Saturday, March 05, 2005

EOTM: The Secret of Life: Shut Up and Shovel the Fuckin' Gravel.

The entire secret of life, of power, of everything, was taught to me when I was a teenager, by a man, a farmer. And he taught it to me in the way that is so typical of men: three sentences, no more. I contend that the real conflict today is not male versus female, but urban versus agrarian values. When people forget where their food and fiber comes from, when they forget the natural processes and timetables that produce them, when they start looking for someone else to "hand over" what they want and stop taking the responsibility for producing it themselves, when they replace hard work with belligerence and aggression, they lock themselves into downward spirals of helplessness, powerlessness, and anger.

I taught this same lesson to a woman "friend" of mine. It took me two years. During the entire time she was doing her best to manipulate and harass me into a "romantic" relationship that I had absolutely no interest whatsoever in allowing to happen. It took many screaming matches and finally the threat to throw her out of my life for her to "get it", but she finally "got it" and today she credits me with saving her life, her soul, and her sanity, and has become a friend.

The farmer's name was Griff. I was a "townie" (population 300) and made good money for a teenager as a "hired hand". One day when I showed up for work he said "We're going to pick up a new truck." We got in his car and the entire 40 minute ride to the dealer passed without either of us saying a word: One of those easy comfortable silences that men often use to communicate more than words ever can. We picked up a new 4-wheel drive ¾ ton pickup and headed back to the farm. When we got back, he pointed to a large gravel pile by the barn and told me to fill the truck bed with gravel and go fill in a hole in the entrance to one of his fields.

I said "But that gravel will ruin the paint on the bed of this brand new truck." He looked at me silently for about a minute, his expression eloquently saying that I was the worst idiot he'd ever been burdened with having to tolerate in his life. Without saying another word he picked up the shovel and, with a swing that would be the envy of every major league baseball hitter, he swung it around and smacked the side of the truck sending paint chips flying in every direction and leaving a huge dent. He looked at me again with that same "I can't believe you are such an idiot" look and said: "City boy this is a FARM truck. I didn't buy it to look pretty, I bought it to DO WORK, same reason I'm payin' you. Now it ain't new no more, so shut up and shovel the fuckin' gravel." Then he turned around and walked off, leaving me to feel foolish and gain wisdom.

Of course it took the entire context and circumstances for me to understand the full significance of the lesson: not with my head but with my spirit. In the same way, cultures world wide and throughout history have used ritual space to teach the great lessons to the young. Complexity and too many words destroy the lesson, because the very heart and soul of the lesson is that words accomplish nothing. Words do not put in crops. Words do not harvest them or get them to market or prepare them or put them on our plates. No one eats unless someone shuts up and shovels the fuckin' gravel.

The entire secret of male power is that men do, men have, shut up and shoveled the fuckin' gravel. Men shoveled the gravel that built all the hydroelectric dams which provide the electric power which everyone today takes for granted; some of that "Patriarchal technology" that some women are so fond of sneering at. Men put their sweat and, about 50 of them, their very bodies into Hoover dam. Then they "handed over" the result to women to make their lives more comfortable. The millions of tons of gravel which went in to building the transcontinental railway were shoveled by men. And hundreds of their bodies went into it as well. Women and men living today would have none of the conveniences which make their lives so comfortable if millions of men had not shut up and shoveled the fuckin' gravel. All the lawsuits and affirmative action programs in the world could not have built them. Those men did not wait for someone to "hand over" those dams or that railroad to them, they shut up and shoveled the fuckin' gravel and built them. Hoover dam is "male dominated", the transcontinental railroad is "male dominated" because men put their time, their work, their sweat, and their very bodies into building them. Everything that we see in the world today, from business to the military, that is "male dominated" is so because men died to build it.

That is both men's power and their powerlessness.

They shut up and shoveled the fuckin' gravel.

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