When RIMG men talk about weightlifting, they're often talking about hefting emotional barbells. "Here you can kind of let your guard down a little bit," says John, a 50-year-old divorcee from Connecticut who prefers not to give his last name. "Everybody's got a conversation going on in their head . . . some people don't ever get a safe place where they can actually say some of their darkest fears." The ones who don't deal with those issues become violent or suicidal or substance abusers, he says. But not him. He estimates that he has attended over 40 men's gatherings between Rhode Island and Maine over the last 20 years.
But for all of the hugs and soul-scraping introspection, one burly, bearded man with a gut peeking out from under his tie-dyed T-shirt insists that I report how much fun he has at the RIMG. And indeed, I notice plenty of men who, while others scurry between workshops, remain content to snooze by the fire or piece together a jigsaw puzzle or flip through a book. (One volume in the RIMG library is the anthology Wingspan: Inside the Men's Movement, featuring articles like, "What Oedipus, Narcissus, and Superman Can Teach Us" and "Hung Like A Hamster: The Heavy Weight of a Small Penis.")
By the end of the day, I even spot a glimmer of masculinity that perhaps isn't so far removed from the mainstream. After a hearty lunch of steak and chicken fajitas, a cadre of men set out into the woods for a hike with the W. Alton Jones Environmental Education Center's manager, John Jacques. With snow crunching under foot, we ramble over streams and hills as Jacques calls out the names of animal tracks and tree species. Occasionally, he stops to read from a pamphlet of Robert Frost poems he has brought along. At another point, he stops us again, but with no poem to read. It's snowing lightly and, this time, he simply wants us to listen to the whisper of snowflakes falling softly on our shoulders and the surfaces of the surrounding forest. It is a solemn, peaceful moment that lasts well over a minute . . . until one of the men quips that it would be the perfect time to rip a fart.
: This Just In