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Chris Godsey Posts

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.

No Relation of a Dream Can Convey the Dream-Sensation

I’ve had six recurring dreams, all at least 15-20 times apiece:

1
Started when I was about 13 and stopped before I left for college. I’m kneeling on the couch, with my elbows resting along the top of its back, looking out the picture window of Mom and Dad’s split-level house at 1427 48th Street NW in Rochester, MN. I can see the street, the small front yard, the driveway, and the sidewalk that parallels the front of the house and leads to the front door. It’s dark. Probably a Friday evening, because the scene involves groceries and that’s when Mom often brought them home. I watch her pull into the driveway, get out of the dark-blue 1983 Pontiac Phoenix LJ, wave and smile at me, open the hatchback, tuck a brown paper bag of groceries under her right arm, and leave the car open so my brother and I can unload the rest. She’s wearing a khaki trench coat and carrying a purse. This is when she often worked 60 or 70 hours a week in IBM administrative support. She’s about 33 years old. The sidewalk is just under the window, so as she walks toward the door and beams a smile up at me – Mom’s got quite a smile – the angle of her gaze should mean she sees the hunched humanoid-gargoyle-type creature leaning over the eave above the window. But she doesn’t. Maybe she can’t. Won’t? The sidewalk isn’t long – 15 of her short steps? – but it feels like she’s taking forever to reach the door. Even as I’m screaming, “Mom! Look! Mom! Mom!” and flailing toward the creature, which is leering and obviously preparing to hop from the roof onto her, she just keeps smiling at me and strolling. The creature looks something like a tall Green Goblin balled into a languid crouch. Its intention is to kill her. I wake up as it springs.

A Full-body Cry

The UMD Romano Gymnasium men’s lavatory can handle a lot of traffic if it needs to. A small entryway opens into a room of eight or ten sinks and a couple big mirrors; that room adjoins one with five or six stalls and as many urinals. Those numbers might be a bit off but you get the gist; it’s a fairly big space. Every surface except the ceiling is porcelain, glass, metal, or ceramic.

For a few minutes on a June or July weekday afternoon in 1996 I occupied one of those men’s room stalls. I was working on the UMD student grounds crew while on summer break from studying for my master’s degree in English. We were mowing grass or planting flowers or doing some other grounds-crewy thing close to the Sports and Health Center that day.

I was in the M.A. program and doing the on-campus job because they were available and I’ve never been clever or courageous enough to be what I actually want to be. That’s a whole other essay. Not really, though. It’s part or most of every adorable little essay I’ve written and will write. My navel brims with mesmerizing regret, and I feel compelled to type it up publicly.

In Spring 1990 in Duluth, Honesty was Worth $75

Chris Godsey Saturday EssayI think we were having fun before a bunch of us hustled downstairs, someone hit the lights, and two or three self-appointed noise monitors started whisper-shouting for the rest of us to “SHHHHHH! You guys! GUYS! SHHHHHHH!” (Do the italics make it sound whispery in your head?)

V was definitely there, but I can’t remember if Tom and E were, because I didn’t hang out with those guys as much as I wish I would have till sophomore year. I wish I’d have done a lot of things differently that year.

I could have moved into K section with Tom after winter break 1989, but for some reason I stayed in 219B Oakland with dudes who almost made me look normal, which says nothing positive about how any of us conducted ourselves. Brief examples:

• I got home late (from diligently not studying) on a weeknight to find one roommate at the kitchen table. “Would you like to explain why you spend more time with your friends in the dorms than with us?” he admonished. “We’re your roommates. You’re supposed to be here with us. Can I expect that to change?” I can’t remember what I said in response, but since I had no courage or confrontation-handling skills at 18 I promise it was more mealy-mouthed than the situation called for.

Chimook Reporter

Chris Godsey Saturday Essay“You don’t know me,” I quavered, barely not crying, bereft of words for explaining who the hell I thought I was to show up in that place, at that time, wanting to ask those questions. “If you knew me you’d know that … it’s just that … I mean I … I just wish you knew me, because if you did …”

The Fond du Lac Ojibwe School principal loomed literally and figuratively large behind his desk. I think I can remember his first name; later I may look for both first and last, but even if I knew them now I wouldn’t type them here. I’m not trying to call him out. I’m trying to express gratitude and admiration toward him and his vice-principal.

At least I think that’s what her position was. She and I sat a few feet from each other in front of the principal’s desk. They’d squared their shoulders on me. Their steady gazes and admonishment and demands for explanation felt hard. I remember some parts of the situation clearly, especially how trembly-sick and shaken I felt. I recall other parts vaguely, if at all: how long I was there; whether I said anything intelligible; whether I’d ever felt so unwanted in a place I cared about being. I was 34 years old in the moment I’m trying to describe. I’m 46 now. I expect my brain to misremember some details from then. I also trust it not to protect me in these matters.

