Royal blue and pauper orange

Don’t talk.
Each word bumps me
closer to your center axis,
each sentence forecasts
some long-awaited contact,
and every paragraph heats my entrails like
electricity through overburdened copper coils.

I am increasingly vigilant
but it seems you will always be
just out-of-reach:
microns are miles,
and I still don’t know you.

So I will now defy time
and jump across this sadistically tiny chasm

to your brain. There
I will become your palette,
if but for a moment. There
I will know how it feels to be

ultraviolet and infrared:
your sempiternal extremities; and

royal blue and pauper orange:
the mutually exclusive
and desperately symbiotic castes which
cast shadows on each other; and

inchworm green to sunrise yellow,
measuring the slow and careful story of your
seasons;

and all your colors in-between
and above and below
and all the rest unseen
whose hues and values deign to show themselves.

- Jan. 3, 2001

“My tears watered my mother’s corpse.”

My tears watered my mother’s corpse. She was in her nursing home gown, the blanket pulled up to her waist. Her head was tilted to one side, her mouth open, her tongue visibly swollen as it had been in her last days. I wailed long, natural wails. Such a reaction I had not expected to rise out of me.

After a minute or two the crying and wailing subsided to sniffles. I turned around, looked about the room. I caught sight of a small placard on the shelf among her meager final belongings. It read, “Love conquers all. Virgil.” It had hung in her apartment a few years. I picked it up, placed it on my mother’s breastbone, and looked at her again.

A nurse had placed a teddy bear beside her previously. I don’t know whether my mother would have approved of such a sentimental measure. She was 70 at the time of her death. Would she have deemed it humiliating, condescending, clueless on the part of the nurse? In life my mother was a Sherman tank, at times. I chuckled at what she might like to say about her current predicament. A bringer of war has no need of a teddy bear, you moron, you imbecile. You are below me. Maybe she liked the teddy bear. But what did she care now. This tawdry arrangement of limbs, linens, child’s toy, and placard was for the mewing psychological requirements of we the living. At least she had the word “conquer” now on her chest. That would be acceptable under any circumstances.

The curtain was pulled around her nursing home bed for privacy. The effect was of a makeshift mausoleum. A pop-up tent for dead people to be humiliated beneath the gaze of their ungrateful, semi-estranged offspring. You mourn me now, vile children. Your display of grief is a lie. Where were you when I needed you? We were off avoiding you, Mom. None of us could stand you. Don’t forget who turned away whom. I’m not lying. Damn you, you wretch, you train wreck, you twisted mass of nature, I grieve you.

You blind archangel. Flaming sword of Quixotic justice. Stoker of fires for hot air balloons, crucible of my armor. I grieve you.

The wailing started up again, then subsided after another minute. I hung my head. Suddenly I felt to make sure she was actually dead. I needed to be sure. Sure enough, the skin on her hands and face was lifeless. I’d never felt a dead person before, but I could tell. I listened for breath. Nothing. I sat perfectly still and watched her chest: the placard didn’t move. I was sure now. I stood up. Watched her a minute or two longer. Snapped a morbid photo. I do not apologize for this last measure; I have only one or two of her from when she was alive. Dead Mom, living Mom — I’ll take any photo I can get.

The whole affair lasted not ten minutes. I backed away slowly. Turned.

Walked out.

good-men-project-header

Towards a New Male Dignity: Why I’m Joining The Good Men Project

Update, April 16, 2014, 4:25pm: My beliefs have been called into question. Read my post “Statement of Beliefs” (or watch it on YouTube) for the truth about what I think.

I just got off the phone with Lisa Hickey, CEO of The Good Men Project (GMP), and I’m now on that website’s editorial staff. I’ve written three articles for GMP in the past, and I’m optimistic about the opportunity to write and edit with GMP on an ongoing basis. Hickey and I discussed editorial parameters, story ideas, organizational procedures and other matters. It was a frank discussion.

