Congratulations to Stephen T. Butterfield [“When Thieves Break In,” April 1993], whose eyes were opened by thieves. Isn’t a conservative a liberal who has been mugged?
I have carried a gun for protection for more years than I care to remember. It is now as natural to me as my wallet or wristwatch, though my collectivist Cambridge neighbors would neither understand nor approve.
I found it amusing that Butterfield links our disrespect for law to the Nixon era. The author can’t entirely shake his leftist roots. I can’t blame any single administration for what has ripped America over the last generation. It certainly was not the work of Dick Nixon. It is, I think, the result of a trend toward anarchy, violence, and crime that began in the sixties, when the campuses first erupted and the cities burned.
Stephen Schwartz was a special friend, though we’d never met. I discovered him in The Sun [“Stephen,” May 1993], and the gentleness and self-love in his writings and his approach to compassionate self-care were a great help to me in dealing with the fear generated by my own cancer prognosis. They have often helped me know depth without the jump-start of fear.
Hearing of Stephen’s death was deeply shocking and sad. I wrote the following to a friend soon after reading Sy Safransky’s tribute:
I got up two hours ago, at 6 a.m., and soon was reading a tribute written to a special friend of mine who recently died of cancer. The words were imbued with authenticity, with the courage and self-doubt and depth of both the writer and the one who died, and with gut-wrenching and invigorating life and death and love. I cried, I think, for all of that, and so released a me I’ll never get enough of. I feel very whole and rich and here — flowing, alive.
Every time I read the words of Robert Bly I smell program. A prime example in his conversation with Alexander Blair-Ewart [“From Boys to Men,” May 1993] is Bly’s reference to Clinton and Gore. Clinton learned from his mother, Bly says, because she was all he had as a child. But he picks Gore, who had a strong father, as a running mate. Clinton had no father, but now he’s got a brother, Gore. Root plus branch equals tree, according to Bly. Get it?
Well, what have these guys done? Clinton is set to renew nuclear testing. He’s backed off from the gay fight, from the budget fight, from the health care fight. It seems like John Wayne is kicking the hell out of Iron Bill. It’s the first test of the new self-initiates against the old boy-killers, and Bill runs like hell — to whom? To David Gergen, image-smith of Reagan. Not to Gore, who must sit silent in the wings. Bill’s afraid Dole’s the only dick in town, and he’d better show his is just like Dole’s.
The trouble is that an announced change in consciousness (especially by the New York Times) will put you to sleep fast (in the veterinary sense). If you believe the announcement, you think your awareness and struggle with male versus female, or Iron John versus John Wayne, or earth versus bomb is over. Or, worse yet, that it is epic, titanic, a giant war for your soul that, once you’ve won, defines you as “conscious” and therefore immune from stupefying struggle.
I hear the talk; I sincerely see no sign in these men of the walk. To govern, Clinton has to use his four years to fight the boy-killers who brought us Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, and Iraq. To hell with being the Republicans’ president too. In the same way, Bly ought to rise up and fight the girl-killers, rapists, and beaters, instead of nursing limp members. If they are men, they need no propping, no centering, but should center themselves in retrieving the balance with real women as assiduously as they pursue horns and hairier skin.
I found your placement of Don Shewey’s “Stepbrothers: Gays and the Men’s Movement” [May 1993] immediately before Alexander Blair-Ewart’s conversation with Robert Bly very interesting and somewhat contradictory.
I used to go to Robert Bly’s poetry readings long before he’d parlayed his considerable magnetism, allure, and charisma into a “movement.” But growing up in rural America where there was a lot of Bible thumping and evangelical cant, I learned early on to be suspicious and skeptical of those who used piety to whip up devotion and God-lust. Piety is piety, no matter what or whose sacred cow it serves. The preachers still lambaste and wail.
There seems to be a great deal of animal fervor loosely melded with vague liturgical yearnings in Bly’s self-congratulatory movement. I certainly agree that men are out of touch with their feelings. But Don Shewey is surely right when he says that beauty, expression, and male display (not to speak of artistic excellence) “are among the teachings gay men have kept alive since ancient times.” There’s something charming but naive about Robert Bly and his Boy Scout jamborees, which somehow strike me as a cross between Geraldo, Billy Graham, Sally Jessie Raphael, and Masonic Lodge meetings — though I wouldn’t for a moment forbid them their thing. Who knows, maybe it will help unbend a few ramrod Rambos (although I doubt many such types attend his campground revivals).
