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Monday, August 3, 2015

Getting Your Shizz Together

"I’d been listening to men talk since I arrived in New York City. That’s what men like to do. Talk. Profess like experts. When one finally came along who didn’t say much, I listened."
That's the kind of quote that just stabs me to the core. Y'see, that's the kind of person I want to be but something in me just will not let that happen. I love to talk. Just can't stop. I'll talk about anything, regardless of how much I know about the subject, and I'll talk about it with a lot of authority. It gets me in trouble and I insist on not learning a dang thing.

The person I would like to be doesn't talk unless he has something to say, and that something is real good. Or at least real funny. The person I listen to chattering nonstop even though there's a voice inside saying "yo, you're good, give someone else a chance" frankly annoys me. I'd like to be more comfortable with silence, is all I'm saying. Is there something wrong with me that I need to tell you my opinion about every single book I read and then advertise it on every form of social media I use? Probably. I'm working on it.

Anyway, that quote is from The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner, and hoo-doggies, what a ride. Reno, our main character, has just moved to New York City to pursue a combination of art and motorcycle riding. There she falls in with a growing art scene and radical 70's liberalism: a time when I hear folks say liberalism actually meant something not like today when everyone is too scared to firebomb a Starbucks but I say those who are nostalgic for the 70's must not have much taste when it comes to cars.

So yeah, when Reno talks about Sandro, a mysterious artist who she finds herself strongly drawn to, I get that little prickle, you know? Reno is awesome. She's a ski racer, world-record motorcycle racer, and an artist, and a keen dissector of human beings: “A funny thing about women and machines: the combination made men curious. They seemed to think it had something to do with them.”

There's a part of you when you're reading a book like this that says Reno is too good for this guy. But maybe she's too good for this guy, too, you know? Sometimes I get a little crush on a fictional protagonist, I'm not ashamed. Tell me it didn't happen to you when you read The Secret of N.I.M.H. and I'll call you well-adjusted and not a weirdo.

Also, if you're like me you're reading this and annoyed that the rad fictional girl doesn't like a fictional guy like you and then oh no, you realize you're a Nice Guy. Then you realize that even when you're reading fiction, you want to police what women do, not because you're trying to be empathetic and live their life for a moment to know what it's like, but because you know better.

Guys, quick aside. What's wrong with us?

I can't even begin to cover this subject, though I invite you to travel down that rabbit hole that is that above google search. If you're a man and it doesn't make you feel guilty about some point in your adolescence, you are a better man than I am or (and this seems likely given my history with you) you're a big ol' liar.

Have you ever had a crush on a girl who liked you "as a friend" and you blamed her for it? Have you ever followed around a girl with a boyfriend who is "a jerk" (which is to say not you) and sort of undermined him hoping that you'd be the next one in line?
Does it make any sense that she wouldn't be into this?
The idea that her friendship isn't enough for you, and in fact your side of the friendship is just a ruse? You love this girl so much, and respect her so much, and yet you think she's an idiot for the company she chooses to keep so much that you have to trick her into falling into your arms.
Here's a fun question: do you even know her? Or is she a stand-in for some ideal woman you've created?
Nice, dude. Real nice.

Listen, it's me too. I was that guy. I am a recovering Nice Guy. I still feel it sometimes, though not in the same way. Like, I'm ecstatically married, and being married has helped me understand what a terrible position men are putting women into on the daily. Nowadays it's more like a fatherly (synonym: patriarchal) disapproval of women's choices in partners. "What's she doing with that dirtbag," I say to myself, "she deserves better."

But let's give the Nice Guy the benefit of the doubt. This is not an unlikely scenario: The girl you like really is dating a jerk. She comes to you crying because he did it again. He cheated on her, or berated her, or blew her off again to hang out with his buddies.
Why isn't she dating you, though?
You're a Nice Guy. You would take care of her.
You're always the one to pick up the pieces when she's down.
Wouldn't it just be better if she was with you?
You'd never let her down.
Even worse, when she breaks up with that guy she starts dating some other guy!
Why not you?

Well. Let's break that down. Why not you?

Put yourself in her shoes for a minute. Is she interested in a man who is too scared to tell her how he really feels? Even if she suspects or knows you like her, you've shown her that you are incapable of communicating it. The only thing you've successfully communicated is that you're a wimp.

What if she's just not attracted to you? How is she even supposed to let you down easily if you have given her no opportunity?

OR, what if the only thing you have to offer is that you're Nice?

Guess what? Big whoop. Are you interesting? Is there something you bring to a relationship? Is your life together? Do you know what you want out of life and have a pathway to get there? Women love pathways.

If she could see in your mind, what would she see? If it's some combination of worship and disdain, it's probably not a very nice place. Oh, he thinks I'm physically attractive but also that I'm stupid for not seeing him as awesome and a b-word for not giving him what he wants. Cool. What a nice guy. I def see a future here.

Haha, you know how sometimes I'll say "an aside" and then it's like the whole blog post? I do.

Here's the rundown: The Flamethrowers is a book about being young and into a movement, maybe it's art or racing or radicalism or a combination of all of them.

"Ski racing was drawing in time, I said to Sandro. I finally had someone listening who wanted to understand: the two things I loved were drawing and speed, and in skiing I had combined them. It was drawing in order to win." 

Finally, it's about figuring out your shizz and letting other people do the same.

"But at the same time, Sandro understood that people only tended to allow their own contradictions, and not those of others. It was okay to be murky to yourself, to know you weren’t an angel, but other people had to be more cleanly divided into good and bad."

I thought it was pretty good.