Sunday, March 04, 2007

Be a Man! Part II

Brief update on the physical therapy (PT). So I've learned this great trick with a cane, where I place the point of the curved handle in the center of a knot (or what Kelly calls a 'trigger point', meaning, I guess, a point where a lot of my aches and pains get activated at once), then pull gently across and down with the rest of the cane... AHHHH. Hurts so GOOD. These are knots that I've been unable to stretch out for years, in some cases decades. When I've had a really good massage, the LMT has been able to peel some layers away from some of these knots, but he or she has never been able to get rid of them entirely. I'm not able to either, but just being able to access them at all is a big improvement. Twice now after PT I have spent some time digging into my back with a cane, and have then slept like a log. I mean a serious, 4000 year old, Sequoia tree log. Slept like I hadn't realized I needed to sleep in YEARS. It's been really amazing. Makes sense of a lot of other things too. Along with pain as a constant companion, I've gotten used to not sleeping well. That seems to be the common lot of most of my friends and relatives. Aging, or perhaps just being aware of the state of the world, does not seem to lead to truly restful sleep. It's been by no means consistent for me; the last two nights were as troubled, broken, and uncomfortable as usual. But those two mornings of waking up, realizing I had slept all through the night, and actually felt like getting out of bed... I mean, WOW. What a revelation. Makes me a little greedy, and of course I'm afraid of jinxing it by commenting on it so early on... two times does not a pattern make, obviously. But they were gifts nonetheless.

I've been making other discoveries (or rediscoveries) about my various issues with pain and masculinity. I've been remembering what it felt like to be an eleven year old budding homo who sucked at sports. Add into this the fact that I was raised in a pacifist household. Indeed when I was eleven, my folks came to the conclusion that it was unfair to expect me to give up the option of fighting other kids before I'd been able to make that decision for myself. With their sad and qualified blessing, I was given the option to retaliate the next time the bully in my sixth grade class started picking on me. I wasn't that methodical about it, but I did end up fighting him, and enjoying a rather spectacular and public victory. It may have been a little lopsided. He was really just interested in humiliating me, I think. He'd get me in a headlock, and would have been content to keep me there forever. I, on the other hand, wanted blood, so I managed from the headlock to punch him hard, three times, in the face. My Dad, having grown up in a tough working class Irish-Italian neighborhood in Philly, had told me the best way to end a fight quickly was to hit the guy in the face. He was right. The poor bastard didn't know what to do with that, and things ended pretty much at that point. On one other occasion, two years later in eighth grade, I was surrounded by five guys during lunch recess who started punching me. Again, there wasn't any serious damage being done me physically, they were bored, felt like picking on a sissy, and I was available. Only one guy had any real beef with me (though I never learned what it was), so I focused on him. I limited my punching just to him, pushing him back, and thus breaking out of the circle. This gave the odd impression to them that I had somehow managed 'to win' despite the odds. Maybe it just made clear that I wasn't going to be quite as attractive a target as they had originally thought. Whatever it was, they gave up, or lost interest, or went looking for more satisfying meat. That is the sum total of my fierce fighting past. Impressive, no? Even at the time, I felt like I had won the battles but lost the war by letting these assholes set the rules of engagement. I thought punching one another because we disliked each other was a stupid way to go about things (and truth be told, the only thing I had against any of these guys was their penchant for hitting and ridiculing me). But as I was discovering that there might be something to all those accusations of being a faggot, I was even more determined not to be seen as weak. As I said before, sucking at sports was the biggest mark against me, but then being reluctant to fight was also huge. It didn't really come up much, to be honest. I think I was rarely seen as someone who was worth the trouble, or I was seen as harmless enough to ignore, but not so pathetic as to be satisfying to torment. Certainly by Junior High I had perfected the art of being invisible. It was handy for adolescence, but hasn't always served me well at auditions, since it's still my fall back position whenever I'm feeling fragile, shy, or uncomfortable.

It's not like I was alone in my eschewing fighting; I was part of a Quaker community, including a youth group, where issues of non-violence and anti-militarism were regularly discussed. I saw lots of other guys navigate the ground of being guys (which is to say, 'cool') without regularly resorting to fisticuffs. But somehow, I think my secret fear that I really was a sissy complicated the issue. So much of what was said about sissies seemed to be true in my case. Sucked at sports, unwilling to fight, wanting not to get into trouble with authority figures (wow, navigating that one was complicated, probably because the cool kids changed the rules shamelessly to suit their purposes), being rather thin-skinned, yup, I was batting .1000. So to speak. I thought there were arguments to be made for defending weaker and helpless people from criminals, but seriously, how often did a fistfight between two twelve-year olds in the locker room have anything to do with justice? No, even at that age, I knew what was being battled out was guys' egos and their positions in the pecking order. I was able, with little objection, to abstain from the whole thing, so I did, but it did leave me questioning what there was left to say about being male, and what of it I was entitled to claim.

