Especially to kids!
Monthly Archives: March 2013
The Slow Heart of Manhood
I’ve been away, you see.
While I was gone, I thought a lot about nerds and cool kids, and attraction; about what it means to be “in” in someone else’s mind. A good deal of that time was spent reflecting on school days long past. One thing that I realized was that my place in that “in” space–popular–hasn’t changed very much; not at work or anywhere else. I’m still the kid who merits interest or respect, but isn’t popular. If I show up at a party people think that speaks well of the person throwing the party, but they don’t take a particular liking to me.
From first grade to high school graduation I attended eight different schools. Each of those were in different districts, if not cities and states. (I never matriculated from one school to the next, so those mundane changes in schools don’t factor into my whirlwind tour of public…ah…education.) That pressure of being the perpetual new kid molded me to prefer gaining acceptance by working rather than networking because it’s a helluva lot easier to demonstrate competence during one school year, than it is to ingratiate yourself with the cool kids–or even the nerdy kids. Besides, why bother when another move is imminent?
Clothes, attitudes, hang-outs, etc. are things you can choose (Game), and they can make you cool; which is to say “to exist within acceptable social boundaries”. Within those outer social boundaries is the popular–attractive–group. Only others can make you popular or respected. It’s a truth that cool kids are more often
liked (than are nerds) but they are separate things and you get no say in the matter other than how you present yourself. They don’t even know who you are; only that you’re not them. We don’t get to choose to be liked (attractive) to others, but you can move yourself into within those boundaries by avoiding conspicuously anti-social behavior.I mean anti-social in the sense of not meeting the minimum requirements of polite behavior.
So, dress your behavior for success.
The demonstration (presentation) of good work won’t make you popular, but it is hard to beat when it comes to earning respect. You can dislike the new kid who starts offense and defense, but you can’t ignore him. The coaches favorite isn’t going to like it when he loses a rotation on the pitching mound to the new guy, but if we win, what is he going to say? When the history teacher says,
“Take your notes, Johnny.”
“That’s not fair, Mr. History. Cane never takes notes.”
“Cane gets 100 on every test. You don’t.”
That’s not going to win you a lot of friends, but it does tend to elevate your status regardless of their feelings. The cool kids who were accomplished tended to appreciate my talents, and therefore me. They already had all the affirmation they needed, so they weren’t concerned if I didn’t offer more. It’s the normal kids that struggled year after year, and game after class who tended to resent me. That’s still how I operate: “Regardless of others’ feelings.” Not because I think they’re unimportant, but because there is nothing I can do about them, and no time even if I did. “The end is near”, warns the Book. That goes for all things.
So, dress your work for success, now.
Plenty of people are less than thrilled about spending their careers with me, but they feel better that I’m there. They assume we’re going to “win” now–and with very few exceptions we usually do. Still… I have these conversations with average co-workers; like last week, just before boarding a plane.
“…I think he’s a nice guy.”
“Nice guy? What an awful thing to say.”
“No it’s not! It means-”
“I know what it means. It means you find him pleasing, or should find him pleasing; because he’s non-threatening.”
“That’s a horrible place to be stranded, socially. I hope no one says that about me.”
“I don’t think there’s any danger of that, Cane.”
His tone was less than salutatory, because he could suss out what I was saying: “I don’t care if you find me pleasing or not.” What a rude thing to say! Except it’s not. Only assholes go around thinking, “People should please me, and if they can’t they should try to make me think they are.” The stuffiness he detected was the feel of his own sphincter tightening on his neck. A lot of people are so constricted.
My father was the one constant person that I tried to please, and, still, when I need to do something that I don’t feel like doing I’m very likely to utter a proverb of his before I engage in whatever thing it is that I don’t want to do: fire someone (Mess with the bull, you get the horns.) get up early (If you hoot with the owls, then you scream with the eagles.), admit and fix a mistake (If you’re gonna be stupid, you gotta be tough.). My appreciation of work is his appreciation of work. Those two concepts are inseparable in my mind, and just like when I was a child they are all I try to please. Between childhood and some years ago, I tried to please my wife, and when that didn’t work I tried to please myself. That went as badly as trying to please her. When things became clear was when I said to us, “I don’t care what you or I want: This is where we’re going because this is where my father** told me we are supposed to go. If you want to follow me, get in line.”
When I look around the Manosphere, he and his kind are what I don’t notice. The absence of dads is palpable in the comments, and in the posts that generate the comments. Even if they are physically there, they’re undercut by the culture (their wives and the law), and they are unsupported (because there are few of their kind). Stalks in a field can resist the wind better than one can alone. We all suffer because our friends and neighbors dads are missing. No earthly father is perfect, and we learn from other fathers as well as our own…when we can find them, and when they still act like men.
