Mother Nature’s Sons

I loved this Robert Moor essay on environmentalism and masculinity.

Even as progressive men renounce the traditional notion of subordinated femininity, many still harbor conflicted notions about manhood. They want to feel individually reckless, but not socially irresponsible. They want to minimize carbon emissions, but not to scold, scrimp, or carry tote bags. They want to be pure of deed but wild at heart. So they dig ever deeper into the past, searching for a way of life that existed before “real” men and their ecological consciences parted ways.

His book On Trails was one of my faves of 2017.

Codes, chaos, and the world of Heat / The Dissolve

Neil and Vincent are orderly men, and Mann harmonizes their activities beautifully, but being human isn’t an orderly business. Opening up to other people means opening up to chaos and disorder.

And from the later forum discussion of Heat:

It struck me that, for all the ways Heat questions the macho code of non-attachment that McCauley and Hanna live by, it has a very old-fashioned view of the uses of violence. Both McCauley and Hanna deploy it very precisely. What’s wrong with Waingro is that he can’t control himself.

Codes, chaos, and the world of Heat / The Dissolve

The Cold Stoicism of Advice Columns for Men

Advice columns for men, however, seem not to have made the leap from proscriptive notions of rectitude to the smart-older-sister vibe of advice for women. In GQ and Esquire and even Maxim, which are full of Q&A-format advice for readers, situations are often posed in a joking tone and answered as if the writer were the dude from the Dos Equis commercials and the ultimate ethical standard is masculinity rather than humanity. “How to be a man” literature is the new conduct literature: it’s not that men haven’t cared about ideals of masculinity before now, but the idea verges on obsession these days, cf. everything from Shia LaBoeuf’s resignation note to the fact that someone greenlit How to Be a Gentleman. It’s a whole genre and evidently a popular one—but, while advice columns are the delicious and healthy snack of things to devour on the Internet, it matters for men and women alike that advice columns for men evolve, not by abandoning their gentlemanly tone but by choosing the right questions to answer.

That’s one reason why I read waaaaay more of Carolyn Hax than anything in men’s magazines.

The Cold Stoicism of Advice Columns for Men

Manhood for Amateurs (review: 4/5)

Manhood for Amateurs
I became impatient with the few Michael Chabon books I’ve tried, never finished one. And historically I have had little patience with memoir. So what do I do? I go pick up Michael Chabon’s new memoir, Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son. Good decision, it turns out.

On the title page there’s a spinner-type illustration like you’d see on a game board, with possible landing spots marked Hypocrisy, Sexuality, Innocence, Regret, Sincerity, Nostalgia, Experience, and Play. If I could oversimplify, it’s about the awesomeness and awkwardness of being a guy. Not “awesome” as in “cool” but “awesome” in the sense of actual awe, realizing as you grow older that you are part of a tradition that our entire half of the population all experiences. Luckily he’s not too cliché with the whole thing, in one section even going so far as to meditate on the clichédness of feeling like a cliché and turn it into something worthwhile.

Cup size, wires, padding, straps, clasps, the little flowers between the cups: You need a degree, a spec sheet. You need breasts. I don’t know what you need to truly understand brassieres, and what’s more, I don’t want to know. I’m sorry. Go ask your mother.

There you have it: the most flagrant cliché imaginable. As I utter it, I might as well reach for a trout lure, a socket wrench, the switch on my model train transformer. This may be the fundamental truth of parenthood: No matter how enlightened or well prepared you are by theory, principle, and the imperative not to repeat the mistakes of your own parents, you are no better a father or mother than the set of your own limitations permits you to be.

The essays cover things like being a brother, cooking, the man-purse, faking it when you’re in over your head, best friends, Jose Canseco, first love, failed love, fatherhood and more. Here’s a bit on marriage, from the excellent story The Hand on My Shoulder (which link takes you to Chabon reading it on NPR):

The meaning of divorce will elude us as long as we are blind to the meaning of marriage, as I think at the start we must all be. Marriage seems—at least it seemed to an absurdly young man in the summer of 1987, standing on the sun-drenched patio of an elegant house on Lake Washington—to be an activity, like chess or tennis or a rumba contest, that we embark upon in tandem while everyone who loves us stands around and hopes for the best. We have no inkling of the fervor of their hope, nor of the ways in which our marriage, that collective endeavor, will be constructed from and burdened with their love.

Yesterday I tumbled a great quote from his essay on the The Wilderness of Childhood. Here’s another:

We have this idea of armchair traveling, of the reader who seeks in the pages of a ripping yarn or a memoir of polar exploration the kind of heroism and danger, in unknown, half-legendary lands, that he or she could never hope to find in life.

This is a mistaken notion, in my view. People read stories of adventure—and write them—because they have themselves been adventurers. Childhood is, or has been, or ought to be, the great original adventure, a tale of privation, courage, constant vigilance, danger, and sometimes calamity.

In “Cosmodemonic” he talks about being a “little shit” and basically, growing up:

We are accustomed to repeating the cliché, and to believing, that “our most precious resource is our children.” But we have plenty of children to go around, God knows, and as with Doritos, we can always make more. The true scarcity we face is of practicing adults, of people who know how marginal, how fragile, how finite their lives and their stories and their ambitions really are but who find value in this knowledge, even a sense of strange comfort, because they know their condition is universal, is shared.

Tyler Cowen said “This supposed paean to family life collapses quickly into narcissism, but that’s in fact what makes it work.” Much better than I’d expected.

I’ve been enjoying Daniel Pink’s travel tips series, but one bit from tip number 7 about how to zip through airport security really spoke to me. I’m both ashamed and proud to see myself here:

Men are crazy. We are hyper-competitive. So, every opportunity we have to best someone else, we will take it. What this means is when men get in a security line, they do not want to move more slowly than the guy behind them because that would compromise their masculinity.

And that is why you should get in the line with the male business travelers. Our tacit competition will keep things moving quickly.