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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Little Paragraph on the Homeric Gods

The Gods are well able to assert their effects on the environment without being supernatural entities whom mere skepticism can subtract from the world. The gods are the way history works, the tendency of hubris to bring nemesis; the moral calculus of consequences and repercussions which karma constitutes; they are the contours of human psychology, the endocrine charts of puberty and menopause, and the neurology of epilepsy, and of the poet’s trance, and of the soldier’s fight-or-flight response.

Shakespeare Santa Monica's MUCH ADO (6-27-09)

Vincent Cardinale directs this quick, seven-show run whose final performance just took place under the stars at Tennis Court # 1. By way of full disclosure, I should mention that this reviewer is also running around Los Angeles doing Shakespearean acting, and last year I played the role of Antonio in the Porters of Hellsgate production of Much Ado About Nothing. So my perceptions may be colored by a familial love of my own peeps and the directorial choices of Charles Pasternak, who runs the Porters. Nevertheless, blessed with the ability to think for myself, I charge forward into the reviewing portion of what I arrogate to myself as my job.

Great show. As it opened, we were told that one of the first-ever performances of Much Ado About Nothing also took place on a tennis court, and this dispelled any oddness about the location though there were distant yet audible parkgoers and distant yet quite audible fireworks in the background; I imagine the open-air Globe itself was host to plenty of London's noise from sausage-sellers, beggars, itinerant tinkers and polecats. No city goes Juliet-like into a temporary coma just because a performance has started; we all took it in stride. The historical note was endearing, and part of what brought us there was a real thirst for connection to the past. This provided an extra strand of it.

The tennis court is big and brightly lit and airy, qualities it shares with the opening scenes of the Branaugh-Thompson 1993 Much Ado. Neither that film nor Shakespeare's play is the most Italian thing on this Earth, but one does want a sunny background on which to paint the story of deception and discovery, and we had it. In an indoor black box, that is much more difficult. The women in SSM's show were all athletic, buzzing with natural vim, and cute as hell, their affluent white tennis clothes amplifying the already potent perkiness, made even perkier by cheerleading choreography and the breezy abundance of Leonato's Messina. Nobody's going to starve in Much Ado; there's war, but it's far off, and the biggest problem people face is how to couple-up without getting slandered into social death. The villain in this drama, Don John, kills with lies, like Iago; this being a comedy, however, the truth comes out before disaster becomes irreversible, and all is well. The odd thing is that Leonato is given a chance to learn the truth even before the reversible disaster occurs: poor Dogberry and Verges try to tell him and he tries to understand them, but the crazystupid cops and the flustered landlord are too socially and mentally distant to communicate ("This learned constable is too cunning to be understood... V.i. 219-220).

John Farmanesh-Bocca is a sweet, strong, amusing Benedick, delightfully ridiculous in his transformation from a scoffing guy's guy to a smitten devotee of his ex-girlfriend, the Beatrice of one lovely Kim Swennen. Cardinale's direction is broader in its comedy than I was expecting, with plenty of investment in ultra-clarity and plenty of anachronistic departures from Bard-World. Big Kanye West dance number. Waterguns. Claudio mourning with an R&B song (the one longeur in an otherwise well-paced romp of a show--yes, he was mourning, but it still felt too slow for me, with a few thick slices of dead air between the lines). Rhett Nadolny's Dogberry was funny and endearing, not nearly so neurologically weird as the Dogberry of Michael Keaton in KB's movie or of my Porters pal Jack Leahy. The Don John of Carvell Wallace was sort of lost on me, blending into the production with a low-key performance that made people smile, fit with the plot, and neither attained nor perhaps attempted much in the way of evil scary evilness.