My son, Gus, misses me more than his sisters do, when I’m gone. He’s five, and asks Mrs. Caldo about it like five-year olds do; not stupidly repetitious, but prodding to see if Mom’s story is consistent. Does she really know what’s going on, and is she telling the truth? He’s concerned because he really feels like I ought to be home a lot sooner than ten days, eight days, six days, five days, four days…
Because Mrs. Caldo misses me like he does, she told me a story about Gus and Liz. She said Gus was laying on the floor, using our old boxer Clives as a pillow, and petting him. Liz said, in that girly innocence that strikes boys as obvious and condescending, but is meant as an attempt to connect:
“Do you like Clives, Gus?”
“Yeah, he’s awesome. You know, like Dad’s awesome.”
It’s self-evident to him, and my dad’s greatness was self-evident to me, too. “I’m disappointed in you, son.” was a grievous thing for me to hear as a boy, and often started me sobbing. That separation from his goodness was worse than a whipping, which I would happily have taken if it would close the distance.
After the conversation with the co-worker, we boarded the plane and I tried to sleep. I could only manage about an hour of it. When I woke up, I put on my headphones, and listened to Mumford and Sons latest album. The third song, “I Will Wait” is a radio hit…which is quite a shock, to me. The first verse is the singer speaking to his wife:
And I came home
Like a stone
And I fell heavy into your arms
These days of darkness
Which we’ve known
Will blow away with this new sun
That’s refreshing in the pop music world, but common enough not to warrant scrutiny. But starting with the following chorus through to the end of the song, the singer is addressing the new sun.
But I’ll kneel down
Wait for now
I’ll kneel down
Know my ground
Raise my hands
Paint my spirit gold
And bow my head
Keep my heart slow
Cause I will wait, I will wait for you
My hunch is that nearly everyone hears something else. They take this as a song about a man relying and waiting on his woman. Only the artist can say definitively, but I can’t hear it. He’s clearly relieved to see his wife, and to let her support him, but his desire is for the one who forgives; who tethers minds free from lies, and paints spirits gold.
So there I was: 30,000 feet in the air, hurtling through space and time zones. Everyone around me was corded up to their seats and watching the in-flight movie while I mouthed the words to a pop song and cried. There are precious few persons in our lives worth such emotional outbursts. If they are concerned whether we–individually–are cool or attractive: they’re not one of them. Wives should not be critical of their husbands’ attractiveness, but if they are, then they are. Do not spend on them. Remember: It’s what you do that matters. Nobody cares what you feel, or who you are because they can never really feel or know you anyway. Even you don’t know who you are; except that you are not another.
So, dress your heart for success, now. In other words: Slow your roll, playa.
*A difficult example of this is virginity. In our libertine times, virginity is anti-social. The best response is something like, “It’s complicated”, or, “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
**Sadly he did not go there himself, but that’s his problem to work out.
The Invisible Horror
Part of my job is making salespeople comfortable as they sell. Some time later in the process I switch roles, and it becomes my responsibility to make clients comfortable as our products and services are delivered. An awful lot of our sales force and clients are female, but our staff is almost exclusively male…nerdy male. In the middle of this triangle is me. I’m the guy who tells them we can do it fast, cheap, or good, but they can only pick two. Whichever one we agree to skimp on will be the sore spot, and one of the main things I do is to soothe those spots is banter and play.
Today I took a circuit of the project site with a saleswoman. She’s an aging careerist; married but no kids, attractive for her age, and quite non-technical. Neither does she possess an ounce of bitterness, so she’s a joy to work with. She heavily relies on me, and makes no bones about it–which is refreshing because some of the salesmen who posture as technical know-it-alls can make my job pretty difficult.
She’s also a bit of a fitness freak, and so when we had to choose between three flights of stairs or the escalator she said, “Let’s take the stairs! I have to get my steps in!”
“Are you serious? I get winded on the elevator.”
“Oh come on. You’ve been working out.”
“Oh, yes. Two whole days. And I’m sore.”
She beamed a smile, and we started up the stairs. I’m a tall fellow, and these stairs–like most I encounter–are half a size too small, so I take take them two at a time. She’s Miss Peppy Stairmaster, so she pranced up pretty quickly behind me. We weren’t racing, but when we got to the top, I said (between thinly veiled gasps), “Look, I’m fine taking the stairs as long as I win. Which I’m going to. So, you know, you might as well get used to losing.”
She laughed and said, “Well, I was right earlier, and you were wrong, so this makes up for it.”
“Why you gotta bring up old stuff?”
“That’s not old-”
“Yes it is. Now: let’s talk about me winning again.”
She laughed again. “You’re so competitive. My husband is too.”
“Of course. That’s how our ancestor survived.”
“Ok, well, I don’t have to race you then.”
“Good, because it would be awkward explaining to HR why I tackled you on a staircase.”
Not too long later we came to another set of stairs and as soon as I opened my mouth to make a joke she bolted her Fit-Bug-wearing stretchy-pants butt up those steps. I had no choice but to bound after her, and only just barely beat her to the top. We were both laughing and gasping.
“I thought we weren’t racing?”, I struggled to say.
“Yes, I know!”
“You’re a tricky dame.”
“Yes, I am!”
