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Chris Godsey Posts

Why Some Men Kill Women

This essay speaks graphically and honestly about men’s violence against women. Please take care.

The house I live in sits about three blocks up Chester Park Drive from the one where Ryan Jazdzewski stabbed the life out of his wife, Nicole, as at least one of their daughters watched, a bit after 8:00 on the evening of Sunday, June 2. While he was doing that, then when he stopped because their seven-year-old daughter asked him not to kill her mom, and while he called his own mom to say, “Mom, I think I just killed my wife,” while an across-the-alley neighbor called 911 after encountering the blood-covered seven-year-old behind their houses, as cops showed up and the girl ran back to her dad and asked cops not to kill him, while officers entered the house to find Nicole dying on the kitchen floor, and while Nicole was pronounced dead at St. Luke’s, my wife, Shannon, and I were watching TV. We live at 1126. They lived at 818.

From our couch, looking northwest through living-room windows to the right of our TV, Shannon and I can see into a neighbor’s front yard and up a 40-meter stretch of Chester Park Drive two houses before it dead-ends. Chester Bowl hiking and mountain biking trails begin just past a barrier of big rocks. Every now and then that Sunday night, a cyclist or two chugged up or flowed down the hill, or a dog with a couple humans strolled by. Fading sunlight was beginning to glow golden in cedars on the edge of the neighbor’s front yard, where two or three rambunctious grey squirrels and a couple tiny rabbits bounced around looking for snacks. A frenetic chipmunk zoomed by every so often. The pleasant, almost-too-chilly breeze coming through the windows could have been from late September instead of early June. We had a small fire going. The combination of cool, fresh air and a warm woodstove felt nice. I might have been sipping a Glendalough Irish whiskey, neat. All seemed lovely and serene on our part of the street.

Best Practices

— a loose companion to a previous essay about teaching

“The truth knocks on the door and you say, ‘Go away, I’m looking for the truth,’ and so it goes away. Puzzling.”
— Robert M. Pirsig, from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

I understand why a lot of teachers lust after “best practices.” I get why so many of us grasp at supposedly foolproof methods for making students do exactly what we want them to do. A lot of us have been taught that assigning work then rewarding or punishing students according to how they do it is the gist of teaching. (A lot of students, understandably and heartbreakingly, believe those rewards and punishments are the gist and evidence of learning.) From a certain perspective it makes sense for us to seek information about how to reward and punish as effectively as possible. It also, in some ways, makes sense for administrators to dictate practices they believe will create consistent punishments and rewards throughout a particular course, major, college unit, school, district, or state. The actual of process helping fellow human beings learn — as opposed to the process of meaningless, faux-rigorous punishing and rewarding — is a task of privilege that’s incredibly difficult to do well. I know my own version of feeling desperate for some method or approach that just works.

With Apologies to Carl Rogers and His Work

Carl Rogers was a significant psychologist and teacher. He was 85 when he died in 1987. The humanistic approach he’s known for gets applied across a variety of fields including therapy and politics. In education the approach is the basis of a process often called “learner-centered” teaching. Rogers describes its basics in five hypotheses that start with, “A person cannot teach another person directly; a person can only facilitate another’s learning.” He wrote a bunch of books including Freedom to Learn: A View of What Education Might Become, which spends 300 or so pages discussing learner-centered teaching. I have two hardcover copies of the 1969 edition. I revere what they say to a probably unwise degree. I also cherish them as objects, partially because they smell exactly as books of their vintage ought to smell. They also contain a version of the short essay “Personal Thoughts on Teaching and Learning,” which has been published in various forms in a lot of venues since the 1950s.

Mockingbird

I think I read To Kill A Mockingbird for the first time as a Rochester John Marshall 10th grader sometime during the 1986-87 school year. My most prominent memory of the academic experience is writing five-paragraph essays about the book for three buddies who got higher grades on the assignment (all A-minuses) than I got (solid, respectable B). I also remember watching our teacher, the white, perpetually flustered Ms. Green, have no idea what to do when Scott, the only black kid in that sophomore English section, reacted with outrage after the first time she shakily uttered the word “nigger” while reading an excerpt aloud to us.

The book is seldom far from my conscious thoughts. Partially because it’s culturally omnipresent. It’s tough to have a college degree, love reading, work in education, watch public television, or just be alive and engaged in certain aspects of dominant Baby Boomer and Generation-X zeitgeist without seeing, hearing about, or discussing the book (or the movie version of it) fairly frequently. I’m also sure I would think about it fairly often even if it weren’t ubiquitous. I don’t recall much about my actual experience of reading it that first time. I do know I immediately revered the story and many of its characters. I still do. And I’ve consciously thought about it more than usual for the past year or so, after Duluth Public Schools (Independent School District 709) administrators announced the book would be removed from ninth-graders’ English reading list. A lot of people in Duluth and a lot of other places have had a lot things to say about that decision.

