Of Estrogen and Anima

I still remember the first time I suggested to a client that he may find it helpful to do some anima work. A thirty-something, well-educated professional, who’d already achieved what most of us might aspire to in a lifetime, this man had always measured his successes with a traditional ‘male’ yardstick (Note 1: as a culture, we were still on the cusp of metrification; note 2: any double entendres are completely intentional). He was ‘appropriately’ aggressive – in work, interpersonally, in leisure – allowing him to advance quickly and deliberately on all fronts. He could fly jets, he had leading-man good looks, he was a good provider, and he was respected and deferred to by colleagues. In short, his animus, his male ego was fully intact. So why the niggling dissatisfactions, the cracks appearing in his relationship(s), the relentless searching for the final piece, attaining which would no doubt make him feel complete (or so he thought).

Bear in mind that these were times, in the very early 1990’s, of rampant gender-role identity confusion (bit of a mouthful, that). There were women trying to be men – at least psychologically; there were men masquerading as women – athletically, entertainingly; there were men trying to be men – but ever so carefully so as not to ‘piss off Mother Nature’; there were strong women with traditional values; and there were men wondering just when it became politically incorrect to be male. And so on. . . and on. The ‘roar’ of the strident feminists, the equivocation of the fence sitting ‘soft male’ apologists (as Robert Bly was derisively fond of labeling as he advocated for men to reclaim their ‘wild man’), the entrenchment of any number of seemingly incompatible, ‘gender postures’ made one, at once, long for the simpler days of Father Knows Best and celebrate the energy of such diversity. So when the consummate, well-socialized macho man is advised to explore his feminine side, one can only imagine the confusion contained in the “my what?” response – not to mention, the resistance.

In the past fifteen to twenty years, we’ve made some progress; although I strongly suspect, were I chatting with this same man today, I’d be greeted with the same quizzical, initially amused look – conveying every bit of the unvoiced “you’re kidding, right?” Dinosaurs like Steinam at one pole and the religious, fundamental right at the other, beating its paternalistic drum relentlessly, still survive – but the uncritical acceptance of these anachronistic extremes has thankfully diminished. A sort of regression to the gender-posture mean, as happens with all statistical and social phenomena, has once again asserted its truth.

Jung’s concepts of animus and anima, descriptive of the male and female energy contained in each of us, have once again found a more sustainable, more balanced, less suspected expression in the culture. My now yellowed with age comments to my former client were little other than a suggestion that he explore a healthier balance in his life. The (literally) high-flying, aggressive, competitive ‘yang’ energy that had appeared to serve him so well in his first few adult decades, was sufficiently lopsided that it had begun to flag as a formula for living. A little more ‘yin’ was needed. At the time, no easy prescription – when polarities abounded; balance, equanimity eschewed.

Which brings me to the impetus for this piece. In our parish, this is ‘ACW Sunday’ — for the uninitiated, the Anglican Church Women’s day to report in and hopefully recruit a few younger folk to their ranks. Some discussion had grown around the choice of readings for our BCP service – together with the ‘preferred’ language to be used. The ‘Virtuous Woman’ (of Proverbs 31) was to be described as the ‘strong and capable’ woman. And the homilist was to be the assistant priest, with no small reputation / track record for championing the role of women in the church. My wife and I had joked a bit around how she might ‘explain’ my absence from service today – with my rather flip summary comment: “Too much estrogen!” I’d anticipated (and I really must resist the temptation to pre-judge these things) a, how can I put this, asymmetrical morning (read lopsided, polarized rant – once again at the cost of equanimity); and chose to take a pass, rather than boost my blood pressure.

I suppose this is, in some ways, an extension of last week’s rant (of my own) – a rebuke of exclusivity. My client and our priest are, in the words of a friend, the ‘sandpaper’ that rubs away our surface rust and allows us to consider things from a slightly more ‘exposed’ (and hopefully, available) perspective. My sense is that, as long as we travel back and forth along the same ‘highway’, with feminism at one end and chauvinism at the other, making our points, expressing our position at the expense of the ‘other camp’, we will never see any other landscape. A detour, just a little ‘north’ of this all too well-travelled path allows us to both distance from this adversarial, partisan and pointless debate, bent on cultivating the already converted (whichever camp that may be) and alienating the other; and to regain a little balance in our perspective. Welcome to Equanimity, population TBA.

BTW, what was the homily about? Community building – but that’s another story.

David Howard

Long-haired, Freaky People Need Not Apply

Carl Jung calls it synchronicity. Sometimes defined as a ‘meaningful coincidence’; a confluence of events that draws one’s attention to an underlying truth or significance. I’d bristled briefly at the rather generous description of my home parish as an ‘impartial community’, eschewing discrimination, exclusion, judgment – of ‘those not like us’ – as the centre piece of our rector’s homily this past Sunday. Hopefully enough in tune with my own antennae twitches to identify the source of the ‘Oh really?’ reaction, I’d attributed it to a ‘well that may be a stretch’ conclusion. But that was before this week’s new and improved ad for this particular church in our small-town rag.

