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?