Saturday, March 28, 2009


This is one of my earnest and probably uninformed little attempts to figure out stuff I know little or nothing about but have formed theories about, mostly through reading. One thing I’ve figured out is that most people know even less than I do.

I’m trying to find a little piece about male/female that I wrote at Seabeck one summer, maybe the one (1987) when I was the Great Guru presenting a lecture series called “Unfolding the Ordinary” which has been my mantra for a long time. I’m rereading the whole set -- might type it into this blog. (Maybe you’ll notice that the main thing I use my blog for is what the fellow who had no sex life called “taking things into my own hands.” That is, if no one will publish this stuff, I’ll do it.) At one point I was addressing sex differences, trying to make the point that we are human beings first and the rest is negotiable. I said, “I can’t believe that a little dangly tag of flesh makes much difference.”

Suddenly, an irrepressible man sprang up from my audience and yelled, “I object!”


“In the first place,” he objected, “It’s not LITTLE! In the second place, it’s not always dangly! Sometimes it is a spear, a cannon, a weapon of mass destruction!”

“Exactly,” a woman yelled back. “What can it do that’s constructive? All it can do is rape, start babies it refuses to protect, and displace the brain in your head!”

“Hey,” the man shot back. “You’re using synecdoche in a bad way! I’m the whole, not the part! I’m proud of my parts, but PLEASE I try to use them responsibly! What about YOU?”

“If you could keep the Pope out of it, I might be able to manage quite nicely. Or you could pay me the same as you for doing the same work!”

Actually, this dialogue never happened (it’s a hoax) except for that first one-liner demanding respect for penises. We all knew the rest without anyone bringing it up. After all, we were sophisticated Unitarians who had college degrees. We all met at the flagpole (!) at least once every Seabeck session so that a professional expert on sexual equipment could answer questions (submitted secretly on paper) for FUN! We already knew all that stuff.

What we were still experimenting with, and would all our lives, was where our personal boundaries were, how we could comfort ourselves when things went wrong, and -- oddly -- how to celebrate when things went very well indeed, esp. when there was no expectation of it. We were disconcerted by being out of control. We had been taught to always stay in control. No wonder that when we climbed into a chalice represented by a retreat and lecture series, some people’s wine never caught on fire and others exploded. How to maintain a nice even flame? We search through the books and films and theories.

The event itself was educational for me. I believe in reflexivity, watching myself, analyzing myself. It seems more fair than always watching and analyzing other people, which is a boundary violation and usually useless anyway. I learned that being tired and taking risks is part of falling in love. But when the situation closes, and everyone drives home, the love part might be only a memory. Is that any reason not to fall in love?

One might fall in love with an entirely inappropriate and unavailable person. That’s been my life plan. I don’t want someone just like me rummaging around in me, do I? So I’m careful to be in situations where people just like me are scarce. Luckily, that’s not very hard. I’m a parlicoot, a chimera, an accident of the times. More than that, I’m counter-phobic. Not many people are counter-phobic, which means that if something is really scary, a counter-phobe is attracted, goes towards it, maybe goes too close. The reason not many are around is that it’s an approach to life that’s likely to kill you.

That’s part of the reason that when you tell what you’ve learned, people say you’re just making it up. I tell about things that happened on the rez and even the young ‘uns there now just don’t believe it. They’re more willing to believe bad stuff, because that justifies caution, prudence, safe-guards. Their strategy is to stick together, do what the others do.

I love the little natural history blurbs on NPR. Yesterday they talked about trying out a new instrument, a kind of sonar that can see for a great distance under the water. They fired it up and saw herring coming from the depths and faraway until they were grouped into a huge school -- incredibly twenty-five miles across. That’s almost from here to the nearest shopping town. The herrings came together, got in synch the way schools of fish do (each fish watching the wiggler on the right or the left), then took off en masse for warmer waters to the south where they could reproduce. Just like college kids are spring break, except the fish didn’t get drunk. They just came back and dispersed to whereever the food was. A counter-phobic fish -- a counter-phobic college kid -- might do something quite different. And be weeded out of the gene pool.

So the lesson is that a counter-phobe should be very cautious and probably has a high level of stress hormones. I had mine tested -- I do. So a counter-phobe can’t afford to listen to that constant barrage of health news about 2% more likelihood of bad stuff and six months taken off your life if you do this or that. (Anyway they change their minds all the time.) But a counter-phobe needs a good strong chalice. Not the kind that money can buy, but the kind that you hammer out for yourself. They won’t be the same anyway.

But I prefer to take Flaubert’s approach (I used to have the exact quote taped to my computer, but I took it off and can’t find it today.) which is to be conventional, regular, modest in all one’s daily ways so as to be totally outrageous and unexpected in one’s thinking -- and thus writing. And maybe loving. Though the boundary is crossed if I don’t write. That’s the scariest thing, writing. Therefore, I go towards it. My own hands are on the keyboard.


prairie mary said...

Dave Lull, uber-librarian, to the rescue! Now I can tape this back onto my computer: "Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work."
— Gustave Flaubert

Lance Michael Foster said...

I had never heard of a counter-phobe...and about the bad results of listening to too much health advice (I have currenltly more pounds of flesh on my bones then dollars in my bank account)...and about thereby being weeded out of the gene pool...thanks for yet another missing piece...I just can't afford to worry at all :-)