No Education in Your Violence

Chris Godsey Saturday EssayIn June 2010 I started working with men who have been arrested for using violence against women. (That’s when I also started never shutting up about working with men who use violence or what the work has taught me.) By “working with” I mean co-facilitating critical-dialogue groups in a feminist program designed to foster social change by helping men who hurt women figure out why they believe in doing it and how to stop. A month into having those conversations I’d reached two conclusions: 1. since high school I’ve used a lot of violence against girls and women in relationships; 2. many well-accepted teaching norms are just forms of dominance that teachers use to enforce student compliance regardless of whether it actually fosters or shows learning.

Visit a men’s group sometime then go hang out with a bunch of teachers commiserating over coffee or beers. Listen to how each group talks about the dominance they’re entitled to, the compliance they’re owed, and the character deficiencies they perceive in women and students who won’t comply:

What — am I just supposed to let myself get taken advantage of?

Message to a White Boy Who in Some Ways Reminds Me of Me

Chris Godsey Saturday EssayDear Russell:

I want to tell you some things that might not make sense. I wish an adult would have seen me clearly enough to know I needed to hear similar things when I was 18. Do you know what I mean when I invoke the impact of being seen?

You’re a sharp kid. Like a lot of sharp kids, especially ones in their first semester of college, you know both way more and way less than you realize. I was the same way. So was—so is—every other adult, including every other teacher, you’ve known and will know.

You should accept nothing from us as truth before vetting it against your own inquiry. We do probably know more than you and your peers know about some things. We also tend to indoctrinate young people instead of helping them become autonomous thinkers. Please heed Walt Whitman and “re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul.”

By “inquiry” I mean deep, active curiosity that includes interrogating your own thinking at least as much as you interrogate the thinking of people you disagree with or consider stupid. It’s very hard work. It’s not just navel-gazing. You will find few examples of how to do it well. Even after doing it for years—after it has helped you learn to discern valid insight from self-serving magical thinking—it will lead you to many inaccurate conclusions because all perception is distorted and opinions can definitely be wrong.

Surly Knard 41

Chris Godsey Saturday EssayResponses to a piece I posted here a while ago suggest at least a few Perfect Duluth Day Saturday Essay readers ride bicycles somewhat “seriously.” Makes sense, I suppose; long cycling sojourns, solo or with accomplices, can foster a deep contemplation similar to one spending time with prose can evoke. It’s also true that riding bikes and reading words can both be nothing more than hardcore reality avoidance posing as time spent admirably. We all have our drugs, don’t we? — mostly ones we tell ourselves aren’t drugs so we can believe we’re better human beings than folks who used to hang out in front of Last Place on Earth.

But whatever. That’s not what this essay is about.

I ride a lot, slowly and clumsily (like a middle-aged oaf whose formative fitness years were spent playing tight end and fearing exercise-induced pain), mostly alone, and with intentions driven by equal desires to sit with and avoid my general mental state. Since 2002 I’ve owned a lot of different mountain, road, and commuting bicycles. After thousands of hours spent poring over Sheldon Brown’s website and mtbr.com forums, tinkering in my back-yard shed, and pestering real mechanics — just mercilessly badgering them with, “How does this work?” and “How do I put this back together?” and “Hey, can I come down and interrupt what you’re working on, ask a bunch of dumb questions, borrow some tools, and inevitably force you to stop what you’re doing and help me?” — I know enough to credibly build and maintain my own bikes. Sometimes I fix friends’ bikes, if they have low expectations. I go through nerdy periods of constantly trying to figure out the “best” way to set up a certain bike for a certain purpose, which means I’ve researched, bought, installed, un-installed, broken, replaced, and perseverated on hundreds of components ranging from whole frames to single 5mm bolts.

But even that’s not what this essay is about.

Word Jerk

Chris Godsey Saturday EssayI used to think I could be a writer. It was adorable.

I’m 45. From 20 until almost 40, I harbored delusional aspirations of someday publishing in prominent venues such as Spin, Sports Illustrated, Outside, and the New Yorker. In my 20s I neither enjoyed nor did well in a few full-time print and online journalism jobs. Throughout my 30s I taught writing (which I still do); I also spent a lot of time pitching Minnesota magazine and website pieces and a little time actually getting to write them; I took a short break from teaching in Duluth to see if I could hang with music journalists in Minneapolis (spoiler: nope); I made some stupid decisions I still cringe-blush about (I think I’ve now sent Alan Sparhawk five or six apology emails about a 2005 Minnesota Monthly piece about him I wrote and the magazine’s editors kind of ruined); I got fired from a few freelance jobs and submitted some work that sucked; I did some OK stuff and some pretty good stuff; I realized being able to arrange words well does not make me a writer and even if I ever become what I believe a writer is I’ll never refer to myself as one.

