Men and Women: In Your Eyes

My husband took this photo. What was he thinking when he took it? Why won’t he tell me?

Minutes I spent on a pedal boat this weekend: 30

Days afterward that I am still sore: 3

Words written on my novel over the holiday weekend: 0

From the time I was 12 until I was 18, I babysat a precious little boy who performed “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane” for me. I knew then that I needed to have a son when I grew up. Boys and men were an enigma; by having my very own, I would learn how they thought and understand the opposite sex in a more meaningful way.

Ha.

Last night, I went to book club to discuss Catcher in the Rye. Good news: I know what the title means.

After a great discussion, maybe one of our best, one of the women said, “Maybe we can’t relate to it very well because we’re women, and Holden is a teenage boy.”

Eureka. Although I did have a deeper appreciation for the writing at age almost-40, I was sad to report that my current reaction mirrored my 13-year-old reaction: Hmmmm.

Here are the things I can report from my individual life experience about men, boys and male fictional characters:

1. When the going gets tough, men get angry. It’s reported that depression often manifests itself as anger in men. Holden Caulfield is a perfect fictional representation. When you’re writing your stories or novel, keep this in mind.

“I’m afraid our ice cream flavor of the day is vanilla, not bacon.”

Female character response: “Oh, and here I was, thinking about bacon. Hmmm. Let me look at the calendar. Bacon is tomorrow? Great! I’ll get vanilla today and come back for bacon tomorrow!”

Male character response: “D*%& it all to h*&$. Let me talk to the manager. If I have to fry up the bacon myself, I’m getting bacon.”

2. Men notice details, just not the same ones women do.

I got dinged in writing group for describing a (granola, earth mother-type) character as wearing Naot sandals and shopping at Whole Foods. The man in our writing group said she came across as “materialistic.” The women disagreed, saying it spoke to her character; these weren’t social-climbing brand names, merely specifics that helped us see the character better. I would argue that women use brand names in clothing, shoes and accessories as a way to help other women visualize the items.

I wear $17 Target sunglasses because wearing Kate Spade or Coach ones would be throwing money into the swimming pool. I also tell my husband that this makes me low-maintenance, and he laughs. Copiously.

Contrast the clothing/accessory details with men and cars. Picture this scene: a car drives by and throws a large can of paint out of the window. The police officer responding to the call asks my husband and me, separately, to describe the car.

My husband: “It was a Subaru Impreza WRX 2012 in Blue Pearl with a custom body kit. It sounded like he may need more transmission fluid.”

Me: “It was really blue and new and had four teenage boys inside. The paint they threw out was Sherwin Williams Sahara Gold PX 450.”

3. Men don’t ask you about your feelings.

Men would rather die than say something like, “So how is your husband feeling about his mother’s death?” If there is food or alcohol being served after the funeral, men are all over it.

Women want all the details, including which medications are involved, which t-shirt is being worn 24-7 and whether he is seeing a therapist. If so, which one? How much does she charge? Is it helping?

4. Men don’t like to gossip. Except when they do.

I have been fortunate enough to have many male friends since becoming an adult. They are fun. We laugh.

But across the board, they will tell you that they do not like to gossip. Blatant lie. The men I have known have been the biggest gossips around. They’re just sneakier about it. And they don’t elaborate in the same way women do.

Man, talking about a coworker: “Did you see Delilah? I saw her go into Thompson’s office at 8 p.m. when I left work. And, well, you know…”

Woman, in a neighboring office, talking about the same coworker: “Did you see the champagne-colored dress she was wearing before she walked into his office? I would never wear anything that short! I loved her strappy heels, though. I was thinking of picking some up for that wedding I have to go to this weekend? I wonder where she got them. I’ll ask her tomorrow when I stop by her desk for the details. Anyway, I noticed her texting someone when I walked by her desk at 5:30, but then when I asked her if she was heading home, she said she was ‘working on that Barber account.’ You know we haven’t had the Barber account for six months…”

5. Men often say exactly what they’re thinking. Exactly.

When I was younger, I used to think that men had complicated webs of thought spiralling around, just waiting for me to uncover them. If only I caught one in an unguarded moment, they might reveal the nature of their true feelings to me.

Teenage/early 20s-era male I might have liked: Dude. This song is amazing.