Concerning men’s rights

The first question I had for Hickey was whether men’s rights was an issue I would be able to talk about openly on GMP. The men’s consciousness movement is a fractured one. There have been heated battles between the men’s rights movement and the more mainstream, feminism-positive treatment of men’s issues that Hickey and GMP espouse. Hickey, who is sympathetic to the men’s rights movement, has been the object of much criticism for allowing feminism a place at the GMP table. I myself am sympathetic to the men’s rights movement and am not in any way a fan of feminism, but this will not be a problem. Hickey and I agreed that I would be able to talk about men’s rights in my capacity at GMP, but I will distance my writings there from the men’s rights movement by using a different lexicon than the latter uses. I’m fine with this because I have the communication skills to get my point across in multiple ways.

GMP does not mind some controversy — after all, controversy is the lifeblood of the publishing world — but too much controversy can break down trust and by extension readership. Four million unique monthly page views — that’s what GMP gets. Hickey is a smart publisher. She knows her audience. I will work within the proven editorial framework she has developed over the years, but best believe I will never type a single word I don’t believe in. I do not consider GMP to be an enemy, but rather an ally of the men’s rights movement when viewed through a distant lens: it’s one of the few publications out there that actually look at men as men. From the broader cultural standpoint, GMP helps bring awareness to the men’s rights movement even if the publication does allow the feminist ideology its due tribute as the reigning sociological force of our time. Feminism is the de facto law of the land. To ignore it is to make a strategic error in the epic struggle for justice for all people. Therefore I work within it. Hickey and the rest of the staff at GMP may or may not see it that way, not exactly, but I certainly do, and therein lies my chief motive for lending my perspective to GMP. Let my heart be known to all, and let no one have grounds for accusing me of “white knighting” or being a “mangina” or “Uncle Tim”. My words and actions, not the institutions I labor within, speak for me. If any man or woman wishes to call me out, let him or her do so on that basis alone. I invite it.

American Family, and other stories

I will also be writing personal stories that speak to a wider audience. Hickey tells me those are some of GMP’s most successful article types. I’m excited about this. I was kidnapped by my mother when I was a baby; I knew many, many men through my mother while I was growing up; I met my father when I was 20. Those and myriad other stories are the subjects of my upcoming book American Family. I will be posting such stories to GMP, told in a self-contained format you won’t be able to find anywhere else.

New and commentary

I’ll also be posting news and commentary about men’s and other issues — more your standard journalism fare, the kind of writing I went to school for, trained for, and have 15 years’ experience doing.

Satire?

Finally, I asked whether I could write satire for GMP. Hickey said that’s iffy. GMP has tried publishing satire in the past, and apparently it causes too much confusion, so GMP shies away from it. She didn’t say I couldn’t do it — just that we’ll be taking it on a case by case basis. I love satire for its subversive capabilities. It makes people think before drawing knee-jerk conclusions. It crashes the gates of consciousness through the side door, as it were. No matter — there are plenty of venues for me to write satire (see The Wrong Dictionary and Famous Fake Quotes pages on Facebook or the Satire category on this blog for examples of some of my ongoing satirical writings.)

Contributions welcome

Aside from writing, I’ll also be managing contributions from men’s issues writers. If you want to submit an article to The Good Men Project, please contact me. You don’t get paid, but you do get massive exposure (the site gets 4 million unique views monthly, as mentioned.) Familiarize yourself with GMP’s editorial slant by reading some of the articles there before you submit an idea to me. If I like your idea and I can vet your ability to write a compelling piece within the bounds of GMP’s standards and best practices — or better yet, if you show me the piece as written (don’t worry, I don’t steal other writers’ work) — I will format and post your submission to GMP for you. You get your own short bio and you can link to whatever site you want.

Why I’m interested in men’s issues

Men’s issues have been a growing interest of mine ever since childhood. My mother, may she rest in peace, always described herself as a feminist, and in many ways that was an accurate self-description, yet she also sometimes spoke of how terrible it is that men are so degraded in the media, their feelings dismissed, their abuse by wives ignored, their disposability so ingrained and taken for granted in our society. When I was in high school, a girl once told me, point blank, without a scintilla of irony, “Men are stupid” — knowing full well she was backed up by decades of male-bashing to get away with holding that repugnant belief. Five years ago, I posted a short YouTube video of me talking about circumcision. Entitled “From My Cold, Dead Foreskin“, that video garnered thousands of hits and dozens of comments from the men’s rights community. What is going on here? I wondered. Right around that time, The Good Men Project launched, the men’s rights community was blooming, and the world was starting to question its assumptions about men as men.

