Friday, April 25, 2014

Length Over Speed

by Jean Roberta

When I took my first self-defense class for women, I realized what amusingly ineffective-looking fists my little hands make. Actually, I suspected years earlier that my hands would never make very useful weapons of self-defense.

In general, whenever I consider the advisability of getting off my bum to do something to render me fitter, healthier, and more likely to survive in adverse conditions (such as an attack by a predatory stranger), I wonder if I have any natural strengths – not as a writer or an intellectual, but as a human animal, a physical being.

The physical accomplishments that I remember all have to do with endurance rather than brute strength or speed. I still remember a cold winter day in the 1980s when I had to clear a very long concrete walk of snow AND an underlying sheet of ice. I used a shovel and an ice pick. It took me hours, and I did it in installments of about one hour each. It had to be done, because I was an elected official in the single-parent co-op that rented out space to a day care centre, and any slip-and-fall accident involving parents or their children could have resulted in a messy lawsuit. Not to mention negative publicity.

The director of the day care centre had wakened me when the sky was still dark with a shrill warning that the walk was a disaster waiting to happen, and if the co-op members hadn’t been diligently shoveling snow whenever it fell, I was responsible.

After a day of unaccustomed manual labour, I thought I would feel like a rusted Tin Woman the next morning, but I didn’t. I woke up feeling energized from my workout in the fresh Canadian air. Ha, I thought. I remembered my hardy working-class ancestors, and felt lucky to come from good stock.

Before my stint as a single-parent co-op leader, I used to scrounge some income by posing nude for art classes at the local university. The instructor always asked if I could stay motionless for a certain length of time, and I always said yes. In some cases, I regretted having so much pride.

This experience gave rise to a story of mine which doesn’t seem to be part of my backlist because the narrator is male, and I chose a French-Canadian pen name to suit: Jean Blanchfils (i.e. John Whiteboy, or “son of Blanche,” the name of my maternal grandmother).

Here is a passage from “Focal Point,” in which “Johnny,” as the female art instructor calls him, holds his pose for the allotted time:


There’s something about being naked in a roomful of fully-dressed people that makes it hard for me to assert myself. In fact, trying not to get hard usually took up most of my energy. I stood quietly, forcing my arms to stay at my sides, while Ms. Muff strutted around me in her black jeans, tossing her sun-bleached hair and looking amused. She probably fantasized about cutting me up and serving choice bits as hors d’oeuvres at the next lesbian brunch or gallery opening.

“Face the ladder,” she ordered, “then hold onto the rung at your chin-level. Can you hold that pose without moving for thirty minutes?”

Even with the eyes of twenty-five students, mostly women over thirty, on my boyish derriere, I had my pride. I couldn’t refuse the challenge. “Sure,” I answered loudly enough for my audience to hear.

As I settled into my pose, I could almost hear the silent laughter of the mid-life dyke set as they studied my chestnut hair, the long muscles in my back, my firm ass and my hairy legs. I was a young male specimen to them. On their Amazon planet, I would be lucky to be kept alive for stud service.

I could see the clock with its slowly-moving second hand. Ten minutes into my pose, I was feeling the pull in my shoulders. Then I felt something else: a steady look like a hand squeezing each of my asscheeks.

I looked around as far as I could, listening to the sound of charcoal pencils on
newsprint. Terrance was sketching my body with long, strong strokes, glancing up from
time to time. Catching my eyes, he gave me a warning look: don’t move, boy.

His attention made me shiver. I wanted to stay in position for him, but my arms were aching and my back was in knots. I had only served half my sentence, and I already felt crucified. Obviously my summer job at Burger on the Run hadn’t turned me into an
Olympic athlete.

I tried to take my mind off the strain on my arms by thinking about Terrance: his
solid build, his hawk nose and crystal-blue eyes, his neat wood-brown beard, his long,
experienced, nicotine-stained fingers. He looked like an old man to me. I had never
thought of myself as a daddy’s boy, but I had never met a daddy like him before.

I had ten minutes to go. Hanging onto the ladder for dear life, I could feel my whole body sagging lower. I wanted my watchers, including all the women, to know how much I was giving for their art. I am Man, hear me grunt.


Of course, our hero becomes better-acquainted with Terrance after class.

This story first appeared in public in Prometheus, the glossy journal of a venerable BDSM association, TES of New York City. Then the story was republished in Erotic Tales, edited and self-published by Justus Roux of Michigan.

I think this story has had its best run among my gay-male friends. A long, steady jog is what I’m aiming for.


  1. I'm sure you've read the research - men are built for speed, women for endurance.

    It's astonishing what we can accomplish, though, when appropriately motivated...!

  2. But it does seem, in general, that men seem to wear their bodies out quicker than women. Consider the disparity in men in convalescent homes. I never knew if it's because they work themselves too hard, or they party too hardy. :>) But I hear they do well with lots of ladies around the facility. :>)

    And, I don't shovel snow. Here in the SF bay area, we can drive 200 miles to the snow most times of year, and we get to leave it there when we leave. No dealing with it on a daily basis, needing to drive to work, shovel yourself out, no auto crashes due to snow, no lawsuits from a neighbor slipping on ice on your sidewalk, etc.

  3. Thanks for commenting, Lisabet and Daddy X. Yes, I've heard the research, and it seems to apply to me, at least. I was never an athlete in my life, but I'm sometimes I still impress myself with the length of time I can continue a physical activity. (Spring finally seems to be approaching, so I can try walking to work at the university, which takes me 50 minutes at a brisk pace.) I dream of living in a snow-free part of the world, maybe after I retire. But then I would lose some bragging rights (i.e. living here ain't for sissies). :)

  4. This is a very cool story. It's always seemed to me that the three axes you name (strength, speed, and endurance) make for interesting combinations, and that most people are better at certain ones.

    Also, fists are ineffective for many people—in my martial arts class, we were told to train with fists so that one day, way down the line, we'd be able to use them effectively—but that if we ever got in a fight we should use elbows and knees if at all possible.

  5. Not sure if you'll see this, Annabeth, but thanks for commenting! That advice (don't use fists in a spontaneous attack) has been given to me, but I didn't know it was generally given to students in a martial arts class.


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