As web mistress for the parish, my wife had invested considerable energy this past week in dressing up a ‘60’s GM product (I’d see it as a heavily chromed, gas-guzzling, Buick or Cadillac) of a website, as a vehicle a little more contemporary, a little less ponderous, and something that ‘gets you where you want to go’ without all the attendant glitter and arriving today (versus, whenever the site would load up). A toss-in was the sub-header: ‘in the heart of Stratford’. I can assume in recognition for her efforts, this week’s announcement of Sunday services in the local newspaper borrowed (more or less) from the site’s new clothes with an invitation to join us at the Parish of St. James’ – the heart of Stratford.

A bit of history at this point. This particular church, populated by this particular congregation has often been, somewhat disdainfully viewed as the ‘church on the hill’ and ‘out of reach’ of the broader population of Stratford. Rather like a snobby club with particular standards of membership and a vetting process that sometimes suggests that ‘long-haired, freaky people need not apply’ (to paraphrase). Rightly or wrongly in its take on the parish, the effort has been expended from within over the years to soften this reputation, to have it seen as more accessible and more (boy, I struggle with this word) welcoming, and less ‘exclusive’.

Like most things Freudian, the slip’s the thing. Drop a preposition and (I hope not, but) the underlying reality starts to surface.

But I’m getting ahead. The other bit of scary data arrived in my email early this Sunday morning. As a newly minted lay reader (and Anglican, for that matter), I was on tap for the BCP at 9:00. Lifers might recognize 1st Corinthians 1 as one of Paul’s little castigations against arrogance, self-satisfaction, celebration of human ‘excellence’ – in favour of humility and such like. Cautioned to be fully familiarized with the ‘unpronouncables’ (those tongue twisters of names and places) and caught substantially off guard a few months back with what passes for biblical porn (an account of David’s vile behaviour and lust; not to mention Bathsheba’s having recently endured ‘that time of the month’) – all because I hadn’t previewed the reading, I scanned this one pretty carefully for hidden potholes. I stopped mid-bagel.

The self-same theme leapt off the page: “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles . . .” and so forth. Let me see, how does that inclusiveness dance go again. Sounds unsettlingly like us and them to me, if that’s not too many pronouns in one sentence – but we are trying to be inclusive!

My wife argued eloquently that the passage required a metaphoric reading; and that Greeks and their ilk were merely symbols of folks of the time that hadn’t yet got it. That this was not a barefaced identification of an in-crowd, and that if you’re not with us, you’re agin’ us. Unfortunately not sufficiently eloquently to allow me to stand at a lectern and voice the substantive opposite of an issue that I feel is at the root of the jaundiced eye that’s turned toward organized religion and perhaps Christianity in particular by the hoards that are departing for less fundamental shores.

Dress it up anyway you want. Statements given the weight of a ‘reading of the word’ can and will be heard by a huge majority of folk in the pews as a literal truth. Endorsement of an attitude that continues to segregate, differentiate, discriminate; to validate a belief that ‘we’ve got the inside track’ to wherever. It’s just too appealing to be soothed with the balm of ‘you’ve got it right’ – and everybody else doesn’t – to question the inherent contradiction that presents when one moves forty feet across the chancel from lectern to pulpit and (literally) speaks out of the other side of one’s mouth. Over there, we’re judgmental, exclusive, partial; over here we’re welcoming, inclusive, impartial. Sorry, doesn’t work for me.

When we start to understand that there are any number of ways of skinning the spiritual cat; that those that don’t drink at the same trough are not just Greeks and Jews in waiting for the only true path to someplace; and that living Buddha might just be hyping the same stitch as living Christ – maybe we can get on. Until then, the old label of hypocrisy is as well-fitting a shoe as inclusiveness. When we can describe ourselves as being in the heart of Stratford – and not the heart of Stratford, typo, oversight, or no – maybe we can get on.

David Howard

Driving In The UK

So what do John Wayne, weed-eaters, attorneys general, and driving on the ‘wrong side’ of the road have to do with one another? Well while you’re pondering that one, allow me to share an, at the time, very small epiphany – and, in the bargain, slide in a ‘what I did on my summer vacation’. It’s Glasgow Airport, 6:45 a.m. (local time, after a largely sleepless, trans-Atlantic night). The expected ‘I’m sorry sir, that model is not available’ opening line from the car rental desk followed by the decidedly unexpected ‘Would you take a Mercedes in lieu?’ had already brightened the morning significantly. (In passing, I’d recalled from a distant time that the Brits have a variety of labels for ‘washroom’ – WC, bog, ‘loo’ – that, to the North American ear, may or may not compute at this silly hour. ‘A Mercedes in the toilet?’ What an odd question; and why is that particular car being parked in such an queer spot?) Having located my vehicle (in a parking lot), doing the usual, again North American, entry from the passenger side, and holding my breath, I insert Emily’s (my constant travel companion, aka GPS) UK brain and (victory number 2) am greeted with ‘loading maps’ – and, as bonus, a clear route out of the airport labyrinth, over the Pennines and on to York.

