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.