Sunday, August 14, 2011

What Is The Shed?

A lot of people ask me what The Shed is.  I realize YOU didn't ask, but a number of people have.  OK, two people have asked me this.  But that makes it a Trend, so here we go.

An Actual Shed
To understand what The Shed is, apart from, well, an actual shed, we have to go back a few years to a time when I had a serious problem.  My problem wasn't that my marriage was about to explode, because I didn't know that yet.  Neither was it specifically the fact that I was sick, depressed, unemployed, and very, very unhappy.  These were not the problem, these were merely symptoms of the problem.

My problem was that I am male.  By itself that's not a big deal, but being male is a problem if you live entirely in a female world with only female values, expectations, assumptions, methods, language and ways of coping, a world that is focused on the needs of females and recognizing only female anxiety or pain.  Middle-class suburbia is predominantly a female place in these respects.

Nothing could be more boring, useless and time-wasting than trying to assign blame for my problem, with the possible exception of U.S. presidential politics. I only offer the observation that my wife at the time, though strictly heterosexual for taxation and reproductive purposes, really didn't seem to like men very much.  She finds men selfish, that is, insufficiently interested in her needs.  Men are inexpressive of their "feelings," but they are also all too expressive of their feelings at times when she would have preferred I kept quiet. Men are incredibly slovenly and careless, while in areas of no concern to women, men are unbelievably fastidious and exacting.  Men are also utterly unconcerned with what they wear, as long as it is precisely that certain pair of jeans and their favorite t-shirt. I often wondered whether she would have been much happier married to a woman, as long as that woman did not also want to be in charge of everything.

Men.  Don't let the highly advanced
User Interface deceive you. There
is a lot going on inside.
In short, all of my faults, shortcomings, weaknesses, defects and imperfections could be summed up in a word.  According to the ex-wife, my problem was that I am male.

And as such, I needed to be fixed.  Metaphorically, if not literally.  So off to one doctor after another I went, and to one shrink after another.  Pills made everything worse.  Seratonin re-uptake, whatever that is, apparently isn't an issue for me.  Because the pills that are supposed to fix it caused some very significant problems for me while doing nothing to solve my original problem.  I no longer believe that the answer to life's questions comes in the shape of a pill.

When the aforementioned explosion finally came, it wrecked me, physically and emotionally.  In the lobby of yet another medical practitioner, I was once again filling out that form that asks about every possible disease one may have had, including, and I quote, "female problems."  I checked "yes" on that one.  When the receptionist questioned me on it, I explained, "My wife is evicting me from my own house, firing me from my own family, and canceling the only identity that I know.  If that doesn't qualify as a 'female problem,' then I don't want to know what would."  The receptionist agreed and left the form exactly as it appeared.

Around this time, a friend of mine who had "been there, done that," handed me a book by the poet Robert Bly.  This amazing book described my problem to me exactly and with a clarity that shocked me.  And it offered solutions.  Not cookbook recipe solutions, a seven-step process or such other superficiality.  Rather, Bly described the building blocks and principles on which a man can construct his own solution to his own unique, individual problem.  Essentially, through the use of allegory, poetry and personal accounts, Bly explains how the male "soul," "psyche," "personality," "temperament," "mojo" or any word you accept, is composed of seven distinct aspects.  Seven spirits, seven themes, memes, sides, modes, axes or however you wish to describe them.  No one theme or aspect can be duplicated by any combination of the others, and so in mathematical language we say these spirits are "orthogonal."  The male psyche is a seven-dimensional space, in other words.

Briefly, the seven male aspects are:

The King.  A man's capacity to rule, command, and oversee his domains to the benefit of himself and others; this aspect demands respect and accountability from others, while providing the necessary leadership, direction, integrity, vision and motivation to action.

The Warrior.  This is a man's instinct to fight (sometimes even physically through violence) for his own interests and those of his allegiances.  The Warrior is determination and persistence itself, and is a man's capacity for courage.

The Magician.  Also called The Mathematician, this is the holder of knowledge, the hidden talent, and the ability to do things that no one else can fathom.  He is the wise sage, the sorcerer, the computer programmer, the scientist, the engineer inside us, the fine craftsman, the artist, and the Musician.

The Trickster.  Known as the coyote in native American lore, he exposes others' foolishness, and sometimes takes advantage of it.  It is dangerous for the Trickster to dominate, since this can lead to criminality. But without a robust sense of humor a man just isn't complete.

The Lover.  This is the capacity to sacrifice, to be singularly loyal not just to a woman but to friends as well.  The Lover places his love's needs above his own and sees the Divine in himself as well as in his love.  The Lover thus also expresses a man's spirituality and religion.

The Grieving Man.  The capacity to feel deeply a loss, the tragedies of the world, and the missed opportunities of his own life.  Grieving Man provides essential balance, but can become a cancer if kept shut in.  There is a right time to expand and a proper time to retrench, a winter of the soul, or a time of Ashes, which must be allowed to run its course without judgement.

The Wild Man.  The most important of all, the source of all a man's energy, creativity, resilience and strength.  The Wild Man is non-verbal, deeply primitive, but not savage or wicked (a most important distinction).  He is deeply intelligent and benevolent.  He relies on a strong connection to the natural world, especially the night. The Wild Man is dangerous, however, and he WILL KILL YOU if you do not let him run free now and then.

Fully-functional adult men have all seven of these aspects working in their lives, with one or two dominant themes.  Dysfunctional men are very weak in one or more of these areas, and are in many ways stuck in a kind of adolescence much like a domesticated cat.

It became clear to me at the time of my crisis that what I urgently needed to do was to heal the Wild Man. If I succeeded in this, I would have access to virtually any resource needed for the rest of my life. A limitless supply of energy, strength, resilience, and creativity.  That sounded like an impossible promise, one I barely dared hope for.

It's actually a really, really good BBQ.
Also at this time, I became aware of the ways in which I did not fit into my previous surroundings.  As a male in a female universe, with only a tiny edge of a desk in the entire house to call my own personal space, I was being mashed into a mold into which I would never really fit.  I now see that the ex-wife, by discarding me, sending me off into a foreign country homeless, unemployed, nearly friendless and without support, and with no possibility of securing housing (which always requires at least a job in addition to a sack of money), she was giving me the greatest gift I would ever have from her.  Apart from a truly excellent four-burner barbecue that came on my birthday a few years prior.  No, I mean the opportunity to break clean of the rigid female suburban lifestyle and to really live.

Once aware of the mismatch between who I was and the life I had been living, I began to wonder what it would be like to have a male space.  A space that was constructed entirely upon male values, needs, expectations, assumptions, methods, language, and beliefs.  What if there was a place where the Grieving Man could mourn without interference, the Wild Man could rage and run to his content, the King could have his dominion, and the Magician could practice his craft?  Would there be battles for the Warrior to fight?  Games for the Trickster to amuse himself?  And would it be a place where I could learn again to really love who I am?

The Shed - as furtively glimpsed by Google Streetview in 2011

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