In fact the one frightening thing in the production was the cold sarcasm of Bruce Cervi's Antonio--and here my own experience in the role may be blinding me to another actor's interpretation. Since the role was (appropriately) cast to an older actor here, he did not seem to be a credible physical threat to the young Claudio whom he taunts (again, that is appropriate), yet this lithe, bespectacled, patrician Antonio showed neither the anxiety and desperation over fighting a much younger man, nor much of the heartbroken outrage over Hero's disgrace, that I associate with the character. Like every reviewer, of course, I was only there for one performance. But it was creepy-- Cervi's Antonio smiled at Claudio throughout the confrontation and seemed very much in control, as though he had goons in his pay ready to leave a severed horsehead in the kid's bedroom or jump him in the dark (and when he said "come follow me, boy, come, Sir Boy, come follow me," why wasn't he going anywhere?). The prospect of an affluent Yale man (as I mentioned, the show opens with the cast in tennis outfits, including the effeminate yellow cardigan that America's GHWB class wears to say "my money will kill you") smiling while making physical threats he can't personally carry out, is way scarier than a big guy with muscles.

Ross Britz played Hero's suitor well. Much Ado has two comic strata with a layer of semi-tragedy in the middle, and it seems to me that the choice in this role is whether to go tragic when things suck for you, or just tough it out till the comedy returns; I felt Mr. Britz had done the latter; I did not feel as if I was in the presence of a real wound. The actor who did choose that course (to engage in tragic acting when the play appears to turn tragic, even though that turn is temporary) and did manage to pull it off--nearly stealing the show, but for the sass and sheer female power of Swennen's Beatrice--was Tim Halligan's Leonato. Bravo.

I'll close with kudos to Dan Kucin, whose 2008 Coriolanus I reviewed in this blog. His Don Pedro left relatively unexplored the heartbreaking potential of "Will you have me, lady?" But that sacrifice made sense, since Kucin seemed just as young as his Beatrice here; if Don Pedro is played as some 15 or 20 years her senior, then you can get people in the throat by showing the older man trying a final shot at bliss and gracefully failing (as Patrick Saxon did so beautifully in the role last year). Instead, Kucin's Don Pedro was lighter, more pervasive; he held the whole show together, pleasantly piloting the comedy forward and seeming to host it all, as though Leonato were just one private householder but the Don were the spirit of the country wherein such things happen -- reputations are destroyed and restored, justice is administered by hapless illiterates, and the world is peopled.

Apparently we will be given a production of PERICLES soon. I look forward to it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

POETRY Magazine: "unicorn hardcore soft porn abortion e-cards"

Someone named "Freewill Applicator" recently blogged up a less-than-enthusiastic review of a recent issue of POETRY Magazine. In response, the editor of that magazine, Don Share, posted a link to Applicator's hostile review. I commented:

Why is Applicator wrong? [Applicator had critiqued -- in a way that turns out to have been much more favorable than I had at first inferred -- this stanza by a writer named Nada Gordon:] "I was sort of doodling Hitler at my friend’s / house and we couldn’t stop watching / unicorn hardcore soft porn abortion e-cards / containing scenes in which the baby angora unicorn /and Hitler stay warm on a cold night." ...Anybody wanna defend that? Just what subtlety is Applicator missing in dismissing these lines of Nada Gordon [quoted here in pink ...meantime, Applicator has reached out to let me know that in fact he likes these lines... somehow I was unable to detect that fact in his initial post, probably because my own lenses were clouded by my own resentment of POETRY's prestige, which I, like millions of others, lack the fortitude to dismiss, continuing instead to covet it while trying to talk myself out of doing so]? ...just wondering.>>

But Mr. Share said: "I didn't say whether I thought he was wrong!"

So I said: "Don, if you were to agree with Freewill Applicator, that would be strange, wouldn't it? I would need help understanding how you could hold his position and yet publish the poem he despised. If you disagree with him, I wonder why that is. I feel I can learn something here, so I hope you'll comment."

