Being a man involves a range of experiences, actions and thoughts, says Alex Finis. And quite frankly, he’s tired of being told what those things are supposed to be.
I’m sick of people telling me what a man is. Every three articles I read online (and I read a lot), there seems to be one editorial about what the men of my generations, that’s X and Y, lack in comparison to the ideals of previous eras. A brilliantly-worded exposé on how men who are currently alive are somehow of a lesser caliber than men who are not.
These articles tend to include a lot of black and white gifs of old actors in evening wear looking handsome and debonair near something vaguely related to the authors’ point.
The other two articles, by the way, tend to be both a passionate piece about how the economy is feebler than ever, and a study about some subculture that claims to prove our western world is more unique and divided than at any point in history. Forgive me if I don’t put much stock in what you think a man needs/is/was/should be.
I am a man.
I sleep in a king-sized bed my previous roommates (an Iraq conflict veteran and an engineer for the Bay Bridge project) hauled in off the street, and most often the only person I share it with is a well-traveled plushy of Disney’s Oliver that’s older than most tumblr users. Every day at four in the afternoon I sit in silence for an hour with a cup of green tea and do calligraphy. I get hit on mostly by extremely lewd men and very drunk older women. I advocate love, understanding, and tea as much as possible, but I can’t keep to these tenants all of the time—I’m only 24, and I have to live in the same world as the rest of you, even though my circumstances may be different.
I sneeze like my fantastically wealthy Anglo/Swedish grandfather used to, and I sweat like the other one did, a poor southern-Italian peasant who cleaned floors in a New Jersey elementary school. I’ve been mostly unemployed for three years, since I graduated from the premier art school in America. During that time I’ve slept on streets, couches, hostel beds, one hammock, and the charity of friends. I’ve also managed operas, illustrated a children’s book (rather poorly, frankly), swept floors, and hosted a panel at a massive YouTube convention.
I have a rich, dead grandfather, so I never had to pay student loans. I do have to pay rent, though: $600 dollars a month. I live in San Francisco, so I pay that much for literally a pantry off the kitchen of a small house full of good people. I put 10% of every paycheck I get into savings and earn enough to be able to pay half my rent every month—the rest I take out in loans of love from my parents. I am aware that my life is relatively untroubled.
I am a man.
My roommate is a 26-year-old Korean-American from Boston. He does not speak any Korean. He graduated from an Ivy-League college, and then graduate school for video game design. The only person who trusts his degrees is our landlord. Last week he was laid off from his game design job for the third time in two years. Two days afterwards he remade his resume and made phone calls to a slew of game companies in the area.
He considers himself polyamorous, though I maintain he’s as classically monogamous as possible. He has a relatively low, though steadily climbing, level of social awareness. He is also one of the most excitably brilliant and resilient people I have met.
He is a man.
I briefly studied stage design under a man who eventually married his childhood sweetheart, and who was openly bisexual in the 70’s. He was one of the four set artists who built and painted the first rides at Disney World Orlando, though he only got that job because he lived with his parents and repaired vinyl chairs in baseball stadiums, unable to find a better job.
He recently had some of the last mementos of his time as war photographer in Vietnam surgically removed from his body. While in service he slept with men and women all over the Polynesian Islands, and none of them have found him on Facebook. He has taught theater in high schools and designed sets for professional and community theaters for forty years. Now he paints murals and sells name placards in a quiet town outside of Chicago.
He is a man.
I’ve driven across the United States four times now, all of them with a 27-year-old Spaniard from León, who basically ran my school’s professional outreach program while he attended. After graduation, unable to find steady work in either auto repair or animation, he started a web series, and, when that venture fell through, became in danger of deportation. Instead of sucking it up and moving back to Spain (where the employment rate is even more brutal than our own) he decided to drive from Kansas to Argentina, working in hostels, schools, and auto shops all the way down.
The trip lasted until an 18-wheeler hit him somewhere up in the Andes. Alive, but unable to come back to the states, he returned to Spain where he now lives in an attic apartment and has managed to start a car export company. He just returned from a business trip to London where he and 2,000 other young people struggled for opportunities to teach English in Japan. He did not get the position. He still has no reliable job and will likely never marry a nice Spanish girl, despite the concern of many of his neighbors.
He is a man.
I used to work under a man who I never got to admit his age, but identified only as a somewhere-near-40-year-old homosexual man who was occasionally more of a caricature of his own sexual orientation than his own caricature of his sexual orientation. He made me practice opening and closing our rehearsal space repeatedly before gracing me with the keys. He recovered from a decade of substance abuse and now manages to keep a rapidly-sinking opera company and its 92-year-old owner in working order long enough to put on nearly a dozen amazing shows every year. He is an incredible Artistic Director.
He is a man.
Every Monday I play video games at a local bar with a lily-white Dutch 32-year-old who owns three Pomeranians and just quit his job to join a start-up, a 26-year-old African-American student who just bought his first car and works tirelessly for low-income children in the Tenderloin, and a massive, be-dreadlocked, 34-year-old, anime-loving black guy who works a desk job at a local college and has displayed himself to be the most tenderhearted father-by-surprise I’ve ever seen.
They are all men.
I know a ninja, a baker, eight video editors, six aspiring novelists, seven sculptors, innumerable web designers and techie programmers, twelve full-time bloggers, several YouTube content producers, a struggling filmmaker, a professional video game critic, a jazz reviewer in New York, a policeman, the owner of a sexual health web service, a veteran studying to be a detective, two employees of UPS, a young-adults author, well over twenty architects, several people who I respect dearly who are either teaching already or studying to, a couple of nurses, jewelers, the manager of a circus school, four industrial designers, a producer of horrible plays, troupe after troupe of down-on-their-luck improv actors, dozens of illustrators and graphic designers, a few clowns, too many students, a guy who plays saxophone and hand-crafts nipple tassels, loads of the unemployed, and one very sweet homeless man named Roosevelt. In short, ladies and gentlemen of every pride and profession that defy labeling all-together.
They’re all men, too.
None of them fit into eleven simple guidelines to differentiate them from children, nor do they resemble Humphrey Bogart, Marlin Brando or Sean Connery in any way, though one of them does look quite a bit like Daniel Craig.
I’m sick of people trying to tell me what a man is, because I’ve met men. I’ve learned from them, I’ve worked with them, I play with them. They have made me angry, they have made me homeless, they have made me dinner. They have made me understand.
I know what a man is. A man is a person. A man is a human being. The word itself helps bind us all together as human, and not a single person who is reading this isn’t human.
Even me, writing it, I’m a human, too.
We all have mostly the same junk inside of us. You know, the gooey stuff that makes us all work. Joseph Campbell said these organs were the base for all of our stories. The same cardiovascular, digestive, and respiratory processes are what keep us all going, and there’s no way that that means less than a reproductive organ or the amount of melanin in our skin.
Whether or not someone would prefer a family or a drink right now shouldn’t even matter.
The thing that all of the men that I’ve written about share, the thing they all know, is that life has been, and will be different for everyone everywhere. Always. Being strong and being kind and being respectable and being good and being bad and, yes, being an adult, all mean something slightly different for each of the 7,125,000,000 people on this planet. The most important thing you can do for your fellow man is to treat him or her like one. A fellow. We may be the most unique we’ve ever been, we may be different, but no way in this world or any other are we separate.
After all, don’t we have other things to worry about? The economy’s pretty bad, if you haven’t noticed. I can point you to some articles.
Photo: Steve Snodgrass/flickr