Minnesota Winter Evenings

I.
Some winter evenings I stand on a lake’s edge under bright-black Iron Range sky wondering about walking across that ice, over the train tracks along the far shore, into those woods, and away. What if I wandered until weary, laid down under a pine tree, then breathed easy until one by one my atoms drifted off into moonlight and air? Could I become birch smoke? Would a resting black bear or hunting fox know me among everything else it inhales? Most often on those nights I just look at the outside from inside, through my mother-in-law’s living room window after everyone else has gone to bed. When the TV and lights are off I can see down her back yard and past the dock we pulled out of Colby Lake in October and will push back into it come late May or early June. Snow on lake ice glows blue-gray under black pine silhouettes. Sky glows black. Abashed by comfort and warmth, I tell myself to get dressed and ski out the eastern end of Colby into the Partridge River. Or ride fat tires across Whitewater Lake or along the Bird Lake Trail or up and down the Moose Line Road. Then I admit my lack of will. Then I stand there for a couple more minutes, trying to make sure I can remember what that outside looks and feels like so my brain can reproduce the sensation long after the last time I’ve seen it. Then I go to bed and struggle to sleep.

Boys

I’m done. In a little more than a month I’m going to stop hanging out with men who mistreat women. Kind of.

Let me try to speak more precisely: after the next few weeks are up I will still be spending a lot of online and IRL time — pretty much every day — among boys and men who, most often without realizing it, expect girls’ and women’s deference, use whatever level of force is necessary to ensure it, and punish girls and women who defy those normative expectations. When I say “normative expectations” I mean that the dominant social and cultural expectation for girls and women to please boys and men is so normal that it seldom gets questioned because it rarely really even gets noticed. It just is. It’s always there, whether we’re conscious of it or not, like oxygen. It permeates. It’s definitive. It defines our culture to such an inherent degree that folks who dare to name it look crazy to everyone but each other. Folks who publicly question or defy it on the regular court repercussions along a continuum more broad and real than you might realize.

None of that stuff is going to change in a few weeks.

Only Three and a Half

I felt homesick. Lonesome for Ms. LaCount and the soft comforts of our home. Gloomy in my stomach and behind my eyes because of some absence or presence I couldn’t discern. I’d expected all that. I also felt like I might barf every time I looked at or just thought about food. That was unexpected.

It was Wednesday, August 14 of this year. On Sunday the 11th I’d paddled away from Crane Lake, MN, headed east toward Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness entry point #12 on Little Vermilion Lake. I planned to reach Lake Superior by way of the Grand Portage on Saturday the 17th or maybe the day after that.

The anticipated homesickness had come on full-force during the second day. I didn’t enjoy the sensation, but I knew I could deal with it, and I did, by reminding myself of how lucky I was to be in that place doing what I was doing and just continuing to move forward. The unanticipated pukiness had imposed itself midway through the first day. It got worse any time I tried to choke down a mouthful or two of sustenance and it was, partially because of the mental state a relative lack of food helped create, a tougher problem to solve.

Teamwork

Five late-40s white guys, all former University of Minnesota Duluth athletes, walk into a bar:

1. War: a Sheridan, Wyoming, EMT, gunsmith, vegetable gardener, log-home builder, cancer survivor, and mead-maker who deadlifts more than 500 pounds, has a powerfully agile and bibliographic brain, and could probably still start at D-II defensive tackle;

2. E: a northern-Twin Cities-suburbs cop who moonlights for the Metro Transit Police because his adolescent boys’ college won’t pay for itself, who once worked as a guard at Minnesota Correctional Facility Stillwater, who thinks deep thoughts but keeps everyone else from getting too serious about anything, and who knows things most people will never want or have to know;

3. Big Daddy: a northern-suburbs dad, high-school ceramics teacher, and coach — football (defensive line), hockey, track and field (shot and disc throwers) — who’s also a bicycle geek, music nerd, fishing addict, and, as nearly anyone who’s met him will tell you, a supreme raconteur;

4. Tom: a southern-burbs dentist and dad who’s done the Superior Trail 100, the Death Race, and a bunch of other insane endurance events, who’s unfailingly steady and kind (unless he drinks a quick handful of beers, in which case he gets pleasantly lippy), and whose family includes a pug elder, a middle-kid bulldog, and a brand new Jack Russell terrier;

5. G: an anxious Duluth college writing teacher (a lifer toward the bottom of the academic hierarchy) who’s got no idea how to leverage his newish Ed.D. in teaching and learning, spends unwise time trying to figure out what’s wrong with him and why, finds solace in music and bicycles and physical labor, and sometimes thinks he wishes he’d had the foresight to become a full-time firefighter who travels and reads as much as possible instead of whatever he feels like and is.

