Sunday, January 20, 2019

What is Masculinity - What is Chivalry

This was a post I did 5 years ago, but in light of the whole Gillette "Toxic Masculinity Ad," I felt the need to repost.

If life is a battle, then my inner scars are medals for valor,
for swiftness, for courage, for passion.
Evil is the dark-haired brother of Good;
they walk hand in hand–always  .Calanthe - Wraeththu

Honor, Chivalry, words that seem old fashioned to todays generation, but words that previous generations literally died for.

What is Chivalry? A knight was expected to have not only the strength and skills to face combat in the violent Middle Ages but was also expected to temper this aggressive side of a fighter with a chivalrous side to his nature. There was not an authentic Knights Code of Chivalry as a prescribed document - it was a moral system which went beyond rules of combat and introduced the concept of Chivalrous conduct - qualities such as bravery, courtesy, honor, and gallantry toward women. Documented in 'The Song of Roland' in the Middle Ages Knights period of William the Conqueror who ruled England from 1066, it consisted of these tenents -
To fear God and maintain His Church
To serve the liege lord in valour and faith
To protect the weak and defenceless
To give succour to widows and orphans
To refrain from the wanton giving of offence
To live by honour and for glory
To despise pecuniary reward
To fight for the welfare of all
To obey those placed in authority
To guard the honour of fellow knights
To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit
To keep faith
At all times to speak the truth
To persevere to the end in any enterprise begun
To respect the honour of women
Never to refuse a challenge from an equal
Never to turn the back upon a foe
The "code" is written in slightly different form in different pieces of literature,  but it all has these things in common - courage, loyalty, respect, honor, finishing everything you start and never refusing a necessary battle regardless of the odds.

Widows and orphans were cared for. In days of old, the helpless were looked after, but you worked or you did not eat. There were three orders in society: oratores (those who pray), bellatores (those who fight), and laborares (those who work). Those that prayed, lived beyond simply, not riding around in limos in $1500 suits while telling their followers on national TV to "send more money". The welfare class, that's rapidly becoming a huge chunk of our "modern" society, didn't exist. If you were physically capable, you pulled your weight. Or you died. The knight did not fight for the lazy, but for those who by station, age, or gender were not able to fight for themselves.  There was faith in a higher power, but not so heavenly driven, that a man was useless on earth.
A sword was a tool, to defend and protect. Lesser weapons were considered dishonorable. The dagger was considered a weapon of a sneaky assassin and an arbalest (fired from a distance) was a brutal weapon used by the untrained. A knight's code of chivalry demanded that he face his enemy openly, honestly and with skill - it was a "let the best man win" situation. Battle was more than the desire to pursue and kill, but endurance, the conviction and longing to endure beyond all imaginable limits of the flesh to protect and preserve.

There was a difference between aggression and self defense, a difference between being devoted to justice and being a school yard bully. It is a self-awareness and self-restraint and differs as night and day from apathy, the concept of which Christians might refer to as meekness, a trait often associated with Christ, and clearly as misunderstood.

There was the ability to think before one speaks, to consider the gravity of words and actions; and even to know when inaction or silence is the best avenue. Such things, many, including myself, have failed at. Such things we can still strive for if we can recognize them.  For some are so bound by their ego or the expectation as to what society owes them that they are no more capable of shame, then they are of courage and honor. What they are left then is the emptiness of loss, of something they could almost touch but didn't know how to grasp.

For some they learn this early, taught by their fathers or mentors.  Others learn it simply the hard way.  For the dictates of chivalry are not some formal guide to etiquette. I hope I die before I see a "Chivalry for Dummies" book. It's not a checklist, it's an understanding of things for which a man needs no checklist. It's not bowing before your nation's enemy, it's never turning your backs on them. It's not holding the door open for a women because she's weak and lesser than you, but as a sign of courtesy  It's a way of thinking, not an era or a specific rule.

