Friday, December 28, 2007
"I'm going to call T-- long distance tonight and see how his long-distance-love-affair is going. He is hooked on a girl named L-- S--. She is a very prim and proper girl, who is destroying his life. T-- just can't handle the type of relationship they have. He loves her, she likes him. T-- is too intense for that sort of relationship. He's going crazy. I would too. When I was in San Antonio he wrote a note and I put on her car for him. And later on he gave her a single red rose. I wouldn't do that sort of shit. I guess I'm not romantic. And I thought I was. I think he ought to dump her. He says she's really messed up though (parent's influence and so on) and he wants to help her. I was the same way with L-- S-- [a different girl, same initials] and look what happened. Nothing. I didn't help her a bit. She's married now. I don't know about happily married. I hope so for her sake. I can't talk to T-- over ten minutes because buying the cassette deck lowered my funds terribly, and I have to save enough money to quit work and go back to school this fall semester."
MANHOOD REDO: I wonder how much this excerpt had to do with something that men are generally disallowed from talking about: how T--'s interest in and intimacy with L-- cut into his and my intimacy (even though he lived in San Antonio, we still talked on the phone regularly and I would visit; when he got involved with L--, all he did was obsess about her). That might partly explain why I thought he ought to dump her.
Hetero men generally are pretty limited in how they're allowed to express fondness for another man because it walks a little too closely to the gay side of the line. It's okay if you're drunk, like in the beer commercials where one guy says to another, "I looove you, man," or on the sports field where you can slap another guy on the butt, or in times of danger and courage.
And yet I formed my most intense bonds with guys before I did with women. T-- was one of them. I'll never forget acting silly with him when we were fifteen, dancing around the pool table in his parent's house in the middle of the night, singing along with George Harrison's "I Dig Love," or all the times we spent the night at each other's houses staying up and talking about anything and everything, what we called our "bullshit sessions." When he moved away from Texas to Virginia at the end of ninth grade I was crushed. We recorded cassette tapes and mailed them to each other instead of letters.
I was talking with Abby, my wife, just a couple days ago about first learning what I wanted in a relationship with a woman through my early relationships with guys like T-- and G--; I wanted someone I enjoyed being around, who enjoyed being around me; someone I wouldn't feel like I had to put on a masculine pose for. I wanted intimacy, honesty, sharing. As a hetero guy, I was never attracted to them the way I am Abby, but the deep fondness was always there and still is.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
"I received my tax return money today, $198. Unfortunately, I can't spend it. Not since I bought the cassette deck. I'm going to put it in the bank Friday with the check from work.
"Didn't do a damn thing today. R-- [a co-worker at the Avalanche Journal Newspaper] came over about 7:30 PM....He brought over a short story he had written a year or two back that I had read when he had written it. The story is bad in my opinion. He thinks it is good, but everyone thinks their first story is good. It's about some guy (6'3", 160 lbs., brown eyes and hair, etc.) in his apartment, drinking a beer. The doorbell rings. A wet, ratty looking girl is at the door. She is a girl he dated years ago, but got married after their affair ended. They have had no connections for the last two years. She wants him back. He takes her back....Their future is in the air....And at the end he implyed their future was favorable. Typical fantasy story. He read my 'A Parade.' I can see where quite a few mistakes in the story are, after discussing it with him, although I wouldn't admit it, and actually, he didn't pick out the mistakes. He just made me look a little closer at the story, although he probably wasn't aware of it. I'm going to have to rewrite the damn thing now.
"Still reading, The Child from the Sea. On page 62. Only 576 pages to go."
MANHOOD REDO: It's hard not to read this excerpt in light of the previous blog entry, only I'm not angry here, I'm snarky and dismissive. If traditional masculinity is partly dependent on proving you are better than other men, women, etc., then it seems to me that I'm proving to myself that my writing is better than R--'s. There's another instance I can think of, public rather than private, when I displayed the same sort of attitude toward someone else's writing. In grad school, a creative writing class I had signed up for was open to the community. A woman in her 60s had enrolled; it was her first creative writing course, while most if not all of the grad students had taken similar courses as undergrads. She had a backlog of material and kept submitting story after story and poem after poem, until all of the rest of the class grew tired of reading her writing and making similar suggestions again and again. During one class I had come up with a Freudian interpretation of one of her short stories - there was a scene involving bombs falling into a harbor, etc. - that I knew would bother her. When I shared it in class, it was clear to her and everyone else that I was ridiculing her story. She started crying but told everyone it was allergies. Later she wrote a poem about a buffalo herd, the young buffalo leading the way and the older buffalo being left behind.
