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.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: May 14, Sun. 1978 8:35 PM

"I had a big arguement [sic] with W. T. at work last night. Two high school seniors flattened two tires on this guy's pickup. The guy is named R., and he works upstairs in the mailroom. W. said it was just 'hell raisin,' and I said it was damn stupid....W. didn't flatten the tires, but he didn't think it was wrong to flatten the tires either."

MANHOOD REDO: I haven't had my laptop for a while, which explains the break in this blog. Finally, it's returned home safe and sound and fully functioning, so I'm back to doing Manhood Redo.

I was always a fairly cautious "hell raiser," maybe because I was generally afraid of getting myself in risky situations - not that I would have characterized myself as a "chickenshit," a term used in Texas while I was growing up. I thought paying attention to my fear informed my actions in ways that benefited me. I know the typical masculine ideal of hell raisin' is more in line with W. T.'s up above because it's considered fun, but I never quite looked at it that way. And I actually think that it's only a small minority of guys who do things like flatten two tires on someone's pickup. Most of us don't care to carry things too far. It's just that those who do draw a lot of attention. My "boys will be boys" acts were less dramatic. I tended to empathize with the person being targeted too much to do some damage, which explains why I'd go along with friends who were toilet papering someone's house but wouldn't participate.

A perfect example: a friend, T. C., and I snuck over to D. S.'s house during the middle of the night with a can of car wax. D. S. was someone our age who owned a fairly sporty car, maybe a Camero or something like that. All I can remember is that it was red. We parked our car down the block and when we entered his driveway crouched and tried to stay in the shadows since there were still lights on in the house. Once we reached the car there was just enough light to see, so we pulled out a piece of cloth, open the car wax can, and wrote in large letters on the hood, "Just eat a big one" with the wax. If we wanted to really hell raise, we probably would've done it with paint. We knew that it would be readable once the wax dried but wanted to make sure it could be wiped away (even though it would probably still be faintly present). I don't know how he knew we did it, but he confronted us the next day, and I think we confessed. He laughed about it.

I imagine there are plenty of examples of guys hell raisin' in ways that lead to less lasting and extreme consequences. We just don't hear about them, but it would probably be good if we did so that we could construct a whole different understanding of raisin' hell.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: May 12, Fri. 1978

Played tennis with G., T. (G.'s younger brother) and R. L. about 9:00 PM. Didn't have to go into work tonight. Then we went out to the strip, bought a six-pack of beer each, and went over to R.'s parents' house. His parents were out of town. R. lives at home. Left about 2:00 AM and went to G.'s. Came home and went to bed about 3:00 AM."

MANHOOD REDO: If you're not going to a bar or club, the strip is where you buy liquor in Lubbock. You can't get a six-pack inside the city limits. There's a photo of the strip up above. At night it's like a dramatically downscaled Las Vegas with neon signs lighting up the West Texas dark. Up until 1972 when Lubbock legalized liquor by the drink within the city limits, it was the largest dry county in the country. I turned 18 in 1973, the legal drinking age then, so I was able to take advantage of all the clubs that quickly popped up inside the city. The most famous Lubbock club before liquor by the drink passed was the Cotton Club, about 15 miles east of the city limits. Elvis, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Willie Nelson, and a host of others played there; supposedly it was the only place a musician could play anywhere between Dallas and Los Angeles and make any money. At the Cotton Club it was bring your own bottle. Once liquor by the drink was legalized, places like the Cotton Club started to fade. You no longer had to drive halfway to Slaton to hear music and drink. You could drive 10 or 15 minutes and buy all the beer and booze you wanted, then dance to the latest songs played by a DJ.

Beer was a strong part of my masculine makeup. When I developed Type II Diabetes and kept trying to drink the way I had been, I felt like crap, so I stopped. Not until recently did I decide it's okay to have a beer with a meal, and I admit that I really enjoy it. I won't say that drinking now isn't at all connected to manhood, but I can't for the life of me imagine driving to a liquor store with two or three male friends, each of us buying a six-pack, and then going somewhere to drink them.

Monday, June 30, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: May 11 Thurs. 1978

"J. B. brought those three books [referred to in the May 5 Journal Excerpt] to work. They were Making U-Hoo, Unwary Heart, and Me Natalie. All I can say is her intentions were good.

"Saw an accident (already crashed, police there, etc.) on way home from work. Someone ran into a pole."

MANHOOD REDO: I have to admit that the three book titles make me curious. After doing some digging around on the web, I found out that Making U-Hoo, which sounds like a corny romance novel trying to imitate a 1930s or 1940s movie is actually a mystery by Irving A. Greenfield. He might not have been a well respected author since he doesn't have his own website and he's not listed in Wikipedia, but he wrote a lot of books, and a used hardback of Making U-Hoo is being sold on for over 78 pounds and the U. S. Amazon for over $100. You can buy the paperback for $2.90, though. So I'm not sure what to make of him.

I would guess that Me Natalie was a novelization of the movie by the same name, which there is a Wikipedia entry on. It's a 1969 dramedy directed by Fred Coe, in which Natalie, played by Patty Duke, feels she is an ugly duckling. Her father hatches a plan to marry her; she finds out that it's a set up and leaves home for Greenwich Village, where she becomes a cocktail waitress, lives the bohemian lifestyle, and gets involved with a married man. When she finds out he's married, she considers suicide, but he convinces her she's beautiful and worthwhile. I'm tempted to see if it's available on Netflix.

The last book, Unwary Heart, was a Harlequin Romance, I believe, by Anne Hampson. It looks like Ms. Hampson wrote a lot of books. That's really all I can say about her.

Even today it would be embarrassing to have a romance novel in my possession. I'd rather read a feminist book interpreting romance novels. That more clearly fits into my picture of myself. And I would be willing to see Me Natalie but not read it. Lastly, I wouldn't be inclined to read Greenfield's mystery unless it did some interesting genre-bending.

And yet there was a time when I read all these sorts of books. When I first started reading something other than comic books, I poured over everything I could get my hands on. There was no distinction between literary fiction and popular fiction. I even read a few romance novels because I was curious about them, so if I'm honest, it's really not so easy or straight forward to think of myself as a man who has never identified with these kinds of books. I remember enjoying Frank G. Slaughter novels, staying up all night reading them.

If developing a healthy masculinity is in part about reclaiming parts of ourselves as men that we've supressed or had supressed, maybe it would be worth considering finding a way to claim these novels J. B. gave me - or at least what they represent.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: May 9, Tues. 1978 9:45 PM

"G. came back today. I helped him unpack all his furniture etc."

Manhood Redo:
I'm surprised that such a big event merited such little text. I don't even sound the least little excited. Given the kind of loneliness I was experiencing and have written about in earlier blog entries, you'd think I would have been thrilled, overjoyed, ebullient. But G.'s move back sounds routine, almost something to take for granted.

Sometimes I resent the hell out of masculinity - for instance, when it tamps down joy I might be feeling, and I mean a silly, happy, almost giddy joy about people and events. I've kept the full extent of my emotions - both exhilaration and sorrow - under wraps for so long that it still can be hard to not only express them but also to find a way into them. Someone at work told me I'm hard to excite; maybe that's true based on what I'm seeing today in this journal excerpt. Although it might be more the case that I have excitement bubbling up in me and am cautious about expressing it. I'm trying to think about both what forms of excitement are sanctioned by traditional masculinity and what aren't. Obviously, it's okay to get excited about sports if you're a guy. You can yell and scream and jump up and down and cry if your team loses. But had I jumped up and down and screamed in excitement about G. moving back to Lubbock, I can't help but think that people would've looked at me either like I was crazy or thought I was gay. So even in the journal I was keeping at the time, even in a personal and private space where I might have felt free to express what I didn't feel free to express elsewhere, I'm restrained.

