Friday, July 1, 2011

Culture and the Land of the Cowboy

I live in Texas and most days I like it here. The people are friendly and we live in a safe neighborhood with good schools. I enjoy my job and the cost of living is low enough that we have a comfortable lifestyle. It does get hot during the summer, but we avoid the months of snow that our previous locations inflicted on us each winter. The days I don't like it are usually because I miss an aspect of our old home on the east coast (i.e. Washington D.C. and New York).

My wife and I left college and headed to New York for our first real jobs and adventure as grown ups. We were married in college and it always felt like playing house until we had degrees and a job to go to each day. That didn't happen until we moved to New York. We lived in New York for almost two years until I was accepted to law school in Washington D.C. We lived in Washington D.C. for all three years of law school and then another three years of work before taking a job in Texas. It is fair to say that we became adults on the east coast - even though we still act like children sometimes.

The guys I knew in New York and in Washington, D.C. were different then the guys I know in Texas. They enjoyed sports, muscle cars, red meat, and other decidedly manly things. However, this was not all they enjoyed. Many of them unabashedly attended and enjoyed things like the theater, the ballet, the symphony, and other cultural experiences. This was never met with odd glances questioning their manliness. They also read books, and lots of them. I took the Subway in New York and the Metro in D.C. into school and work. Everyone, men included, had books in their hands and many of them were novels. When you talked with other men they would tell you about books they were reading, or had read, and what they thought about them. They talked about politics, and not just to complain about our country going to hell in the proverbial hand-basket.

I maintain email, facebook, and twitter relationships with some of these guys but I miss the actual interaction at parties or other gatherings. I mostly miss talking about books with other guys. I read fiction knowing that it has little value beyond the entertainment it provides. Perhaps it will make me think about some situation differently, but mostly it is just an entertaining way to spend my free time. This lack of clearly cognizable utility in reading fiction seems to be its largest drawback among the guys I meet here. If they have time for entertainment the last thing they pick up is a book. If they are going to pick up a book they choose to read about new personal organization techniques, leadership skills, or financial management. They will read historical fiction, but mostly about wars. I'm NOT knocking those books - I own several and read some of them every year because they ARE useful or intellectually stimulating. I just wish more men in my current circle appreciated novels as a worthy method of entertainment.

I'm not looking for "sensitive" or "high-brow" guys - I'm neither. In fact, I want the opposite. I want to talk about books the same way that I talk about sports, guns, and my wife. I want to talk about books like a guy. That is what I had with my east coast guy friends. They weren't men in touch with their feminine side, they were just regular guys who read books for fun. I thought I might find one of these guys in my various writing classes, but I never did.

My desire to find another like-minded guy in my writing class is purely selfish. When I learned to golf it was easier to learn when I had a golf buddy to go with and we could make mistakes together, poke fun at bad shots, give each other constructive and nonconstructive criticism, and honestly congratulate each other when things went well. It made golf enjoyable and brought me into a game I don't think I would have continued playing otherwise. I need that for my writing.

I need another guy slogging through the same process of writing a novel to motivate me and make the experience more fun. Men and women are different, and thank heavens for that. I appreciate my wife and women friends for the kindness and concern they possess that is beyond my capability. However, I'm a guy and some things must be done the guy way. I want someone to make fun of my writing when it sucks and be mean about it. Women are careful about hurting feelings. I want someone to admit they failed to write what they were supposed to write and made offensive doodles on their paper instead, and then share the handiwork. You can't share offensive doodles with women in your class - it's bad form and could get you sued. I need and want an honest opinion on whether or not something is good from someone who doesn't give a flying rat's a$$ about my feelings. When I get a compliment from my golf buddy I know it's legit because he is looking for a chance to ask me if my husband also plays golf.

These guys exist in Texas, I play golf and talk sports with them all the time. I just wish some of them were reading novels and trying to write their own.


  1. This is an interesting perspective on the "men/women in critique group" debate my own group has gone through the last couple of years. It began as an all female group early in 2004 and stayed that way for a long time. When we added our first guy, and then a second, last year, the group dynamics changed a lot, but definitely for the better. I'd hate to go back to an all female group now because I'd miss the extra dose of honesty and the male point of view regarding my male characters.

  2. Patricia - Thanks for your comment. It is a wonderful thing that men and women are different. Those differences make for very interesting reading and writing. I think you are very fortunate to have both influences in your critique group.