Friday, August 22, 2008

Poem: Hope Thins

This is one of mine:

At times the hope thins
No longer buoyant
It swirls in vapors
You grasp at it
It's all you have left
Reaching out for any wisp of it
Shadow of it
For it is strong
And if you could but catch just a little bit of it
The smallest bit
It could support your weight
And the weight upon you
For it is strong
You could climb back up
And out
If you could catch it

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Dear God," she prayed, "let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry...have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere-be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something ever blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost."

-Frances Nolan
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
by Betty Smith

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Manly Handshake

 Males have it rough. It’s true that we can pee wherever we want and that we don’t have to endure the pain of childbirth, but we still have some biological issues. I invite you to take a mental journey through the animal kingdom. Aside from spectacular mass migrations and gruesome predatory kills, nothing draws more attention in nature than males being male. I’m talking about courtship displays, territorial battles, and the establishment of dominance.

Think about two majestic big horn sheep bashing skulls to determine the right to the female harem. Reflect on the sheer beauty of a male peacock’s plumage. Consider the meticulous craftsmanship of the bower bird that will spend days arranging bits of grass, sticks, feathers, and berries to attract potential mates. Ponder the figure of the lone male lion as he patrols his territorial boarders, marking to create olfactory sign posts and mauling any rival that would dare enter his sanctum. Take the nearest branches in the evolutionary tree, apes and monkeys. Male chimpanzees and gorillas wreak havoc during displays to assert their dominance, howling, pounding their chests, throwing tree limbs; all in a spectacle that says “I am a powerful, manly male!”

Now consider your average human male: receding hairline, slightly overweight and under-groomed, no plumage or antlers, and no claws or fangs. It is difficult for the animal that is the human male to find release for those male behaviors which evolution has bread into our biology. We aren’t allowed to pee on things that we consider ours. Throwing files and computers around the office to establish dominance over the smartass I.T. guy is frowned upon. Some of us have mock-plumage, i.e. fancy cars, clothes, homes. Men do fight; some for real, most in video games. Many men try to assign a number value to their manliness tied directly to their bank account; the more they have in the bank the more dominant they see themselves in society. Plenty of men stick to the age old strategy of having sex with as many women as possible. Nothing makes you more male than using your penis a lot. One of the funny things is that with the exception of penis use, none of these activities is exclusively male.

For me, I have several little things that help me feel manly. The first is something I can’t control; I’m big (6’4”, 220 lbs). There’s just something about being in a crowd and standing a head taller than everyone else that makes me feel good. Another is my job. Being an ecologist means that I get to go outdoors all the time and muck around, get dirty, and yes, pee on trees. The last is one that I find a lot of men do, but I’m not sure they know they do it; a manly handshake.

Most men want to have a strong manly handshake but I doubt that most realize that this becomes an assertion of dominance. Upon meeting, men usually shake hands. The type of handshake depends on the setting and the shakers. In a job interview you go for a respectable and firm handshake, but not crushing. You meet your girlfriend’s man-buddy in a bar and things are different. And there is more to a dominant handshake than just force. While you definitely want to grind some bones, there are also the thumb-web impact, the angle of approach, and the duration of the shake to consider.

The thumb-web impact concerns how much force you apply to the forward thrust of the hand when meeting the others to shake. If you go in slow there’s very little impact. If you go in quick the tissue between the thumb and pointer finger (or thumb-web) will meet in nice manly bump. The angle of approach is also a consideration. I like to use my height to my advantage and come in a little over the top with my palm turned down slightly. That way at the beginning of the shake I’m on top. Then there is the always difficult question of how long to shake. I’m usually a quick shaker; too long of a handshake and all of a sudden you’re holding hands. Hopefully, with the right handshake you can tell your girl’s buddy everything that needs to be said without saying a word.

And that’s about the just of it. It might be said that I have put way too much thought into this. That may be so but I think it’s just one more tiny facet of human behavior that is so interesting to observe. Others may say I’m relying way too much on a handshake to assert my manliness. That also may be true. Oh well, at least I’m not running around trying to impregnate any woman still breathing.

Thank you for reading.