Not one of my prouder moments. If I had it to do over again, I'd be more supportive and generous with R-- and would do the same with the woman in the creative writing class, but also go the professor to see if he might ask her to slow down her submissions, maybe rewrite something the class had already given her feedback about.
It's hard to support others when your masculine status and self-worth continually and so easily feel threatened. Instead, you act in ugly ways to prove your superiority, in my case with language. In the end, it's not even a particularly good way to support yourself.
Monday, December 24, 2007
"I also wrote a little today on the same story as yesterday, and I was going really well, when interupted by my mother. She wanted me to go pick up J-- [my sister]. I got quite mad. When I came back after picking up J--, I didn't feel like writing, so I read."
MANHOOD REDO: I'm writing this blog entry on Christmas Eve a little while before dinner. My relationship with this holiday has dramatically changed the past few years. My partner and I no longer exchange presents; instead, I've started taking off the last week of December (she's a university professor and not teaching then) so the two of us can share some quality together time at the end of the year. A little extra quality time with her is gift enough for me.
On the other hand, I didn't particularly want to spend any time with the above journal entry. In fact, I had initially decided to pass over this excerpt and choose the passage under it about helping a friend and co-worker at the Avalanche Journal who was in a band named TNT. He needed to move their equipment out of the show band van into the beauty parlor where they practiced because the starter on the van had gone out. I would have been much more comfortable writing about that than what seems to me now a childish and petulant reaction to my mother's request. It reminds me of those moments in junior high when she took me clothes shopping, and embarassed to be seen with her at the mall, I walked two or three feet behind her. That's the age when the pressure intensifies to disassociate yourself from mom and the likelihood of her becoming an object of scorn increases. I wonder whether that's culturally specific? Surely there must be cultures where masculinity isn't predicated on non-identification with the mother (not to imply that's all it's based on)?
Even as I write now it's hard to admit that at 22 I wasn't my own man, that my mother could come into my room and demand I drop what I was doing. But in the spirit of the holiday, I'm going to make as generous an interpretation as I can of both her actions and mine. I probably assumed that she just didn't want to bother to pick up my sister, but looking back, I'm certain her motivations were much more complicated than that. The possiblity that I comprehended the depth of her family responsibilities seems small; it was more likely that I took her for granted. That issue had come up in the recent past; a few years before I wrote the above journal entry she had left the house to check into a hotel because she felt much of what she did at home went unappreciated and we didn't help her enough.
While there were gender dynamics at play between the two of us, they don't capture the entirety of our conflict. When she interrupted my writing, I wasn't angry because this was my time to work and how dare she intrude on it. No, it had much more to do with my overwhelming struggle to put anything down on paper, as is evident in journal entry after journal entry. How many times do I write, "I wrote nothing today"? It was so difficult because I had no reason to take myself seriously as a writer. I had published nothing, taken no classes, hadn't even read much literature. No one read the little I had written and exclaimed how much they loved it, how talented I was, how I would become the next James Agee! (I could've used Hemingway or Fitzgerald, but A Death in the Family is one of my favorite books.) Carving out time to sit at a desk and put pen to paper (no computer then) felt preposterous, felt like putting on a Halloween costume so I would at least be dressed like Mark Twain even if I couldn't write like him. It was already difficult for me to take myself seriously as a writer, and when my mother came in and asked me to pick up J--, I probably felt she also didn't take my writing impulses seriously.