Let me try to be a little unrestrained now. The last time I saw G. was maybe 20 or so years ago in Lubbock. I had tried to track him down a couple times over the web but never had any success - until about a month ago. He had been on my mind, perhaps because of this blog, so I just on the spur of the moment decided to try one more time since it had been quite a few years since the last time I checked the web. I had little in the way of expectations, so I was shocked when a photo of him turned up. He looked just about the same, except his hair had turned completely gray. He's in a covers band now. When we were friends years ago, he dabbled with the piano, and the two of us would sing Beatles tunes along with his car cassette player as we drove back and forth from Lubbock and San Antonio, but I never would've predicted he'd be playing keyboard and sharing lead vocals, singing anything from the Texas Tornadoes to the Temptations. I don't know if he sings lead on "YMCA" but that I would like to hear, maybe even dance to.

He's in the Southwest but no longer in Lubbock; he hasn't been there for a long while. I'm not sure what will come of our getting back in touch since we're far apart, there is a lot that's happened since we last saw each other, and we're both busy, but it's exciting to have him in my life again, even if only in a minimal way. He's someone who's had a significant impact on my life. I was best man at his wedding. We worked on a comic strip together and tried to syndicate it. We went camping for almost three weeks, driving from Texas to Oregon and back. We shared and critiqued our creative writing. We read our favorite poems to each other.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: May 7, Sun. 1978 11:10 PM

"No insert tonight, so I don't have to go in [to work on the newspaper dock] till 12:00 AM. Just finished recording Emerson, Lake, and Palmer on the King Biscuit Flower Hour. Recorded them on one of the Scotch tapes. Sounds fantastic.

"Slowly reading Moby Dick. On page 150.

"Didn't get off work last night till 8:30 AM. Presses couldn't start until the results from the governor, senatorial, etc. elections were in, so they didn't start running till 3:30 AM. I'll be glad when I quit."

"I received notice yesterday that I had been readmitted to Texas Tech, so it's official now. Back to school again. I'm going to major in English lit."

MANHOOD REDO: By this point I was very ready to leave the Avalanche Journal newspaper dock behind. Material and monetary success are very much a part of traditional masculinity, and while I have never been one to place high value on either, I knew that I could only work the dock for a limited time before I would be seen as one of those guys who never had any drive, who failed to live up to his potential. Plus, I had been connected to the AJ for quite a while.

I had started working their when I was a senior in high school - first as a city newspaper driver, which meant I delivered papers to some of the carriers in Lubbock in a particular area of the city. There were probably 10 to 12 of us, and since the AJ had a morning and afternoon edition, we had to make deliveries twice. Usually, about a half hour before the city bundles would be ready to start coming down the chute - sometime between 2 to 3 am - we would receive a call telling us to come in. I roomed with T. my first semester of college, and I don't know how he managed to sleep through the phone ringing in the middle of the night. In the afternoon, we had to arrive at the dock about 2:30 or 3 pm. This lasted for about a year before I started working the dock, eventually becoming dock foreman. I was responsible for overseeing the other dock workers, for making sure that the bundles of papers ended up in the right country and city trucks, and for stacking the bundles for the car carriers on the dock.

I dropped out of college after my second year and went to work for a small print press, which I generally hated, especially when I had to stack inserts on wooden pallets. They came off the press in batches of 25 for the local Piggly Wiggly grocery stores, and I would purposely take my time stacking so that the inserts backed up, jamming the track, and someone would have to come over to help me keep up. After about nine months, I'd had all I could take and decided to quit, making plans to return to college. They hired a Vietnamese immigrant in my place who was more than happy to stack Piggly Wiggly inserts on a pallet, which made me feel sort of like a snotty nosed, entitled college kid, even though I wasn't exactly yet.

The timing was such that I wouldn't be able to start until the fall semester, which was some months away, so I had to find work in the meantime. I really didn't have a sense of where to start looking, and even though it felt kind of humiliating, I thought the easiest thing to do would be to go back to the Avalanche Journal, although I didn't know whether there would be a job available. But the AJ dock always had a lot of turnover, so I started almost right away. Many of the same people were there, and they were happier to see me that I was them. I knew that my time would be limited, since I planned on quitting when I returned to school.

I had some sense that a degree in English literature might give me a little more merit and status in the world than the position of dock foreman at the Avalanche Journal, but I couldn't have told anyone how since I only chose that major because I had discovered I liked to read and I wanted to write creatively - not exactly a well planned career path.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: May 5, Fri. 1978

"I am at work, standing by the ramp. J. B., the only woman country truck driver, walks up to me. I didn't feel like talking to anyone.

"'Hey, Pat,' she says. 'I was gonna bring you some paperbacks tonight, but I forgot about 'em.'

"I think I said, 'Really?'

"'I went into my bedroom to get 'em, and I forgot what I went in there foar when I got there. There was these paperbacks on the dresser.'

"I couldn't think of anything to say.

"W. W., another truck driver, said, 'I'm glad to see I'm not the only one that does that.'

"'I don't do it all the time, ' J. says. 'But I went in there and forgot what I went in there foar. I'll bring 'em sometime.'

"I still couldn't think of anything to say.

"She walks off."

MANHOOD REDO: This excerpt seems like a follow up to the previous one where I tried to tape country truck drivers talking on the Avalanche Journal newspaper dock without them knowing it, only instead of recording on a cassette, I'm recording the conversation on paper from memory. Like a number of journal entries, this one's a little embarrassing to read, partly because of the "foar," which appears twice and sticks out like a sore thumb. It more than anything else takes the dialogue in a direction I would avoid now, playing as it does on the stereotypes of hillbilly dialect that signal a lack of education. In my memory J. was just about as nice as could be, always thinking of others, as this excerpt suggests, and yet what I wrote seems to carry some unspoken disdain for her. Replace the "foar" with "for" and I think you have dialogue that's more internally consistent and coherent - and less judgmental.

Not only do I think the above journal excerpt has to do with the insecurities of my own newly found desire to be "educated" (I had dropped out of college after the second year and reapplied for admission to Texas Tech University just a little over a week before I wrote down the conversation), it probably had something to do with the fact that J. was the only female country truck driver. She worked in a very masculine world and held her own, but to my my twenty-something self she always seemed a little out of place, providing me with another reason to dismiss her.

I never bothered to find out why she was working on the grave yard shift driving miles and miles by herself most nights of the week delivering bundles of newspapers to small towns in the region around Lubbock.

My loss.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: May 3, Wed. 1978

"Took a cassette player to work to try and record some dialogue. Didn't work too well. I didn't want anyone to know I was recording them, because it might have made them nervous, so I hid it in my coat. Didn't work too well at all."

MANHOOD REDO: I suppose I was intending to use the cassette player as a means of advancing my creative writing skills by studying actual moments of conversation so that I could better write dialogue in my short stories. I'm wondering, though, whether my disinclination to let anyone on the newspaper dock know I was recording them really had anything to do with making them nervous, implying that they might not talk like they normally do and I wouldn't capture their normal style of talking. That was probably just a crap excuse I used since I knew that if I was open about documenting their conversations on tape, I would've needed to get their permission, and they might not have consented, especially since most people don't like to hear their voices.

