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SHRUNKEN MEN


Dreamed 1992/2/21 by Chris Wayan

THAT DAY

I'm reading Robert Bly's IRON JOHN, and I'm annoyed. Bly labels men like me "flyers" or "Peter Pans", who avoid the earth, the depths, and probably commitment; and "soft men", who imitate women and limit themselves, instead of seeking male role models. Yet the warning signs he lists for these dysfunctional roles include very few few things I actually do. I did do many of them at one time--but that was just a cocoon. Now my wings have opened. What he calls "avoiding the earth" I would call shamanism or even just spirituality; what he sees as arrested development is something I won through to, from an abusive past, with effort and pain. I prefer my new life. I definitely do lack mentors or guides, whether male or female. Why is that?

I wish he'd list some objective criteria to distinguish his wise old male mentors from sadly limited (and limiting) old men. Or from healthy old men who are just too simple to guide me. Or from truly wise but conventional old men who haven't had the peculiar experiences I have had, who can't teach me how to live with who I am, though they may be decent teachers for the average guy.

I feel insulted by being told I CANNOT be an adult unless old men tell me how. Guess what? I define that.

I drop the book and go to bed. As I drift toward sleep, I think of another former mentor, my godmother Joan. Her last letter said "Living as a loner is not so bad"... her whole message to me for years was to accept myself as I am--sounds innocuous enough but somehow she discourages me from trying to change things I truly want to change. I am a loner, but plenty of loners can love and be loved. Or have sex. Or travel or eat out or work a fulltime job or breathe smoggy air without getting sick for days. I'm crippled, and all my achievements have been in spite of it.

I decide to incubate a dream about this issue, and whisper, "I'll dream of finding help, teachers, mentors I trust." Repeat it to myself a few times, and fall asleep.

THAT NIGHT

Dream 1: SHE NEVER COULD SEE YOU

I go to my parents' house to meet my sisters. Each separately brings up my godmother's advice to just accept being a loner. To my surprise, my sister Althea says "Joanie never could SEE you." Miriel phrases it differently but says much the same thing: Joan's not a mentor for me any more.

Dream 2: THROUGH THE LOGJAM

Driving down a steep slope from the isolated tract where my parents' house is, to the mall at the foot--from isolation to the social world. But big logs and a traffic jam slow me. I drag a log along, caught under my car? I drop it in the street and keep going stubbornly. Guilt says "You should go back and clean all that up! Don't leave a mess behind." But another part of me recognizes this as a trick. There'll always be something imperfect to clean up. I go on!

Dream 3: THE LINCOLN HORSE

There's a horse in the house. Lanky, swaybacked, elderly, and CURIOUS. Pokes its nose into things. It reminds me vividly of Lincoln. I like the horse, and Lincoln too. Make friends with this nosy horse. I wanted elders as role models, didn't I?

I fly by flapping my arms

Dream 4: GROUNDING? NO THANKS

I leave my old elementary school with a man. Plan to go somewhere with him. I spread my arms and try to fly. My arms have a ragged trailing fringe of cloth? Old feathers? Just tatters. No true wings. Yet I go on trying to fly, with torn wings.

And rise! At first I'm sure terrible flapping is needed. Slowly I realize I lift with my mind, not my arms.

I'm uncomfortable about leaving the man behind me, and that holds me back a while. Finally I face it: he'll either make an effort, and fly too, or he WON'T. I'd rather be an example of what he can achieve, than pretend I can't fly just to stay with him. Just so he won't be upset or envious?

If that's grounding, forget it.

Dream 5: THE SHRUNKEN MEN

Star Trek. A technologically sophisticated planet, not part of the Federation. Captain Picard is negotiating with the planetary director for the release of 27,000 imprisoned Federation citizens--including some from the Enterprise. One is Ryker, Picard's executive officer! They've all been shrunk to a couple of inches tall. This is a new punishment for criminals and political dissidents on this planet. And artists. And opposition candidates, and teenagers who show insufficient respect for the system. In short, anyone with dangerous signs of energy and independence.

They're all run through the shrinking machine, then shipped to a reservation, so free people won't step on them. At first, the Director admits only that the 27,000 Picard knows of are there--in 3 square miles!--fending mostly for themselves. But it comes out--as they talk--that the true figure of LOCAL people ALSO in there is at LEAST two million! Maybe 3... That seems dense even for people that small, not enough land to feed them all, even if they organized perfectly--and they're prisoners, dumped there.

Picard and the Director previously quarreled over these Federation people. The Director got angry and stonewalled him. So this time Picard is carefully polite and friendly. The Director sounds more cooperative, but I don't see any concrete results. Picard is not getting anything for his courtesy but courtesy. He's being co-opted.

My point of view drifts across the room as they talk... into a large doll house in the corner. Float from room to room. Ryker is locked inside.

I listen to Picard and the Director as I watch Ryker pace. He's wearing government-issue gray coveralls. Looks alert. He stares out a half-opened window. I guess he's considering escape. But where can he go, two inches high? He stares... I finally follow his eyes.

