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What Men Don't Tell Women
By Roy Blount Jr.
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1984 Roy Blount Jr.
All rights reserved.
Where'd You Get That Hat?
BLUE YODEL 1
I just came from this Men and Masculinity Workshop. Rose has completed assertiveness training and she said if she was going to continue relating to me in a broader sense I needed to go through tenderness training and claim my wholeness. She said, "Won't it be nice? We'll hang yours over the lowboy right next to mine." She has her assertiveness certificate up there. This workshop gives you one in tenderness.
It met in the Pierce High gym. We sat cross-legged on the floor to break down our stereotype image of how men sit. And we related our feelings while empathizing.
We learned how men have lost their aliveness in relationships because we have been programmed from an early age to always be in control. Alec was our counselor in getting us to open up. Alec said we had always wanted to be tender, but the society told us we couldn't be, but the rapidly growing men's movement was changing that.
We have to acknowledge that we have always been programmed that men have to always be the strong ones. And instead of using women as a dumping ground for our feelings, we have to not be isolated from other men. Alec told us to put our arm around the next man.
I put my arm around this one man, Neil. He said he was working on getting over his aversion to listening to women talk on the phone. He was getting into nonobjective phone conversation, where you talked to hear the other person's voice. Also talking long-distance without any sense of time. He said it relaxed him. He said his problem came from his father always yelling for everybody in the family to get off the phone for Christ's sake. It took him a long time to realize that relaxing on the phone wasn't sacrilegious. He said he heard there was a way you could apply for a grant to pay your phone bill.
This other man, Jerry, opened up to the group and said his father was not a feeling, emotional man. This other man with a name like Uli said his father wasn't either.
There were these teenage kids coming into the gym bouncing a basketball.
Then Neil said he had something to say he'd never told anybody. He said he walked past his parents' bedroom one morning on his way to breakfast and instead of being at the breakfast table already his father was lying there in the bed still, crying. His mother was burning bacon. Alec asked Neil how this made him feel. Neil said it was why he lost his erection every time he thought of bacon.
Alec said see, that was that whole male myth.
I wished I had my arm around Uli or Jerry instead. What I really wished was that Alec would hurry up and give us our certificates. I could feel Neil tensing up to tell something else. But then these teenage kids said they had the gym.
Alec said no, we had the gym for another half hour.
These kids said no, they had the gym now. Some of them were over messing with Alec's papers and laughing. Alec went and got his papers.
One of the kids said to Alec, "Hey, what's your problem, man?"
Alec said his problem was all men's problem, grappling with changing roles. He asked the kids if they'd like to sit in on the rest of the session.
The kid with the ball was dribbling real hard right next to me and Neil where we were sitting cross-legged on the floor. And then Neil stood up and started telling about how we were trying to become whole people and the kid bounced the ball off Neil's nose.
And then the kids started pounding on all of us while we were getting uncross-legged and our arms untangled and Neil stole the ball and drove half the court and missed a lay-up. I thought that was pretty cool, if he'd hit it. And the kid Neil stole the ball from pulled out a knife and we left the gym.
We stood outside on the steps. Neil was bleeding. Alec pointed out to us that the kids were caught up in the whole male myth, and we had gotten something out of the experience. He suggested we take turns helping Neil stop bleeding.
So we did, and Neil said his father always accused him of not playing tough when he was hurt. He said one time he had a sprained ankle in the CYO basketball championship and his father made him tape it up and play. "I was eleven," he said. "My father said, 'Be a Marine.'" And Neil missed four lay-ups and his team lost. Neil said he missed lay-ups to prove something to his father.
Then I said, "Well, can we have our certificates?" They were all jumbled up and when Alec got them straight and handed them out, somebody had written FAGIT in big letters on mine.
How will I tell Rose?CHAPTER 2
How to Visit the Sick
Bounding into the room is wrong. Hospitalized people do not like to be bounded in upon. The first thing visitors should see as they step off the elevator is the following sign.
But there is no way to squeeze onto one sign all the things that hospital visitors should bear in mind. Some people assume that just by visiting someone who is sick, they are doing a heartwarming thing. That is like assuming that just because you are walking out onto a stage, you are doing an entertaining thing. A person in a hospital bed is often tempted to take advantage of his position (whose advantages are few enough) by cutting into visitors' conversation sharply with: "If somebody doesn't say something interesting pretty soon I'm going to hemorrhage."
