend in graduate school who is white but attended an African American church in Lubbock while he was growing up, would not have seen him nor treated him in the same way we did.

Switching to another scene but a related story: I was eating my sack lunch in the Christ the King High School cafeteria, and the guys at the table with me were talking to the Black janitor, telling him that there was a plastic bubble with a hole in it that circled around the earth. I assume that NASA was going to launch a rocket that week, because they said the hole had to be lined up exactly above the launch pad before they could ignite the rocket's engines. He listened politely to their explanation. And of course when he left, they laughed at him.

In both scenarios, I would argue we were imposing a Black masculinity on the preacher and the janitor that was tied to slavery, Sambo, and the minstrel show. We treated them as jokes, not people.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: May 17, Wed., 1978 10:00 PM

"Went swimming today with G. over at his sister, A.'s, apartment. I enjoyed being around the girls at the pool. My nose is sunburned."

MANHOOD REDO: At the time this was written, I think I used to jokingly refer to myself as the bronze Irish god. The sun in West Texas is pretty harsh, and I spent a lot of time in it, got sunburned more than once with blisters on my back. I didn't know about aloe at the time, but how I wish I had. It is a plant whose juice is the miracle cure for burns. Rub it on multiple times over a few hours and the pain and redness disappear. Instead, I spent hours on my stomach trying to sleep and hours during the day trying to keep my shirt from touching my back.

Everyone in their teens and twenties in Lubbock would spend time outside tanning. Every spring, probably sometime in April, the coeds attending Texas Tech University and living in the dorms would line their lawn chairs up outside the dorm building, put on their swimsuits, and spend time the they weren't in classes under the sun trying to turn brown. If you were pale everyone thought you looked sickly. My sister and I would sometimes spend time together tanning in our back yard. I don't remember there being sunblock lotions with SPF numbers, just oils and lotions like Coppertone that were supposed to help you turn brown not red. Since Sunscreen Protection Factor (SPF) was first introduced in 1962 and the height of my tanning period was in the mid- to late 1970s, I suppose it's possible sunblocks were available and I just ignored them. I'm certain that things like tanning beds and booths had yet to be introduced.

I remember looking at my parents pale legs and being fairly grossed out. Of course, now I am my parents. I worry about the sun, especially since my father has had skin cancer appear repeatedly and had to have it removed especially from his ears and nose. Aging can have a way tempering our sense of control and power as men. At 52 I'm feeling a little more vulnerable than I did in my 20s.