If I had a Christmas redo wish (wouldn't it be nice to have my own personal Jambi? We watched the Pee-wee Christmas Special on video this past Saturday), it would go something like this: I wish the both of us, my mother and me, better skills to practice mutual empathy and understanding on that day so long ago in April 1978. While I'm at it, I'll extend that wish to anybody and everybody at any and all times.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
"Secondly, and perhaps more interesting, I received a letter from I-- today. I was surprised. The letter is nothing like I expected. She is exceptionally friendly in her letter. She says,
'I'm glad you enjoyed the other night. I did to. (too) I was really surprized (surprised) to hear from you so soon. I wasn't expecting it. Boy, that's really great drawing. I love to draw cartoons to. (too)'"
MANHOOD REDO: If it's not clear by now, I have never been a player; if my life depended on my ability to play women, I'd be in deep trouble. If traditional heterosexual masculinity is based on a man's skill at attracting and using women for sexual gratification, I'm one piss poor example of a traditional heterosexual male. So Jack in the story I was working on could undoubtedly be considered a stand-in for me. It might be easy to attribute this deficit to my looks; I'm not Tom Cruise or Heath Ledger or who ever else you want to fill in the blank kind of handsome. It's not that I'm unattractive, I just don't have those rugged chiseled looks associated with the Marlboro Man. How many of us men do?
I'm going to spin things in a different direction, though, and claim that this inability to be a player wasn't a matter of lacking skills or looks; instead, it was an active decision not to relate to women that way because I knew I wanted something different - someone I could hang out with and not get tired of it, someone I could be silly with, stupid with, smart with, serious with, sublime with, sad with. And yet I was being bombarded with messages telling me to be with as many women as possible. I'll always remember Wilt Chamberlain talking about sleeping with 20,000 women. And yet what we don't hear about is that in his last interview at the end of his life he said that he'd found out "having one woman a thousand different times is much more satisfying."
I'm not making a moral judgement about sleeping with numerous partners; as long as it's consensual and safe, I have no problem with it. But I am saying it would be nice to broaden the strictures of masculinity to include young men who desire sustained, caring relationships. And there are plenty of men like that. They just have a hard time admitting it.
So, I was one confused 22-year-old when it came to women and sex, my head swimming with all sorts of impulses, conflicts, and tensions that I didn't have a clue how to sort out.
Monday, December 10, 2007
"I initiated a running program for myself today. I walked down to Higgenb-- Park, ran around it once (sprinting at the end) and walked back. I plan to do it every night at about 8:00 or 8:30. Walking at night in running clothes seems strange with all the cars whizzing by, kids outside running around yelling, and dogs barking. Everyone usually seems so alienated and they usually are, tucked away safe inside their houses, their warm snug coves. The second they emerge from their caves, I prepare myself for a confrontation. Even if nothing is said a confrontation takes place. They see you walking by, think how unusual it is and you know they think it is strange. They just don't see a person walking by their house by himself at 8:00 pm. I am sorry to say that I don't know any of our neighbors, any where on our street. I guess there is no need to be friendly with your neighbors any more.
Writing about this journal excerpt makes me miss G--. I wish I knew where he is, so I could call him long distance.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
I keep thinking about the March 30th journal excerpt and the fact that J--, the co-worker killed in a motorcycle accident, was black. Would that explain C--'s crass communication of his death? If it had been one of the white workers who had died in the same way, would C--, white himself, have conveyed the information in a similar manner? And what about me? Would it have had more impact on me if he had been white?
I keep struggling with the ideas of "masculinities" because it seems so amorphous that I can't wrap my head around it. It's easy to say that when you add whiteness to masculinity or blackness, it becomes racially pluralized. And maybe those differences were at play some 22 years ago on the newspaper dock, but it becomes even more complicated when you consider that there's no one whiteness or blackness. So you have whitenesses and masculinities, for instance, mixing in unpredictable and blurry ways.
I'll undoubtedly keeping trying to make more sense of those pluralities, but for now onto the excerpt:
"Woke up about 1:30 pm today. I didn't feel like drawing or writing, so I decided to go to some bookstores to try and add to my collections of Gor, Dray Prescot and Tarzan books. Mom and Linda went with me. We first went to a nursery (plants) out by the South Plains Mall. Mom had seen some hanging plants that she wanted to buy there. I had to loan her $20 so she could buy one. Dad had come with her the first time she saw the plants, but wouldn't let her buy any. We then went to Trails End Bookstore. The science fiction books there are about 1/3 higher that the rest of the books. That's ridiculous. I doubt if I'll be going there much more. I don't like the place, even though I've given them much business in the past. We checked out a new used bookstore on Ave. Q and it was pitiful. No selection at all. They also sold tools in the bookstore. Tools and books, what a combination. The proprietor smoked cigars, so the store really stunk. Then we went to the Book Rack once again. I love their 20 cents and 10 cents shelves. There is nothing better than getting a book, even if it is a little beat up, for 20 cents."