First guy walks up to the bar. Looks at the bartender and says …

I. Was. Running.

On a mellow midsummer evening in 1992 — back when the Whole Foods Co-op was still next door to the Chester Park Laundromat at Fourth Street and Fifteenth Avenue East — I emptied a big mesh bag full of dirty laundry into three or four front-loading washers, tied my apartment key (for the basement of 1516 East Fourth Street, a little more than a block away ) to the hockey-skate lace holding up my cutoff UMD sweats, and started jogging up the east side of the Chester Creek trail. My plan was to take that side up to Chester Bowl, follow the pavement back to the soccer field, then reverse the process down the west side of creek and return just as the wash cycle ended. The laundromat wasn’t crowded, but I still didn’t want to be the guy who takes up a bunch of machines then disappears. I also don’t like people touching my stuff, even if it’s just to move my wet clothes into a rolling basket with a janky wheel or two so they can use the washer.

I wasn’t taking classes that summer, so I’d probably thrown a small stack of unread Sports Illustrated issues on top of the dirty clothes along with a jug of Tide. I assume my plan for after the jog was to transfer all the clothes into one or two of the laundromat’s huge, nuclear-heat dryers, grab some chocolate-covered almonds and a fizzy drink at the Co-op, and settle in to read about sports things that were starting to seem a lot less important than they had seemed since I was a little boy.
Good sports writing about more than sports is the stuff that had drawn my attention since elementary school, when Grandma Eva started giving me an annual SI subscription every Christmas. I really liked the long stories that focused more on people and culture and ideas than on stats and player trades and the stuff blowhards now shout about on TV and the radio. I should probably start reading the Best American Sports Writing anthology series again. Or maybe re-buy and re-read (if for no other reason than the story “Popper”) the George Plimpton anthology I once owned when I thought I was preparing for a career as a newspaper or magazine sports columnist.

Dancing About Architecture

Writing about music is like dancing about architecture — it’s a really stupid thing to want to do.
Martin Mull, maybe?

All good writing strives to say the unsayable.
— Louis Jenkins

I stupidly want to do that thing, and I am ill-equipped for doing it as well as I would prefer, but here we go.

If I still owned a bunch of record albums I’d probably still do a version of what I did with Mom and Dad’s collection when I was a kid: lay or kneel on the carpeted floor in front of the cabinet where the records were stacked vertically spines facing out; flip through the stack, bathing in whooshes of sacred aging-cardboard air as they albums gently slapped against each other; hold worn cardboard covers to my face and inhale in the same way any decent human being does when they pick up an old book; pull out single records or small stacks or maybe the whole collection to flip the covers back and forth back and forth while reading the long notes on the back or the inside and try to figure out how all those words and images and that musty-seductive smell relate to the sounds in the vinyl grooves and the lives of the people who created the sounds; try to figure out what it all meant. What it all means. All of it.

Devil’s Right Hand

So then I went and bought myself a Colt 45
Called a peacemaker but I never knew why
I never knew why, I didn’t understand
Mama says the pistol is the devil’s right hand

Steve Earle

A couple-three years ago, after telling public truth about a violent bully in a way I knew would enrage him (and earn him aggressive, ill-informed fealty among people who saw me as the real bully doing the real violence), I slept with a thick, hickory ax handle within arm’s reach of my bed for more than a month. I feared violent retribution. I thought I had credible reasons. I may have been overreacting.

I don’t necessarily know how to defend myself with wooden sticks or any other weapons. The last time I got in a fight, about this time of year in 1984, Mike Aikens kicked my ass in Allendale Park, on 18th Avenue NW across from John Adams Junior High, in Rochester, MN. Feeling unsure seems antithetical to fighting well. I felt unsure during that fight. I didn’t yet — wouldn’t for many years — know how to stop pondering ambiguity and just be where I needed to be in any specific moment. I still feel unsure very often. In the interest of trying to understand as many perspectives as possible, I ponder ambiguity a lot. A lot. At least I think I do. Maybe not. I don’t know. Or maybe I do. I see it in a lot of different ways.

Bad Student

‘Cause I survived the ’80s one time already
And I don’t recall it all that fondly

— Craig Finn

The bemulleted boy in that senior portrait over there came very close to not graduating with his Rochester John Marshall high school class of 1989 mates. One semester more and the rage that had fueled his self-destructive approach to school since 1983 would have elicited an anticlimactic letter explaining why he couldn’t walk in the ceremony and what he’d have to do if he wanted a diploma.