Anyone who has experienced firsthand the arrogant, cruel, vicious brutality and malignancy of the overweening masculine in our society will certainly sympathize with the “feminist line,” if not agree with it. Those who don’t know the darkness cast by their own shadows are doomed never to come out from the shade.
It seems to me Bly and Blair-Ewart confuse biology with psyche and spirit — and biology may yet be our undoing. If the press of human population is causing most of the world’s ills (as I believe), then we’d better learn to modulate our biological urge to procreate. We are a cancer run amok, poisoning the body of Gaia, our mother planet. Gays and lesbians may be divinely inspired, having discovered alternative ways of dealing with our desperate biological urges.
It seems we face an imperative, an edict of self-transformation. Maybe Bly’s movement is a part of that. But I cannot believe that a species so distended, so swollen in wild hegemonic growth, can afford to coddle quaint byways and customs of former tribal behavior. Can anyone deny that it is, after all, such tribal behavior that led to history’s most brutal bloodlettings in our own century? Or maybe we should welcome the bloodletting: it might be part of nature’s attempt to redress the balance, along with AIDS, the resurgence of TB and malaria, the declining ozone layer, and other such antibodies as Gaia throws at us.
Lorenzo Wilson Milam’s “Crip Zen” and Gillian Kendall’s “Progress” [July 1993] touched me deeply. Kendall’s story is a wonderful chronicle of nonjudgmental awareness in the moment, of all the internal struggles with feelings and choices and self-evaluations this involves. How could we possibly “improve” this wonderful, self-doubting, ambivalent individual who narrates?
These two perspectives on disabled persons — one from the outside, one from the inside — brought me into clear contact for the first time with a part of myself I have long projected on “them” (the disabled). For many years I’ve been particularly attracted to men in wheelchairs because I imagined that they have achieved some lofty spiritual wholeness in order to cope with their losses. The letter from Phil in “Crip Zen” shocked me out of my illusions and forced me to confront a cripple who just wants his hairy anus rubbed by a gay man. Milam relates to this not as an addictive, dysfunctional atrocity but as a desire for love. Who am I to judge how love looks to one person or another? And who has the right to award points for the way one person copes with loss or stress and to dock others for the way they do it? Cripples and manic depressives have their trials and their entitlements, and so do we all in this incredibly complex and difficult world.
Thank you for the perspective you provide, and for the modeling of intimacy that helps all of us heal ourselves simply by having the courage to accept being who we are and living the lives we have.
The article “Crip Zen” is very, very good. I am a practicing psychiatrist. Milam’s book CripZen should be in the library of every rehabilitation hospital in the country.
Milam’s suggestion that “to find heterosexual lovers-for-a-fee, one has to go no further than the Yellow Pages,” to the Massage section, makes me positively livid. As a certified massage therapist, I provide massages for relaxation, stress reduction, and relief from the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome or sports injuries — none of which has a damn thing to do with sex!
I resent Milam’s insinuation that all massage therapists are simply prostitutes hiding behind the “massage” name. Most of us went to accredited massage schools, sometimes taking as many as three thousand hours of classes before being allowed to practice. Massage therapy is fighting for legitimacy in the medical field, and practitioners merit the same respect accorded to physical therapists, chiropractors, and others. I feel we deserve an apology.
Lorenzo W. Milam responds:
Throughout time (and literature), we reporters have had to take quite a beating. The common phrase is “killing the messenger.” Oedipus was quick to strike down the old man who revealed his sad origins; Macbeth called his messenger a “cream-faced loon” and said that “the devil should damn thee black.”
In my thoughts on sexual partners, I am not advocating, God knows, that one might call up a trained, respectable masseuse and expect a night of bliss. I am, rather, reporting that there are, in most cities, ample opportunities for heterosexuals to let their fingers do the walking if they need passionate relief. They can accomplish this by looking in the Massage section of the Yellow Pages.
Rather than be irate at me, Phoenix Hocking should ask (or perhaps demand) that the telephone company begin to make some distinction between the obvious massage-for-lust folks and the respectable massage-for-wellness people. Until that sweet day, I am afraid the confusion — which is certainly not of my making (nor of hers) — will be perpetuated.