I've written on this blog more than once about the wimpification of the modern male. But being a strong man does not mean you are completely closed off to emotion, treating love like something that's common and a woman as a somewhat lesser accessory. The strongest man I know can convey in one look, one touch, what I mean to him. But one can understand where the mixed signals come from. The view from the media is one of abject consumerism, relationships that manipulate, duty as control and the worst "if there's a man involved, it's his fault". Our nation has more material comforts than the knights could ever imagine, but for many people, it's prosperity without purpose, it's passion without principles.

People espouse the Middle Ages as being little more than Pestilence, Black Death and no YouTube with the concepts of that day being outdated, or worse, by their own basis, misogynistic. What do we have now to replace it? Materialism without ethics or effort, and baby daddy's, greedy trophy wives, teen moms, and uncouth, plastic infused bimbos who get their own reality TV shows without any bit of skill or talent. This is our alternative to "the Dark Ages", a generation of people who fail to understand the difference between "can" and "should"?

Epictetus said it best "for it is better to die of hunger, exempt from fear and guilt, than to live in affluence with perturbation."

But the spirit of chivalry has not been entirely eradicated from the human heart, even in our pacifist, feminist, age. A chivalrous man today is a warrior with something to live for - and is willing to sacrifice his life either to protect or further it. Being a warrior does not not necessarily make him a man of war, but a man prepared to do battle for that which he loves. The battle can be one of ideology, not weapons, his life simply marked by preparation for something worthwhile, and thus is lived pursuing those ideals and interests which for him hold true value.

If this man is willing to die for something he loves, it is because he loves deeply and with great passion. Romantic love may well make the short list, but it's not the sole occupant of his soul, there are other causes and objects of a man's passion, that make him truly rounded.

Chivalry is not dead, it is simply dormant in many, for all things that are excellence can be as difficult as they are rare. In my writing I've referred to the knight as he, for it was a manly profession. Yet the ideas that define chivalry know no gender; it's a way of thinking expressed in form by both men and women who hold true these concepts of defense and accountability.
Some will call me hopefully old fashioned. Feminist and those more liberal-minded will decry it as a way of life that is simply bloodshed, war, and women seen as a possession. It's not. A chivalrous man, has no desire to control and direct a woman's thoughts, but to allow her to live without constraint, loved unconditionally, free from pesky dragons and telemarketers. He will not only arm himself with the tools he as to protect her, he will smile when she takes up her own. He will fight for her. He will fight with her.

Chivalry is NOT dead.

Look at our military personnel, look at those people who responded after the terror attacks. Firemen, EMT's, the police. Nurses, doctors. A post-September 11 nation's no place for milquetoasts. We are living in a fallen world with entire societies that wish us harm, religions of "peace" that dictate to embrace them or die. This is not a time to sit home watching reality television when the dragons aren't just bigger, they're almost nuclear ready.

It's a time for heroes. Big Damn Heroes.

In the Battle of Maldon, a few Englishmen have been attacked by a fierce army of Viking invaders. Although the Vikings are between two branches of the river and thus separated from launching their full strength at the Anglo-Saxon army, Beortnoth nobly allows them free passage to do battle on equal terms. Vastly outnumbered, Beortnoth and his brave men are slain until only a small, unflinching band of warriors remain:

“Byorthwold spoke; he grasped his shield; he was an old companion; he shook his ash spear; full boldly he exhorted the warriors: 'Thought shall be the harder, heart the keener, courage the greater, as our might lessens. Here lies our leader all hewn down, the valiant man in the dust; may he lament for ever who thinks now to turn from this war-play. I am old in age; I will not hence, but I purpose to lie by the side of my lord. . ."

In these few words, a better description of heroism, of unwavering dedication and loyalty I've not read in a while. The lines “Thought shall be the harder, heart the keener, courage the greater, as our might lessens" are a thousand years old, a pre-Christian heroic spirit which author J.R. Tolkien, a crafter of worlds where chivalry roared, himself called "Northernness".

