Aug 052012

My personal experience is that masculinity and femininity complement each other very nicely. I become exceptionally moody and morose without the company of women. In a mixed gathering, I prefer to be in the kitchen, behaving myself like a mouse in the corner, than with the men watching sports in the family room. And, I know that I really like being married and having a feminine woman as my best friend.

Further, while lurking near widows and divorced women, I have heard them confess that they “simply like having a man around.” It sounded as if, like me, the simple presence of someone of the other gender satisfied a palpably felt deficit.

The feminist Gloria Steinem famously asserted that, “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” OMG! Didn’t Dr. Seuss put a fish riding a bicycle in his “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish?” What a rascal he was! I’ve gotta look for that.


The way some men treat the women in their lives, one could believe that the women would truly be better off without them. In any event, there is often clearly room left for improvement in many relationships. My wife, Dianna, liked the sentiment of the poster, below, and brought it to my attention.

The text reads: “We need to teach our DAUGHTERS the difference between a man who FLATTERS her and a man who COMPLIMENTS her. a man who SPENDS MONEY on her and a man who INVESTS in her. A man who views her as PROPERTY and a man who views her PROPERLY. a man who LUSTS after her and a man who LOVES her. A man who believes HE is GOD’s GIFT to women and a man who remembers a WOMAN was GOD’s GIFT to MAN and then teach OUR SONS to be that kind of man.”

Let me add the observation that the sentiment still tilts toward a sexist, patriarchal view of gender relations. I think that women are capable of being even more self-sufficient emotionally and physically. While I deeply treasure the satisfying bonds between men and women, I am sympathetic toward those with a radically-independent spirit.


In fact, the entire range of “conservative” thought tilts toward a sexist, patriarchal view of gender relations. Another way of saying this is George Lakoff’s observation that conservatives tend to have a “strong father” view of how families and governments should be run. Conservatives tend to look for, follow, and be loyal to their chosen authorities. It is very clear that “He’s the boss” or that the man of the house or the conservatively-elected president is “the decider.” On the other hand, the “liberal” tilt endorses a nurturing father, rather than a strict authoritarian.

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Jan 172011

You may know that I am writing a book about virtues. I added the Buddhist “Noble Eightfold Path” to my listing of virtues after an unproductive search for a virtue that fully embodied “delicacy of speech.” That is, the deliberate choice of words that carefully avoids damaging the fragile stem of newly-sprouted expression in others. It was gentler than tack. It was more specific than thoughtfulness. It was more loving than kindness or even loving-kindness. It was a gentler movement of a whispered expression than love. I could think of nothing more apt then the first Eightfold path virtue of “Right Speech.”

The Buddhist concept of Right Speech, of course, covers the courser commissions of lying, malicious slander, harsh anger, and idle gossip. To me, in this moment, it also needed to go past “do no harm,” and past pure and absolute gentleness–all the way to nurturing delicacy without hint of harm; speech that was fully, aptly, right.

I have been in the practice of completing a fully-formed suite of ideas, usually about a single-spaced page of writing, and taking it downstairs to read aloud to my wife. She is usually quite tolerant and will pause in whatever she is doing to receive it. She rarely responds with anything but mild acceptance or a simple , thoughtful word of approval. Sometimes she notices one of my characteristic shifts in verb tense and I am grateful to her for noticing that. She knows that that is all I am seeking.

Last night, she called up the stairs to say that I she had sent me an e-mail and asked if I had read it. No, I wasn’t aware of it yet, but I would check it out. I paused what I was doing and discovered that she had written the first chapter of a children’s book, based on her childhood experiences. At the end, she had written, “What do you think?” Being the nurturing sort of fellow that I like to think I am, I went downstairs, found her busy cooking, said, “Ah, I just read your e-mail. You’ve been busy. Of course, you’ll need to rewrite it in the third-person voice. She allowed as how I was probably right but that it was difficult for her to write in the third person. Having promptly done exactly what she had asked for, I laid a little kiss on her check and returned to my office.

Something wasn’t right. It’s like when the underpants in your drawer are folded differently on one side than on the other. I sat there for a while re-reading her work and trying to figure out my sense of unease. In a bolt of Inspiration, I knew what it was. Rushing downstairs, I beamed at her and said, “It just occurred to me that, instead of rewriting for third-person you could just drop the introductory comment ,”My first memory of being different was when I was about seven.” and write directly as that seven-year old girl. Beaming in triumph of reason, I returned to my office.

Something wasn’t right. This was really starting to bother me. It’s like when you stepped in the new bed of petunias. You got down on your hands and knees, bent low and tried to adjust the tiny plants to stand upright again so that nobody will notice. I had screwed up. Stepping hesitantly down the stairs, I discovered her watching her favorite comfort program on television, Home and Garden TV. I could see that the candle flame that usually flickers vigorously in her heart was reduced to a steady, quiet flame.

