A long time ago, when I was a productive member of human society, I worked for a supervisor who apparently shifted into some sort of ecstatic state by bedeviling me in public.
I must say however that I often retaliated in subtle ways. I recall one instance in a group meeting. The boss had assigned me to write a report. At the meeting, he held it up and said, “Whoever wrote this writes poetry.”
As quick as a fly heading for an outhouse, I said, “I’ll tell my secretary you said that. She wrote the report.”
I won’t tell you what followed except to say that the boss almost had an apoplectic fit.
But that’s unimportant. Did you catch the subtlety of the boss’s comment and my response?
The boss clearly implied quite strongly that men who write well must write poetry, and men who write poetry must be sissies. I’m sure his subtle attempt at embarrassing me wasn’t lost on you.
But what about my response? Did you catch my message?
The report was so unimportant that instead of devoting my attention to it personally, I assigned it to a secretary. Of course, my second level message was more subtle.
It followed that if I thought the report was unimportant, I must also believe the boss was unimportant.
I think at the moment I did because he really pushed my button. My response was automatic and intended to embarrass him.
More than 30 years later, I remember that incident and the embarrassment I felt at his words. The truth was then that I did write poetry. I also remember that I thought of myself as a real man who played sports, spent time in the military service, and often got the crap knocked out of me because of an uncontrollable tongue.
Since then, I’ve often asked myself, “Why not? Why shouldn’t a man write poetry? Who says so? Who made such a rule?”
Well, culture does. Culture plants all kinds of role model rules in our minds from birth until death.
Maybe roles are necessary for the smooth functioning of society. Who knows? Not me. That isn’t what I’m talking about.
The creation of roles and the rules for playing those roles has insidious effects on children and adults alike. Basically, with few exceptions, more people than we suspect, are cast in roles they are unsuited for by societal pressures or by their own inclinations.
My experience is a case in point. Sitting in a room full of co-workers while a stuffed-shirt ridiculed me wasn’t my choice of occupations. Never mind that I was a stuffed-shirt, too. I didn’t want to be one, but economics and a family required my presence every day in an environment that sapped my energy. I wanted to ride a giant mower around a golf course, smelling the new mown grass, laughing as duffers flubbed their way around the course and lied about their scores later, all the while running sonnets through my mind.
Or better still, driving a big rig equipped with radio broadcast equipment cross-country, playing trucker’s songs and philosophizing.
But in retrospect, I can see that my tenure as a stuffed-shirt was the right decision. It paved the way for almost 30 years teaching, which turned out to be my real preferred occupation.
Oh, I still dabble in a little poetry now and then. But I realize that it was never a real career path. Sometimes, the truth comes late. My real career was helping my wife raise three wonderful daughters who in turn gave us seven wonderful grandchildren.
But I did write a brief expression of my grief shortly after she passed away.
Beyond the shadowed window pane
where dancing rays of sun rejoice,
the verdant green reminds me
of her eternal voice.
It isn’t much, but I’d like to show it to the stuffed-shirt of so many years ago and say, “You can never take this away from me.