I grew up in a word incubator. Mom reads constantly, Dad taught English then worked as a library director, and they have big, agile vocabularies. They started reading to and conversing with me when I was in the womb. Before I was out of kindergarten, the words and images in The Magic Carousel, Cranberry Christmas and Cranberry Thanksgiving, I Wonder if Herbie’s Home Yet, Diggy Takes his Pick, Never Tease a WeaselOld Witch and the Polka Dot Ribbon, I Wonder What’s Under, The Ice-Cream Cone Coot and other Rare Birds, and a bunch other Parents’ Magazine Press books, Arch books, Little Golden books, and Dr. Seuss books (especially I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Solew) were forming my lifetime perspective at least as powerfully (and for just as much bad and good) as Sesame Street, Zoom, Captain Kangaroo, and the Electric Company were.

Tender Nads

Chris Godsey Saturday Essay

For one long moment after I unintentionally swooned over a young man’s testicles, all 70 students in the UMD class I was teaching stayed mostly silent.

The incident happened in 2003, during an otherwise average session of Introduction to Cultural Studies. UMD’s course guide says the class, “Examines how cultural practices relate to everyday life by introducing students to each of the four core areas of the Cultural Studies minor: Identity Politics, Media Cultures, Cultures of Space & Place, and Cultures of Science, Technology, & Medicine.” My teaching contract was in Writing Studies, but the Sociology/Anthropology department faculty member in charge of Cultural Studies heard I might be into teaching something different, and my department head was cool with the idea. It’s been one of my favorite experiences in 20 years of trying to help people learn things.

I seek opportunities to participate in conversations with students and anyone else about how belief, intent, socialization, and other forces intersect to influence our actions. I approached Intro to Cultural Studies as an extended problem-posing conversation. I’d start most days by naming an example of something most of us in the room take for granted or don’t notice, then I’d ask a bunch of questions like, “Why do we do it that way? What happens if we try to do or see it differently. What if we did it for reasons different from the generally accepted ones? Who gets to decide?”

Creep. Weirdo.

Chris Godsey Saturday EssayI can’t remember ever knowing who I am or believing I belong.

Moving story, bro, but what’s your point? A lot of people occasionally wonder who they are. We all sometimes feel out of place.

Right. But I mean I have no idea who I am. I mean I have never (literally not ever) felt like I belong among other humans. Oh, and sometimes when I’m trying to figure out that stuff I feel like part of me was from Duluth — from this place — long before I started living here. That’s pretty weird.

I come from people who lived in Duluth for a while and loved it and contributed to it and died and are buried in dirt here. My maternal great-grandpa, George Beck, was Duluth Central principal for about 30 years, then helped found WDSE-TV. Mom grew up in McGregor and often came over on the train to visit him and great-grandma (Leila) Beck. Mom got a Duluth Business University degree and worked at the air base for a while. Dad graduated from UMD in 1970, the same year I was conceived at 927 West Fifth Street. Great-grandma died in ’81; Great-grandpa went in ’91; their bodies are at Forest Hill Cemetery.

When my mind was forming itself, Mom and Dad brought my younger brother and I here a few times. They also told us a lot of stories about this place: Mom’s tempting, terrifying girlhood dream about diving into the canal; Dad and some college buddies — they’d gone to watch a storm — helping authorities haul up the body of a diver who died trying to rescue two doomed boys from currents between the canal’s piers; Mom going downtown for movies and snacks and shopping with her grandma, and gazing over The Lake from Central’s clock tower with her grandpa; Dad’s UMD professors (some stuffy, some hip) and roommates (rowdy); and on and on.

The Professor

Chris Godsey Saturday Essay“You should be very careful about who else you discuss this with, Chris,” The Professor said. “You should let anyone you’ve told know they can expect to hear from my lawyer.

“You’ve made a very righteous decision that’s putting my job at risk, and you’re using a challenging time for my family as entertainment. I don’t appreciate either of those things.

“How dare you.”

That was early spring almost three years ago. I’m sure those aren’t the exact words he used, but it’s precisely what he said.

A few weeks earlier, The Professor had been arrested for obstructing his wife’s airway. During a school-night discussion, a while after they’d put their four kids to bed, she wouldn’t shut up when he wanted her to and he pinned her body — with his much bigger, stronger one — to their living-room couch and covered her mouth and nose with his hand until he felt like letting her go. Once free, she grabbed a phone while running to the basement, locked herself in a bathroom, and called 911.

Soon after spending two or three days in county jail, he visited me at my then-job, at the Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs (DAIP). “I put my hands on [her],” he said, eyes watery-red, voice quavering.

He used her name; later, affectation dropped, he wouldn’t.