I don't particularly like to hear mine. When I was teaching at the University of Illinois at Chicago as a graduate student, I recorded on cassette two of the classes I was teaching, and they were godawful - all the uhs, and stops, and starts, and sentences trailing off. Plus, I just didn't like the sound of my voice. I wanted it deeper and more distinctive - more masculine, I suppose. An American version of Sean Connery. I can only imagine how I would've felt if I found out that a student had brought a recorder to the class and later found out she or he had secretly taped me without my permission.

I had to know I was disregarding people's feelings in order to go ahead and do whatever I damn well wanted to advance my own agenda - something I associate with traditional masculinity. Fortunately, my coat got in the way.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: May 2, Tues. 1978 8:25 PM

"It's damn cold today. It's 39 degrees now, and rain has fallen most of the day. I woke up about 11:30 AM to the sound of thunder and rain. I wouldn't mind the wet weather if it wasn't so cold. What's going on with our weather? It's awful strange. I'm going to have to wear my heavy coat tonight, and I haven't worn it for a month now."

MANHOOD REDO: I looked online yesterday at the weather prediction for the next 10 days in Lubbock: 80s and 90s for the highs. So 39 degrees at the beginning of May was odd. But then West Texas is known for its odd weather, especially during the spring when there are typically wild fluctuations. It's a time of almost daily tornado watches and ominous thunderstorms. I've never seen more stunning lightning displays than in West Texas, where the land is so flat that the sky looms over you. One day it will be in the 90s, the next in the 60s. And the dust can kick up, billowing up miles high so that if you're outside the city you can watch a wall of dirt making its way across the landscape. It's a place of harsh extremes.

It's interesting to me to think about masculinity in connection with the the landscape, the geography of a place. Nowadays, people are so mobile, this concept might not hold much merit in anyone's mind, but I know that when I moved from Niles, Michigan to Lubbock, Texas at the age of 11, I was immediately confronted with what seemed to me to be a harsher masculinity. My first day of class, I knew that I might be in trouble when the teacher announced my name, and all the boys in the class started laughing, most of them indicating they'd never heard of anyone being named "Pat."

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: May 1, Mon. 1978 9:00 PM

"I got up around 3:00 PM. Even though I didn't get to bed until about 6:00 AM, that's too late. I should've been up around 2:00 PM. I'm afraid my sleep is going to get screwed up again. There have been a couple time, about a week and a half each time where I haven't been able to sleep but three or four hours a night, and for no other reason than I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep. I nearly went crazy during those sleepless periods. I never want to go through something like that again, although I'm sure I will sooner or later. I'm going to set my alarm clock tonight so I don't sleep so late."

"I wrote. Still trying to finish the first copy of the story about Jack. On page 19 now. I'll have to rewrite it as soon as I finish it. Then I'll have to type it. I can't believe Fitzgerald used to write a complete, finished, entire story in a single sitting, the son of a bitch. No, actually he's very important to me, or I should say his writing is. I enjoy his stories much."

MANHOOD REDO: My sleep has never been quite the same since working the graveyard shift, and it's been almost 30 years. During my youth, I slept easily and peacefully, even under difficult circumstances. Now there can be some anxiety attached bedtime. Anybody who has had serious insomnia knows the hell it is. When I wanted to apply to grad school and needed to take the GRE, I was working nights. They only offered the test in the mornings, so I decided to start sleeping from 1 pm until about 8 pm everday a week before the exam in order to be alert the morning it was administered. That worked, but in the days following my sleep cycle was so messed up that I could only sleep for a couple hours a night, and that lasted for weeks. After a while, I lost all sense of time. I would start to phone people at 3 in the morning. At one point I think I hallucinated bugs crawling all over the rug of the house I was living in.

Now, I do okay on seven hours, but less than that starts to wear and tear on me, especially when it takes place consecutive nights. When I'm under stress, I tend to wake up anywhere from 2:30 am to 3:30 am, then find it hard to get back to sleep. Since I'm in my fifties, it's not unusual to have to go to the bathroom. But also, my mind kicks into high gear, sifting through everything, replaying events, task lists, fretting about what's already happened, what's going to happen, what needs to happen. That in itself is exhausting, but then add the anxiety about getting back to sleep, and it's like you're caught in a neverending washing machine cycle, buffeted about by your mind, uncertain when the spinning is going to end. It's hard to rid yourself of the expectation and fear that you won't get back to sleep.

I see sleep as attached to traditional masculinity in various ways. First of all, as a "real man," you're not supposed to let anything get to you. It's a sign that your outer shell is too thin if you wake up and fret when you don't need to; you're too fragile. Also, when you're having trouble sleeping and hence difficulty functioning, it's not something you can really admit to others. All of us men walk around assuming the other men are in control of their sleep cycle, unless their behavior is completely out of control from drug or alcohol addiction. Finally, there are the super sleepless men - those who only need a few hours a night to function perfectly fine; in fact, they are creative, energetic dynamos who use the extra time to get the upper edge on all the other men.

Nancy Kress wrote a series of science fiction books about genetically modified humans who don't need sleep at all. They are superior in many, many ways to sleep-needy humans. They consisted of males and females. But in our popular historical culture, it seems to me that we attribute the myth of productive sleeplessness to men: Leonardo da Vinci, who became the namesake of polyphasic sleeping, or intermitent naps in order sleep less hours and produce more; Benjamin Franklin, who said, "There will be sleeping enough in the grave"; and Thomas Edison, who held sleep in great contempt, instead practicing catnapping.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: April 28, Fri 1978 7:55 PM Part 2

The journal entry on this date was long, so this is part 2...

"I also recorded [on a cassette] a Bugs Bunny record that Mom says she used to listen to when she was little. I had to switch the speed to 78 and the needle to 78 records to record all these records. I forgot to switch the needle on the first two and had to record them over. I also recorded just a bunch of old 78s my mother used to listen to: 'Rhapsody,' 'Charleston.' God, that's all I can remember. I hadn't heard of almost all of them. The record with 'Rhapsody' on it was unique. It is called a picture record and was blue with an overhead view of a white piano and two women in white gowns sitting at the piano, on both sides. It was difficult to tell where the grooves started and ended."

"I'm reading A Death in the Family by James Agee. It's very realistic. The man had extreme power with words. I wish I could write as well."

MANHOOD REDO: In the age of the iPod, it's hard to take in the physicality of these records. I have a vague memory of the 'Rhapsody' record and it was stunning. The blue was that pure blue you see in a mountain lake. A--, my wife, misses the artwork that used to accompany records; the 'Rhapsody' artwork didn't accompany the album, it was the album.

I don't quite understand my mother's relationship with music. As a girl, she studied to be an opera singer, although she was pushed in that direction by my grandmother, who wanted it to be her ticket to security and status, I think. She chose to marry my father instead, giving up any pretensions of pursuing a musical future. I remember her listening to albums during my youth; two artists come to mind: the Jackie Gleason Orchestra and Tom Jones. And she used to sing fairly regularly, with what seemed to me a beautiful voice. I was not blessed with her singing genes but instead inherited my father's. During my teen years, I would passionately sing along with the records playing on the stereo in my bedroom, and everyone outside the room would make fun of me.