MANHOOD REDO: Where to start? First of all, I had never been much of a reader until up to this point, unless you count comic books, which I consumed voraciously (when I write about 'giving Trails End much business in the past,' it was in reference to buying stacks of used comics for a nickel each, then taking them back to trade two-for-one), so my masculinity had not been defined by book or school intelligence. At this point in my life, I had dropped out of college after attending for two years, my overall grade point dropping to a 1.93. I had never been studious, never made more than adequate grades that sometimes slipped into the D range, although never F. Everyone thought I was smart enough; I just didn't, as my seventh grade reading teacher said, apply myself.
Nowadays there's considerable discussion about how schools fail to help boys, that too many of them, compared to girls, do poorly. That seems overly simplistic to me and overlooks the ways masculinity often does a disservice to boys in the educational system. I know that I had the typical attitude prevelant in West Texas but also elsewhere: booklearning was, in the language of now, for punks. I already had strikes against me when it came to performing a cool masculine poise; I didn't want to add to them.
It took me a long time to overcome this attitude, so much so that when I returned to school and eventually went on to get graduate degrees, when I made nothing but As in classes, when I became passionate about literature, writing, and rhetoric, I kept thinking, I can do this but I'm not a true academic. I want a masculinity that allows boys the freedom to learn, to hold onto their deep-seated curiosities and desires to know that start the minute they're born.
Monday, December 3, 2007
MANHOOD REDO: It's strange to read this now, especially since I turned 52 this past Friday. I'm struck by how my father and I are alike - at least in some ways - because although I don't run, I do walk most days to the metro stop on the green line, about a half hour, and then another fifteen minutes to the Men Can Stop Rape office, totaling about an hour-and-a-half to and from work.
I find men aging interesting, partly because I'm experiencing it myself, but also because the older you get, the harder and harder it is to keep up the invulnerable act. There was an article in the Washington Post today, "The Old, Hard Facts: Facing Up to Aging, Not Bowing to It," by Charles Wright, an ocotgenarian, in which he writes about his knee giving him trouble, needing cataract surgery, having balance problems, and various other ailments. They don't start when you're in your eighties. In my early fifties, I sometimes have benign vertigo, I have to put eyedrops in every night to keep my eye pressure down, I don't run like my father did because my knees couldn't take it, I have to do back exercises every morning to keep from injuring it again, and I have glucose intolerance (similar to Type II diabetes, only it's controlled through diet and exercise without medication). You might not bow to aging, but there are certainly times when it bends you.
And yet I wouldn't want to be twenty-two again. I'm less confused now, more comfortable with who I am, with who I want to be, and with the more humane and tempered masculinity I've chosen to live now.
Sunday, December 2, 2007
MANHOOD REDO: Steve Martin is a Kennedy Center Honoree this month; there was an article in today's Washington Post about his career. When I saw him -- at Texas Tech University, I think -- he was still in his banjo, white suit, arrow-through-the-head phase. I can't remember whether he'd already been on Saturday Night Live. I appreciated his sense of humor because he didn't wield it like a knife. The only time I can remember him being caustic and cutting during the evening was his reaction to a heckler when he said, "I remember when I had my first beer," and I felt he had good cause.
In the world of traditional masculinity, it's not unusual for humor to be used as weapon, and then when someone complains that it's hurtful, accuse her or him or them of not having a sense of humor. I learned how to wield that weapon, and used it especially in graduate school, but I've never been comfortable with it, which explains why my efforts to be funny have been categorized by others as self-deprecating. In my early teens, I loved reading more than any other the Marvel comics that spoofed Spiderman, X-Men, Daredevil, Ironman, and all the other superheroes who made up the Marvel canon. Later on in high school and college, I drew a comic strip called Starman (before there was a TV show called Starman), a superhero who gained the ability to float and twinkle after sprinkling ashes (he thought they were pepper) from a Grecian urn over his scrambled eggs. It was kind of Charlie Brown becomes part of the superhero world. I used the same formula to create Anti-Rape Man: Henry Niemeyer, a mild-mannered children's book writer, who in the hospital wing with a clandestine feminist laboratory, accidentally gains superpowers to prevent sexual violence while searching for a restroom after drinking too much hospital coffee. What better way to spoof aspects of masculinity as they've been traditionally represented in the comics?
