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.