My family name is Wood, and I’m very proud of that name, and deeply love all my family. I was named after my Uncle Dai, my dad’s younger brother who has always been my favourite uncle. For many years we’d play a game on the phone: “Is that David Wood? This is David Wood speaking”, or “This is David Wood. Can I speak to David Wood?”
I decided to change my name mainly for marketing reasons. My original name is surprisingly common. At one stage in my home town there was a calligraphy exhibition by David Wood and a movie edited by David Wood showing at the cinema, at the same time as a show written by David Wood was screening on TV – and me. A Google search came up with 5.5 million hits for “David Wood”.
I want to become known as a thinker and writer and, aware of the highly competitive market for ideas, I thought it would be smart to use a name which people could easily remember. In addition, conventions in academic writing use people’s surnames when referring to their ideas – and if David Wood is common, the surname “Wood” alone is even more common. In short, I wanted to develop a distinctive idea ‘brand’.
Changing one’s surname to [something]-wood is relatively common. There are at least 2 high-profile examples in my home town, while Val Plumwood is an example of a well-known ecofeminist writer. Using this formula expresses something of one’s politics or values. Given my original name, the general direction at least was clear: all I needed to do was to add something to the original. I liked this because of the sense of adding richness, or adding another layer to my existing life and family – building on what’s already there.
More than just being a forest tree, “Bloodwood” has several specific associations for me. The most immediate is that it reminds me of my close friend Malcolm, an old bushie who I met when I worked in his little sawmill in the mid 1980s. His log license was specifically for pink bloodwood, Eucalyptus intermedia , which we got from the forest across the road. Malcolm was a very passionate man, hugely energetic, with a highly chequered past, and a stunning aesthetic sense which he applied in his work as a rural contractor – fencing, making roads, building farm buildings, planting plantations. and logging and sawmilling. His mill was the most beautiful I’ve ever seen – totally in the open air under the shade of rainforest trees which he deliberately left in order to shade the work areas. The gear was absolutely minimal and simple, but tuned in such an elegant way that the work flowed so easily, especially when his old friend Bert would come and watch and direct us how to make things smooth and efficient.
Malcolm was an old-style loner, though, a man more attuned to the 19 th century than the 20 th . He wasn’t able to find ways to adapt to changing circumstances, and in 1999 he killed himself. I was very close to him in the last 7 years of his life, but was seriously ill myself for 4 months and hadn’t seen him. I’m very aware of his struggle as an ‘old-style’ rural man in the face of emotional crisis, and his death from despair and desperation ramped up for me my commitment to finding ways to support men to engage with change in the world around them and in themselves.
Part of this change needs to be with how we engage with our bodies. The “blood” part of my name reminds me that, in addition to all my abilities and strengths, I am also flesh and blood – just an ordinary person with ordinary human needs and vulnerabilities. “If you cut me do I not bleed?” as the bard said. Ordinariness and vulnerability have often been marginalised in the masculine struggle to strive and achieve.
The “blood” part also reminds me of my penis, and penises in general – how they fill up with blood and feel so engorged and hot, how the blood coursing through my hot hard penis and the rest of my body so pumps me with desire and lust. This is deep pleasure – the pleasure of the body, a pleasure that can only arise from being embodied and intentionally celebrating that experience. Male sexuality is often disowned and projected onto women – which means men can easily miss that deep immediate experience of pleasure in their own sexuality.
So the theme of blood and body is vital to me both personally and politically. A core theme in masculinity is disconnection – from self, from others, and from the natural world. While this disconnection enables so much, it is also an immensely – deeply – painful experience. Learning to be embodied – to be aware of and take pleasure in the warmth of my blood, my enfolding limbs, the wiry strength of my muscles, and the sensitive pleasures of skin on skin – are all ways of ‘coming home’, coming back to a place where life is immediately rich, and a place from where I can connect concretely and resiliently with the world. Having ‘blood’ in my name reminds me of this when I forget it.
Blood also reminds me of the history of men and blood, the meaning that blood has had for men over the centuries in terms of war, militarism, and using one’s body as a weapon. For me this history has a potent mix of honour and courage – being willing to put one’s body on the line for beliefs – alongside breathtaking violence and destruction. Nowhere else is more intensely portrayed the complex interweaving of creation and destruction involved in masculinity. Unpicking this complexity across its long history is an immensely challenging task – but a vital one in order to enable new directions for men.
Finally I can’t resist a dig at some feminists – although my own work, and indeed my inspiration about men, comes from feminism. A wonderful positive for women from feminism has been a great lessening of the shame and secrecy around menstruation. This was partly effected through many discussions and artistic explorations of women’s experience of and feelings about bleeding and its associations with their sexuality, childbearing, and female identity. Partly I envy this rich widely-shared engagement with such intimate body experience, and partly this engagement has been used to position women as somehow more ‘natural’, more embodied, and more authoritative in the ways of creation than men. Saying I am ‘Bloodwood’ in effect is claiming my own blood, my own body, and the authority of my own experience and force as a being in the World.