(I wrote this a while ago. I found it today and reread it. I made some changes to some things, and essentially updated it.)
Maybe I have had too much time over the past five to six years to chip away at what I believe it means to be a man. Maybe being in college has helped this viewpoint progress at a quicker rate, as well, but then again, if there is one place to see what to do, and not to do, as a male, it is probably at a New Jersey college.
This is a sporadic writing, and I am writing this because I want to. After all, that is why this blog is here to begin with, no? And frankly, this has been something I have wanted to write for a while.
Too many guys grow up nowadays thinking that to be a real guy, you need to be ripped out of your mind or slay through girls as if you are, as comedian Daniel Tosh helped me to label, the one Spartan fighting off massive hordes of Persian hookers. Maybe it is the idea that you need to be tough, and be able to take a hit. Maybe it is the belief that no emotion equals no flaws, making you the ideal man who can stone face any problem that stares you right back down. Maybe it was the father who worked in trucking his whole life, or the mechanic dad who has a hard exterior that forces the next of kin to grow up with that shell of armor.
Either way, I have prided myself on developing my own views for what it means to be man; what it means to be me. I grew up in a strict household, but I was not forced down a path to grow up. The only thing, indeed, which was forced upon me, was a sense of respect for those above you, and the ability to maintain a level head, and a sense of manners. So that is where I will begin:
1. It is the 21st Century, and, no, saying ma’am or sir is NOT dead… nor will it ever be.
Raised in the north, hearing sir or ma’am is limited to the realm of high rises in Manhattan and to the one displaced southern kid who was out of place in a New Jersey school. I never heard anyone use ma’am or sir as a way to address someone until somewhere between fourth and sixth grade. A friend named Jared, who moved to New Jersey from somewhere down south, answered a question from a teacher, simply with, “sir?”
Upon moving below the Mason-Dixon Line to South Carolina, I did not even intentionally mean to pick it up, but I did and eventually took it upon myself to answer with ma’am and sir at a whim. It did not really make a difference in the south since it still is a standard way of everyday life. However, the effectiveness of this was realized, fully, when I moved back to New Jersey. Granted, I received my fair share of laughs from others when I would answer in the respective, but it did make an impression. Often, men, although mostly women, would be surprised upon the use of sir or ma’am (as it can be seen as a sign of respecting elders.), wherein I would simply reply, “sorry, it’s a southern thing”. It does put you one ahead, and even landed me a job recently, wherein a manager told me the head honcho hired me simply because of my manners
Try to include even a ma’am or sir into your daily life, and if it works, then begin to use it more and more, until it just comes natural. I promise, no one will regret it.
2. Take Pride in What You Wear.
Fashion is something that can be seen as a girly thing to be interested in, that, there is no doubt about. However, I will be the first to say that I hate the way my generation dresses and how we represent ourselves. Granted, I am one of the many who partake in the mass watching of trash TV such as the Jersey Shore, and the forced watching of Keeping Up With The Kardashians (my mother and roommate are fans, I really emphasize the word “forced” in the sentence preceding this.). We are the generation of partying hard, and being even dumber. Never in my life did I ever think I would be allowed into a private university, and then see so many kids waste space at that university, paying over $46,000 in tuition. I mean, let us be real, here, a 2.3GPA in high school does not get you a scholarship anywhere, not even if there is a fire. To just to walk around with a hat sideways and go to parties every Friday night sporting polo shirts and cargo shorts or white washed, ripped, $95 jeans purchased at your local Guess does not compute well with me.
I enjoy when kids in college dress well just because it is another day. I even applaud my overly pale, lanky, suitemate, when he wears a collar shirt with a pair of khakis and his Nike running shoes, all a size to big. It is the effort that counts, and it is the feeling of wearing those clothes that count more.
Recently, I have taken to buying my clothes to the exact size. I am twenty years old. I stand at five foot ten inches, and I weigh 160 pounds. That is not going to change for a while. My pant size is a 29/30, I wear a size small shirt (yes, it fits just fine), and dangle in between a size 9 to 9 1/2 shoe. I prefer slim fit khakis over boot cut jeans, and will always take a white undershirt over an Abercrombie emblazoned shirt any day. No, I threw away my Nike 6.0s a long time ago, and yes, I prefer a plain boat shoe to your Reebok Zig-whatevers.
Tom Ford was documented once about his lifestyle and his career. He noted that when he is upset, he puts on a tie. A tie, to him, was a layer of armor. It announces you are here, and you cannot ignore me. When you wake up and you feel down, for whatever reason, get dressed, and get dressed well. To look good is to feel good, and that is already half the battle.
Style is not something that is purchased in a store; it is a culmination of everything you have ever worn. It is the plaid shorts and white polo high school abomination that transforms into the white oxford dress shirt that is worn casually with khaki shorts and a pair of slip on shoes. It is the flip flop rainbow obsession that transforms into smooth loafers. Wear your shirts snug across the chest, tight around the ribs. Let the shirt hang just below the waist, if it hangs more, tuck it in. Let the shoulder seams ride vertically on your actual shoulder bone, not the meaty section of your upper arm. Let your pants fall right at the start of your ankle. Let your belt ALWAYS match your shoes. And never, ever, wear black and brown.
