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.