LitHub: Love, Light, and Basketball on the Reservation
High Desert Journal: Mountain Men
Narrative Magazine: Takes Enemy
Logos and Eros
One could say an extreme mediocrity exists in much of the masculine in America today, characterized by emptiness, impoverished relational capacity, an overblown or under-developed sense of self, and a life with others that is often devoid of meaning. Such men are filled of things like excess television, excess video games, excess sexual focus, emotional shallowness, and the man’s agenda at the expense of others. No words for feelings. Violence. Privilege for privilege sake, which results in decadence, and in the end decay, and finally death. The Western world, which in bell hooks’ terminology, is inherently white, supremacist and patriarchal, is currently experiencing this decadence, decay, and death. The great psychologist of the twentieth century, Carl Jung, gave a clear and also fear-invoking expression of the masculine and the feminine. In Jung’s conception the masculine is symbolized by the logos, which he referred to as the power to make meaning, to be meaningful, and to be experienced as meaningful by loved ones and by the collective humanity around us. Not the super-rational Western man, incapable of emotion and in fact regret, but a man who lives deeply, loves well, and is well loved. A question then rises, how many men do you know who are experienced as meaningful in their relationships with women, with their children, with other men?
Now this brings me, in a postmodern sense, to the good involved in multiple views, and also to the Jesuit and Quaker notions of the need for persuasion rather than coercion, listening rather than over-talking, and the idea that among many “goods” the essence of the mature person is to seek “ultimate good.” I believe we can experience Jung’s typology as a bridge to encounter some of the current complexities that exist in human relations by noticing that all of us have both masculine and feminine within us, and the extent to which we hide or subdue either of these, we suffer. Jung himself pointed out this tenacious aspect of human fallibility, that when we deny our faults, we are consumed by shadow. When we are consumed by shadow we in effect project our shadow onto the world with harmful results—we refuse to take responsibility for life and in fact block others rather than inviting them to help us change and become more whole. Jung said, “the less embodied the shadow, the darker and denser it is.” To be more whole is to be more capable of honoring the feminine and the masculine in ourselves. For Jung, when we choose denial, instead of living a responsible life of responsible love and appropriate power with others, we fall into blaming our own mediocre life on others, the environment, or God. Jung felt denial (the inability and in fact unwillingness to recognize our own faults and change) was the most stubborn of all human faults. But we protect ourselves with good reason, he said, because to look at our own evil or our own shadow directly, is, Jung felt, self-shattering. Therefore we avoid it at all costs. And if we decide to face the shadow, we must do so with great care. Even so, Jung said the way to better ground is relatively graceful. In order to heal our fear of our own shadow, and heal our inability to love and serve life deeply and well, we must have two things: insight and good will. In the language of family, we need understanding and love. At this crossroads of understanding and love, according to Jung, the human and the Divine are one.
Jung conceived of the feminine as the eros, but not the blown-out glammed and glitzed porn culture of American media and overblown masculine agendas. Rather, he conceptualized the eros as the womblike existence that gives peace, the life-giving sacrificial essence willing to undergo almost anything in order to preserve life, the wild mystery at odds with all who might try to come against the the child, the family, or the future together. For me, Mochis comes to mind, the Cheyenne woman warrior whose ferocity is legendary. After the Sand Creek Massacre in the late 1800s in which US Cavalry slaughtered Cheyenne elders, women, and children and mutilated their bodies, Mochis took up the ax and fought as a warrior and killed many for 11 years until she was captured and shipped by train to Florida where she was incarcerated by the United States Army as a Prisoner of War. My mother comes to mind, with her bravery and her heart of irrevocable forgiveness, and my wife with her vitality and her essence that is more fire than water. Not to mention my Czech grandmother. In our family, we call her the Great One.
I think we can see today that often the masculine has tried to subdue and in fact overtake the feminine. The masculine is infatuated with a pseudo eros, an eros he himself has pumped up to proportions that amount to oblivion. That brand of masculine cannot face its own feminine, for to do so would shatter him and he would then have to integrate the feminine, honor the feminine and in fact truly love the feminine in order to be healed and whole. In like fashion the feminine has often usurped the masculine, setting itself against the masculine through bitterness, anger, and condemnation that amounts to giving the man pariah status, sometimes claiming not only in the core of relationships, but also at national and international levels, that the man is meaningless and in fact absurd. That form of feminine cannot face its own masculine, for to do so would be too shattering and would then require the feminine to integrate the masculine, to take him in with care and enduring affection, to truly love in order to be healed and made whole. In my experience working with women and men as a systems psychologist for the past 15 years, we carry mutual disintegration in our hands. Understanding and love are required if we are to embrace and love both the feminine and the masculine, inside ourselves, and in our relationships with others.
