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.