I am not saying that my style is for everyone, because that is not the case. Style is something that comes from you, and reflects you in the best possible way. If you want to wear your hat sideways and walk around campus as if you’re Billy Badasses badass brother, Pauly Pissed Off, be my guest, but don’t be offended when kids despise you for no reason at all.
Wear your clothes like it’s your portrait to the world: make it you, and who cares if you wear a vomit green dress shirt, or a pair of pink khaki shorts, if you think it looks good, it looks good.
3. Write well. Speak better.
I have mentioned this once before, but something I pride myself on is the ability to speak, and write, well. I have absolutely no conscious awareness of how many commas I use, and frankly, that is because I write how I speak. So, whenever there is a comma, there is a pause in the way it is working out in my head.
However, it was not always this way. I, at one point, despised writing. It took me four years, and four separate teachers, to open me up to the world of the written word, and to see the beauty that encompasses written works. Here is how it happened:
Step 1: Mr. Debock, freshman year, English 1, MBHS:
This was the man who started it all. He opened me up to the world of Shakespeare and other modern day successes. He gave me the low down on how to write, and how to get your point across, more so, how to work things out and how to arrange them. It opened my eyes, but think of this as Leonardo’s Great Horse sculpture: It was the blue print of a simply unspeakable work of art; I just didn’t get my hands on the copper, yet.
Step 2: Mr. Ligon, sophomore year, English II Honors, MBHS:
Confident, copasetic, and every other C word that could be attributed to a man who helped me improve my writings even more. He told me one day that Debock was a great man, but “taught you a crock”. He made me forget a lot of what Debock had said, but allowed me to keep the foundations of what I had learned, and to build upon it (After all, as said by Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, “You build a player like you build a house: you start with the foundations, the fundamentals”.). He introduced me to the world of Jay Gatsby, and the process of storytelling, and how to build up suspense. He taught me to really leave you hanging until I can punch the story and the point into you. After all, we all desire a surpise.
Step 3: Mrs. Tallada, junior year, English III AP, MBHS:
The lady that I adore, and respect, tore me down, ripped me apart, and built me up again all in the same motion. She put it all together. In an email to her a long while after I had graduated I admitted to her that she was the one who put the finishing touches on me as a person. She took me as far as I could go, and made me realize what I could, and could not do; all while pushing me to strive for the unreachable, because it was better to try and to fail, than to just sit back and succeed. She taught me the art form of journalistic writing, and just how punishing it can be to succeed at. She made me find a joy in prose. She made me see the absolute beauty and disgusting nature that words could carry; how they could form romantic sonnets, but also scribble out a suicide note.
Step 4: Mrs. Tuttle, senior year, Humanities English IV Honors, FLHS:
I am surprised that in my time of writing this blog, no one has asked me about the title, or why the subtitle is about stories. Well, the title is a song that makes me feel OK whenever I need a lift (Remember to Breathe by Dashboard Confessional), and the subtitle I took from Tuttle. On a banner in the front of her room hung a hand drawn picture of Snoopy on top of his dog house, and beneath it read, “Humans love stories”. Tuttle taught me the beauty of not just the word, but the art of visualizing the word. What is a story if it is impossible for a reader to visualize the scene in their mind? I could have easily have said that I stole the line from Tuttle, but no, I want you to see the same banner I saw everyday for my senior year of high school, and for it to impact you exactly how it did me. Granted, I added a little bit before it, but regardless, it is still the same. In all of my writings, I think the aspect of detail and visualization is always present, that is something that I can never forget. It makes my writing what it is, and is somewhat of an added extra for the reader.
I want you to close your eyes and see the rows of flowers and their petals. I want you to see how a finger would run across the delicate petal and how the rain drop always hangs there loosely, as if afraid to fall to the ground, and be consumed by the dirt.
What comes from this is the ability to speak, and speak very damn well. When you can hold a conversation and not be looked at for using a word that simply does not exist on this planet, or the next, life becomes just that much simpler.
And PS – If I ask you how you are doing, don’t you fucking dare say “good”. Good is not a state of being. You are “well”, not “good”. Baby steps.
4. Have a vibe to call your own.
Music is beautiful. They are the vibrations of sound that echo through our heads and ears every second of every day. Even when music is not playing, it is still playing. Upon being locked up in solitary confinement, Andy Dufresne noted that the time flew by because he had his music with him. A fellow inmate asked if the warden let him have the music player with him in the hole. Andy replied, “No. That’s the beauty of music. They can’t get that from you…”.