The story collection, American Masculine, delves into the mystery some, and depicts men who are often desolate, void, violent, and at odds with the feminine and in effect, at odds with themselves. These men, like myself, and many men I know, desire to move and change and become capable of giving and receiving love. But to become humble sometimes requires being humbled. I know such men, whose shadows extend and do harm, and who have sometimes been graced to come into a deeper and more redemptive love, and who have wept at the beauty that exists when they let themselves be shattered and let themselves emerge from that long journey into something new. I admire them, and hope to be with them when the dawn comes.
Shann on Auntie’s Bookstore, Spokane, Washington
Shann on Elk River Books, Livingston, Montana
Shann on Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Washington
Tin House: Basketball in the Blood
Tin House: For the Love of the Game
Tin House: What We Talk About When We Talk About All Net
Shann Ray’s story The Way Home is featured in Distinctly Montana magazine along with the work of the immortal poet Richard Hugo, American legend Jim Harrison, and statesman of prose, horses, and fly fishing, Thomas McGuane
Reflections West, radio program featuring Shann Ray on basketball and writing, including an excerpt of a Sherman Alexie poem
The Music of American Masculine, for Largehearted Boy
Gary Niebuhr recommends American Masculine for book groups on Booklist for the American Library Association
The Artistry of Montana Basketball Legend Jonathan Takes Enemy
My First Literary Slap in the Face, at The Quivering Pen
I am Surrounded by Lovely Women, for Poets & Writers
The Story is the Antidote to Despair, for The Story Prize Blog
Writing and the Heart of Artistic Expression, at Writer Cogitator
When We Fell In Love, at Three Guys One Book
After We Lose Our Mothers, What’s Left?
Mary Oliver, and What it Means to Thirst
The Phenomenology of Love, at Beatrice
Five Story Collections, Five Great Fires
Montana in the Blood
In the high mountains at dawn you encounter things you might never encounter elsewhere. The Beartooth Range runs through southern Montana and boasts some of the finest peaks of the Rocky Mountain front. My father and I have walked that great wide country. When we arrive and start out in the pre-dawn blackness, the darkness attends us and stays close, shrouded by forest and granite. In late autumn the air is sharp and cold and when the sun begins to light the world, vision opens and all around us on the high plateau we see Timothy grass encased in small intricate robes of frost. Above and to the west the sky is still largely obscured but light seeps over the high plain on which we walk and when the sun finally breaks the horizon, the moments that follow are breathtaking. In every direction the frost melts, the sun refracts through tiny spheres of water on each stalk of grass. Suddenly the land appears like an upside down sky of stars.
My mother grew up in Cohagen, Montana, a town of eight people. My father in Circle, Montana, a town of 300. My father is of mixed immigrant heritage, some German, some Irish, the rest spread throughout Europe. My mother’s line is less dispersed. In fact, her parents were married in New York in the 1940’s during World War II, her father of German lineage, her mother Czechoslovakian. Amazingly, her parents’ marriage, filled of square dancing and ranching, card playing and good conversation, began during the very time period in Europe when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia.
My parents remain in Montana, in Bozeman now, having moved first from Billings (where Dad coached the Crow basketball players at Plenty Coups) to the Northern Cheyenne reservation at St. Labre, and from there to Livingston during my high school years, then on to Bozeman when my brother and I attended college. Some time back, on a visit to see them in Bozeman I was seated on the couch with my mother. Arched ceilings and oak beams lead to high, wide windows that look out on the Bridger Mountains and the Spanish Peaks, the view itself a reminder of the vast wilderness that is Montana and how thankful I am to have a good mother, a good father. We had grown up in trailers, three of them in three different towns. My parents had struggled with each other and through some weighty decisions reconciled with one another after time apart, and from there they went on to make deep sacrifices toward my brother’s and my college education. I was happy for them, the life they had given us and the life they had built for themselves.
My mom was asking me about some of my research on forgiveness and touch, and I was telling her the stories of people—how they had hurt one another deeply, how they were seeking forgiveness, and trying to return to a loving connection. South Africa, Colombia, the Philippines, Northern Ireland, the Native American reservations in Montana and throughout the U.S., so many places of human atrocity, and how even in the face of such desolation, forgiveness would rise, and sometimes move to heal the human heart. I was thanking my mother for the forgiveness she gave my father some twenty or so years earlier, for how graceful she had been. Even my choice of vocation was in large part due to the integrity she and my father brought to our family. Not surprisingly, that day as we sat on the couch, the natural, true way she carried herself shone through.
After a pause in our conversation she looked at me and said, “You know, I’d like to get together with you and ask your forgiveness for the harms I caused you growing up.” She said the words openly, with a pleasant look in her eyes, a look of confidence and assurance. I have always loved that look, the way she carries herself with such strength even when dealing with things that are daunting, or cumbersome. Her power as a person is gracious and subtle.
“That would be good,” I said, “but I’ve harmed you too, Mom. I’d also like to ask forgiveness.”
On my next visit to Montana we ate dinner together and had an evening of forgiveness-asking.