“I did it wrong, didn’t I?” She looked at me steadily, but without anger. “You could have said it like a tomato sandwich.” She teaches children that, if you put buttered slices of bread around a slice of tomato, it makes it easier to eat. I should have been more attuned to “right speech” and, if it was necessary to make even a well-intentioned constructive criticism, I should have started and ended it with positive statements. I had stepped in her fresh bed of petunias.

We had recently finished viewing How to Cook Your Life, a wonderful show featuring Edward Espe Brown teaching about Zen and cooking as a path of meditation. He described his initial judgment of waste and futility at the kitchen’s practice of preparing food to be placed reverently before a nearby Buddha shrine. Later, it occurred to him that this was the perfect metaphor for a cook. Knowing that even the best meal will not please everyone, the cook makes his best effort, places the food in front of his customer like an offering, and then quietly walks away. He should not be anxious about having it criticized; it was his best effort and worthy of being offered to the Buddha.

I had been caught crushing petunias and she had been caught being dependent on the judgment of others. Springing to self-defense with the first handy offense I could find, I reminded her that she had asked me what I thought and that I had provided exactly that with clear and precise masculine rationality. Further, that she had suckered me into an inappropriate response when what she had evidently wanted instead was for a girlfriend to tell her how she felt. I waited for someone to acknowledge my triumph of logic. A contemplative, but cold, hesitation told me that I was now madly dancing in the petunias. Not good.

Retreating to my best profound apology, I sat, held her hand, and offered several over-careful positive comments. She let me off the hook. We sat quietly for a while. I gave her a weak smile and a weak kiss on the cheek before retreating to lick my wounds. I couldn’t do much more at the moment about her wounds.

Supper was beyond wonderful. She had gone out of her way to accommodate my delicate sensibilities about larger pieces of meat. I gave voice to appropriate, sincere, and unhesitating appreciations. But, here I am now, in the middle of the night, hacking away desperately on my keyboard, dreading that, like the petunias, her new story may never recover and grow.

So, there you have “Right Speech.”

Copyright 2011, David Satterlee

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License, which essentially says that you are free to share the work under the conditions that you attribute it fully, do not use it for commercial purposes, and do not alter it.

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Oct 012010

Starting a New Career

by David Satterlee

Fergus and his wife Dorothy are middle-aged. Actually, they are just past middle-aged in that wonderland of freedom and possibility that exists while there is still ambition and the potential for growth but, at the same time, incipient mortality is a boil on the ass that prevents one from sitting idle. Dorothy is retiring early as a social worker and Fergus is disabled. Hard lives are threatening to get harder, but they have plans to do creative work together.

Fergus wakes with a mild surge of adrenaline, which, even when mild, is disturbing. Suddenly awake, he mentally reconnects with his ears, takes an inventory of the little noises around him, scans the dimly lit ceiling for a few moments and finally, beginning to relax, he glances at the clock. It is 3:38 am and he needs to pee. Raising his feet to a near fetal position to avoid disturbing the cat curled head-to-ass in a perfect yin/yang circle at his shins, he slides gently out of the bed. He is also especially careful to not disturb his gently snoring wife who is snuggled up to his rump. Everything is going well. He swings to the side and slides deftly to his feet with practiced precision, stands, checks his balance with the knuckles of his left hand, which deliberately brush the wall for orientation and stability. So far, so good.

Treading gently past the antique Chinese secretary’s desk, its close-hung doors squeak an alarm nonetheless. Busted. Dorothy jerks suddenly, sending the cat leaping into the void beyond the bed, raises up on her elbow, and mumbles with urgent concern, “Is everything okay?” “Yes,” Fergus assures her, “I just need to go to the bathroom.” “So do I,” she replies, “but you go first.”

Dorothy is a treasure. Fergus would do anything for her, even going first without posturing to be gallant and insisting that she precede him. Flooded with affection, he sits back down on the mattress edge and caresses her newly-emerged foot. He starts the game: “Have I told you yet today that I love you?” She responds in character and replies with a pout:”No, not yet.” The small episode concludes with the obligatory speech: “Darling, you are the light of my life, my joy, and everything that is precious to me. I cherish you beyond reason and would slay the fiercest beast to set a kindly path before your feet. I rejoice in the labors of our love: the work that we have shared, the children that we have raised, the friends we have comforted, and the future we will face step by step and hand in hand. I love you.” As always, the affirmation is sealed with a gentle kiss to her cheek.