The state of the movement

There is still much work to be done, much writing to do, before men are seen as human beings by the public and by the institutions we labor within. Women have their issues, yes, but I think it safe to say there’s already plenty being said and done for that demographical half of the population. Two days ago I stopped into the Barnes and Noble downtown Minneapolis to see their gender studies section. I wanted to know how many books about women could be found there versus the number of books about men. The ratio was about 25 titles to zero. That’s right, zero. The Second Sex, The Feminine Mystique, Vagina by Naomi Wolf — all were right there in brand new editions. No Warren Farrell, no Christina Hoff Sommers, no Helen Smith — not a single book about men on the cultural studies shelf. Sure, you can find them all online or at any halfway decent public library (the Hennepin County library is kind enough to carry all of two dirty, use-worn copies of The Myth of Male Power), but my Barnes and Noble excursion is a fine anecdotal example of just how little our culture thinks of the male sex.

“Oh, the poor men,” a former associate of mine once scowled, in commenting sarcastically on the legitimacy of the men’s rights movement.

I rest my case. It’s that kind of attitude we’re working to adjust. People aren’t even willing to admit the founding assumptions of the men’s rights movement, namely that men have sentience and that men are discriminated against in our society in very real and immediate ways. The Good Men Project speaks to just that callous audience — the ones who think everything is fine and dandy for men, or that if it’s not, it’s only because “patriarchy hurts men too.” Ostensibly, GMP is about teaching men how to be “good,” which is what that audience wants to see. Fine. Let’s teach men how to be “good”. As for my contribution to that goal, let us teach that good men should have self-respect and dignity. That good men do not roll over and take abuse. That good men represent themselves favorably wherever appropriate: in the courts, in society, in the home. A good man is one who realizes his value to women and other men. He must treat himself well and not put himself in needlessly dangerous and thankless situations — not just because self-respect is the bedrock that allows him to treat others well, but because good self-treatment is a worthy and honorable end unto itself.

Honesty is paramount

The cards are on the table. My agenda is known. I want The Good Men Project to succeed on its own terms within the editorial parameters it has found to be a successful framework for bringing awareness about men to the public. I stand with Lisa Hickey in her personal and professional reasons for launching and operating that website. Her methods are shrewd, her intentions honorable. She presents herself honestly. I’m proud that she wants me aboard and I’m happy to join her.

Let’s see where this ship takes us, shall we?

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic…and Tai Chi, Cribbage, and the Revolution

Two weeks ago, I decided to become a tutor. So I posted the following on Facebook:

“I want to be a tutor. If you have or know a K-12 student who would benefit from a free tutoring session, please message me. I’ll send you some information about my philosophy, methods, experience, and references. Sound good?”

I’ve been writing professionally since 1999, and more-or-less consistently since 2005, and it’s time for a change. I’m not giving up writing, not by a long shot, but I am adding tutoring to my bag of tricks. Ultimately I want to take on a handful of students in my immediate geographical area and help them in whatever way they need.

Why I Became a Tutor

So what brought about this sudden change? Actually it wasn’t that sudden, not from where I’m standing. I’ve done some tutoring here and there for young people. I started with my nephew, who needed a little help with his homework in 4th and 5th grade. I found I enjoyed that process immensely. He did too, he tells me.

I’ve also run a few workshops for young people as well as adults. Subjects ranged from spoken word poetry to percussion to running a social media strategy for small businesses. All of these were a lot of fun for me, and a worthy challenge.