But he doesn't want to deprive his visitors — call them the Bengtsons — of the chance to feel warmhearted. So he doesn't complain. He just lies there, biding his time until the day when he is up and around and the Bengtsons aren't, and he can visit them in a hospital and spill their ice water on their pillows. And the Bengtsons, of course, will have to say, "Oh that's all right! Don't worry!"
One of the burdens of the hospitalized person is that he is, in a sense, the host, and must be gracious to the well. Even though the well often go too far in playing down the seriousness of the patient's complaint: "What you've been through is nothing! My sister had both of hers taken out with no anesthetic."
Or they play it up too much: "You poor thing. I could no more have borne up under this terrible thing the way you have than ... Of course, I don't think the full impact of it has hit you yet."
Or they claim too much expertise with regard to the patient's complaint: "Oh, no, no, that's not right at all. What you've actually had removed is urethral stones. My aunt had the same thing and I did some research on it to fill her in. You see, your trouble is too many cola drinks. Probably been going on for years. So that a kind of fine brown sediment ..."
Or they are too innocent: "Where exactly is the prostate, anyway?"
What are some guidelines to appropriate visitor behavior?
Be sensitive, but not to a fault. Say you are telling a story about frogs. It is better to go ahead and use the word "croak" than to stop at "croa —" and bolt from the room.
Bring gossip. Preferably gossip about people other than the patient. But do not preface such gossip with something like, "Be grateful you're in here. If you were able to work you'd probably be getting fired like Morris Zumer."
Bring anecdotes that make interns and nurses look foolish. Once, in an emergency ward, an intern was trying to deal with a patient who had delirium tremens. "It's your imagination!" the intern insisted. The patient seized him by the necktie so ferociously that the intern could neither breathe nor break the patient's grip. The intern cried out for a nurse, who arrived. "Get ... scissors ... cut ... tie," the intern gasped. The nurse briskly left the room, returned with scissors, pounced, and snipped off the intern's tie — the loose end.
That is a story someone told me in a hospital once, and I enjoyed it. It may not be perfect for every patient. Some patients may prefer quieter stories. Others may have delirium tremens, in which case entertainment is the last thing they need. Every patient is different. But there are three rules that apply to visitors in every case:
Don't bring hand puppets.
Don't, even as a "hoot," serve a subpoena.
Don't get up under the bed and bump around for any reason.
Are you reading this in someone's hospital room? Can it possibly have been left, on purpose, where you would find it? If by any chance you found it under the patient's bed, please get out from under there.
And now please let the patient watch "Family Feud" in peace.CHAPTER 3
BLUE YODEL 2
I know this guy, says he has Flower Guilt.
"What?" I say.
He says, "Let's face it: Men don't like flowers."
I say I like flowers.
"Okay," he says. "You like flowers. But you don't love flowers."
"I don't know," I say.
"But you aren't moved by flowers," he says.
"I really like planting zinnias," I say.
"Ah!" he says. "Sure. Delving in the ground. Improving your property. But you don't like getting flowers."
"I guess I don't. Because it would mean I was in the hospital."
"Exactly," he says. "But women like getting flowers."
I say that's true.
"Women love getting flowers. Women are moved when they get flowers. All women. Every woman. Sending flowers to a woman is like ... heroin to them."
"Well ...," I say.
"Okay. But you see my point. My point is, all a man has to do is call a florist —'Dozen roses, MasterCard number so-and-so, address such-and-such' —and he has done something that a woman will perceive as sweet."
"So what's wrong with that?"
"To a woman, having flowers sent to her is thoughtful. To a man, sending flowers is a way of being thoughtful without putting any thought into it. It's like foreign aid."
I told him I wasn't sure I saw the connection there.
"Okay, forget that," he says. "My point is, when you can melt a woman by doing something that doesn't involve any intrinsic emotion on your part, detachment sets in. Dissociation. Guilt. I send my wife flowers every couple of weeks. A computer could do it. It makes her happy. It makes her happy." He has this pained look. "I'm glad she's happy. But ..."