He had also said: "I think I'll blog about the fact that one can take a phrase or some lines from any poem in the world to make it look bad." Following through, he wrote this, on the blog of POETRY Magazine (called Harriett after their founder of a century ago): The Line's for Real, where he claims that Blake's "Tyger, Tyger" is one of the few poems that can hold up to unfavorable excerpting. There, my own moderate response is awaiting moderation by the moderate moderator. Meanwhile, here it is:

"Maybe you are referring to the stanza recently discussed by one Freewill Applicator (it ain’t me & I do not know the person) at the seemingly genderless blog:
http://nonprovocativeurl.blogspot.com/2009/06/review-of-poetry-magazine-julyaugust.html, in a less-than-enthusiastic review of a particular issue of POETRY Magazine?
"If so, I think defending your choice (which you seem to be interested in doing, here in the current post) would require posting the entire poem, since you suggest that it only seems to suck because it was quoted “out of context.” By all means, let’s see the context. Will that change our perception? If context was the missing thing, we should have quite a different experience once it is restored. On the other hand, if the poem is part of a literary “movement” that deliberately spurns context and narrative in the belief that these are somehow primitive, or somehow have been discredited by WWI or the Internet, then “context” is irrelevant, right? Can one have it both ways?"
While that awaits a response, let's do like the Zap, and consider an example from the wacky world of painting: Imagine being shown a "detail" excerpt from a Jackson Pollock, say, the lower left quarter of "Full Fathom Five":



That's the whole painting. Here's the detail:


You might claim that incompleteness did the excerpt an injustice, but the complete painting is no more representational than the excerpt was. You can bring terms like "rhythm" and even "narrative" to a Pollock, but if you go claiming to see figure and ground in it, or linear perspective, you're on your own, though if you are a gate-keeping gallerist many artists will agree with you in exchange for a show of their own work, or a few column inches in the next catalogue of the gallery, or even some free Chardonnay. I am not above such things. 
See Plato's Phaedrus, 275e.

In 1959 Frank O'Hara, whose robust imagination and discerning musical ear are much harder to emulate than his penchant for found objects and free association, wrote this about Pollock: "
...new painting does have qualities of passion and lyrical desperation, unmasked and uninhibited, not found in other recorded eras; it is not surprising that faced with universal destruction, as we are told, our art should at last speak with unimpeded force and unveiled honesty to a future which may well be non-existent..." Yep. As Cubism was a response to the wreckage of other structures (bodies and buildings, mostly) in the First World War, which apparently turned both public architecture and soldier-boy heroism into a single losing proposition, so the advent of the nuclear bomb, in turn, did a larger version of the same thing, stabbing a pair of ironic quotation marks into the poor Oedipal face of Shakespeare's Sonnet 18: "So long as men can breathe or eyes can see..." Allen Grossman taught us all about this in a great 1990 essay called "Nuclear Violence, the Institutions of Holiness, and the Structures of Poetry."

Back to our story:

I admire poetry by "talk poets" like Mark Halliday and David Kirby, who put aside conventions of poetic form because they want to be socially informal while they talk about interesting things that happen to real people, using language that sometimes becomes memorable, even wonderfully so. I also enjoy much of the clever prose-like poetry of Stephen Paul Miller, who is not my kind of poet but whose intelligence and genuine Buddhist detachment has him writing some very interesting things of intermittent beauty and grace. And I really like the playful poetry of Brendan Constantine, whose speakers are usually inanimate objects, because his inanimate objects engage each other in relationships of desire, loss, pain and joy and so on. I mention these guys (and I know they're all guys) because much of their work is less grave than Homer,
Dickinson, Shelley or Yeats, the heavy hitting early Robert Lowell of the Quaker Graveyard, and yet I get joy and/or insight from it. I could mention another fifty or sixty (maybe 35% of them women, btw) currently writing poets whose work I love. Big-deal serious lyric poetry of public import is my favorite thing, which is why I try to write that kind. I do, however, love some lighter poetry and some even goofy-ass poetry. But as for "I was sort of doodling Hitler at my friend's / house and we couldn't stop watching / unicorn hardcore soft porn abortion e-cards / containing scenes in which the baby angora unicorn / and Hitler stay warm on a cold night." , there is an awful lot of it about, these days.