Chivalry exists, and heroism stands. Heroism and chivalry live not in might and size and power, but often in the smallest places and quietest moments.  Look at the people who serve in hard times, hard areas, death a shadow on the wall so the masses can be safe. But you don't have to be a member of the military, a protector of the weak, or a fighter of the worst nature can throw at you to embrace these concepts. Chivalry gives us something to strive for, something to hold up as an ideal and an understanding that throughout history there are those who have risen above the standards of the day to truly be called brave.

The year could be 1066, it could be 2001, it could be today. A hand on a rough shovel, flinging the dirt with an effortless fury, the mound of soil rising of its own volition, not crafted by man but as if flung forth by the earth itself, until the grave is readied. A warrior has fallen, medals scribed on ore or heart, small things insignificant to the view, but mute with profound meaning. The earth waits but a moment. Shadows fall with the moon's curve, no sound but the labored breath of form of one who engaged without arms, this single combat. Laying a warrior to rest.  There is now but a shield to be picked up and carried on. So, man or woman, we never forget.
- Brigid

Thursday, January 17, 2019

You Had Me At Bacon

I have survived the pre and post-holiday sales, the pre-Valentine's sales, not finding any "furlough sales".  But I have been busy, not writing, as the muse went south with my paycheck.  But I'm taking care of an elderly lady from our congregation several days a week.  She fell, not badly injuring herself, but leaving her bruised and a little wobbly.  Home health care is expensive, so she has a nurse for overnight, but needs some company during the day so myself and a couple other ladies from the Bell Choir volunteered to keep her company until she healed and felt stronger.

Tonight I'm home, another lady is covering and I really didn't want a supper I had to fuss over as Partner in Grime is working late.  I thought I'd make one of Barkley's favorite treats.  He didn't get maple syrup but sausage was usually involved.


I'm not sure how "French Toast" got its name as it's been around since the Middle Ages in a whole lot of places other than France (who call it "Pain Perdu").  Day old bread dipped in egg and milk and fried is something that translates to Yum" in any language.  In Norway, where my Grandfather  Gullikson is from, it is called  “Arme Riddere”. This translates to “Poor Knights” and it is often topped with a bit of sugar and cinnamon before frying and then topped with fresh jam. It's also sometimes made with savory ingredients, such as ham or cheese, whatever is on hand.  This makes it a dish the  Norwegians would refer to as “restemat”, Norwegian for ‘leftovers’.

And I have leftover bacon!
Arme Riddere (French Toast) Panini.  Using what little bits I had on hand in the fridge, I smeared some sourdough bakery bread that was getting dry, with a Tablespoon or two of low-fat Neufchatel Cheese (low-fat cream cheese) and then smeared with a thin layer of Golden Shred orange marmalade picked up in the UK. Then I topped that with some freshly cooked thick cut bacon. Perfect!  It was then dipped on each side in an egg whisked up with a little milk and then popped into the chicken grill/panini contraption and baked until it's golden and toasty.  Norway Meets Italy!!
I drizzled it with just a bit of maple syrup and ate it like a sandwich.  Sweet and savory, creamy inside with just the right bit of crunch outside, it was the perfect little supper.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Canine Snack Attack

It was a busy week.  Though I'm furloughed from my job, I'm doing some volunteer work and beta reading two books by other author friends so I didn't have a lot of time at home for chores. I did get the bedroom tidied up from the first laundry explosion after my husband came home from a trip with lots of dirty clothes, setting down a fresh set of earplugs on the nightstand next to our bed.  It's from all the years in hotels as a pilot - I can't sleep without earplugs even if our neighborhood is quiet as a mouse.

 BEEP!  The clothes drier is done! Off to the basement!

When I came back, one of them was missing

Uh, huh, I think I found it.
Yup, looks like Abby Lab snagged it and spit it out
It wasn't a Cheeto!

Monday, January 7, 2019

A Bright and Streaming Sky

Obscured by the thick cloud cover that rolls in from the Coastal states, the sun has disappeared into detention, penalized by being so bright on such an otherwise cold day. Rain stops, falls, starts, the air holding in moisture like a towel, draping over everything, softening sharp edges of the landscape, a cold compress on what was to be a day of flying.

