Am I a man?

This week’s activity surrounding Women’s Marches around the country got me thinking about my role in today’s world, but more specifically, what it means to be a man. Since I’m not necessarily comfortable with defining myself using the definitions of others, I guess what I’m really looking for is “what do I think it means to be a man?”. And to be quite honest, I’m not sure I have an answer that will be satisfying to many or even myself at times, but it’s one that I think is actually closer to a truth and onr that would be more beneficial to our world.

I think as a young boy, being a man was centered around physical achievements. If asked what being a man meant, I would have likely given a stereotypical answer about being big and strong. Possibly even referencing ripping a phone book in half. The latter argument breaks down quickly since really anyone can rip a phone book in half with the right technique. As for the former, I can remember thinking “I wish I could be as tall as my mom!”, as if that were the pinnacle of growth achievement. I’m not sure why I didn’t hold myself to a “higher” standard, such as my dad’s height. Possibly because I felt it was out of reach. Either way, I quickly outgrew my mom (and eventually well past my dad), so I must have been a man at 12 right? Not quite.

As I grew into my teens, I think my new definition of being a man was driven by societal norms I was experiencing at the time. It was in my teens I discovered how entertainment media influenced my thinking and feelings. This is the time I discovered shows like “All in the Family” and “The Waltons”. Shows that had some genuinely great and valuable commentary on family, life, and love, but also introduced me to family dynamics that advocated for a patriarchal dominant family structure, where being a man meant being the bread winner, making large decisions for the family, and being strong-minded and logical. I also spent much of my formative years in the deep south, which certainly carries with it a stigma about male dominated family units. But I remember being uncomfortable with this structure or this line of thinking, but not fully understanding why. Out of guilt, I would sometimes go and sit in the kitchen while my mom cooked dinner, just so she would have company, while the rest of the family was off tending to their own business. It didn’t seen right to me that she spent most nights alone in the kitchen, although no doubt she savored this time at times. So although what I was seeing in the world around me suggested to me that “this is what it means to be a man”, I still didn’t quite agree with it and wasn’t sure I could live up to it.

Once I reached my dating years, being a man was defined by romantically taking care of someone else. It meant doting over someone through words, gifts, and my time. It meant embracing cheesy holidays as truth. It meant flowers were the currency of love, which surely had to be the measure of being a man. But before I got into a relationship, it meant being “man enough” to approach someone I was interested in and talking to them. Being a man was making “the move” for a first kiss or more with someone. But as I’ve grown and graduated through different levels of relationships and have reflected upon my actions in past relationships, I’ve become uncomfortable with this definition of manhood. First of all, the recipe for love isn’t the same for everyone and I certainly don’t follow the same recipe today that I did over 15 years ago. In fact, I’ve thrown the recipe book out the window. I also am not comfortable with hitting on women at bars. I have enough confidence to do so, but I’ve realized it’s not about me and my confidence. For me, it’s about not reducing a woman’s worth to her physical attributes and risk damaging her own confidence. That’s not to say I don’t admire women’s physical appearance, but I’ve taken it as my responsibility to find other ways to show my appreciation that don’t take this risk. And quite frankly, if a woman wants to be the one to make “the move”, then by all means, they should feel empowered enough to do so. It isn’t strictly a man’s domain. That all being said, this isn’t to say I’ve figure it all out; quite the opposite actually. It could easily explain why I’m still searching for a partner in life, but it’s a route that I can feel comfortable hanging my hat on.

So where does this leave me? It’s not about physical attributes. There are all sorts of men out there, tall and short, ripped and floppy. And that’s ok, that doesn’t detract or add to someone’s manhood. It’s not about societal norms. I don’t subscribe to a patriarchal view of family or world. Much of how I’ve constructed myself and how I conduct my business is in direct opposition to that. And it’s not about having someone to take care of romantically. I’ve had that and I’ve lost that and I don’t feel that it takes away from who I am. It’s actually through that loss that I’ve found a path that I can be proud of and will hopefully lead me to a more fulfilling life someday, with a partner that brings me closer to being the person I aspire to be.

