Men Without Women

I’ve got pictures of my legs today. I went on a water-quality-monitoring expedition with some other volunteers and guys from the office this weekend. We checked on the quantity and physical characteristics of water salamanders, which over time give us a picture of how bad or good the water is. We did this in beautiful Pinal in a couple of spring-fed, barely-above freezing rivers, and as soon as I’ve got photos or video of me and Trey and Ulises jumping in and cussing our lungs out, I’ll put them up. What the river also had were black flies. The kind that bite people when they’re trying to measure salamanders.

Scratching is better than sex

The kind that bite you sixty or seventy times on each leg

They also carry, shit you not, parasites that cause river blindness. Trey and I have been scratching ourselves raw for days, but as long as we don’t end up with a disease you diagnose by spotting worms in your own eyes, we’ll be alright.

Getting to the point of the post, Hemingway’s got a collection of short stories called Men without Women. The book explores the titular condition and finds that we (and given the book, the premise of the post, and my own orientation, I’m gonna be talking about hetero men) are worse off. That the women in our lives fill some void, lend some balance, that without them, whether by virtue of something intrinsic to them or projected on them by us, our rougher edges, worse natures, insecurities and failings emerge.



It's a good book

I might be reading into things

I’d have to agree.

Forget about drawing direct connections between my lack of female companionship and the way I act here. I’m not up to it. I’m not capable. But something is up.

It’s no secret to anyone who has—or as often, hasn’t—asked, but women have played an outsized role in the way I’ve run my life. I joined the College Democrats and started writing for The Progressive because of my then-girlfriend Yesenia. She was rising in the ranks of her club at Michigan and I’d been feeling jealous and beaten-out for months. If I hadn’t been in love with a Mexican girl or two, I’d never have learned as much Spanish or studied Cuba. If a girlfriend and I hadn’t spent hours talking and listening to my parents’ old LPs, I never would have read Jeff Eugenides or started listening to Mary Chapin Carpenter or Carole King. If another hadn’t taken off for Beirut and left me grasping at something she knew (and I should have known) was over, I never would have picked up Pity the Nation and figured out way too late that the history I should have studied was Oriental. If she’d never written blisteringly good posts like this or gone on to work so envy-inducingly in what I wish were my profession, I would never have started this blog.

I left a life in the States where, since the oversized-khaki and polo shirt spring dance at Berkshire Middle to the midnight bus ride out of DC, I’d never been more than a few months without being involved with somebody, however casually, and I’d had even less time without prospects on the horizon. I’m not trying to paint myself in any positive light here if (and I don’t think it is) it seems coming off that way. It points a need in me more than anything. To be here, after the initial excitement and the unrealizable crushes have worn away, is new ground for me.

I do not live in a land bereft of women. The odds, with so many of the men gone to the States for work, are in our favor. And by the twist of racial fate that leaves most of the Hispanic world associating white with good, I rank in any given room. The problem is that these girls have husbands, or kids, or not-quite-quickly-enough-mentioned boyfriends in other states or in the States. They’re too old or too young. And though I’ve been told on the sly that one or the other of my Ecochavos “likes older guys,” that is, just not one of those cultural lines I’m ever going to want to cross.

There are some folks my age, but the details of why it isn’t working  with them and isn’t going to expose stuff that isn’t just private to me, so I’ll let it rest. But even with those prospects as prospects, though, there lacks some of the easy communication and back-and-forth flirt that comes with Gchat and unlimited texts and a common first language.

There is missing, too, the professional competition that none of my girls and girlfriends realized we were engaged in. The competition which many of them won. It may not be a good thing, but a sickening, unreconcilable jealousy of a lover’s achievements has more than never been the impetus behind my own. And the hopefully-hidden subtext of a few of my relationships.

What to do with all this? Like in all my posts, I’m not sure I have conclusions to draw. The well of my insight runs dry just short of the useful.

I thought, at first, like I did when I went to Spain, that a prolonged period away might help me to find direction and meaning in myself alone, that I could work out whatever I was missing and looking for, and make myself whole through some sort of enforced isolation and contemplation.

I haven’t found much out. Maybe a little bolder with the girls around town, maybe a little less driven at work and at the typewriter. Working out a little more. I think at some point the subconscious decides the drought is your fault and that you ought to do something about it.

I have not achieved a higher plane or clearer thinking. I am not smarter nor more zen nor happier for lack of women.

At at least I’m in better shape.


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