There is a reason all the big flight schools are in California, Arizona, and Florida. Learning to fly in the mountains of the upper West was a challenge. Being a flight instructor there without starving to death was even more of a challenge.

It's the 80's. I was a college student. I was a flight instructor.

For some, flight instructing was about the only way one could build the flight time necessary to get a job flying something bigger, a right of passage that many pilots, in their turn, go through. For me, it was a way to make $13.00 an hour to pay for tuition when the minimum wage was little more than $3.00. So what if people tried to kill me on a daily basis, I could eat meat once in a while, and still stay in the University.

The downside? That $13.00 was when you were in the air or billing someone for formal ground training. You could spend 8 hours waiting, writing lesson plans, answering the phone, but if you had no students you made zip. On bad weather days, the instructors with wealthier parents didn't even come out. So on that rainy day, just two of us worked. And waited. Waited while we listened to our hair grow. Waited for that knock, nervous and peremptory on the door of the flight school. It wasn't likely to happen. Pilots are always in tune with the weather. We watch the weather channel even if staying home all day. We listen to it. Even sheltered inside, away from it, we can tell the smell and taste and strength of the wind, and today the sky tasted of ramen noodles for dinner again.

That school I taught in was little more than a cabin, out at a small country airport, where we had two two-seat Piper Tomahawks, a tailwheel Taylorcraft and a Cessna 172 to teach in. The runway was built during World War II and was long and wide enough for even the most bumbling of future sky kings. We got a surprisingly large number of students from the local logging communities. My most active students were the diesel truck mechanics that wandered over and fell in love with the airplanes, then the airplanes home.

I learned to fly at such a school. A Mom and Pop type place in my hometown. I was only 16, I was already in college. Money for lessons, even at the bargain price back in those 39 cents a gallon days, was hard to come by, so I took a job at the airport in exchange for lessons. I pumped fuel, and washed airplanes. They could range from a small business jet to an occasional float plane on wheels that would stop on the way to Seattle. I would have to climb on a ladder on top of the picnic table while dragging the big heavy hose all the way up there. OSHA poster material. It was often hard, cold, dirty work, not something I'm afraid of, but I longed for the day I could fly them, not fuel them.

After my work day was done I'd sit alone in the small building, the owners living upstairs, and study for my lessons. Computers weren't on every desk in that day and age, and the teaching aids were primitive compared to what there is now. The Cessna course consisted of these flip card books with diagrams, with a cassette tape to play along with it. When the tape beeped you would flip to the next chart. I would sit there until the wee hours, "beep", drinking cup after cup of "beep" horrible black airport coffee, trying to get just one more page, before I had to go home and do all my other homework. It honed two things, my ability to concentrate and my appreciation for really good coffee.

I had two different instructors, basically, whichever of them was available as I was sort of a "charity" student, since I worked with them. One was a carpenter by trade. This was his way to relax and earn a little money the wife would let him keep. He had seven boys and basically, nothing I could do in the airplane would scare him. The other was young and hopeful, just building his hours to move on.

I soloed after 13 hours of lessons. The sky was still in the last vestiges of daylight when the traffic pattern would be light with aircraft, the only sound a cricket prematurely erupting into song and the faint whoosh of traffic from the Interstate. After a few practice times around the pattern, N,, of the 7 boys, crawled out of the airplane, gave me a little pat on the shoulder and said. "She's all yours". There I was, alone in an airplane that to me looked as vast and empty as a Boeing 747 cockpit. But it was time, and I gingerly taxied out to the runway to do my three takeoffs and landings by myself. We'd covered all the basics. landings and takeoffs, turns, stalls, an engine failure and deadsticking it in if there was engine trouble close to home, flying into a cloud by accident, and turning it around on instruments, and communications. I was ready. And with the throttle pushed all the way in, my airplane and I hurtled down the runway into our future. The little Cessna leaped into the air with untamed triumph and the defiance of gravity, the prop singing a song of farewell, hoping in its heart the flight would be endless, not just three bounces and go's.

