I know, I know. Right off the bat we have a vomit-inducing title. Bear with me.
First a few words of introduction. Having decided that this blog sucks, I’m going to punish everyone by embarking on another year-round project. I will still write about music and theatre and other life concerns, but my daily impetus for writing will be A quiet strength: meditations on the masculine soul , by various authors, including one named, I kid you not, Shepherd Bliss.
Why I am in the possession of such an Iron John-y book, I cannot now remember. I must have been in search of something. Remember that I also have Affirmations for artists, and at some point I used to have some kind of daily taoist stuff too. I don’t think I ever read any of them straight through.
So what am I doing now? Am I seriously going to take up the meditations of this little gem and issue a sermon every day on what it means/takes/hurts to “be a man.” Who knows? I’m just going to write every day and see what we get.
“Being a man.” What does it mean to “be a man”? This is always posed as if it were a Big Question, and the very posing leaves those of us who are if nothing else male feeling inadequate because we don’t in fact know the answer.
Shouldn’t we know the answer? On the one hand, we should know the answer because we are men, yes? On the other hand, what if we don’t know the answer? What if we are something less than men because somehow we have never measured up? Our failure is painful and secret.
Many years ago, at GHP, one of our CommArts teachers, Errol, arrived in Valdosta with a raging sinus infection that landed him in the hospital the Sunday the students arrived. On Monday night, I was asked to take over his classes for the week.
One of the classes was on Faulkner, and that was a piece of cake. I took a mythopoetic approach to the bits we read, and the kids ate it up.
His other class, though, was Hemingway, and I didn’t really know a lot about him as an author. But I plunged right in and took Hemingway’s manly manliness by the horns by posing the question to my students, what does it take to be a man?
All week we both read Hemingway and researched gender roles in the library, leading up to our final discussion. I asked the class to generate a list of attributes of manhood, and since they were GHP students, they suggested that the girls and boys generate separate lists and then we could compare.
The two lists were nearly identical, of course, and about two-thirds of the way through, as I was writing the attributes on the board, one of the girls pointed out that there was nothing on either list that was not simply part of being a sane, productive adult of either sex. So said we all. We never did untangle what old Ernest was on about, although we suspected it had something to do with causing oneself pain. And liking it.
Perhaps we may discover more in the coming year.