I still get really annoyed when people assume I'm physically weak, no matter how innocently they do it. I don't go around offering to arm-wrestle guys in bars (especially now), but anytime someone suggests I'm 'really more intellectual' (the adult way of calling someone a wimp, "not that there's anything wrong with that,"), I get a bit testy. When I see the modern, urban ways of establishing the pecking order (taking up too many seats on the train, cutting in line, pushing people out of the way as one walks, blasting one's music, heavy on the bass), I still feel a rage bubble up that borders on murderous, then I feel silly for letting this asshole set the level of discourse. There's got to be more to masculinity than chest thumping and getting hot women. The stereotype of the Metrosexual, or as he was known in the '90s, The Sensitive New Age Guy, is still presented more as a slur or joke than an admirable way of being a man. And of course implicit in both those roles is the idea that here is a guy who is sensitive, well-groomed, clean, and emotionally expressive, but don't worry everyone, he loves the ladies. Nope, no pole-smoking for this guy, he's all man, underneath the hair-gel and designer clothes. Nothing to worry about. So if one actually IS gay, and not a 'straight-acting' one (god I hate that phrase), the implication seems to be, don't worry about masculinity, you withdrew from the discussion ages ago.

All this from my sore head/neck/shoulder/back etc.? Goodness. Something tells me I'm not done yet either. I'll keep stewing, I mean mulling this over. Would love to hear your thoughts.

4 comments:

Moheggie said...

"I, on the other hand, wanted blood, so I managed from the headlock to punch him hard, three times, in the face."

Patrick, I never thought I would ever hear a sentence like this out of your mouth, but I just did, and I like it. You are so Roadhouse.

I'm so glad you're finally releasing all the stored up tension, pain, emotion, thoughts, etc. in your body. Think of it as extremem house cleaning. (Remember, this is the year to clean it up, and clean it out!)

Each day with more sleep and less pain counts, even if it's only been two (so far). Just try to remain focused on making your body feel good TODAY and that will lead you by no other choice into tomorrow, which will lead you to the next day, which will lead you to eating cupcakes at Snice.

Don't ask me how it leads to this, it just does. Cane away, my friend!

Jeff Wills said...

Wow Patrick. Anyone who implies physical weakness in you A) isn't familiar with your years of struggle with this pain, and B) hasn't seen you hang from a bar by the tops of your toes. Weak you are not. Mine is one vote for the uberPatrick camp.

Also: Geez. I love the idea of fighting, and have never, ever been in one. You hate it (mostly, I think) and have kicked some serious ass. Don't get me wrong. I think it's for the best that you and I never fight anyone ever from this day forward. I still include myself as a pacifist.

But, you know, if you ever wanted to start a New York chapter of Fight Club with me...

Patrick said...

Meggie,
Thanks for the reminder of this year as major housecleaning time. That is a perfect metaphor for what seems to be happening, and I hadn't really noticed it. Cupcakes at S'nice should happen sooner rather than later, BTW.

Jeff,
Well, see that's part of my dilemma; I do think fighting is pretty stupid the vast majority of the time, and I get really irate with the morons who claim protecting a little old lady from an attacker is in ANY way analogous to bombing a country into the stone age... yet at the same time I DO like the idea of fighting. Well, I guess what I like is the idea of winning fights. I like the idea of showing how tough I am, including yes, the amount of pain I can withstand. I like the idea of toppling arrogant macho guys acting like they rule the world. I like the idea of being able to tell said macho guys "you just got beat up by a Quaker Faggot!" I think of this as being akin to the idea that we all secretly believe the world would be a better place with ourselves as benign absolute dictator. I'm sure part of my appreciation for characters like Batman or Buffy is the fact that they exist in worlds where the line between good and evil has been delineated a bit more starkly (though those stories keep me around because the starkness gets mitigated quickly).
Interesting that you haven't been in a fight, but I suspect that is because you had less to prove when you were a kid than I did. Internalized homophobia is a powerful force. Frankly I love the idea of a fight club, as long as after the fighting it turns into a massage club, but I doubt I'd find many guys interested in both halves. Guys who wanted one, probably wouldnt' want the other. I'm kind of a freak. I kept waiting for Brad Pitt or Ed Norton to kiss Jared Leto as they so obviously wanted to.
Wow, this probably should have been an entry of its own.

Greg said...

Something to be said about the "Fighting Irish", huh? I count myself lucky (or perhaps wimpy) that I managed to avoid much in the way of fisticuffs in my life, which is good, since I have no doubt I'd not fair well.

However, I'm *totally* down with the whole "Massage Club" idea. ; )

But what I really wanted to say here is that I hope that your good sleeping has continued beyond those first two nights. Nothing prepares you more for a day in the world than a good snooze...

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