“I was having a dream, Fergus explains.” He should know better; she will ask for details. Dorothy asks for details. “I had finally found some work I could do and a place that would have me. A University research department hired me to keep things up around one of their labs. First, they discovered that I not only knew my way around computers, but could make them roll over and tell jokes. Then, I revealed that I had experience maintaining analytical systems like their chromatographs and dielectrophoretic separators. After just a few days there, the director decided to redirect research into the properties of materials at ultra-cold temperatures. When he found out that I already knew how to operate high vacuum systems and handle the liquid nitrogen needed by mass spectrophotometers, he asked me to also be responsible for commissioning and overseeing the proper care of the new equipment. It was like going to heaven; I got three promotions in two weeks.” Dorothy smiles with patient tolerance and reminds him, “I love you too, but you’d better get to it soon or I’m going to wet the bed.” His response is certain and reassuring: “As you wish, my bride.” Centering his breath and remembering to live in mindful awareness, he gets up and leaves the still-darkened room to go do his business.

Flipping the wall switch by the bathroom door, Fergus is momentarily blinded and feels a disorienting wave of vertigo. His knuckles seek the reassurance of the door frame, while he squints and feels as if flowing into infinite brightness. A diffuse figure before him smiles gently in greeting, urges him to be unafraid and at peace, and pointedly inquires about what he has learned and how he has loved in life.

Copyright 2009, David Satterlee

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License, which essentially says that you are free to share the work under the conditions that you attribute it fully, do not use it for commercial purposes, and do not alter it.

Sep 282010

The One That Got Away

by David Satterlee

A Fergus Johnson story of gender relations

[Note: Contains mildly erotic descriptive imagery.]

Fergus Johnson has been watching for several minutes now. Fergus is seventeen. That’s one of the truly awkward ages between toddling and toupees. One of the girls is gorgeous. It’s not entirely the close-fitting but not-quite-tight pure-white dress she’s wearing, with long sleeves, a tailored waist, and a hem four inches above her knees. The dress accents her sleek neck and trim, but neatly muscled legs, which seem to go all the way to the floor. Okay, Fergus has actually been staring for several minutes now while she talks and eats an ice cream cone.

The white dress has a scooped neck, which reveals a flawless expanse of chest, heaving gently as she talks. A slender silver necklace suspends a large teardrop crystal in just the right place to catch and direct one’s eyes. Her chest extends in a continuous outward slope to two perfect scoops of breast. She is just barely (so to speak) avoiding being immodest but still showing enough cleavage that Fergus feels compelled to check to see if his mouth needs closing. The entire effect is absolutely stunning and most any boy would find himself immobilized, like a deer transfixed by her headlights. The girl doesn’t seem to be aware of the chaos she is creating outside her circle of power.

The girl in the white dress is standing, talking in a small group with three other girls. This is a difficult, but not unusual, situation; girls tend to keep company in huddles. One friend is mousy but staring with adoration at the shining star who is holding court; another is listening, but seems to be frowning at the floor; and one is alertly watching the crowd with darting eyes. Fergus wants to approach the girl who has caught his eye and say something coherent without tripping on his shadow. He knows that he’s a decent enough fellow, quick, trim, and tanned from frequent tennis play; he’s occasionally been called handsome. Sometimes girls come over and start conversations with him. This time, it looks like it has fallen to him to take the initiative.

Gathering his courage, Fergus deliberately unclenches his jaw and rehearses a small smile, one with his cheeks pulled up only slightly and his lips parted only slightly. Just as he’s approaching his object of attraction, the gorgeous girl takes another lick of her ice cream, the scoop tilts, and starts to fall.


Fergus, his nerves drawn tight, reacts instantly, his trained reflexes move faster than he can think. His arm stretches his hand out, firmly grasping the escaping orb. Chocolate extrudes from between his fingers. Fergus and the gorgeous girl gaze into each other’s eyes. They glance at the ooze in Fergus’ hand. Their eyes meet again. Fergus turns sadly and wanders off to find a washroom.


Fergus does not notice the accident because his eyes are fixed on the girl who is quiet, thoughtful, and alert. Her nose is a little too round and her eyes are a little too far apart, but he does not notice. She turns slightly to face him, comfortable and friendly, the fire of quick wit dancing in her eyes. With gentle assurance, he offers his hand to her. Her arm stretches her hand out, firmly grasping his. Fergus and the quiet girl gaze into each other’s eyes. Together they smile and wander off to find a place to talk.

As stories go, this one is classically semi-autobiographical. The model for the “gorgeous girl” is a magazine advertisement that happens to be lying nearby just now. I was, in fact, once walking past a girl when she dropped her ice creme scoop, which I reflexively caught. On the other hand, I preferred to court a girl with “the fire of quick wit dancing in her eyes.” To all those wonderful women who are especially endowed with alternate charms of the mind and heart, I dedicate this alternate ending. 