I imagine Mom in her bedroom playing what were at the time popular records like 'Rhapsody,' and not opera records. Sometimes I think about what it would have been like if she had had a passion for opera, if she had both married my father and insisted on pursuing an operatic career. How would my life as a boy have differed, how would my masculinity be different?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: April 28, Fri. 1978 7;55 PM

"Today was payday. Now I have $363 in savings. I bought 5 blank Certron cassettes. I have to record Spirit and Ram, McCartney on one of them for M-- A--. I recorded some of Mom's old records on one of the cassettes. Recorded a record Grandpa recorded for her. His voice is at the beginning of both sides of the record. He says, 'Hello S--. See how you like this record. I'm doing a lot of fooling around here trying to make a record.' Side 2: 'The other side wasn't very good, and this one'll probably be worse, but let's see how it goes.'

"I'm glad I have this one thing to remember Grandpa by. He died when I was young, and I can't remember a thing about him. He intrigues me for some reason. He was having some trouble with the machinery in spots while recording, getting some feedback or something. I can just imagine him in a recording studio in Charlotte, Michigan, messing around, trying to make a record. I wish I had known him. I wish he would have left something for me to help know him."

MANHOOD REDO: I'm not sure how I knew he was recording in Charlotte, Michigan; I have no idea where exactly Charlotte is in Michigan or how large. I might still have the cassette somewhere, but I can recall his voice without listening to it. He did not sound at all stern or gruff but instead gentle and quiet - a little like Mr. Rogers, sort of comforting and humble. You can tell in his introductory statements on each side of the record that he wasn't especially full of himself. Instead of conveying his mastery of the technology (a standard characteristic of traditional masculinity; how many men were making records for their daughters in the late 1930s or early 1940s?), he calls it "fooling around," and says it isn't "very good."

When I write that he "intrigues me for some reason," I did so because he is what I think of as one of the "ghost men" in my life who have shaped who I am and have served as an invisible role model - not that I could have or would have explained his presence in my life that way in 1978. I've only come to realize as I've gotten older that he was an inherited role model never tangibly present in my life but continually there in unspoken and often unrecognized ways that I still can't fully grasp. My mother, his daughter, speaks of him as gentle, loving, and nonviolent. He never spoke harshly of anyone. He represents for her a positive, caring model of manhood. I believe that the times when she has looked at a photo of him and told me how much I reminded her of him, she was not only associating me with his character and qualities, she was also ever so subtly nuturing the best of him in me.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: April 27, Thurs. 1978 8:10 PM

"I mailed the forms for readmission to [Texas] Tech [University] today. I hope they don't take too long in answering. Didn't get much writing done. Half a page. Mom interrupted me. Wanted me to take her to get a new state inspection sticker on her car. Then we had to go get Jennifer from track practice, then back over to get her car. It was almost 5 o'clock by the time we got home. I ate. Then, since I was being bomarded with little hints, like, 'You haven't mowed the front yard, Pat,' I mowed the front yard. Then I listened to some records (Nilsson and the Beatles). Then I ran. Another exciting and fulfilling day."

MANHOOD REDO: The above excerpt is kind of all over the place, so I'm going to focus on the first couple sentences about reapplying to Tech since I've thought a lot about school and masculinity. It took me a long time to think of myself as an academic, as a learner. Some people saw it before I did. The priest I wrote about earlier who was a close friend of the family told my mother he thought I would do something with my mind. There wasn't much indication of that through high school and on into the first couple years of college; I was the sort of student who when he had a book report due would read the first and last chapters and make up details as filler, hoping that the English teacher either hadn't read the book or had forgotten most of what he or she had read. While I wasn't one of the "bad boys" who sat in the back of the room disrupting the class, I wasn't exactly what you would call a model student. In English, when we were supposed to write a poem, I plagarized lyrics from a Beatles' song, "Doctor Robert," which one of the other students recognized. I worried he would turn me in.

I wrote in an earlier blog about my relationship with school but what I didn't get into were economic class issues and masculinity. My understanding is that the above descriptions would fairly accurately represent my father's relationship with school. He has told me he wasn't a serious student. He became an accountant almost by happenchance. On his walk to a factory job every morning he went by a two year business school and eventually thought he might as well try it, so he became a student and scraped by in the grade department, managing to graduate with a C average. I can't help but think that the poverty he experienced growing up in significant ways shaped his relationship with the educational system and my relationship with it. While he went on to become an excellent accountant in charge of accounting departments and provided his family with a comfortable middle class life, I'm certain I unknowingly harbored some historical residue tied to the lower economic position he occupied earlier in his life. If nothing else, neither he nor my mother could provide much in the way of concrete advice about or insight into college since neither of them had attended a four year institution of higher education. They definitely did everything they could to support my attending college, but I can't help but wonder if that connection with a working class background and the traditional masculine stereotypes that accompany it, almost sabotaged their efforts.

It wasn't until I reapplied to Tech after dropping out for two years following my sophomore year that my attitudes began to change. I've always found it ironic that I taught for eight years at George Washington University, the most expensive private university in the country, and not only would attending it as an undergraduate have been well beyond my economic means, they never would have let me in with my grades.

JOURNAL EXCERPT: April 26, Wed. 1978

"T-- M-- was a new man on the dock who worked for about 3 or 4 days and then didn't show up after that. Just disappeared. He didn't have a phone. This was about 3 weeks ago. I forgot about him after that. Last night a large, husky man with a pot belly and a baseball cap on his head, drove up to the AJ [Avalanche Journal newspaper] in a wrecker. He was looking for T-- M--. He said T-- had written him a hot check. He also said T-- was on parole. He also said he had checked T--'s last 4 places of employment. All different social security numbers and all different addresses. T-- is on the run, I imagine. T-- had me totally fooled. I thought he was just a high school graduate who had been bumming around for 4 or 5 years, doing odd jobs. I must admit, I didn't entirely trust him. I'm getting to where I don't trust anyone anymore."

MANHOOD REDO: There's an exercise we do at Men Can Stop Rape called "Real Man" where we present a series of two popular male figures, like Batman and The Rock or Toby Keith and 50 Cent, then ask who the real man is. We come up with a long list of characteristics - rich, influential, powerful, violent, cut, and so on - associated with traditional masculinity and in the debrief talk about the performance aspects of manhood. With someone like T--, it's hard to believe that there's anything beyond the performance, although his actions might be more typically viewed as "real man gone bad." You could say there are the socially sanctioned performances of masculinity - "real men" as fiercely competitive, wealthy, and powerful. These men become idols of manhood. And then there are men like T--, who represent the "real man" outside the law, someone who refuses to follow the rules, a kind of outlaw renegade. I suppose someone like 50 Cent could be associated with this, but he becomes more sanctioned when he is transformed into an popular icon, subsumed within a consumerist industry and society.

I've done plenty of performing myself over the years. I'm sure I still do some now. And there's undoubtedly evidence of performing masculinity throughout the journal, even though it's supposedly a space to bare your inner most feelings. I'm thinking of some of my snide comments related to the women R-- and T-- were involved with (I think I left these passages out of any of the blog entries because the comments seemed disrespectful). Part of the performance is to always be one up, put yourself in a better position than the men you're around. I wasn't seeing anyone, and on top of that, I was insecure about my short term and long term prospects in the relationship department. When I write about the women R-- and T-- are seeing, I sound like I know everything there is to know about relationships. Even though I didn't know crap, the performance made me feel better, made me at least a little more secure in my masculinity. That and performances like it helped me to feel I could pass as a "real man."