There's a mousehole in the corner of the Planetary Director's office. A mousehole with a man in it. A guerrilla from the Midget Liberation Front, who got out of the reservation, crossed miles of giants' territory full of cars cats and feet, broke into the executive palace, made his way through the walls, and now is standing up inside the deepest chamber of the government's heart. A tiny man in a dollhouse doorway bristles at a giant peering in

He's holding a pair of jeans, rolled up in a quarter-inch wad. He pulls back his arm, and pitches. The roll of denim flaps in the window, uncurling as it hits the floor. Ryker seems to understand. He strips off those gray coveralls, and puts on the jeans. He must feel cold, I think, but he looks happier. Maybe he knows something I don't.

While he's changing, I hear the Director nearing the doll house. I think "Of course the Director will interrupt him the moment he's changing." But Ryker finishes just before the front door bursts open and a huge face hovers outside. Ryker goes out to face the giant warden, grabbing a home-made megaphone by the door.

They begin negotiations. I'm hearing through shrunken size ears now, for sure: the Director is just a boom and a roar. I think Ryker's first demand better be to get a teletype or something; it's almost impossible to hear what the giant is saying.

The Director, it turns out, is offering Ryker a job. He wants him to investigate the very high incidence of hernias in the shrunken men. He claims the odds for a cure will thus improve from one in five to better than even.

But Ryker's no fool. He knows when he's being bought off. He's not here to be a do-gooder within the prison system. Improving the living conditions of the shrunken means nothing.

He wants them free.

NOTES IN THE MORNING

Bly says American culture hates fathers. But Bly wants to rehabilitate the role of male elder without reconstructing it, or facing why these men are hated. For being absent? Industrialization did that, and it is a suppressed crime, our hidden apartheid--carting men off, away from their families, to a steel homeland. Too many men gave in to the death cult they were forced to join. Ground down, the flame dropping slowly inside like a wick getting shorter and shorter.

But there are reasons to mistrust old men, and my dream spells them out. Some some try to work within the system that built the gulag, like Picard, and some repress all change, like the Director--they ARE the system.

It's the shrunken men, made to feel two inches tall by the powers that be, the exiles from manhood, who make real change--drilling through the walls! The real wild men. Living in their genes, not their government-issue cover alls. Of all the archetypes Bly talks of, the only one real to me is this. The wild man.

GLUTTON FOR PUNISHMENT

Masochist that I am, I finished "Iron John." Bly claims Warrior, Farmer, and King are the three archetypes underlying Indo-European civilization (the only band that counts!) A man [sic] can't possibly meet God until he's met and made room for "the King"--a figure Bly calls an archetype, though many cultures never had one, and even those that did developed kings only in historical times. And the Father... can't meet God without that! Yet paternity's little older than royalty--indeed probably sired royalty. The primal image of men is only a few thousand years old? Silly. There are limits--Bly talks up Warrior and King, but not Farmer--even to Bly, I guess "You can't meet God till you've met the Farmer" sounds stupid. Even his hardcore fans won't pay for THAT workshop.

I keep thinking of Emily Dickinson's sarcastic trinity: "Burglar, Banker, Father..."

I miss male mentors--but Bly's just another enforcer of a norm of maturity that mocks me without knowing a thing about me. Pundits like Bly make things worse for me. Women look at me suspiciously as a Peter Pan, a "flyer" or "soft male" in Bly's words. Blyism puts down my California adulthood from his Heartland manhood. I feel insulted. That's the word, yes. I'm tired of being nonexistent. I think I'll exist for a while.

And let's not kid around here: Bly says a "flyer" or "soft male" or "puer aeternus" is not a man. How 'bout three-fifths? Does Bly call black men "boys", or talk to women about the rights of "Man"? Bly's scorn is merely better-written echoes of crap I've endured all my life from conformist men. I already endure second-class citizenship for being male; the "nasty brutish and short" life I'm supposed to accept--eight years shorter than white women, comparable to black women who at least know they're oppressed; the violence I'm supposed to man up and endure; the constant suspicions I'm dishonest, socially stupid, potentially criminal. But Bly slathers insult-flavored frosting on an already toxic cake.

The elders Bly declares essential aren't. I initiated myself. You can too. In shamanic dreams I've walked through death and out the other side. The axes of my depth are not at human angles. They must be measured differently. I'm only part-human, as Bly defines humanity. But then, Bly's male ideal looks pretty flat to me, too.

Still I feel sad. I saw a TV documentary on Bly's work with men. He radiated a spiritual solidity I hoped would keep him from putting down others on paths he hadn't walked. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

But the other documentary, the one in the night, reminds me: when I'm feeling two inches tall... maybe I'm going where no Bly has gone before.



LISTS AND LINKS: dream incubation - Robert Bly - Peter Pan dreams - farmers - Star Trek dreams - pride - prisons and freedom - gender - rants

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