C’mon, you’ve seen “Run Fatboy Run”! Self-improvement starts with trying to get the girl. And the girl in this instance…well, she’s the kind of girl that gets thanked in the liner notes of a Wilco album; the kind of girl that inspires friends to give her bone marrow, or threaten death if you hurt her in any way. She’s loved by animals and small children. She can tell a joke like Sarah Silverman, knows all the words to “Queen Bitch” (hell, all of “Hunky Dory”) and reads to blind seniors (but would never tell anybody about it). When she passes by, you can sort of hear the theme song to the “Mary Tyler Moore
Show.” She can turn the world on with a smile. She can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile. Seriously.
In so far as my puny, cynical heart will let me believe in love at first sight, I think I have fallen for Goddess (not her real name). I’m not exactly a jumping-on-Oprah’s-couch kind of guy, but in a fit of pique I might have confessed to a close friend that I had met the woman I will marry. Now, if only she felt that kind of drama for me… I can assure you I wouldn’t be here writing about my newly-minted crap life. We would be making the sweet love.
Sadly, you’re reading this because I believe she finds me to be an irritant, like a skin rash. I mean, I thought I was pretty funny to start — clever, self-effacing, even playful. Unfortunately, she will not let me get through even the first date so I can propose to her (any sooner would be just creepy….right?).
The result is that she’s sworn off my gender — ALL men — which, apparently, includes me. Three anonymous jerkwads with no appreciation for how good they could’ve had it have now spoiled it for ALL jerkwads, this one in particular. Despite my charming advances, she tells me that she’ll only see me in group outings — that’s right, CHAPERONES, those unwelcomed extras best left to Jane Austen’s gang and school dances.
I figure it must be a sign. I’m simply not ready for her jelly. I mean I’m at my lowest point here, and don’t have much to offer the average beauty, let alone an Angel walking the earth.
I know, I know, it sounds like the plot for a bad rom-com. At NO TIME in real life have I heard of any guy meeting a girl who was mildly ambivalent/actively hostile towards him, and then softening that girl’s heart such that she falls in love with him. In real life, if they start out ambivalent/hostile, they tend to stay that way and frankly, what guys once called a “challenge” is now referred to as “high maintenance” and best avoided. Getting through to Goddess will be hard, like a long distance call on two cans with string. But to paraphrase Michael Chabon, my gesture is doomed but I make it anyway, not on the chance it will be understood, but as if such a chance ever existed.
Besides, most of the stupid, ill-advised things I’ve done in my life I have
done to try and impress a girl. The first time, I was 12, and I did a Back Scratcher off a ski jump to get Tiffany Hagberg’s attention. It was the first time I’d ever done one, and I looked “radical!!” on take off. But a crucial part of any successful Back Scratcher is actually bringing your skis back down, a small fact that in my zeal to win Lady Tiffany’s heart I’d neglected to consider. I landed like a wet hand hitting a table top and slid down the rest of the hill on my face, a lesson in how quickly and violently joyful hubris can turn into wheezing digrace. It’s been downhill ever since, if you’ll pardon the expression.
(However, I can report that I did get Tiffany to notice me. Just not in the way that I’d hoped.)
Trying to be a better man, getting Goddess’ attention – do these have the same potential for humiliating, soul-crushing disaster? Absolutely. However, I’m older and presumably wiser now. I realize that such acrobatics take practice, and if I need to impress other Tiffanys with my “back-scratching” until I KNOW I can stick the landing for Goddess…well, I can do that too.
Betterment is a pursuit, after all….
Man, was 2009 the year to end the decade with or WHAT? This year held out more promise than a stranger with candy in his van.
It began with my big move from Vancouver to Toronto. My Girlfriend (of five years) was unhappy and wanted a change, so we uprooted our lives in Lotusland, and came to the Big TO for the kind of success we really deserved. This was going to be life at the infamous next level.
Of course, there was that little hiccup when Girlfriend revealed that it wasn’t actually Vancouver that was making her unhappy, but…me. “Really? Are you sure about that? Well, the movers are already here, so I guess you’re sure.” Exit Girlfriend, Enter Misery (an underappreciated Bruce Lee classic, btw).
But I told myself, “C’mon…break-ups happen everyday, right? As David Sedaris says, If I’m looking for sympathy, I can find it between shit and syphilis in the dictionary. I’ll just lose myself in my work.”
Oh…about that? Yeah, I don’t ACTUALLY have a job. I mean, I HAD some amazing jobs. If what they say is true and work is much a symbol of my manhood as my actual junk, then I was packing serious wood; I got PAID to live the backstage pass of celebrity life; I got PAID to be a dude on TV (minor list MuchMusic VJ), PAID to hang out with rock stars (and yes, it is as awesome as you’d think), PAID to direct professional hockey games (for reals), running with people of power and privilege. I was as hard as an oak tree.