Find yourself in music, whatever it may be, and make it a part of you. I will always wish to have the chance to shake Tom DeLonge’s hand and say thank you for saving me from a very dark place back when I was younger. His words and songs made me OK. They made me wake up and have the ability to push on. As I grew older, I came to enjoy the melodic jams of Dash Berlin and Armin van Buuren. Markus Schulz had his dark tunes. ATB provided the rhythmic, reassuring, lovely dance tunes. Now, I find a nice vibe in slow jams. As I type this out, Climax by Usher is on repeat playing through the air in my room while the windows let in the smell of summer. Every night, I fall asleep to Good Morning, Midnight by Fanfarlo. I let the sounds of a soft guitar strum take me to a world inside my head for the night.
Find a sound. Music can define you. Just think of any time you have looked through a friends iPod. No doubt, we have passed judgment on the artists that occupy their ear drums.
5. Love something that DOES NOT have a pulse.
It is awesome to love an animal. It is awesome to love friends. It is life changing to love a girl. However, I think one thing all men can agree on is that to love something that is not real and something you cannot control, makes love just that much more enjoyable.
I am talking about sports, in my case, at least.
We all stare at televisions, or tune into a broadcast through our phones or radios, absorbing an event that can make our day amazing, or ruin it, even though we have absolutely zero influence on the game. Soccer, for me, portrays this best. Here I can sit for an hour and half, slapping my knee, cursing, yelling, only to have the game end in a scoreless draw.
BUT, watching your team lose the game in the last minute, or give up a massive lead (Last year, Arsenal were leading Newcastle United 4-0, only to see the game end 4-4.), maybe win the game in the last minute, or destroy a huge rival (This year, Manchester City toppled Manchester United 6-1 at Old Trafford.), makes the game all the better. I guarantee you every guy has a memory that will stick with them forever, and that that memory is related to a sport. Maybe it is the New York Giants game winning drive to beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl back in 2007. Maybe it was the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals when the New Jersey Devils beat the Detroit Red Wings to take the cup. Maybe it was Leo Messi flying through the air to seal the win for Barcelona over Manchester United in the 2009 Champions League Final. Whatever it may be, it is good to love something you cannot control. It takes the pressure off of your back for once, and puts it on people you will probably never meet. However, what it does do, is allow you to see emotion in its purest form.
And that is pretty damn powerful.
6. Love something that DOES have a pulse, and love it honestly.
I remember reading a quote somewhere during my freshman year in college, and it going something like this:
“Any man can love a million girls, but it takes a real man to love only one girl, a million ways”
It doesn’t even HAVE to be a girl, but in this case, it is. It is easy to sleep around, or date a ton of girls. It took me a summer, alone, in Texas, to finally realize that that college life was already outdated for me, and that I wanted to get away from it, and move on. I wanted to be something to someone, and my goal was not to find it, but to just live life, and wait for it to appear.
I came to college with that mentality, and I hurt people with that mentality. People I truly respected as friends cannot even speak of me because of how I used them or hurt them. There is not a day that goes by where I would pass the chance to go back and kick that kids ass for what he did and how he treated girls.
It is easy to have fun, essentially. Yet, it gets to a point where that fun is not fun anymore, and you grow up, and you realize that sometimes spending a ton of nights with one girl, is a lot better than spending one night with a ton of girls.
It is that simple.
If you have the spine to say “I love you” and mean it, then follow through and be sure to truly love how they deserve to be loved.
7. Be humble. Be willing to admit you are wrong. Be willing to lose.
There is nothing more annoying than someone who is too serious. Granted, know when to work, and when to play, but you must always be able to admit defeat when absolutely needed, and you must always be able to laugh at your own expense. Having humility is something I am still working on perfecting, and losing is something I am working on as well. This is, simply, said best in the film A Good Year:
“You’ll come to see that a man learns nothing from winning. The act of losing, however, can elicit great wisdom. Not least of which is, how much more enjoyable it is to win. It’s inevitable to lose now and again. The trick is not to make a habit of it.”
I cannot help but to connect the ability to admit defeat, and the ability to have humility, together. They just go hand in hand. To admit failure is to admit you have a flaw, and there is no moment of greater vulnerability than to admit that you, the person who you love the most, hands down, has a weakness, and making that weakness known through admittance. That moment where you turn away and finally begin to walk away brings down on you every negative emotion. You failed. You did not win. You lost. Every piece of you wants to turn around and fight again, but to know when to stop is the smartest thing a man can hold in his arsenal. To know when to stop is to know you have given your all and that it is now time to be on your own; to go it alone. To turn back around and beg, to seek mercy, is to bring more pain upon your own self. Every thread in my being craved to fight on again recently, to beg one more time, to please try, but when I walked back slowly, the lingering “goodbye” hung too heavily over my head, but each step away brought me a step closer to something I cannot see yet.
But what this most exemplifies, is that you have to accept failure and let down as a part of life. When you accept that sometimes things just may not work out, then a bigger door to living life opens up. The pain that we experience in life is inevitable, but the suffering is what we can choose to avoid.
Be willing to play the game of life, but also be willing to lose. Just don’t make it a habit.