Wednesday, November 28, 2007

JOURNAL EXCERPT: March 30, 1978 8:25 pm

"I did not draw or write again today, and I feel guilty about it as usual. I learned last night at work that J--, a young black man that used to work at the Avalanche Journal [newspaper], was killed in a motorcycle wreck. C-- told me and I was shocked by the crude way he related it. He asked, "Did ya hear 'bout James?" while smacking his fist into his other hand and saying, "splat!" Fortunately, B-- had told me minutes before about the accident, so I wasn't too shocked by C--'s insensitive communication. I liked J-- and was sorry to hear he was killed. Once again, I am aware of how fragile a thing life can be, while at the same time, humans are able to endure extreme physical tragedies. A contradiction, I know."

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

JOURNAL EXCERPT: March 29, 1978, 9:20 PM

"Today was another unproductive day. I wrote nothing; I drew nothing, although I was in a fairly good mood for most of the day. I sent off a letter to I-- G-- [I'm using letters for first and last names] last night before going to work. I went out with I-- while visiting T-- and G-- in San Antonio. She is twenty-eight, six years older than me. She was quiet on the date and to a degree, very unresponsive to me. Personally, I thought I was very funny most of the night, but I am sure she can't help but think of me as a youngster. She lives at home and is not working right now. How in the world does she spend her time. I believe I would go crazy. She wrote her address on a paper napkin from one of the clubs we were at. I didn't even ask her for her address. Gilbert told her I would be too shy to ask her for it, so when I came back from the bathroom, I asked her what she was writing. She handed me her address. Good ol' G--."

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--."