"Okay," I say. "So why don't you send Shana" — that's his wife — "why don't you send Shana something thoughtful that does require thought? "
"Because that's how I always get in trouble."CHAPTER 4
What Authors Do
I am not the kind of person who feels right about calling himself "a writer," even. It sounds like something you would assert, falsely, in a singles bar. (A friend of mine once asked a young woman what she did. "I'm a novelist," she said. "Really?" he replied. "Would I have heard of any of them?" "I haven't finished it yet," she said.) I'll bet Jesse James, when asked what his line of work was, never said, "I'm a desperado." He probably said, "Oh, something in trains."
But job description does come up. I remember once I walked through a door while poking around in a journalistic capacity backstage at a country music show. Actually my mind was not on the poking so much as on turning a sentence, then in an early development phase, that I thought frankly might buff up pretty nice. "Are you an artist?" someone asked. "Well ...," I said in all modesty. Then I saw what he was driving at. I had walked through the wrong door.
Years passed. Then, the other morning at a pancake breakfast, someone — a member of the general public — gave me a funny look and asked, out of the blue, "Are you an author?"
The world shifted for me at that moment.
Hitherto, I had thought of being an author as an occasional thing, like being the groom. I was not working this pancake breakfast, I was just there to eat. Was I going to have to start living ... an author's life?
I don't think writers ever say "author." Publishers do, but that is just one more reason why the old question so often arises: What exactly, other than absentmindedness, can the publishing industry and writers ever have imagined they had in common?
What is the difference between an author and a writer? A writer, as we know, writes; an author has written. What does an author do? Auth? Authorize? An author authors. But never in the present tense. No one says, when asked what he or she is doing, "I'm authoring." The Oxford English Dictionary cites, from Chapman's Iliad, "The last foul thing Thou ever author'dst." The OED does not explain how "author'dst" is pronounced, but I imagine the full quotation is either
Thou mak'st appearances, through the mist
Of the last foul thing Thou ever author'dst
Thou goest on Carson; we bog down amidst
The last foul thing Thou ever author'dst.
Writer derives from various ancient verbs meaning "to tear, to cut, to scratch, to wear by rubbing." Before English got write, wrote and written right, it tried wryte, vryte, vryet, wryt, wrighte, wreitte, wreat, wrait, wraet, vreet, wrijte, wroite, wreyte, whryte, wrythe, wreyt, wrytte, vryt, vriht, wrygth, wryght, writte, vrit, wret, wrette, wrete, wreit, ureit, wireete, vrait, wrat, whrat, vrat, wart, wratte, wraite, wrayt, wraat, wrot, wrotte, wroate, wroght, wroot, wroott, wrout, wryton, writun, wrytyn, wreotan, wreoton, wreten, ywriten, ywriton, ywritein, ywryten, ywrytyn, uuriten, vrityn, wyrtyn, vyrtyn, whryttyn, vrutten, vreittin, reaten, wraitten and many others.
Author comes from the Latin "to promote, increase." Authors, as we know, sell more books than writers do.
But authors crop up not only on promotional tours. An author also gives talks to young people about how to become an author. Youth looks upon him more or less expectantly, and if he were candid he would refer to his own school days and say, "All I ever wanted was for people not to look at me like I was a dip." But that wouldn't be authorial, and also he is afraid that "dip" may mean something completely different today. He advises plenty of writing, and reading.
An author reads. Not to himself, quietly; he has no time for that. To others, aloud. As it happens, literature is that which is lost aloud. The whole point of writing is to get something down in a voice that is better than the writer's own. When the writer tries to render this better voice in his own, the harmony isn't close. Sometimes too he may look up from such better-self abuse and make eye contact with someone in the audience. In its place, such contact may be all well and good. In literature ... Say you are perusing away through The Portrait of a Lady. How would you like to turn a page and see, not the lady's, but Henry James's eye? In all its helpless ferocity. And do you think James would be at ease with yours?
An author also takes part in symposia. A symposium, even if all the panelists hate each other outright, is a more companionable affair than writing. However, a symposium poses a problem that the writer has devoted his life to avoiding: thinking of something worth saying while saying it.
A writer is loath to repeat himself. An author is bound to. Sometimes four times on different talk shows in one twelve-hour period in Philadelphia. An author is bound even to quote himself. With or without attribution. "It was I, I believe, who wrote ..." It goes against the grain. (Of a writer.)
Excerpted from What Men Don't Tell Women by Roy Blount Jr.. Copyright © 1984 Roy Blount Jr.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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