JOURNAL EXCERPT: April 24, Mon. 1978 8:55 PM

"I just have had an argument with the parents. They want me to go buy some toilet paper. Dad came into my room and said, 'I want you to go buy some toilet paper. We're out,' and handed me two dollars.

"'Now?' I asked.


"'But Mom just went to the store today. Why didn't she get some then?'

"'She forgot. And pull your car in behind your mother's when you come back. Don't leave it out in the street.'

"He left and I started thinking. Going in the store and just buying a package of toilet paper would look pretty ridiculous. I wasn't going to go buy toilet paper. Someone else could do it.

"I went to the living room and said to Mom, 'I'm not gonna go get toilet paper. M-- [my younger sister who was 14 at the time] can go in and get it.'

"'I'm not gonna get it,' M-- said.

"'Why don't you get it. You're the one that forgot it,' I said to Mom. She didn't answer.

"Mom knocked on my door a little later. 'Are you going to go get the toilet paper?'


"She stormed into her and Dad's room. 'I told you he wouldn't go and get it,' she yelled.

"I knew Dad would be at my door in a minute. Sure enough.

"'Are you going to go get the toilet paper?'

"'Dad, if it was anything else but toilet paper and so late at night.'

"'Oh, come on. I've went and gotten toilet paper many times. It's no big deal. Everyone uses it.'

"'When did you just go get toilet paper?'

"'Lots of times.' He went back to his room.

"I went out in the hall. 'If she'd start writing a list when she goes to the store, she wouldn't forget things like toilet paper.' I was ignored. 'It's not like we need it right away.'

"'We're out,' Dad said.

"'We've got some left.' I got some out of our bathroom and showed him about one-fourth of a roll.

"'That won't last the night,' he said.

"'I've got dirty hair. I'll have to go with dirty hair,' I said. No one listened.

I found my mother in the living room. 'You're the one that forgot it.'

'''Start acting your age,' she said. I thought I was. I guess I didn't know acting your age included going down to the store at eight-thirty pm to buy a package of toilet paper. I went back to my room.

"As Mom was walking past my room to her room, she said, 'Next time he needs anything, he can just forget about any help from us.' That means that if my car breaks down somewhere, I can neither depend on them for a ride, or ask them to help me work on the car, or ask for a loan. And all because of a roll of toilet paper.

"'No one else'll go get it either,' I said from my room. There was no answer."

MANHOOD REDO: This is another one of those embarrassing journal entries that I would have preferred to skip over but include because I suppose I can convince myself it's occasionally a good thing to be humbled by my younger self. I remembered this incident before reading it in the canary yellow legal pad, so it has some sort of lasting relevance. I can recall at the time how incensed I was and how I felt absolutely right in my decision not to go buy the toilet paper; I clearly wrote the entry in a way that indicates this. There's no doubt or uncertainty - only outrage and frustration. I felt I was being singled out as the oldest. No one else wanted to go to the store either, something I kept pointing out, to no effect.

Upon reading the entry now, one of the things that strikes me is my sense of masculine entitlement, especially towards my mother. I'm troubled that I felt I could say what I did, especially, "Why don't you go get it. You're the one who forgot it," and "If she'd start writing a list when she goes to the store, she wouldn't forget things like toilet paper." I'm apologizing now for this. Like many young males, I don't think I had much of a sense of all her responsibilities and probably took her work for granted. She never had a job outside the home while I was growing up, so in that sense she could easily be typecast as a woman of the 1950s, and yet she was never the Mrs. Cleaver type. Her own mother, my grandmother, wanted her to be the perfect little girl, but I suppose she rebeled against that in various ways all her life.

It also seems like I was also trying to align myself with my father against her. If I could just get him to see that she was being irrational, that she had failed in her responsibilities, then I wouldn't have to go get the toilet paper. Of course, he didn't cooperate.

What I can't remember and explain is exactly why the prospect of going to buy toilet paper at 8:30 pm that night was so uncomfortable. What did I think would happen? That a checker would see the toilet paper and consider me foul? That I would somehow become marked as unclean? What was going through my head?

Whatever it was, it seems to have disappeared. Thirty years later I'm known in some circles (those my wife tells the story in) as the guy who went to the store to buy condoms and cat litter.

JOURNAL EXCERPT: April 23, Sun. 1978 8:15 PM

"I saw R-- at work last night. The [newspaper] bundles were piling up because there wasn't a pickup to put them in, and I was trying to straighten the ones that had fallen off the belt, so I turned around to see who was throwing them on the dock, and I'll be damned if it wasn't
R--. Surprised the shit out of me. He had just come up to get a paper. He wanted me to drop by. 'After work?' I asked.

"'Ok,' he said. Then, 'No, better blow it off. Drop by tomorrow.'

"'Ok, I'll drop by in the afternoon.'


"'Probably be around two or three o'clock.'

"'Ok. That's when I get up anyway.'

"'So long.'

"'We'll be seeing you.'

"I called him at 3 o'clock. He wasn't home. I called at 7 thirty. He wasn't home. He was a little drunk I think when I saw him at work last night. I wonder if he remembers."

MANHOOD REDO: This excerpt brings up alcohol for me, such an instrumental and traditional part of masculine identity. R-- was definitely a drinker and definitely someone who worked hard to adopt that "cool" bad boy image, unflappable, unshakable, no matter what the circumstances. He told me once (partly joking, but only partly) that he practiced staying cool so that if there were any loud noises, he wouldn't jerk. The two of us went to a bar on University Avenue for lunch before I had a history test and downed a pitcher of beer, maybe more. I ended up taking the test drunk, a story I told more than once, not only because I managed to score a B but also because it established my manhood credentials.

I didn't start drinking until I was 18 - the legal age in Texas in the mid-1970s. Initially, I found the taste of beer unappealing, but it grew on me quite a bit. My first drunk was with a group of high school classmates during spring break my senior year. The five of us drove around the city downing beers until we decided to go streaking - popular at the time - in front of one of the girls' dorms on the Texas Tech University campus. The driver wouldn't get out of the car; said he had a cold. But the rest of us in various stages of undress - I had my socks and glasses on - ran around in circles, leaping and whooping, waiting for some of the coeds to come out. Of course, they were all gone, which we knew.

I have more drinking stories I could tell, but I'm going to stop here since I don't want to go too far in the direction of proving my manhood through alcohol. I'm not opposed to beer; I like it as much as the next guy. I don't want it to be my primary method of bonding with other guys, though, and I don't want it to define my identity. I can go without it; in fact, I went without it for over twenty years after I developed Type II diabetes. When I was diagnosed at the age of 28, I kept trying to drink the way I had been and it made me feel like crap, so I stopped. I've only recently started drinking beer again, but in moderation - one a day, if that.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: April 22, Sat. 1978

"L-- [my sister] and I are the only people in our house. The rest of the family has gone to Wichita Falls for the district track meet. I thought I was finally going to be able to turn my stereo up with the parents gone, so I turned it up loud, and L-- knocks on my door and yells, "Turn down your stereo. I can't hear the TV."