Even though she is by far the more fit between the two of us, we were both happy that I won. It never occurred to her that she should win; only that it wouldn’t be any fun if she didn’t try. She was much more interested in the race itself, than in the winning. For her it was a thing to do together. Almost coincidentally does someone reach the top first. Meanwhile, I’m trying to avoid a minor crisis of manhood.
Besides, nerdy teen girls who are at least a little bit cute have never had it as bad as nerdy teenage boys, have they?
If you want to talk about a girl who is insecure and shy, and maybe she is into anime or j-pop–you have to say “nerdy girl”. There are a lot of problems that can go with being a nerdy girl, but that’s not really what I want to talk about.
To reference a wide spectrum of socially awkward or peculiar boy with quirky habits: You just say “nerd”. There’s no need to append a language unit denoting the owners genitalia. Why bother? Who wants to use them?
Let’s make this shorter. Nerdy girls are really:
Nerdy boys are:
They are the thing–the horror itself–that a (nerdy) girl can sort-of, kind-of resemble. There is an earnestness of intent to boys that is usually not manifested in girls. Girls like sci-fi because others like sci-fi; boys like it despite the fact others don’t. Girls watch anime because a father, older sibling, or friends watch anime, and they want to talk about anime with them. They do like anime in and of itself, and left alone would still watch it, but it doesn’t define them as a person to the extent that they build their wardrobe around it, and resent any intrusion into their anime space. A nerdy girl will get excited to see someone else read her favorite comic, and can base a friendship off of it.
A nerdy boy is more likely to feel threatened, thinking: “Who told him about my secret favorite comic? I doubt he even knows why it’s good.” If he has any desire to interact at all, some of that urge will be to test whether the other fellow is worthy to aspire to such secret delights. Should two nerds meet over a sci-fi movie or a Civil War re-enactment they will test each others’ knowledge of the fictitious universe, or discernment of 1863 flannels from the “clearly different” 1864 version.*
The Nerd wants to win at reading comic-books.
Which is to desire the comic so much that he fundamentally misses the point of them. Even nerdy girls are going to see this as a sort of sickness because applying alpha competitiveness to things that are clearly nerdiful is just strange to the rest of society. It’s going to come across as desperate; maybe even perverse. He will seem like a person who fundamentally misses the point not only of sci-fi movies, but people. You simply don’t risk this while racing chicks up the stairs. The earnestness is just as misplaced, but the social acceptance covers it up. Even better if you can be self-deprecating or agree-and-amplify the ridiculousness unto the absurd…which it is.
This comes more clearly into focus when you call a boy a nerd. It is this concept of fundamentally misunderstanding people to which we hearken when we call boys nerds, or geeks, or similar pejoratives. In the instances when we apply the name to women it is almost always in the “nerdy girl” sense that still recognizes her humanity. At the very least they have breasts and butts and all sorts of goodies with which to remind me. A girl may walk up to me as a nerd, but she almost always walks away as an ass.
That’s a much better fate than the boy who turns invisible.
*Completely made up reference. I couldn’t even say if flannel existed then.
Wives and Sons
When the Bible talks about servants, there are two types that really stand out: wives, and sons. There are daughters, bondservants, soldiers, concubines, chancellors, handmaidens, and plain ol’ slaves, but–if we give weight to the occurrences and stressed relationships of scripture–the wives and sons have it. I think that is because there is a permanence to these relationships that does not exist for others. Slaves can be sold, and soldiers dismissed, but a man’s son is always his son; even if they hate each other. No one else will forget that fact. Sons are marked by their fathers.
Daughters are peculiar. They come about the same way as sons, but when they marry they go through an alchemical process that abjures the daughter (in solicitate of gold) and evokes a wife. It’s magic. And the weirdness continues! Even though the wife follows the husband (because the husband is the head), the husband has joined to the wife–and that means becoming part of her family. Any man who has tried to move his wife across country from her family knows what I’m talking about.
There’s a sort of justification by adoption that occurs. “You wish to take my daughter? Very well: I want a son in return. Oh, there’s only you…well, I guess it will have to be you, then.” Looking on from a distance, and if we had the numinous sight to see the bursts and whorls of magic taking place in a marriage, it would look very much like a man submitting his daughter to a ritual by which she is turned into a much more capable son–a son who can produce more sons and wives.
Additionally, there are two times of real celebration which are remarkably in not keeping with the modern times, and yet irrepressible: marriage, and when a son is born. I was honestly shocked at how much more exuberant everyone was when my son was born. We had three daughters already, but a son is simply celebrated more; which strongly indicates he is valued more–contrary to everything we have been taught, or even might experience when they come of age. More is expected of them. More is expected of wives, too.
A foolish son is ruin to his father,
and a wife’s quarreling is a continual dripping of rain.
House and wealth are inherited from fathers,
but a prudent wife is from the Lord.
Wives can make a man’s house heaven or hell because we expect more of them. Daughters, we hope, can at least be married off so they become some other man’s primary concern…we’ll still see her at Sunday dinners.
So, if you have a wife and she’s not prudent, you can know she’s not of the Lord. What are you going to do about this?