I thought,
If only there were a word for just what it is that I dislike so much... and then it happened! Using the information superhighway, I discovered I don't have to spell it out anymore. They call it FLARF! As its name suggests, Flarf poetry is other people's mental flatulence: if you analyze it as if it were literary, you are their beloved dupe; if you hate it, you are a philistine; if you love it, you are a blessed, ludic, less-deceived soul whose indifference to serious business (such as other people, their suffering, the past, our shared fate, America's troubles, etc.) shows you have been saved.

Here is critic Josh Corey on the matter:

"I'm no flarfist, but I admire the subversive energy of the project, the daring of setting out to write deliberately bad poetry so as to put our received ideas of "the poetic" into question. It's become a genuine movement, and the evidence of this is that critics (like Dan Hoy and Jane) and assorted flarfists are now struggling to control its reception. This is the final gesture by which a movement or poet or technique becomes canonical, I think: after this it's all consolidation and textbooks. Which does not necessarily negate flarf's subversive potential; but I think the energy behind flarf, the desire to upset the apple-cart, is bound to move on toward something else now."
A few years back someone at a certain bastion of Ivy League gate-keeping set out to "make a splash" (his words) in the publishing world by commissioning translators for a new set of Greek Dramas. What was the splashy part? He chose people who did not know Greek (one of whom told an assembled audience of over 200 MLA attendees [might've been the then-newly formed ALSC, I don't remember, but I was there] that he had accepted awards for his translations from the Hungarian without really knowing any Hungarian either, and that his graduate students had done most of the work --- asked [not by me] whether any ethical issue arose for him, he shook his head as if the questioner were, well ...speaking Hungarian).

Now, the good-ole American craving for fame may be sick, but it is a disease we inhale with each breath, passively consuming its memes and values like estrogen precursors in our tap water or radioactivity in our tobacco. Unless you had a perfect allotment of good-enough motherlove, you will be like Hart Crane in craving "an improved infancy" and perhaps hoping (as I confess I do) that literary fame will amount to one. That's a pathogenic idea, amazingly resistant to sensible critique because of its deeply emotional false promise, but it is rooted in real feeling and sometimes tethered to both an actual artistic gift and the decades of work it takes to learn a craft and produce real work.
But the desire to "make a splash" with bad translations, or upset the applecart with bad poetry (remember, the Flarfist is likely to embrace "bad" as a badge of liberation from the merely conventional rigors of "good") is something different. It is postmodern aestheticism, the precious, effete, winkingly decorative art of whimsy and camp that has nothing to do with what people actually go through, male or female, gay or straight. It is narcissism without the deadly earnest candor of the writer's heart to pay the price; it is the later Anne Carson of lists and acronyms, not the early Anne Carson of pain; it is a heap of broken, context-free toys that a grown-up is trying to want because they are what s/he has.

Guess who else likes to "admire the subversive energy" of aimless whimsy? Langley, folks! Because if you're going to be subverting things, your friends at The Congress for Cultural Freedom prefer that you subvert THE PICTURE PLANE or THE FICTION OF THE AUTHORIAL EGO or THE DISCREDITED IMPERIAL FRAMEWORK OF THE SONNET FORM, rather than, say, their own high-maintainence, well-lubricated, tax-free interest-free ever-liquid narco cash machine: http://www.fromthewilderness.com/members/092206_caracas_washington.shtml

Left to their own devices, some artists will write in the tradition of great Hollywood pinko movies like "On The Waterfront," with its unions and its workers and its real physical objects like food and bricks; they might even write about things like the CIA's own election fraud and political murders of leftists in Italy. Instead, try to have them write something more.... um,
subversive, like this: "I was sort of doodling Hitler at my friend's / house and we couldn't stop watching / unicorn hardcore soft porn abortion e-cards / containing scenes in which the baby angora unicorn / and Hitler stay warm on a cold night."

Now, I'm not saying that the person who wrote those aimless, centerless, shapeless lines -- or the editor who decided to publish them -- is in the pay of The Man. Some people will do this sort of thing for free.


