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Chris Godsey Posts

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.

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?