MANHOOD REDO: I remember being furious at her, primarily because it felt like I ought to be able to turn up my music. My parents might have had more power and control in the household than me, but she didn't.

Now, it makes me think about men, masculinity, and sharing space. Traditionally, we're socialized to take up space, whether it's in conversation or in the way we sit. Women for years have complained about men interrupting them. The man who makes the most noise is the alpha male, the one who gets heard, who has his way. And riding the metro, I've seen few women (maybe none) sitting with their legs spread so far apart you have to squeeze into the open seat next to them.

Since I've spent almost 25 years living together with my wife, my attitudes and assumptions about taking up space have changed somewhat. I usually check with her before I turn the music up.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: April 21, Friday 1978 11:30 PM

"I've just been over to F-- H--'s house. Glad I went to see him again. He hasn't changed much in a couple years....He looks a little more muscular than he used to. I showed him my cartoon strip. He's getting married Aug. 5 in Oregon, where he's attending college. I told him G-- and I would come to his wedding as we were going to Colorado anyway. We might as well go to Oregon. He'll be the first member of our graduating high school class to get married. J--, the girl he's marrying, is very nice. They're leaving town tomorrow.

"I had to pick up all the kids from school today, so I didn't get any writing done."

MANHOOD REDO: F-- had a white car with an eight track that we road around in together, listening to Steely Dan. I think it was his grandfather who owned a ranch somewhere in Texas, so his roots traveled back to the world of the cowboy. One of his brothers went up to Montana to work cattle but couldn't stand the cold and came back to Texas. F-- always had artistic aspirations, and so he turned his back on ranching to become a medical illustrator - at least last I heard that was his career path. He tried to convince me to become one too, but I was never one to find detail in drawing particularly engaging. My stuff was always more conceptual. It was in his garage with the jukebox that I first danced (written about in an earlier blog). I lived with him in an apartment somewhere in Lubbock after we graduated from high school, and all I can remember is that he was never there, so sharing living space didn't last too long - only a few months.

I can't recall why, but the two of us worked up a dance routine in his bedroom to some song, and while we were intending to perform it in public, I don't think we ever did.

In my mind, F-- is an example of how masculine stereotypes are reductive; they always fail to capture the entirety of a person. It would have been easy to slot F-- into the West Texas redneck shitkicker category whose masculinity is defined on the one hand by politeness, "Yes, Mam," "Yes, Sir," and on the other hand by a bullheadedness (example: the current president). A West Texas good ol' boy would never plan out some dance routine in his bedroom with me.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: April 20, Thursday 1978 8:00 PM

A continuation of the previous blog entry:

"I'm going to read some more of Trinity tonight. It's easy for me to get interested in the book, because it's a fictional account of the conflict in Ireland, and our family went to Ireland in the summer of 1976. We also went to Scotland and England. I liked Ireland the best, because it was more backward and more picturesque than Scotland or England I thought, and perhaps more tragic."

MANHOOD REDO: If I lived in Ireland and was reading this excerpt, I suspect I would be insulted. "Backward" isn't a word I would use now to describe anything or anyone. I suppose I was referring to things like seeing skinned pigs strung up outdoors where a butcher was selling meat, flies buzzing all around. In the States, where meat is presented in sanitized foam packaging, tightly wrapped cellophane keeping out air, a piece of white cloth paper layering the bottom to soak up any excess juices and blood, the cultural practices are obviously very different. Trained as I was in our food culture, I assumed that the Irish must be spreading all sorts of pestilence by keeping the meat in the open and letting flies land on it.

Who knows what I meant by "tragic"? Perhaps that was connected to Northern Ireland. Perhaps it was connected to England's colonization of Ireland. When I was a sophomore in high school, we had to write weekly five paragraph themes, the topics always assigned and in the vein of "The pen is mightier than the sword - pick a side for or against," except for one time when we were allowed to choose our own. Paul McCartney and Wings had just come out in 1972 with a single called "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" that was a response to Bloody Sunday. I suppose it was too political to do well in here (in fact it only rose to #21 on the charts), and it was banned in Britain, so it kind of came and quickly went, but I decided to write my five paragraph theme arguing that it shouldn't have been banned. I don't remember what my three points were in the body (first paragraph, intro; next three paragraphs, body; final paragraph, conclusion), but I do know that I didn't even mention Bloody Sunday because I knew nothing about it and these were not the kind of papers we researched. I would whip them out in half-an-hour or 45 minutes without any revision of any kind when I had free time during the school day. Each major grammatical error resulted in your grade being signifcantly lowered and for every misspelled word, a letter grade was taken off, so I wrote very simple sentences and used words I knew.

I received a C on the paper - not because I completely omitted Bloody Sunday but because I misspelled "album," putting in an extra "l" - "alblum."

Now I have to figure out what all this has to do with masculinity. There are a couple different directions I could go. On the one hand, if I want to stick with the Irish issue, I could relate it to my own history and manhood. With a last name like McGann, it might be obvious that there is a potential link to Ireland. In Lubbock, a city of a couple hundred thousand, I think there was one other McGann family listed in the phone book, and that varied by year; sometimes we were the only ones. But when I went to Ireland and looked in the phone book of even a small town, there was a long list of McGanns. And I felt I walked among people who looked more like I did than those in Texas. Plus, I've always thought there's a certain sarcastic humor especially present on my dad's side of the family, which traveled to the States from County Cork, that I could connect with the Irish. So in some sense I haven't fully unpacked, there's an Irish element to my masculinity. When we talk about masculinities, then, it's not entirely accurate to generalize and say "white masculinity." Maybe it's more accurate to say "Irish American white masculinity." Perhaps more about this later.

The other direction would relate to the grading of the five paragraph theme and the traditionally masculine approach to learning and knowledge, which tends to be quantifiable. Grammatical and spelling mistakes can be counted. Perhaps more about this later, too.

Monday, February 4, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: April 20, Thurs., 1978 8:00 PM

"I wrote again today. It's still going well.

"I tried to get my sister, L--, to run with me today. She wouldn't....D--, one of the city truck drivers at the A.J. [newspaper], and I still discuss running. He's having problems with his feet, so he had to cut down on his running. He was running 4 or 5 miles. Now he's only running two."

MANHOOD REDO: There was an article in The Washington Post Magazine this weekend about the debilitating life of many retired NFL football players. It primarily focused on Dave Pear, who played as a defensive lineman for Tampa Bay and Oakland some years back, and now in his 50s he is unemployable because of both chronic pain and memory loss attributable to all the hits he took as a young man on the field. When I was around Joe Ehrmann, who played for the Baltimore Colts in the 70s, he talked to another former pro player about hip replacement surgery as if it were a given. Also, apparently for pros who suffered a number of concussions, dementia is not uncommon.

While football players might not seem to have much to do with D-- and his foot problems, the two are strongly connected for me. Instead of stopping his running regimen to give his feet time to heal, D-- cut his running distance in half. As men, we're not supposed to let pain get in our way. It's a badge of honor to overcome it, push it face first into the ground. The greatest competitors are those who can play hurt or sick, like Jordan with the flu against Utah during game five of the NBA finals. They gain legendary status by overcoming the limitations of ordinary men and women. It's the closest men can come to being supermen, to appearing invulnerable.