His K-6 career had suggested potential. Then a few months into seventh grade his interest in caring or trying seemed to evaporate. He embodied adolescent apathy. He also transcended it in ways that made very little sense to himself or anyone else. One example: he so bitterly resented being placed into advanced science and English classes (for reasons he could articulate no further than, “I just want to be in the normal classes”), that he intentionally got crummy grades on assignments until people who made such decisions had no choice but to bust him down to non-advanced sections.

At least that’s how I think I remember it. I know he was pissed — furious — about school in general, and still pretty far away from having vocabulary or perspective required to process what he was feeling or why. I know he self-sabotaged, sometimes so willingly it seemed wanton, and sometimes while watching it happen and wishing he knew how to stop it. In those situations, the latter often presented as the former. I also know it’s possible he got kicked out of those advanced sections because he just wasn’t equipped to stay in them. It’s not taking shots at him to say he might just not have been smart enough in ways the classes required students to be.

The Heroin-Ivy Itch, Revisited

I have no heroes. I’m not mad at people who do. I’ve just always, since I was a little kid, considered the concept silly. Maybe by elementary school I’d already known too many athletes whose mistreatment of fellow human beings seems more significant than any cool thing they can do in a cute sports outfit. Maybe I really am more insightful and honest than folks who fawn over politicians. Maybe I’m not smart enough to understand why writers and artists and academics deserve worship.

Don’t misunderstand: I’ve been at least as hero-silly as I claim to have distaste for being. I sometimes clumsily try to connect with musicians and other artists whose work moves me enough to believe I get it more accurately than anyone else possibly can. I’ve sent awkward messages to folks whose ways of going about life I admire and feel connection with. I generally struggle to feel like I connect with people, and that gets pretty lonesome. Then I mostly withdraw from interactions I assume will feel superficial or frustrating or embarrassing. There are folks I really like and know fairly well and dread spending time with because of how inadequate I feel around them and how hung up I get on my self-perceived inability to be exactly who and how I want to be in their presence. Then sometimes, when it seems like a connection might be possible or present, I lumber and barge beyond reticence with great gushes of wordy emotiveness in attempts to share vulnerable parts of myself. I always regret those overtures. I’m blushing right now thinking about a few. They probably come across as really weird and maybe kind of sad to the folks who have to endure them. It might also be true that a lot of what experience tells me is true about any of that exists only inside my own head.

Against Wise Advice

When I let the brown-leather Wilson basketball fly — when I ended a slow three-or-four-step run-up more elegantly than you might expect from an oafish 6’2”, 210-lb., 21-year-old boy-man by lightly springing off my left foot, driving my right knee up and out, and launching the ball into its arc with two hands — I wasn’t sure it was going to go in.

I’d taken a lot of half-court shots since my teens: before and after 10th-grade practice at Rochester John Marshall High; while skipping class to play noon ball in Romano Gym with my UMD football buddies; alone, ill-equipped for identifying anything better to do, just shooting around on various playground or gym courts. Sometimes you know, from the moment it leaves your hand, what’s going to happen. Muscle and brain memory and senses I don’t know how to name tell you everything from how you planted your foot to how your fingertips were in relationship with the ball’s seams to which snippet of which song was looping through your head add up to a swish, brick, or something else.

But in that moment in November 1993, in the College of St. Scholastica gym at halftime of a Saints’ women’s game against an opponent I can’t remember, when I sprung off my left foot from just behind the royal-blue half-court stripe laid on blonde hardwood, I didn’t know what the ball was going to do. At least I don’t think I knew. Honestly, I never know what I know or knew. I’ve been admonished a few times recently (with both warmth and contempt) for wantonly admitting what and when I don’t know. For expressing uncertainty and self-doubt and regret instead of [long pause] whatever other state of mind it would be more attractive and credible — and more comfortable to other people — for me to claim. For asking annoying questions about obvious and hypocritical contradictions.

Don’t Worry About It

I played football at UMD for two years.

No I didn’t.

I was on the UMD football team for two years. I had a locker and got equipment that wasn’t as nice as what important players got. I received most of the on-and-off-campus benefits that came with being in the football fold. I made it onto the lower tier of the second-string roster for a few practices by the end of my sophomore season in 1990. I was a legit but inconsequential member of the team. I never really played. I haven’t actually played football since November 1989, when my senior season as a Rochester John Marshall Rocket ended with a loss to the Winona Winhawks.

Some fellow seniors cried on the sideline of Winona’s stadium as our high-school football identities ticked away. I felt bad about not being able to muster that emotion. I couldn’t have said it this way then, but now I know I just didn’t much care. I mean . . . I suppose I would have preferred to win. It’s just that losing didn’t really bother me and I wasn’t bereft about that season ending.

No part of football for me had to do with feeling driven to win or averse to losing. Somewhere in my dudebro teenage brain I already knew that many aspects of football are stupid and creepy and “winning” and “losing” are illusory stories we tell ourselves to create meaning we can understand in an existence we can’t.