A quick turn, back into the pattern, with a glance over at that seat which was so, so empty, I just forged on, flaps, trim, carb heat, taking note of the wind direction, that wind that washed out of my head and my blood all that I feared I could never do. It was one of the most liberating moments in my life, my destiny in my hands, nothing more than guts, aviation fuel and utter faith in the buoyant and untried wings of shiny metal bring me back to roost.

One soft chirp on the pavement, carb heat in, flaps coming up, throttle advance, pull back the yoke and I was back, aloft again, and this time I had a little more confidence and looked down to see Ned giving me a cheery wave like I was one of his own kids. By the third takeoff, I could wave back.

The third and final landing, I was done. The sky was nearly dark as we made our way inside after tying her down and buttoning her up for the night, with a friendly pat on the nose, like a horse being put into its stall. N. got out the scissors, for the ritual cutting of the shirttail of the newly soloed. To hang on the wall, with my name and date, like a banner of freedom, a signal to the next generation of students that there are no limits, in the living and fluid world of the air. There are no young, or old, or rich or poor, there are just eyes raised to the heavens and a firm hand on the yoke.

Now just 3 years later, I'm teaching myself, trying to pass on what I know, each student, each hour, propelling me further up. Blue sky days were few and far between, but with instrument students, there was just enough coming in to keep a roof over my head and pay for tuition.

So we sit on that sodden day, the sky the color of a washed out dishcloth, a flock of seagulls hunkered down underneath the hangar eves, seeking shelter, white birds, lumped up like used tissue paper, sodden and unwelcome. I'd go chase them away so they don't poop on the airplanes, but it's just too cold. So we wait, like dogs waiting for their master - jumping, tail wagging with the sound of someone at the door. Could it be. . a student? Oh boy. Oh boy. Some rich banker wanting to write out a check for $2000 to get his license!? But, it's simply the Fed Ex guy, and we circle and circle, getting back comfortable again as we settle back down to wait in disappointment, tails between our legs.

But they will come, the students. The ones eager with the joy of what awaits, on their very young or very old faces, my best students often being someone that's decided to take that step in middle age. They were the best. Then there were the sons of wealthy pilots and businessmen (I'd say daughters but a female student in that day and age was beyond rare). A few were gifted, but mostly doing it out of the sense that they were expected to, and carrying in their expensive flight kit a degree of entitlement. They were never pleasant to teach, their correct, inherited, irritating position of being always right was not helpful when you were inverted, having run out of airspeed and ideas at the same time, their pigheadedness unchanged by drama or g-forces. As hungry as I was, that rainy day, if one of those students came in, I'd give them to the other instructor.

Sure, there was the satisfaction of teaching someone the nuts and bolts of being a pilot even if they were unpleasant. Of letting them go just far enough to learn, and to learn with the right amount of fear, but not bend the airplane. Watching them solo, watching them develop. But to me, the teaching was a gift. Not simply something I did to build time or earn a pittance of a paycheck, but a way of showing the way forward to those eager to make the journey. For there was something else, more satisfying for me, which is why I would turn down an unmotivated flyer with a trust fund for a 16 year old taking lessons paid with after-school jobs, or a retired engineer fulfilling that dream. There was something magical in watching them discover that flying is nothing at all like riding in a car, even considering adding in another dimension to it.

Flying with one of those fledgling airmen was like those evenings when as a kid you would lay with a friend out in the backyard, on your back looking upwards, trying to name the stars, watching for satellites that moved through the clouds in a slow steady line. The deep relaxed breath of no worries and a quick glance of understanding between each other, that's what flight would be like with them. For they understand in their heart and they feel it in something that's always been inside of them. It's as if they just know, and are just waiting for you to show them how, that to frolic in the presence of the clouds, far enough above the earth is to get a sense of what it is to be blessed.