When I played basketball in high school during my junior year, I came down sick with the flu and didn't practice for a week. When I returned, I went through a two hour practice, and afterwards, coach asked me if I wanted to play in the JV game that evening (I was on varsity but JV was short of players that night) and I said okay. Everyone went around saying, "All right, McGann is playing with us," which boosted my energy - until gametime. I started as a forward, but the game moved way too fast or I moved too slow. The ball would make its way to one end of the court and by the time I reached that end, it was headed the other way, so I would turn around, but when I reached the far side, everyone was running past me in the opposite direction. This went on four or five minutes until I finally walked off the court, completely exhausted. Coach was mad when I explained I couldn't keep up because I guessed I wasn't strong enough yet after being sick and said I should always tell him when I'm not up to playing. He knew, though, I'd had the flu and it was my first day back, and he hadn't asked me if I was up to playing, just if I wanted to play.

I wanted to be that hero; I wanted to infuse the JV that night with a burst of points and defensive prowess, because I'd learned those masculine lessons about the conquest of pain just like every other young man, but I began learning another lesson that night as well: you can only ignore pain so long before the body asserts itself. Whether it's immediate or down the road, at some point your body will let you know you're only human and there are costs to acting like you aren't.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: April 19, Wed. 1978 8:05 PM

"The [newspaper] run last night at work was exceptionally slow. Didn't get off till 5:30 a.m. Went in at 10:45 p.m. They could only run one insert machine until they finished the mail. They still don't have enough part-time help in the mail room. I was reading Outlaw of Gor, the second book in the Gor series. I had eighty pages left to read when I came to work. They were running so slow that I had time to finish the book and separate the mail. A-- was off last night, so they sent down M-- A-- to help me during the city part of the run. We were talking about books, so I began telling him the story of Outlaw of Gor. I told him everything I remembered, which was almost all of the book. He thought the part where the Sleen attacked Tarl Cabet of Gor was funny. I kind of did a spoof on the story. Then both of us started spoofing the story, saying we were of the caste of warriors and proud and brave as we mount our mighty Tharns. It got pretty corny, but then, the book's kind of corny, but it's a good kind of corny."

MANHOOD REDO: Shades of Conan the Barbarian. Sometimes traditional masculinity is pretty corny, and sometimes it's good to make fun of it.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

JOURNEY EXCERPT: April 16, Sun. 1978 9:17 PM

"W--, a high school boy who works with us on the dock only on Sundays, still hasn't paid me the ten dollars he owes me. I should have known better than to lend out money. W-- is infatuated with fast cars and speed in general. W-- is a junior in high school and is getting married this summer. W-- is somewhat useless (lazy) on the dock. W-- drinks Baby Bull Liquor. W-- doesn't have a car, and his parents won't let him use theirs; so he rides his bicycle to work, and I usually give him a ride home. Someone else gave him a ride home last night. W-- is getting fat. W-- has ears that stick out. W-- plays football and track. W-- has a very smart-ass mouth. W-- is an asshole much of the time. (Characterization of W--.)"

MANHOOD REDO: Clearly I didn't have much use for W--, so even years ago during young adulthood when I lacked a conceptual understanding of traditional masculinity I still rejected aspects of it. At 52, I've created my personal life so that it's free of traditionally masculine men; I don't know any guys who drive small, fast, sporty cars, or guys that I would consider to be assholes. I don't hang out with guys like those someone wrote about in a letter to the Washington Post, drunk and foul-mouthed at a Redskins game, indifferent to the presence of children in seats nearby.

It's important to me not to have to deal with traditional masculinity in my personal life because I have to deal with it every workday at Men Can Stop Rape (MCSR). That's not to say I think the majority of guys are assholes. We only rarely receive the email from a man making foul and abusive comments about us. There's only been one or two death threats. Most men are strongly supportive. What's harder to deal with at work is the every day reality of a mainstream culture that's so heavily laden with the expectations and pressures of traditional masculinity it feels like there's not room for anything else.

If I've learned anything during the past ten years with MCSR, though, it's that there's always some humane, vulnerable, caring part of all men, no matter how traditionally masculine they might seem. They might not feel safe sharing it, or they might ridicule it in themselves and project it onto others, or it might have existed so long ago in childhood that they've lost touch with it. But if you acknowledge and support it in positive ways, its presence strengthens.

And I've also learned that I'm not completely removed from or free of traditional manhood, so I can't stand apart and pretend I'm altogether different. We've all been socialized by traditional masculinity; we all embody it in various ways and to different degrees.

So, if I had it to do over again with W--, I'd try and assume that I'm not entirely unlike him. I like beer. I used to like football, still like basketball. I've been a smart ass and might be unintentionally so again. And I'd try to find out more about him, ask questions, share my own struggles and conflicts, try to learn how much more of him there is than fast cars and Baby Bull Liquor.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: April 14, Fri. 1978 8:30 PM

I can't seem to get off of this particular journal entry. Part III:

"I started the car when I came out of the South Plains Mall and a hissing sound came from under the hood.

"'What's that?' L-- [my sister] asked.

"'I don't know, but whatever it is, it doesn't sound good,' I said. I revved the engine to see if that would stop it. It didn't. 'I'm gonna check under the hood.' I couldn't get it open. I guess Ford makes lousy hoods for Pinto station wagons. 'So much for that,' I said.

"'What are you gonna do?' L-- asked.

"'Leave, I guess.'

"We went and got gas, went to the bookstore, and went to Poco Taco to get something to eat. It was still hissing when I drove up in the driveway leading to our house. I'm taking Dad's care to work tonight. My care is also backfiring worse than ever. Tomorrow afternoon, Dad and I are going to work on both our cars. His is running like shit, too, although not quite as bad as mine. I hate working on cars."

MANHOOD REDO: I even hate writing about working on cars. In 1978, I knew enough to be able to do a tune up - replace points, plugs, etc. I could do more if I had to - remove a drive shaft, replace a fan belt, change a battery - but I never knew or did enough to feel competent, and was always surprised whenever anything I did actually worked. Even though I worked at U-Haul as a yard man for over a year after getting my B.A. degree in English studies, I've never considered myself mechanically adept. Dressed in my brown pants and shirt, I would drill and attach backmount hitches to cars for towing or run electrical wiring from the car to the trailer for lights and never have problems, but I never saw it as a challenge, never identified it as something I wanted to learn, and never felt it was a means of proving my manhood. They were just tasks I needed to do for the job.

The same thing when we moved into the our house three-and-a-half years ago. The previous owner had just built in the closet in our bedroom and it had no shelving of any kind, just bare walls. We bought a drill and the parts for a Closet Maid shelving system, and I started drilling holes, a process that mostly went okay, enough so that I managed to get everything installed and we could hang our clothes up. I admit that whenever we had someone over for the first time during the initial six months after moving in, I would take them on a tour and in the bedroom, open the closet doors and basically imply, Look what I did. There's another part of me that everytime I opens the doors expects it all to come crashing down.

Basically, when it comes to working with your hands, it seems to me there are three options related to masculinity: 1) you're confident you can work on just about anything related to home or various machines; 2) you have plenty of money to pay someone to do whatever needs to be done to your home, car, etc.; and 3) you're between these two poles, somewhat certain you can do some things and not others, but feeling like you should be able to do everything so you don't have to pay anyone since you can't really afford it. I, of course, am in the third category.