I suck in a second breath and fling myself (and my lovely little B-Class) into the surge of morning, Scottish traffic. Straight onto the M8, chock-a-block with commuters, lorries, coaches, and tourists, I merge – vehicle as well as brain – with the flow, chanting quietly ‘mirrors, signal, move’ – inverted, reversed, counter-intuitive. Slowly the shilling drops, as it would continue to do so over the next few weeks of crisscrossing this lovely land, on all manner of multi-laned, single-tracked, and everything in between roads: here, where one drove on the wrong side (compared to most of the rest of the globe) thrived a near-universal respect for rules of the road and the drivers with whom one shared these thoroughfares. Two immediate observations: the ‘passing lane’ is reserved for, wait for it, passing! Audi’s, BMW’s, and the occasional Deux Chevaux (go figure!) slide past, then, signaling, return to the middle of the M8’s three lanes. Not a truck or a bus to be seen on track three. No oblivious, sub-speed idlers; no hyper-aggressive jackrabbits; just those overtaking – and only while overtaking. The corollary, of course is that traffic moves along swimmingly, in an orderly, ‘at the limit’ fashion, with very little lane-hopping and, accordingly, much less visible impatience and acted-out road rage. (Incidentally, in the two-week, 2000 kilometer journey, I didn’t see a single traffic accident.)

And secondly, as one ‘downshifts’ to ‘A’ series roads, villages are encountered (with their countrified, ‘curbed’ thoroughfares and speed zones, generally of the 30 MPH variety). Nobody violates these limits! As far as I could discern, not because of speed traps, flocks of crossing sheep (or children), houses perched precariously a generous 10 inches from the travelled portion, or one-lane bridges (that’s another story). It, marvelous to relate, appears to be a widely shared and observed respect for the privilege of sharing the roadway. What a novel awareness!

Figured out the weed-eater connection yet? Not long after my return, commuting into Toronto, with 1080 (the ‘inside track’ on traffic facts, as it were) on the wireless, I was ‘privileged’ to be party to a call in, debating a (some would say, Draconian) bylaw proposed for parts of Quebec. The (inflammatory) issue: should we be allowed to operate power tools, in the open air on Sunday? The usual lines formed up, represented by the polarities of: ‘It’s the Sabbath and one should treat this as a (universal) day of rest’ at one extreme; ‘I work hard six days a week – it’s my right to cut my grass, build my deck, whack my weeds. . . if I want’, at the other. Not too hard to fill either argument with a good load of buckshot (fired on any day of the week I please from my – it’s my right to bear arms – 12 bore!) This is a most decidedly ‘ecumenical’ culture and certainly not one that should be governed by the conventions of one religion – however prevalent. As for the proffered work week – no other time. Oh, really!

No, the real issue is one that is increasingly prevalent in our social weave – entitlement! Have a listen to any rationale (adolescent or otherwise), justifying one’s ‘right’ to ________ (you fill in the blank). God (or any other deity for that matter) bless John Wayne and all his progeny. The rugged individualist, the swaggering, ‘nobody’s gonna tell me what to do and when to do it’ mentality that pervades this culture of ours certainly, and for a very long time, has dominated our approach to the roads.

And finally, to the sometime attorney general of Ontario, Michael Bryant. To refresh, this politically and professionally accomplished individual, with his deeply steeped personal and educational history in the laws of the land, killed a cyclist with his car on the streets of Toronto recently. Not to adopt a too-biased perspective, said cyclist has been variously describe as arrogant, swaggering, criminal, substance- and relationship-abusing, interpersonally confrontational, etc., etc.; in short (together with some other, uncatalogued characteristics), something of a sociopath. The tragedy which unfolded, followed a late-evening confrontation between driver and cyclist, as the latter exacted his ‘fair share’ of a downtown lane (after all, he was a cycle courier of nearly two decades experience and needing to ‘stake his claim’ to the roadway or be marginalized); and the former, encased in his thousand pounds of armour, his damsel at his side, inched his steed forward, issuing the implied and all too familiar challenge of ‘move it or lose it – you’re on my road’, tapping the latter’s rear wheel with bumper. Tempers flared, battle engaged. Casualty list: one literally dead, the other metaphorically so.

The ‘debate’ of who was in the wrong, how could this heartbreak have been avoided (‘should the police have escorted Mr. Sheppard home?’), a reiteration of cyclist etiquette, driver arrogance, and on and on . . . continues; the mutual victims being championed to prop up one’s personal soap box; pilloried as examples of ‘what’s wrong with cyclists’ (or drivers, depending on one’s point of view). The real villain – John Wayne. Entitlement. The battle cry of ‘it’s my right’, bannered on the pennant flying at staff’s end, from the saddle scabbard. The real victims. Not Mr. Bryant or Mr. Sheppard; but civility, mutual respect, and ultimately, society. And, BTW, Michael, this is Canada — driving on the wrong side of the road is not allowed.

David Howard