Left to their own devices, some artists will write in the tradition of great Hollywood pinko movies like "On The Waterfront," with its unions and its workers and its real physical objects like food and bricks; they might even write about things like the CIA's own election fraud and political murders of leftists in Italy. Instead, try to have them write something more.... um,
subversive, like this: "I was sort of doodling Hitler at my friend's / house and we couldn't stop watching / unicorn hardcore soft porn abortion e-cards / containing scenes in which the baby angora unicorn / and Hitler stay warm on a cold night."

Now, I'm not saying that the person who wrote those aimless, centerless, shapeless lines -- or the editor who decided to publish them -- is in the pay of The Man. Some people will do this sort of thing for free.

http://www.fromthewilderness.com/members/092206_caracas_washington.shtml

Left to their own devices, some artists will write in the tradition of great Hollywood pinko movies like "On The Waterfront," with its unions and its workers and its real physical objects like food and bricks; they might even write about things like the CIA's own election fraud and political murders of leftists in Italy. Instead, try to have them write something more.... um,
subversive, like this: "I was sort of doodling Hitler at my friend's / house and we couldn't stop watching / unicorn hardcore soft porn abortion e-cards / containing scenes in which the baby angora unicorn / and Hitler stay warm on a cold night."

Now, I'm not saying that the person who wrote those aimless, centerless, shapeless lines -- or the editor who decided to publish them -- is in the pay of The Man. Some people will do this sort of thing for free.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Remarks on "Catch Me Now I'm Falling" by The Kinks


1. The riff is the same as "Jumpin' Jack Flash" by the Rolling Stones. There must be a great deal written about that somewhere but I don't care to look in this instance.

2. It's one of those songs whose chorus quite outshines the verses: "Now I'm calling all citizens, / From all over the world / This is Captain America calling. / I bailed you out when you were down on your knees / So will you catch me, now I'm falling?" They sing this in a beautiful way.

3. It's a bit too timely for comfort of course.

4. There is a longeur of 30 seconds from 2:59 to 3:29 which I find sort of inert and even a bit demanding (bad combination, inert and demanding), with its foursquare thud.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Saturday, June 6, 2009

On the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009

A Note to Congress

No matter how much or how little "pollution credits" cost, for the moment they remain little more than an accounting gimmick. Pollution allowances can be sold to raise gov't money to invest in clean technologies, or given away to purchase the short-term rational loyalty of businessmen. That's all.

Carbon taxes are a good idea; progressive carbon taxes should draw from big corporate polluters, while regressive carbon taxes should draw from The People as we drive our SUVs, eat meat every day, and fill our hatchbacks with groceries of processed Agribusinessproductloaf.

I understand that the first draft of the bill would have required utilities to produce 25 percent of their power from renewable energy by 2025, but that this figure is now 20 percent. That's disappointing, but I'm o.k. with it, not knowing just what your motivations were and what was achieved by the concession.

As for the legislative process driving the current bill, "The People’s business should be done in front of the people. Instead," writes the group Public Citizen, "deals have been cut in back rooms to bribe special interests into supporting the bill."

Conservation, contraction, re-localization are far more important than renewable technology for our future.

I repeat: continuous conservation, contraction, re-localization are far more important than renewable technology. We need both, but the SCALE of our energy consumption has got to change by an order of magnitude before "renewables" can ever really matter. If you can legislate us a minimally traumatic way into that process, you are heroes indeed. May I recommend the book "A Presidential Energy Policy", by Michael Ruppert? You may find it helpful in your daunting task.