Friday, January 18, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: April 14, Fri. 1978 8:30 PM

MANHOOD REDO: Consider this part two of the previous blog since I mentioned at the end of it writing about music and dance. When I was in ninth grade and my sister in eighth, she would dance a little while doing the dishes if music was on, and I remember thinking no way I'm doing that. Unless I could look cool dancing, there was no point in attempting it, especially since the opposite seemed likely - looking like an idiot. But a friend of my sister's yanked on my arm and refused to let go during my junior year when I was standing around in the garage of someone in my class, a jukebox blaring and some people moving to the music. When it became clear that she had no intention of giving up, I decided to try since I knew the issue wouldn't go away anytime soon. So the first song I ever danced to was Grand Funk's "We're an American Band."

And I did okay, at least according to her, and I sort of felt that way too. So I kept dancing. In fact, she unleashed a dancing fool. I've never been one to more formally pursue dancing, learning particular steps - it's always seemed like too much work - but put me out on a dance floor and give me some funk, soul, rock 'n' roll, and I'll take off. By the time the junior/senior banquet rolled around the year after my first steps in the garage, I danced the entire time music blasted out of the deejay's speakers, about two hours, and not with my date, because I didn't take one. I danced mostly with a friend's date.

Now, I've had to learn to dance more with my arms and shoulders and hips since my knees can't take the moves I used to do when I was younger. And I don't worry too much about looking cool. In fact, I sometimes intentionally put on silly moves, following in the footsteps of one of my favorite dance scenes: Kevin Kline's character in "I Love You to Death." I figure if he can look ridiculous, so can I. If traditional masculinity is all about "cool" as it relates to image, performance, and control, then letting music move you in whatever way feels fun and enjoyable is a way to break the stifling hold "cool" has over us.

Monday, January 14, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: April 14, Fri. 1978 8:30 PM

When I was typing the title of this blog entry, I initially wrote "JOURNEY" instead of "JOURNAL." Not sure whether that's because I deejayed a People's Dance Party on Saturday night in Greenbelt, MD and someone brought up the band, Journey, at one point -- a group whose heyday took place during the late 70s, the time I was writing this particular journal -- or because the journal and this blog are a journey in and of themselves. Probably a combination. I was pretty indifferent to the band Journey. "Anyway You Want It" and "Don't Stop Believing" seemed like kind of bland power pop ballads. There were a number of bands producing a lot of music like that at the time -- Kansas, Boston, etc.

Clearly music played a big role in my life during the 70s. The cassette deck keeps popping up again and again:

"I was paid today. $214 dollars. Put $150 in the bank.

"Bought 3 blank cassettes for my recorder, and Linda and I went to the Book Rack."

MANHOOD REDO: Before I bought the cassette deck, I would go out to the South Plains Mall every paycheck and buy an album or albums -- whatever looked interesting or was on sale. By the late 70s I had around 500 or so. I know that music often reinforces and perpetuates traditional masculinity, and I would say that about all music, not just rap and hip hop, which have become the stand ins for anything and everything sexist and violent in the music world. Rock 'n' roll, alternative, country music, and so on all have their sexist elements.

But I want to focus on another aspect, namely a couple ways music in my life has challenged traditional masculinity. It's one place where there's room for emotions that are typically outlawed for men, where you can sing about tears, mourn loss, and embrace tenderness. I mentioned the Beatles in an earlier blog. For me, their "Here, There, and Everyone" is one of the most beautiful love songs I've ever heard. Lyrics like these validated my desires for connection and relationship:

"I want her everywhere
and if she's beside me I know I need never care.
But to love her is to need her

"Everywhere, knowing that love is to share
each one believing that love never dies
watching her eyes and hoping I'm always there."

Or what about George Harrison's "Beware of Darkness":

"Beware of sadness
It can hit you
It can hurt you
Make you sore and what is more
That is not what you are here for"

It is a song that acknowledges the loneliness and probably sadness I was feeling at the time of this journal but wouldn't let me stay stuck there, reminding me of my desire for connection and relationship in an even larger, expanded sense than "Here, There, and Everywhere."

And then there's dance, but I'll have to deal with that in the next blog.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: April 13, Thurs. 1978 8:30 PM

"I just finished running. On my walk back to the house from running a young man yelled, 'Hey, man.' I wasn't sure he was yelling at me because I was across the street from him, so I didn't answer. He yelled, 'Hey, man,' again, so I turned towards him. 'Have you seen a girl with black pants and a yellow shirt on?' he asked. 'What? Walking around, you mean?' I asked. It then occurred to me that he meant a little girl. 'Yeah,' he said. 'No, I sure haven't,' I said. 'Well, she's disappeared, so I'd appreciate it if you'd watch for her,' he said. 'Ok. I'll keep my eyes open,' I said, and began walking home again. I didn't see her and felt a little bothered about it, even though I knew he probably didn't expect me to see her."

MANHOOD REDO: The excerpt suggests at the end that I might have felt some responsibility for finding the little girl because he asked me to watch for her, and while my failure to find her might have been part of what "bothered" me, I would suspect that the feelings went much deeper than that, knowing more initimately now how scary it is when someone close to you disappears. There have been times when my wife or daughter haven't come home when I expected them, and it's hard not to jump to worst-case scenarios, an act which is driven, I think, by a fear of loss.

I would assume I was "bothered" because at some level I empathized with the guy and his distress, even if I couldn't recognize it or articulate it. It would be useful to include in masculine socialization a more thorough dictionary of emotions, so we could better express them and empathize with others.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

JOURNAL EXCERPT: April 12, 1978 5:15 PM

This excerpt will be short and sweet (well, maybe not so sweet)...

"Felt full of lassitude today. Don't know what the problem is. Didn't write or draw. I think working the long hours at the Avalanche Journal [newspaper] is screwing me up."

MANHOOD REDO: While the long hours working on the AJ dock might have been part of the explanation for my inaction, I don't think they account for my lassitude in its entirety, especially since I seem to have the problem again and again, as anybody who read the journal would see. My writing production seems pretty spotty and unpredictable.

I'm going to pose another possible reason connected to something I wrote about in my dissertation: an internal conflict tied to two different selves, one I call the "Critic," the other the "Idiot." The critic is very much tied to traditional masculinity, the Idiot to everything that exists outside masculine norms and expectations. Here's how I explain it in the dissertation:

"Within the past two years, I have become increasingly more conscious of how this Critic's foundation rests on an internalized division, an inner split between the me in control, the 'dominant' me, who competently masters himself and the world for the betterment of all through his ability to present piercing theoretical insights (a Messianic intellectual?), and the me out-of-control, the incompetent, vulnerable, 'Idiot' me, less formed, who seems to begin in childhood and carry on into my adult years - a 'me' the other 'me' wants to disown, to distance myself from, because he is unpresentable, embarrassing, ignorant. It's the suppression of this 'Idiot' me that results in oppression. I project him onto others so that they are the ones 'out-of-control' and not me. To be out-of-control is, ultimately, unmanly, like my 'Idiot' self, so ignorant, so out of touch."

When I began writing seriously, I struggled with the part of me, the "Critic," that demanded perfection and control - expectations that would have seriously constrained my ability to throw myself fully into the art of learning to write. I must have known that I had years ahead of me learning the craft, that my stories and poems had a crudeness common to beginners, and rather than accept my place in the process of growth and development, it was safer to foist my attitudes about my fumbling, imperfect attempts at prose onto others, like R-- in an earlier journal excerpt or the older woman in the creative writing class.

Sometimes, you have to accept it's okay to be an idiot.