It is said that when Christ needed to center himself he did forty days in the wilderness. I think I get a taste of that when I get days in the air. It's a divine communion with the heavens, it's not about travel, it's about absolution. Absolution for past fears and mistakes and all the trappings and stress of life and society that is laid out on our step each morning, like an unwanted soggy newspaper. It's laying open the book of your humanity, as tears of your defenses fall to its pages, gathering into quiet spots of yourself for a few short minutes. It's grabbing a little transcendence from the clouded, salty waters of that earthbound life. It's falling in love again when you thought that was all behind you.

And so, on that day so many years ago, as the rain drips from the eaves, I wait. Because soon the cold front will pass, the sun will break free and through that door will come, someone, with whom I can share. And when I hear the oft-told tale, that "I've always wanted to do this -but was afraid it would take time and things away from my loved ones". I tell them what I've learned. It's the same as this, what I tell people now, 30 some years later.
For I still teach, but it's interns in my field, waiting breathlessly to pursue something that drives them, hanging on my words for some piece of sage advice in a world gone mad. And I tell them now, what I told those flight students all those years ago. That love does not exist just in one place and in one instant and in one body out of all the time you have, all the bright light and streaming sky of your life, it is there, waiting for you, with no price tag but your happiness.

It's all around you if you just look up.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Friday Night Musings

Maybe I was just born a century too late (though flying the NA-265 was a blast) but I'm glad to live in a hundred-year-old home surrounded by things older than me, with a history that will quietly whisper to me as I sit in low light with a single malt scotch.

Goodnight all.  Enjoy your Friday evening.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

DIBS! - A Chicagoland

Yes, as a former farm dweller, Chicago was the last place I thought I would end up.  Until I married an Illinois native that got his dream job there (wherein he leaves me to fly to China and South Africa and Texas on business a good part of most months :-)  What we do for love.

But I've grown to love our life.  We live in a home built in 1915 that's been 90% restored to look like a home built in 1915 in an outlying village that has almost no crime other than the occasional garage break-in, a few small and quaint local businesses, and it's surrounded by park system on three sides, which is a great gang buffer (especially with rivers as most of them don't know how to swim in the dark).
That being said, as we ring in the New Year, a smile for your New Year. Here in Chicagoland, there is something known as "dibs" wherein after you spend an HOUR digging your car parked in front of your house out of multiple feet of snow, you block the spot so you have a parking space when you get back. It's also legal, some wordage to the effect in the city code. It's considered rude to do it unless there is a boatload of snow, it must be a spot in front of your house, and slashing the tires of someone who moved your blocks is considered rude, even in the worst of neighborhoods.It's like our hotdogs, pizza, and Cubs, there are some things you just don't mess with if you are a local. We are lucky in that the original owner of our 100+-year-old home bought two lots so we have a large side yard on one side of the house with a driveway, though we may clear a "dibs" spot for party guests for New Years.

Some of the "dibs" seen around the city still crack me up. Happy New Year everyone and thank you all for your growing friendships this last year.

If it looks like a 60's shower curtain, even more the better. 
 Want to bet that is electrified.
Santa's job in the offseason.
A little dose of guilt never hurts.
It's Chicago if they could tax it they would!
This pretty much sums it up.
 Unfortunately, now the chickens have gotten out.
 Zep isn't a poison unless you drink a gallon but I like how he thinks.
 If that's full, that IS going to get lifted in 5 minutes.
A Force to be reckoned with.
 My personal view on ironing.
When Harold bought this for their 25thAnniversary he never figured it would come in handy.
 Yes, Jesus Saves - the ORIGINAL Dibs
“Never refer to me as an item. I'm a bird.” — Big Bird
 Use Grandpa's Walker because being old in the winter isn't hard enough.
Sam's parking spot. 
 My kind of guy.
It's not like we vacuum or anything.
 That girl that dumped me after the State Fair won't care.
Just another day in the neighborhood.
 I made my child dig my car out.
 Don't' go out half dressed to free your car.
 My roommate doesn't think much of my musical talents.
And my PERSONAL favorite (because what's a gal to do with a Leonardo DiCaprio life-sized cardboard figure).