With respect and gratitude,

Dr. Jamey Hecht
http://poetrypoliticscollapse.blogspot.com

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

J. Edgar Hoover Portrait Tile















Under the glassy surface of the past, its solid square,
Smiles the fat sadistic tyrant in his skin of dirty joy,
Blackmail and his own bad drag, celluloid and negatives
and tapes on everybody else. Look at that face. Grendel.
He’d eat your secret heart, eat your diary, eat your ears.
The shower in his bathroom runs on other people’s tears.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Norah Vincent's "Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back"

Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back by Norah Vincent

Well, good stuff. It seems to this reader that Vincent is further along than most people get on the journey to self-knowledge. She's also a craftswoman whose prose consistently draws along the reader's interest -- though there is the occasional glitch, such as "In [Robert] Bly's reading of the Grimm tale 'Iron John,' passive, fearful men must have the courage to reclaim their essential manhood by literally [sic] dredging up this lost fierceness and vitality from inside them, just as the young men in the Grimm story dredge up hairy, muddy Iron John from the bottom of a swamp."
(230). I guess the editor at Viking missed that one. But we are told later that Vincent's father was an icy grammarian, so it makes sense that so competent a writer can nevertheless be found making such a gaffe, in an unconscious slap at Dad. It's mostly well-written.
I did not like her third chapter at all. "Sex" is one unremittingly damning portrait of what must have been the worst strip club in the world. I am not about to launch into a paean to Strip Club Culture and lose six hours of my life researching the web sites and books that perfectly epitomize my nuanced position on the matter, but I do not regard them as either snakepits of abysmal cynicism nor innocent dens of Bacchanalian joy. Vincent wound up in some hellish hole in the ground, and seems to have taken it as representative.

The basic action of the book -- comprising the year Nora Vincent spent on a calendar she turned mosaic with Ned days and Norah hours; the choices she made at the keyboard; and the book that resulted -- is a gesture of social empathy, enacted through deception of that empathy's objects. Like the rest of us she, too -- this handsome, mag-writing, not-so-academic dyke -- is an ego with a c.v. who undertakes projects she can sell. But she also seems to care about people in general, and, with understandable ambivalence, she cares about men, too. The author's basic decency is what keeps the book interesting, not the ironies of deceiving someone in order to empathize with him. When Norah Vincent poses as one Ned Vincent in order to join a men's league bowling team, a men-only monastery, and then a men's movement retreat, the deception is necessary if the book is to appear; but the book is an act of love and understanding, and I agree with the author's reasoned if somewhat self-serving conclusion that it's a good enough book to justify the crap she put people through in getting it researched and written.
Strikingly, according to the book's final pages all this bullshitting in the name of the truth seems to have exacted a serious personal price -- a voluntary trip to the psych ward -- which itself became the basis for her next book, Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin, out now from Viking.

I enjoyed the weird Self-Made Man, and I appreciate the sacrifices its author made in the effort to write it.

As with Susan Faludi's Stiffed, I find myself impressed with a book whose core motive is solidarity and compassion. Now here are some excerpts, all from a few pages just before the book's end. I find a few of Norah Vincent's formulations so compelling that I've put them in boldface. From
Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back by Norah Vincent:
------
It was hard being a guy. Really hard. And there were a lot of reasons for this, most of which, when I recount them, make me sound like a tired and prototypical angry young man.

It’s not exactly a pose I relish. I used to hate that character, the guy in the play or the novel who drones on and on about his rotten deal in life and everyone else’s responsibility for it. I always found him tedious and unsympathetic. But after living as a guy for even just a small slice of a lifetime, I can really relate to that screed and give you one of my own. In fact, that’s the only way I can truthfully characterize my life as a guy. I didn’t like it.


I didn’t like how wooden I felt and had to make myself in order to pass as a believable guy. I had to do a lot of crossing out when I crossed from woman to man. I hadn’t anticipated this when I’d started as Ned. I had thought that by being a guy I would get to do all the things I didn’t get to do as a woman, things I’d always envied about boyhood when I was a child: the perceived freedoms of being unafraid in the world, stamping around loudly with my legs apart. But when it actually came to the business of being Ned I rarely felt free at all. Far from busting loose I found myself clamping down instead.


I curtailed everything: my laugh, my word choice, my gestures, my expressions. Spontaneity went out the window, replaced by terseness, dissimulation and control. I hardened and denied to the point almost of ossification.


