I've been thinking about Oklahoma State Coach Mike Grundy this week. This is probably the first time in ten years that I've given so much thought to football. And even now, I'm not really thinking about football. I'm thinking about the differences between male and female in 21st Century America. (That sounds more like me, doesn't it?)
Coach Grundy's irritation was justified. But was his behavior? Here, I have to ask the million-dollar question. Would Coach Grundy have unloaded on a man that way? I don't think so, and here's why. (Bear with me, I'm going to be offensive.)
The field of sports writing is one of the last remaining Professionally Male Spaces. What I mean is that a woman cannot easily operate in the profession of sports writing unencumbered with some kind of secret weapon. And when we're talking about sports writing, that secret weapon is often startling good looks coupled with a projected (however so deceptive) sense of sexual availability. Have you seen the women reporting from the sidelines on ESPN? Yeah, me too. While I wouldn't say they are stupid, I certainly wouldn't say they are ugly. (Not that the two are mutually exclusive. They most certainly aren't.) And what happens to a woman who dares transgress the P.M.S. (AWESOME!) of sports writing without her secret weapon? Well, Coach Grundy eats her lunch on national television. I'll just go ahead and ask the question you are. Would it have been different if the reporter somehow projected sexual availability? Yes. It would have. And you can figure out why.
One of the first things Coach Grundy says to the reporter is "you obviously don't have children." That's a curious statement. I've often heard it uttered from one female to another or from a male to a female, but never from a male to a male. And what am I to take away from that? Well, at it's core it's an offensive statement. Whether the speaker realizes it or not, it calls into question the gender identity of the person spoken to. "You must not have any children" could just as easily be "You aren't a real woman (or man)." And I don't know that I would have recognized how loaded that statement is if I wasn't vulnerable to it. So, is that my bias interpreting that statement, or did my bias open my eyes to what it actually means? I don't know. What I do know is that I've never heard it said when the speaker wasn't already angry. And that means something. So why isn't that statement used between men? Because it's tantamount to saying "You don't have any balls." And that statement could easily erupt into violence, especially in a testosterone-fueled P.M.S.
Coach Grundy did what he did because he didn't have to worry about a violent retribution. And that's cowardly.
But this gives rise to another question. (Which I'll answer more succinctly.) Would the reporter have written a column like that if she were a man operating in a P.M.S.? I don't think so. He article is emasculating to the player she writes about. In it, she's basically making the same gender-questioning statement that Grundy is. And if she were a male, she'd have to be concerned with a violent retribution. But, because she's a female, she can avoid violence so she doesn't censor herself. And that, too, is cowardly.
See how much better the world would be if we could just beat each other up? Sometimes, violence is the answer.
The fall is coming on little cat feet. And with it, comes a tender desire to steal some time away from the bond market and the university and the dingy city and sleep alongside the Tellico river under the Tennessee stars. This afternoon, we dug our tent and sleeping bags out of the closet. We sat up our tent and climbed inside. We hung our sleeping bags over the porch railings like limp, but colorful, children. The seemed to chide us for having been gone for so long. But, we're back now.
We spent our honeymoon in our little tent in the Okefenokee Swamp and it suited us more than the San Francisco Ritz. (Although, the San Francisco Ritz was pleasant to say the least. And the turn-down service is better.)
We think the first four years of our marriage were somewhat traumatic. We experienced job stress (in spades), church stress, major illness and something else. This year, is going to be better. And I can tell because we're starting to act like ourselves again. This Saturday has been like a slow sink into a warm hot tub. I remember who we were, and who we are. I'm looking forward to knowing who we will be.
I heard about Sean Penn’s new movie, Into the Wild, on CBS Sunday Morning and I was captivated by the story. It’s a story that has pursued my heart, in many forms through many incantations down the trail of my life through the forest of my dreams. It’s a story of being different. Of walking off the path and seeing from a different perspective. Some of us are born on the trail.
I read the article that lead to the book that lead to the movie. Jon Krakauer wants to give this hero, Chris McCandless, some kind of excuse for shaving his existence down too much to the edge of the razor and slicing his earthly tether. It doesn’t work, but I admire the effort. I, too, want to believe that he was really killed by a moldy potato seed, but I don’t. It was a valiant attempt at Life Abundant.
As read Krakauer’s article, I’m reminded of Edward Abbey. I first read his stories as a teenager. I was an island at a large suburban high school and I needed these book-friends to reach out to me through their words. It was my foundation and in many ways, although my mother would have me forget it and although I would have me forget that time, it shaped me. And it continues to make me. Or break me. Every year.
And here is something of Ed Abbey to cherish:
One final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am-a reluctant enthusiast... a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards." -Ed Abbey
I've always framed myself--to myself--as someone who must take special precautions to prevent herself from being misused. I've recently had a bit of an epiphany, however, about this lie I've told myself for so long. And it happened at the Atlanta Airport. (As I'm sure, many epiphanies do. At least on television and in some IFC specials.)