I think the definition of being a man is bigger. So big in fact that I think you almost have to throw out the idea of a definition completely. I don’t think I need the term in this context at all. I don’t need to behave in way that describes me as a man. I just want to be a good, kind, gracious, giving, and thoughtful person. But how does this separate us men from women? Again, I’m not sure we explicitly have to. Maybe some feel we do and that’s fine…for them. But for me, it just doesn’t really matter. Because what it gets down to is this. By just judging myself and my character against other men, I feel that I am implying that men are the pinnacle of what people should hope to achieve and the rest of the 50% of people in this world are somehow below that. I am implying that woman don’t have to worry about being good, kind, gracious, giving, and thoughtful. And I just can’t get on board with that. There are so many women throughout history and currently alive today that if I could conduct my life as well as they have, I would be a much better person. So in the end, I am just looking to be the best ‘person’ that I can be.

“Hey Sweetie!”

Here we are, mid-winter, months of cold ahead of us, yet a funny and predictable thing happened this week. Daylight is slowly creeping back each day and it’s towing behind it the chorus of spring. Bird song has returned, indicating that spring is honestly just around the corner. And no song is currently featured more prominently than that of the chickadee. So today’s post is dedicated to the spritely little chickadee.

Might as well learn a little about chickadees.

The best song out there referencing chickadees.

The fields are bleak …The very earth is like a house shut up for the winter, and I go knocking about it in vain. But just then I heard a chickadee on a hemlock, and was inexpressibly cheered …All that is evergreen in me revived at once.

– Thoreau, The Journal, November 7, 1858




Your misery, my happiness.

So two posts in and I’m already feeling a malaise over what to write for this next post. I think this is the point where people suggest to just put words on the screen, no matter what the content. After all, I can’t expect to regularly know what to write if I do not write regularly. I think part of this uncertainty is also not knowing or having a good voice or structure to my writing. Who knows? What I do know is I am going to put words on page.

I’ve given some thought about this post and had several ideas come to mind, but nothing that is moving me currently. So I’ll just touch on the first idea that came to mind a couple of weeks back.

This topic came to me while watching college football bowl games around New Years. I noticed that fans took an unusual amount of joy in the failure of the other team, but more importantly, the opposing fan’s misery. I sat there thinking, “Why isn’t it enough to be happy for your team?”. Why do people seem happiest when bathing in other’s misery?

Schadenfreude is not a new concept. The word is German in origin, but the concept is accepted quite possibly worldwide and may be as old as our species. Despite its prevalence throughout history, it seems that its usage as an instrument of happiness is growing. And well, maybe it’s not a huge problem in the context of football and sports in general, but maybe sports are training us to behave this way in other venues in life.

Think about how many of us emotionally react to the election process. Right away, we start off with a dichotomy. Conservatives vs. Liberals. We already have to adversaries pitted against each other. But if stripped down to the bare bones, what we really end up with in the eyes of many is red team vs. blue team. They even come complete with mascots (elephant vs. donkey).

After the election, many avoided contact with social media. However, if you were brave enough to wade into those waters, what you found was no surprise. As with any other election, there was a sea of celebration for one team. However, this particular celebration felt different to me. This celebration was largely composed of one team finding complete joy in the misery of the other team. There was little in the way of celebrating policy victories. It was a house party built on the foundation of the misery of other people.

It really did feel like one team had made all the right plays to win the game, yet a botched punt at the end of the game was turned into a last minute touchdown and win for the other team. And the team that won the game, their fans seemed to have very little interest in winning the championship. Instead their happiness felt solely derived from the gut punch the other fans just received.

So I guess the point of this post is to remind myself to evaluate why I’m happy when things happen in my life that make me happy. Is it because I am celebrating good fortune come my way? Or am I treating life like a football game and deriving my joy from seeing thousands of fans in full ‘surrender cobra’? I think one of these approaches is quite vapid, while the other may lead to greater fulfillment of happiness in my own life.

Michigan is Home

I prefer the light green leaves and migratory songs of spring. I love the rebirth of the entire state. Those who stay and incur the mental abuse of the permacloud no doubt need spring. Those who secretly enjoy this time…these are my people.

But I also long for green fuzz day. That day where you walk out of your house and much unlike the day before, all of the canopy has softened with the seemingly instant mane of spring. This is the final lifting of winter. I enjoy the slight chill to the air in the mornings and the slow to come warmth of afternoons. But mostly I love the daily chorus of winged songsters, noisily moving through canopy and cover, from winter feeding grounds to summer breeding territories further the north. Some will stay, but most move on. Stopping only briefly to recharge their song-filled souls with the bounty of spring. My soul is recharged as well, but not in two years. Not in this way.