But I never pursued teaching of any kind as a serious profession until now. I’ve long been interested in the topic of education, and how we come to learn things. We learn things from the official government-sanctioned education system, but it doesn’t stop there. We learn everywhere. Our parents teach us. Books teach us. More often than most sources, TV teaches us, as do radio, the Internet, and all other forms of media. We learn from nature, from conversations with other humans, and from trial and error in our own experiences.

We are always learning. All of these inputs are the “nature” component of the “nature vs. nurture” question in the development of a human individual. What we learn becomes who we are, which becomes what we do, which becomes the fate of the whole world. We humans have great power over the fate of not just our own destinies but that of the planet as a whole. What we learn will determine the future in a very real sense.

And so I teach — or rather, tutor. I take a one-on-one approach to educating an individual to meet the challenges the world throws at us — but then to turn around and offer the world a few challenges of our own. Two can play at this game, world. We will not stand and simply react to the game you have created for us. We are here to change the game. We are here to create a new game — one which you, world, will eventually have to contend with.

Through educating a young mind, I can change the world. This is the peaceful revolution.

How I Tutor

I now have two students. One is a first grader, the other a second grader, both boys. I’ve had two sessions with the first grader and one with the second grader. We worked on math, reading, spelling, and some extra-curriculars like tai chi, cribbage, and drawing five-pointed stars.

I take a holistic, improvisational approach to tutoring, balancing the needs of the curriculum with the needs of the student. One student has trouble focusing and is full of unquenchable physical energy, so I introduced tai chi into the lesson plan. I had him mirror my movements. We worked on breathing, standing, listening, remaining silent, moving in a slow, flowing manner, and always bringing the moving foot back to center before placing it somewhere else. Tai chi is yogic meditation in motion, which I believe is the perfect combination for an energy-rich seven-year-old boy who has trouble focusing and finding tranquility. I believe this will help him harmonize with a world that demands we sit in boxes — while at the same time prepare him to think freely and command a righteous destiny of his own design.

The same boy and I also played a truncated game of cribbage. That was actually his idea. He had learned the basic idea of the game from a relative and wanted to play it with me, so he brought the board over to the dining room table along with a deck of cards. We played, and I took the opportunity to throw some math at him. Fifteen-two, fifteen-four, and a pair is six — that sort of thing.

The other student, the second grader, wanted help on his spelling take-home pre-test, so we went through it together. I would read each word aloud from the list. He would then spell it aloud, use the word in a sentence, and write the word down in the correct column on the worksheet. The three columns were organized by common letter combinations that appear in the words. I noticed he was great at identifying which column to place the words in. He was also pretty good at spelling words aloud. But by the time the words had to be written down, he would make more mistakes. This showed me that there is a loose connection between his auditory learning centers in his brain and his visual learning centers. So for some words, I had him stare at the word on the list while I covered up the surrounding words with my hands and repeat the word aloud a few times. “Stare at the word as you say the word,” I instructed him a few times. He followed my directions. I hope that will help in the long run to combine the visual with the auditory. The more synaesthetic (cross-sensory) connections are established in the brain, the stronger and more resilient the brain becomes. I also had him do the “extra credit” words — he got one of the five correct, and I made a point of making a big deal out of it. He feared the extra credit words because they were called “challenge” words. I told him to never, ever be afraid of the challenge words, and to never be afraid of being wrong. Be adventurous.

I try to balance staying on task with embracing spontaneity. During the spelling pre-test, the boy wanted to draw a five-pointed star. He didn’t know how to do it, so I showed him. We took turns with the pencil until he could do it. He seemed satisfied in the end. I feel it gave him a feeling of accomplishment — something I think should happen in every lesson, even if it means momentarily deviating from the task at hand. There should always be some form of instant gratification — something the student can point at and be proud of.

More to Come

There is much more to say regarding the act of tutoring, and I will expound on its many aspects in future posts on this blog. Please subscribe. I’ll also post writings and videos explaining why I became a tutor, how I believe education works, what my qualifications for tutoring are, which subjects I can teach, and other questions.

So far, the tutoring life is an absolute pleasure, and I intend to do it for a long time to come.

If you have any questions, let ‘em fly. I’ll try to get to all of them.