My plane from SFO pulled up to the gate about forty minutes from the time my flight to Birmingham was supposed to depart. Forty minutes, at the Atlanta Airport, isn't very much time. Especially when you've got to wheel yourself from Concourse A to Concourse T, and that's the task I had before me. So bent was I on making my plane, that as I was jockeying for a place on that little subway train that moves you between Concourses, I locked eyes with a woman whose heart was also bent on the one (or two) spot(s) left on that train. With my eyes, I plainly told her, I am willing to fight you for this. If you want this spot, it's going to take a lot more from you than your kindergarten-grade intimidation tactics can accomplish. And, despite her fancy shoes and the superior attitude won for her by her shiny shiny hair, she stepped out of my way. And at that moment, I'd say she made a wise choice. Beware the Susanator. Especially on the Ides of March. Susan, armed with a wheelie and an entirely selfish mission, can be fearsome, I admit. Merrily, I sallied forth across an elderly English woman and a family of four as it dawned on me that I am, in fact, not as much of a weenie as I would allow myself (or other people) to admit. And perhaps (of course this is a stretch being that I'm just so darn sweet) I've misused some people in my life. And, frankly, I consider myself to be entirely justified, so long as they started it. This isn't how Jesus would behave in the airport. I'm starting to think that telling me what a weenie I am was a great way for Evil to hide from me what a weenie I'm not.
It will be interesting, for the next few weeks, to figure out where this ephiphanic episode will lead. In the meantime, enjoy the Violent Femmes.
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a little book called The Blithedale Romance about an adventure he had as a young man on a socialist commune called Brook Farm. He devotes his entire introduction to a passionate denial that the story is written from personal experience, but no critic has ever believed him, especially in light of the fact that many of his characters bear an absolutely uncanny resemblance to the original inhabitants of Brook Farm. As you can imagine it would, the Brook Farm experiment ended rather badly when Hawthorne realized the sheer volume of work involved in running a farm and sued the collective for his original $400 "buy-in" amount. He won.
There is a passage describing a certain man, Hollingsworth, who has committed his life to the seemingly noble cause of reforming prisoners. His singular devotion to this "philanthropy" puzzles the other members of Blithedale, being that they intentionally left society to escape the influence of such men. Hawthorne describes him as having taken a turn from his originally honorable goal and become so bent on "proselytizing" others and recruiting them into his work that his ambitions have ceased to be commendable and have instead become patently evil at the core. Hawthorne goes so far as to refer to Hollingsworth's state of mind as the work of a Deceptive Devil. If you join such a man for the first phase of his journey but refuse to continue on with him for the second and third, Hawthorne explains, his hatred for you will not know bounds. He will consciously seek to work you woe and extract a heavy payment for your desertion. It's a rather chilling passage.
When I read Hawthorne, I often want to jump out of my chair and exclaim Eureka! This is it! This is the ideal explanation for the woes of the world around me! Never has the work of any writer been so validating to my own observations as is Hawthorne's, and this is the basis for my love affair. Hawthorne's description of Hollingsworth's "bent," as I've come to think of it, strikes me in such a way.
In a religious context, I've often met men like Hollingsworth. At first (or second or twentieth) meeting, I perceived them as possessing a winsome affection for the people associated with their Cause. They might, as Hollingsworth does, nurse the sick with great tenderness, but it will always be with the goal of proselytising effectively. Once won, these modern Hollingsworths will, by the power of their fickle affections, make you feel accepted and complete. This, they seem to say (indeed they do say) is where you belong. And you believe it. Because you want to. Because all your life you've been wanting to belong. This insidious need to Belong is the Turkish Delight of Man's days Here Below. Though it might be Heaven's relic designed to guide us homeward, its charm is strong and we can't resist gobbling up a counterfeit should we be so fortunate to find one. And once so settled, it is hard to perceive that we are now entirely converted and equally monomaniacal in our aim and purpose to convert, by any means necessary.
But Hope Enters, stage left, and with a little clay and a little spittle opens our eyes. For a moment, we perceive that we aren't home. Like the missionary who arrived at New York from a long African deployment at the same time as a President and wondered why the celebration wasn't his, we aren't Home yet. Earth doesn't satisfy. In fact, our souls are often wooed to the desert intentionally, so we won't be deceived into settling for the false and icy palace of a Snow Queen. I've found that at the moment of despair, Hope comes like a cheerful father wanting to whirl me around with my eyes closes. You would think, says Karen Peris, that Hope would be tired. But it's alright. And it leads you away from the familiar, out of the boat, out of a comfortable home and places you on a path to Heaven. Hope holds my hand. Hope shines the way. Out of the crowd of Hollingsworths, Hope draws me away.
This has been a hard year, or three years, actually. When I look at my face in the pictures from our vacation, I see the hardness etched on my face. But I look carefully, and I see Hope, underneath it all peeking out like a row of women welcoming a war ship with flags flying out of the mist of the Golden Gate Bridge. You would think now that Hope would be tired. You would think now that Hope would be ragged and Oil Brown. But, it's alright. It's alright.
I landed in Birmingham last night, safe and sound. My father picked my up from the airport and I came directly home to write a paper. I didn't wake up until about ten this morning. My brain is still on the West Coast floating down The Embarcadero barking with the seals, flying over Alcatraz Island and over the Golden Gate Bridge. I love California. I love the health food stores, the excercise, the bright bay air and the green-thinking people. I even love Southern California with the beautiful beaches and high-breaking waves. I love that the people in San Francisco don't do the Chicago Walk down the sidewalk. (Although I confess, I DO perform the Chicago Walk down the street in Birmingham, in San Francisco, in Seattle, in Chicago. It involves looking over the heads of the people pushing past you on the sidewalk toward the place you want to go and sallying forth without mercy. The cardinal rules are as follows: Don't make eye contact with anyone. Don't change course. Don't break stride. Ever.)
I have a lot to say about my experiences in Sunny San Francisco, which is, incedentally the most beautiful city I've ever visited. I'm a little tired right now, though, and I've got to go outside and tend to the patch of weeds we call a yard before David flies home on Friday. I've lots of pictures.