Song lyrics:

In your eyes

I see the doorways

To a thousand churches

Me: It really is. We had such a great time tonight. Thinking: I wonder if he looks into my eyes and sees the doorways to a thousand churches? Is he hoping we’ll get more serious? Should I ask him if he wants some more beer? No. I better not move. I want to find out how he really feels. Sit still. Be in the moment. He has gorgeous eyes. What is he thinking? Why won’t he ever tell me?

Male: Thinking: Dude. This song is amazing. Awesome drums. Awesome drums.

How do you write differently about males and females, whether they are POV characters or not? How do you keep men and women from being stereotypical but at the same time, keep them true to life? What strikes you as unreal when you read something about a man or woman in fiction?

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What We Haven’t Learned

Yep. I stopped. I smelled ’em. Would you?

Flowers my husband has clipped to decorate our table in the last week: 11

Things I learn each day: at least 2

Things I don’t learn or forget: 2

When I was a young 20-something, living in my college town but graduated and working at a job that barely enabled me to eat chips and queso dip and a Coke ($1.99) once a week as a treat, I was once standing in a checkout line at the grocery store. A friend and I were discussing marriage or love or a couple who had just gotten married and was blissful or something.

The old lady standing behind us in line felt obliged to weigh in. “You know, it’s all about settling anyway,” she said. “You’re never going to get all the qualities you want in a husband, so give up that fantasy right now. We all just settle.”

Mean old witch.

Still today, I have decided that old people should not share what they consider to be “wisdom” with those of us too young to handle the truth. I feel that they should have learned compassion and wisdom and when to keep their mouths shut. Remind me of that when I’m old, which let’s face it, will never happen. Someone once told me it would, but I have chosen not to believe her.

I had book club the other night, and I hadn’t read the book. My friend used to be in a book club that they called “The No-Read Book Club,” but ours isn’t like that. You’re kind of expected to read the book. There have been a few times I haven’t, and when the other members start reflecting back on books we’ve read in the past seven years, I’ll start to disagree, like, “Oh no, we haven’t read…” and then my voice trails off, because I remember that I skipped that one or didn’t have the interest to continue after the bad first 723 pages.

Anyway, only three people out of five had read it, so I avoided a potentially meandering conversation about characters I didn’t know, and they didn’t drum me out of the group.

Our next book is Catcher in the Rye. I read it when I was about 13, and I remembered nothing. Pretty much nothing… except “Holden Caulfield,” and I wasn’t very impressed. A friend in my book club said, “You know, everyone read this book when they were younger, but no one remembers what it’s about.”

So I started reading it because I was desperate for something to read while my daughter was in dance class yesterday. I finished half the book, and, well… I’m not sure I’ve learned anything.

The writing? So good. The speed with which I can rip through it? Excellent.

The memory of what it’s about when I talk about it ten years from now? Nonexistent.

Have I learned nothing? Because I’m older and wiser, aren’t I supposed to be gleaning some wonderful morsel of intelligence as a sign of how far I’ve come since age 13? Am I on a course to being an old lady who accosts innocent young people in a grocery store and tells them to be prepared for a life of disappointment?

Should I start visiting middle schools and telling them to skip Catcher in the Rye and read The Hunger Games instead?

Here is what I have learned. And I know a lot of people will disagree with me. I can handle it.

1. Life is too short to read bad books. I don’t mean Catcher in the Rye. It’s pretty good, just somewhat forgettable. But I am firmly on the side of skipping or stopping reading any book that doesn’t resonate with you on some level. Drop it. Move on. Learn from the good writers; don’t waste your time with the bad ones. There are too many good books in the world to waste your time with bad ones.

2. Stop and smell the roses. I know; so Pollyanna. But they’ve proven that we all remember the bad stuff much better than we do the good stuff. Take your time to let the good stuff sink in so you don’t terrorize idealistic young ‘uns someday.

3. Give other people some good stuff to remember. I followed a teaching assistant down the hall today to tell her that my daughter’s class loved getting her for a substitute. Simple, right? She started crying. She said last night had been really horrible, and hearing something nice really helped.

4. When you’re an old person, give young people something to look forward to. Climb a big mountain or take up paragliding. Stay out of the grocery stores; send those young whippersnappers to do your chores. Hopefully, you’ll have more interesting things to do.

What are some life lessons you’ve learned? What would you never tell a young person? What do you wish you’d known?