Copyright 2010, David Satterlee

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License, which essentially says that you are free to share the work under the conditions that you attribute it fully, do not use it for commercial purposes, and do not alter it.

Sep 272010

Touching Women

By David Satterlee

A Fergus Johnson story of gender relations

[Note: Contains some suggestive allusions and mild profanity.]

“You know, I think that women like to touch me” mused Fergus Johnson. Fergus obviously hadn’t actually intended to speak although this was a men’s support group and everybody was expected to share. It had just kind of slipped out as the subvocalization of a personal epiphany. Bobby, who had been revisiting his whine about striking out with women at bars, stopped in mid-sentence and looked puzzled.

Dr. Anderson, always looking for something to add some semblance of newness to the weeks-long rambling bitch session [pun might or might not be intended], urged Fergus: “Go with that.”

Fergus seemed to stare vacantly at the Kewpie doll on one of Dr. Anderson’s shelves across the room. “I’ve just been starting to notice a trend is all.” He paused again, his eyes flickering up and to the right as he searched his memories. “My waitress at breakfast this morning put her fingers on my shoulder several times. And, I’ve started noticing that when I stand talking to a woman, it’s not unusual for them to reach out and briefly put their hand on my arm.”

“That kind of thing happens.” Observed Larry the Letcher, hopefully.

“Yes,” Fergus continued, “but I’ve just started noticing how frequently it happens. I’ve always just taken it for granted. It’s like my uncle Bucky who always heard a little voice in his head telling him the answer to math problems in school. He named the voice Minerva and assumed for years that everybody had the same kind of experience.”

Larry wasn’t done being jealous. “My uncle, the Reverend Poleaxe, is always talking about what Our Lord Jesus tells him to do.”

Fergus considered this briefly. “Yes, but Minerva’s answers were usually wrong.”

It occurred to Larry that his uncle, the Reverend Poleaxe, was prone to some rather lameass decisions that probably shouldn’t be laid at the hem of Our Lord Jesus’ outer garment.

Things were starting to drift out of focus again and Dr. Anderson, beginning to entertain his own fantasies, redirected: “You were talking about women touching you.” Jordan Nickerson and Lucky Joe leaned forward in their chairs.

“I guess it has been going on for a long time. It’s more than Aunt Fancy mussing up my hair and Granny Gooch insisting on being kissed on the lips. I mean, I must have assumed, as a little kid, that I was just exceptionally cute like everybody said. Mom used to take me to her club meetings. I was as popular as free chocolate.” Larry didn’t have anything to say to this; he just sat there with his jaw kind of slack. Lucky Joe was getting an intense and slightly feral look on his face.

There was no turning back, so Fergus plunged on. “The thing that really got my attention was last week. We were visiting my second wife’s second daughter, Becky. She was having a very stressful time with a difficult situation and was getting really agitated. She was sitting on the sofa and I just got down on my knees in front of her, reached out, and held her hands. She relaxed a little. And then, like an Eskimo offering a visitor the comfort and warmth of his best wife, my wife told Becky: ‘Hug him.’ Becky looked as confused and uncertain as I felt. My wife urged her, ‘There’s something special about the way he holds you. All the tension just goes away.’ I suppose I already knew this at some level, but her definitive assertion was news to me. Becky scooted forward and I reached out and we embraced.” Fergus took a deep breath. It was very quiet. It seems likely that he was the only one breathing at that moment.

“At first, she was real tense; she gave my shoulder a few quick, nervous pats and a short jerky rub. We had both been well-trained in the politically-correct way to formally and safely hug someone when you wanted to be sure that they, and everyone who might notice, didn’t misunderstand your intentions. It didn’t help that, at that moment, we could hear her ex, who had been coerced into helping her move, backing his trailer into the driveway. This was going to have to be quick.

“I was at ease and kind on cruise control at this point. This was as comfortable and natural as holding one of our cats. I told her, ‘You don’t have to pat. You don’t have to rub. You don’t have to worry. Just let it be.’ Her breath caught for a few moments and then she slumped a little: like she had just lost five pounds. ‘There it is’ I said. ‘Okay, we can do that again, later.’ We untangled our arms and our auras and I glanced at my wife. She was just sitting there with a little satisfied half-smile.”

Larry looked up from his reverie and asked, “So did you ever, you know, do that again?” Fergus glanced up with an intense and slightly feral look on his face, held out his arms and replied, ‘No, but do YOU need a hug?”

Copyright 2010, David Satterlee

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License, which essentially says that you are free to share the work under the conditions that you attribute it fully, do not use it for commercial purposes, and do not alter it.