When I migrate back, I do so under the permacloud. It’s a frozen, harsh landscape, one often reflected in the faces of its residents. But I don’t mind. I like the challenge of finding a softer, more welcoming side. It’s there if you look; if you want to find it. Long gone is the spring fuzz. It’s much closer to that coming day again, than to when it happened last. A mental teaser to battle the permacloud perhaps. The only remnants of that day that remain are a few oak leaves still clinging tightly to the canopy. No songsters are heard. Only a few hardy individuals that brave the frigid air and water of this landscape remain. I like them too. I can empathize with them on some level. We both search for what sustains us in an almost unsustainable place and time. If this is the only taste of home I get each year, I’m fine. I want more, almost need more, but I’m fine because honestly I can find the fuzz and song elsewhere, but what I can’t find elsewhere is the comfort and underlying calm of home. That will always remain. And like those migratory songsters, I’ll always faithfully return to extract as much from the landscape as possible, if only for a brief period.

Cliches can hopefully be good

The thought of New Year’s resolutions are cringeworthy to me. I have opposed them for as long as I can remember and will likely continue to oppose them as aging cements my individual behaviors and mindset. And right there is why I’m embracing New Year’s resolutions this year. The sedimentation of my behaviors, mindset, and really, my life.

2016 was a deceptively stagnant year for me. In many ways, I made good strides in my professional career that some say I should be pleased with, but to be frank, I’m not. For every accomplishment, I had many moments of various levels of fret. Disappointment is too extreme to describe these feelings, but I’m afraid of fret snowballing into that territory.

The gateway to my personal disappointment is complacency. I feel I’ve grown complacent in so many areas of my life and ways of thinking. Areas that I’ve been aware of for a while. Areas that are finding company with other, more unfamiliar areas. I’m not ready to talk about these yet and I certainly don’t want to do a disservice to my own growth by summarizing a source of angst into a list. These areas need to be individually fleshed out and explored before I can attempt to fully disarm them. What I am ready to talk about is my plan to reverse inertia via New Year’s resolutions.

The resolutions below are my attempt to start making manageable, yet meaningful changes in my life. They are the first thoughts that came to my mind as the minutes marched toward the new year on December 31. Number 4 is my permission to myself to embrace these resolutions, among other things. Number 3 is why you’re reading this (Hello? Anyone here?). Without further ado, the list:

  1. To read more.
    • Read less non-fiction and dive into some fiction. Create a more imaginative me. A different way of looking at the world and interacting with new people. Also, read more news. Start the day by reading at least two news articles. Any articles. Just read them.
  1. To learn more about the world.
    • Follow one world news item for the entire year. Immerse myself in it. Know the characters and plot lines inside and out. Even learn about the people covering this news item.
  1. To write more.
    • I am scared of writing. Now that that is out there, get over it. Don’t let the scars of graduate school ruin my personal and professional growth. Start a blog. A blog about something, about nothing. Just write.
  1. To become an anti-contrarian on two topics.
    • For two things, get over your contrarian ways. Brunch, coffee, popular media, 14ers, Colorado, etc… But don’t just attempt them. Embrace them. Let them become a thing in my life. It’s time to embrace the world that other people experience and not just the once I create for myself. It’s ok to let other people introduce me to the joy in their lives.
  1. To reacquaint myself with the guitar.
    • Learn three songs. Really learn them. Impress people with how well you can play them. It’s ok if it takes time. It’s ok if you’re afraid to become intimate with the guitar again. Remember, you left it, it didn’t leave you. You know how, just pick it up and start again.
  1. To volunteer.
    • Give your time to two volunteer opportunities. Really invest in them. It’s not enough to just be there. Much like a relationship, you get in what you get out. Maybe I should figure out what I want to get out of them first. Once I figure it out, give back.
  1. To record more.
    • Create one natural or non-natural recording per month for the year. Don’t cop out either. Create something great. You love to listen to the world. Others necessarily don’t. Let them hear what you hear. Convince them to listen. Become great at what you do. Learn to be a kickass audio recordist.
  1. To be a more honest me.
    • Be you when you date. Let them see you earlier. Don’t do what is expected. Do you. It’ll get you closer to what you’re looking for faster. How to do that? Not sure explicitly, but implicitly, you know exactly what this means. It’s time to take this search seriously.

So there it is. This is the map. This moment me is the starting point. The destination may be unattainable, but as the old cliche says, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey“. Gross.