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?

Yes. It does

Yes. It does.

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;

Drunk on Success

Drunk on Success

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.

I’ve never carved out a place for myself, because it was easier to fill in the available spaces.

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 …

Filed Under: The Beginning

    • Roberta

      Well Mr.Nelson you sell yourself short in such a big way. I can’t answer all your questions since I am still asking myself the same and doubt I ever will have all the perfect answers. I will say that the young man you mentored for the very confusing and often depressing pre-teen years is an example of what you leave as a mark in the world.

      I stood up in front of a crowd of 350 of my co-workers (aka perfect strangers)and told the story of a man who came into our family’s life some 4 years ago (5 years in March) and who gave my son confidence and support in becoming a good (BETTER) man. I brought people (men and women) to tears and coupled with the heartfelt congratulations from many makes me believe it is a good story. But it is not my story.. I am just the storyteller.. it is YOUR story..the one you created with a young man who sees only perfection when he talks of his big brother/friend, Chris Nelson.

      I think THIS is the best answer to whether or not you added anything to the world.. you did, just ask Gary.

      • Chris

        For those coming late to the conversation, Roberta is mother to Gary, a excellent dude that I was Big Brother to for several years. Roberta, I don’t know how much credit I can take for the amazing boy you’ve raised, since he had loads of character when I met him and he didn’t get it from me. You’re a great mom and you’ve raised an amazing person, one of my favorite people walking the earth, and my life is richer because I know you both. If I had some positive influence in his life, it’s a happy accident….hanging with Gary required no effort, because he’s so cool. It’s sweet that he may see as perfect, but I prefer he’d see me as the highly flawed person I am…I think the fallible Chris may prove to be a better role model than the perfect one. Who knows…keep reading and tell me what you think.

    • Curt

      Is this for real? Or is this a viral for MTV’s The Buried Life? I get why they’d want to trade on the current Tiger Woods hype, but I mean the protagonist name couldn’t be more generic ‘Chris Nelson’. What was John Johnson already taken? I guess we’ll know in a month if the blog is emphasizing Better Man flavored Axe body spray, pimping some Lady Gaga song or promoting a man’s man themed TV show.

      • Chris

        Curt…SO cold. I mean, if I had a distinctive name like “Curt”, I may not take it so personal. That said, have you tried the new flavored Axe Body spray? Amazing…I’d talk about it more but Lady Gaga just popped by to discuss our new idea for a show about guys waking from mid-life hangovers…kinda like Intervention but with more pathos.

        Dude…this shit is at once so pedestrian and universal…if I was a marketing gimmick I would’ve at least given myself testicular cancer or got abducted by aliens or something…maybe I could do a Notting Park and pretend to blog about the “celebrity” I once “dated”. Sadly, though, it’s all too real….I’m torn between between being glad it happened, because otherwise I wouldn’t be doing something that blows my skirt up, or wishing it never happened and that I was feeling numb at some job that paid the bills and gave me no joy.

    • ipodlesley

      I look forward to following your journey for purely selfish reasons. I’m–older than you, and the last year has completely turned my life around. Long story, short version, I was laid off from a job I loved in a RIF, and I’m unemployed for first time in my 30+working career. Yeah, it’s had its unexpected blessings, and the stress was killing me, not to mention that my coffee intake was giving me high anxiety. My boss’s negativity was starting to dissolve my self-confidence, so it’s just as well I’m out.
      So I can either see this as a f-ing opportunity for growth, and take a new path, go out on a limb and start my own business, or try and find another job like the one I had with equal $$ where I may become equally unhappy. Hey, I think you helped me after all…. Good luck, hon.

      • Chris

        Glad to be of assistance, my friend. It’s always nice to meet a fellow traveller…

    • Chris

      Considering how great The Art of Manliness is, a shout-out from them is a genuine honour. I’m swelling with pride. I may have to go on a pride diet.

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