I refused to be undone by this professional fallow period. “It’s a recession okay? Everybody’s hurting. I’ll just ride it out…on my motorbike!” Man, I LOVE that bike…I wipe it occasionally with a clean diaper, it’s just the bes…oh shit, I just remembered…I lost that too. I didn’t even see it coming – the absent-minded woman in a minivan who ran that stop sign, that is. And Minivan definitely did not see me. In fact, I’m pretty sure she was completely unaware she’d hit me until I skidded across the pavement in front of her, a tumbleweed of twisting metal and flailing appendages.
This story might’ve ended with me being hosed off concrete EXCEPT I danced away from the wreck with barely a scratch! It was a miracle, one that lost its patina when I got up to tell Minivan she needn’t carry my near-death on her conscience. Negligence-in-Crocs yelled at ME for going too fast. Huh?
But hey, I’m over it. We’re deep in the throes of the holidays now. It’s a time for goodwill towards men, turkey comas, boxes of chocolates (nothing says “I’m re-gifting” quite like chocolate) and for generally shitty things NOT to happen– oh wait! There was this one thing Christmas morning. I woke up to find new underwear in my stocking, a year’s subscription to Men’s Health, and ALL four tires on my car slashed. Instead of praying for peace on earth, I whispered a quiet benediction – that the naughty little elf who did it finds themselves beaten to death with a big lump of coal. You might say my bad luck has now become a lifestyle, and not just a phase.
So, now that I think about it, I AM feeling kind of terrible…actually my entire soul is undermined. I’m 39, single, largely un-employed in the middle of a recession, renting an apartment in a neighbourhood that smells like urine. I’m cold calling and ass-kissing my underachiever way through a city of people who love working so much they say, “Thank God it’s Monday.” And after spending a shit-load to move here, I’m poor and perilously close to insolvency. Oh, and my fucking tires are slashed. Hi Ziggy cartoon, want to be friends?
I’m in the midst of an inverted mid-life crisis: I didn’t need to run out and get a motorcycle or a hot girlfriend or a cool job….I HAD those already. My brand of crisis is not just that they’re gone…I’m not sure I want them back (except the motorbike, I want that). In my 20′s I was focussed and I worked hard to get it all, but I guess the things I wished to achieve didn’t seem all that grand once I’d achieved them, and in the absence of a narrative arc, I just got…careless. I’ve been in therapy for a few months (and by “therapy” I mean “booze, beauties and bitching”) and I realize now that I skated through my 30’s on just enough looks, smarts and charm to get by. Success is like tequila;
have enough, and you start to think you’re bulletproof. But all my meagre “success” did was paper over the cracks in my life, the ones I’d need to fix in order to blossom into an actual grown-up. I was like Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense, walking around not knowing I was screwed.
Thing is, one or two setbacks can be character building in youth but they become character defining when pushing 40 and you’re just not cute, charming or cunning enough to get away with it anymore.
So new plan – starting today, on my 39th birthday, I’m pulling up on the rudder and getting my life out its nosedive. I am going to spend the next year of my life doing everything I can — mentally, intellectually, physically, spiritually, sexually – to be a better man. And I’m putting it all here because going public may be the only way to keep myself honest and not wimp out. But there is another reason…I need help. I’m sure there are guys out there who also want to get better (and let’s not forget the women who love them so much they want to change everything about them). I think we can help each other, actually; if you bring the ideas, I’m willing to be a self-improvement lab rat, passing on what works and what doesn’t.
So why now? (you cynically ask) Because…well, uh….I just met this girl. I know, I KNOW, it’s a cliché, but the girl? She’s kind the kind of woman that makes a man WANT to be better – to shed his excess baggage, get a haircut, buy underwear that makes his unit look bigger and morph into a cross between James Bond and Ekhart Tole (truthfully, I don’t know who he is but I hear Oprah likes him). And all I have to offer is existential angst. It’s a problem.
But there is a “me” part to getting better; losing the plot, nearly losing my life – it’s changed things. As one fucked up dude trying to hold shit together and still get all the action he could once wrote, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”
But I don’t want what I had. There’s no pride in knowing I did it half-assed. Now I’m left asking myself questions like,
“Did you really ever give life your best?”
“Did you add anything to world?”
“Did you leave it all on the field…even once?”
I’ve never carved out a place for myself, because it was easier to fill in the available spaces.
Now, I want more. A better man would. Starting tomorrow …