I couldn’t be myself, and after a while, this really got me down. I spent so much time worrying about being found out, even after I knew that nobody would question the drag, that I began to feel as stiff and scripted as a sandwich board. And it wasn’t being found out as a woman that I was really worried about. It was being found out as less than a real man, and I suspect that this is something a lot of men endure their whole lives, this constant scrutiny and self-scrutiny.
Somebody is always evaluating your manhood. Whether it’s other men, other women, even children. And everybody is always on the lookout for your weakness or your inadequacy, as if it’s some kind of plague they’re terrified of catching, or, more importantly, of other men catching. If you don’t make the right move, put your eyes in the right place at any given moment, in the eyes of the culture at large that threatens the whole structure. Consequently, somebody has always got to be there kicking you under the table, redirecting, making or keeping you a real man.

And that, I learned very quickly, is the straitjacket of the male role, and one that is no less constrictive than its feminine counterpart. You’re not allowed to be a complete human being. Instead you get to be a coached jumble of stoic poses. You get to be what’s expected of you.


[ ]


Of course, being seen as an effeminate man taught me a lot about the relativity of gender. I’d been considered a masculine woman all my life. That’s part of what made this project possible. But I figured that when I went out as a guy some imbalance would correct itself and I’d be just a regular Joe, well within the acceptable gender spectrum. But suddenly, as a man, people were seeing my femininity, bursting out all over the place, and they did not receive it well. Not even the women really. They, too, wanted me to be more manly and buff, and sometimes they made their fag assumptions, too, even while they were dating me. Hence the phrase “my gay boyfriend.” Women were hard to please in this respect. They wanted me to be in control, baroquely big and strong both in spirit and in body, but also tender and vulnerable at the same time, subservient to their whims and bunny soft. They wanted someone to lean on and hold on to, to look up to and collapse beside, but someone who knew his reduced place in the postfeminist world nonetheless. They held their presumed moral and sexual superiority over me and at times tried to manipulate me with it.


But standing in the pit of the male psyche was no better. There I saw men at their worst, too. I saw how degraded and awful a relentless, humiliating sex drive could make you and how…

[ ]

…someone hanging over my shoulder taking notes, and even though hearing encouragement was always better than being demeaned as a fag, or a brute, or a failure, it was still insulting all the same, because it told me that just being me wasn’t enough.


This was not just my complaint, not just a woman’s mismatch with a man’s part in the world, though that certainly heightened the contrast. It was the complaint of every guy in my men’s group, and a problem if not always a complaint for almost every guy I met, though some of them were too shut down to express, much less see, how much damage “manhood” was doing to them.


In that sense my experience wasn’t unique. Being a guy was just like that much of the time, a series of unrealistic, limiting, infuriating and depressing expectations constantly coming over the wire, and you just a dummy trying to act on the instructions. White manhood in America isn’t the standard anymore by which women and all other minorities are being measured and found wanting, or at least it doesn’t feel that way from the inside. It’s just another set of marching orders, another stereotype to inhabit.


Learning this surprised me. At the beginning of the project I remember thinking that living as a man and having access to a man’s world would be like gaining admission to the big auditorium for the main event after having spent my life watching the proceedings from a video monitor on the lawn outside. I expected everything to be big and out in the open, the real deal live and three feet from my face, instead of seen through a glass darkly. To be sure, there was a time in America when this would have been so, when boardrooms and a thousand other places were for men only, and worming my way into them would have gotten me the royal treatment and given me the very feeling of exclusivity and enlargement that I was anticipating.
But for me getting into the so called boys’ club in the early years of the new millennium felt much more like joining a subculture than a country club. Walking around and interacting with other men as one of them seemed in certain ways a lot like how it feels to interact with other gay people in the straight world. When certain men shook Ned’s hand and called him buddy it felt as if they were recognizing him as one of their own in much the same way that gay people, when we meet each other, often give each other some sign of inclusion that says: “You’re one of my people.”