Of course, the sixties Batman did it long before I ever did. I am sure it was an influence on me as well.
You can find the link to "The Saga of Anti-Rape Man" in the links section of this blog.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
MANHOOD REDO: What about the end of this excerpt where at the age of twenty-two I present myself as wise and knowledgeable about death and the human condition? It seems I was trying to approximate what I thought was a literary, writerly voice, but much like traditional masculinity, it was a performance. I undoubtedly felt pressure to sound more erudite than I was, just as with manhood there's pressure to perform toughness and control.
Why didn't I write about a priest who was a close friend of our family, who would come over every week to drink scotch, smoke cigars, and play cards with us, who would shower everyone with compliments and generosity, who would buy German sausage and bring it over to fix, who would play basketball with me in our driveway and ping pong in the garage, who talked with me about my music and shared his, who was the best gift-giver I've ever known, who was one of the most important role models in my life and still is, who never said anything negative about anyone - until he became sick with cancer. He was a big man and lost a lot of weight, his hair turning gray. When he was in the hospital and I sat alone in the room with him, he asked me to empty his full catheter bag, which I did. I found the task unpleasant, and yet I never felt closer to him than at that moment.
He had passed away sometime during the year before I wrote the above journal entry excerpt. I couldn't produce any tears when my mother called and told me, stuck as I was in the cliche that men don't cry. I jumped in my Custom Ford and drove around Lubbock, angry, beating the steering wheel, yelling and cursing at the top of my lungs, until I grew hoarse. Now, as I write about it, though, I'm starting to tear up.
What if we men stopped performing? Wouldn't it be a relief?
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Manhood Redo: The photo to the lower right is me now, presenting to Western State College of Colorado football players as part of my work at Men Can Stop Rape. At 52, it's hard to go back some 30 years and revisit myself at 22. The above excerpt is from the first journal entry in the first journal I kept. It was written on a yellow legal notepad, usually at night sometime between 8 - 9 pm since I had to leave for the Lubbock Avalanche Journal newspaper, where I worked the graveyard shift on the dock. I had dropped out of Texas Tech University after two years because I couldn't make sense of why I was there; the 'unproductive day' comment at the beginning refers to the fact that I fancied myself a burgeoning writer and tried to put pen to paper every day, although I had never written much of anything before except comic strips and a poem about pirates in fourth grade.
Later in the entry I write "I keep listening for Paul McCartney's new song 'With a Little Luck' on the radio, but rarely hear it." I suppose in some sense the Beatles were my masculine role models; I discovered them late, about the time they broke up, and remember watching the 1971 Grammys because "Let It Be" was nominated. Paul went up to the podium to receive the award dressed in a dark T-shirt, suit, and tennis shoes, and I thought, "That's how I want to be." I knew people would look at me and never think, "He's a guy's guy. Good looking, athletic, and confident." You can read the above journal excerpt and that's immediately clear. I tried a stint of flag football in seventh grade, but after getting in for one play as a defensive end and the ball carrier running away from my side of the field, I gave up pigskin aspirations. And after three years of playing high school basketball as the "sixth man" at Christ the King High School in Lubbock (there were something like 60 or 70 students in the entire high school), it became clear to me that I didn't have a college career on the court.
So, I suppose I thought I had a better shot at a masculinity that's embodied by an irreverent, cool wittiness. I drew cartoons, which made me at least marginally cool and funny, if I managed to come up with some good strips (I drew for the high school newspaper and in the early 80s, created two strips for the Texas Tech student newspaper).
But at 22, I wasn't accomplished or polished or poised, like Paul, John, George, and Ringo. I was still very much struggling to figure out what kind of man I could be and wanted to be, although I doubt I would have admitted that to anyone, had I even been conscious enough of this struggle to articulate it.
My struggle now is to find ways to be friends with that 22-year old who would write something like, "Good ol' G--."