Am I Any Less of a Man?

I’m not really the most open speaker when it comes to sex. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable talking about it; I just don’t volunteer a lot of information. I’ve always been like this; in addition to simply not discussing my sexual experiences, I also have never been especially apt to make sexual jokes or comments that involve misogynistic slurs.

This lack of willingness to denigrate women or speak openly about my sexual partners has actually confused people in my past as to whether or not I’m even interested in sex. “Are you asexual?” I’ve been asked. It would be fine if I was, but I’m not.

The fact is, I’m pretty straightforward in bed. I like closeness, sweetness, passion, and mutual pleasure. That’s about it. I’m not really “into” a lot of things that people expect men to be into. I mean, you know, I have one or two favorites, but long story short, I’m pretty simple.

It occurred to me recently that I may not have truly developed a sexual identity. What is a man’s sexual identity supposed to resemble? Dominance, growling passion, un-concealable need, irresistible desire to have. To many men, cis- or otherwise, sex seems to be an outlet for expressing emotions that arise in one’s day to day life that one is not free to express: anger, aggression, fiery passion, and the like.

And of course, to “feel like a man,” because I guess a lot of men don’t get to feel “like men” in their day-to-day lives. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

And many women actually seem to want to be the targets of this unexpressed anger, aggression, and other directionless emotional substance (which perhaps is partly the result of feeling like less than a man all day, or less than human), and to be allowed to feel “like a woman.”

Perhaps this is the aspect of my sexual identity that is underdeveloped. I don’t “take out” my aggression on anyone, much less someone I’m very fond of, someone who accepts me for who I am. Sex, for me, is a connection, a closeness, a sustained feeling of needing and being needed in that moment. Sometimes I like to keep it laid-back, and other times I go “tiger-mode.” So I guess it makes me feel “like a man” too. That’s pretty much the role it serves.

“Like a man.” What does this mean? The fulfillment of a physical need? A phallus fucking a yoni? I’m willing to accept that sexual output and expression is indeed a need, although not on the same level as food, shelter, and clothing. So it is really that I enjoy feeling “like a human” once in a while, as opposed to “like a man.”

The funny thing is, there is a lot about being human that I don’t like. I don’t like getting older. I don’t like losing friends and familymembers. I don’t like depression and sadness. I don’t like failure and loss and regret. I don’t like affliction and disease. I don’t like war and injustice and misery. I don’t like alienation, loneliness; I don’t like when there is someone all alone with no one to help him or her. Or when a baby is crying because she is scared. There are some things about humanness I don’t like.

So maybe feeling “like a human” is not something I really enjoy. Food, clothing, shelter, sex…these aren’t really things that produce most of the enjoyment in my life.

With regard to food, I maintain a vegan diet for mainly ethical reasons. My fulfillment from food comes in part from that ethical framework (although a lot of vegan food tastes good, too: cake, stir fry, pizza, lasagna, donuts, big-ass fruit smoothies…..)

As for clothing, I like to look neat, but I don’t need any more clothes for at least ten years.

Shelter? All I need is a bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen, and one more room for books, a desk, and a drumset. Or I could do well in a tent.

So sex? Like I said, I like to think I’m fairly simple. Yet as a feminist, I get a certain edification from it as well, not wholly dissimilar from the feeling I derive from eating within an ethical framework. I know the bedroom can be the worst place to advance a political agenda, but I have discovered that without one, I can sometimes have trouble finding myself within it.

In my last two meaningful relationships, sex served the purpose of being either a) the act of the female fulfilling a seemingly exclusively male need, or b) extremely meaningful and emotionally loaded. Neither sexual context felt right.

By fulfilling the first woman’s expectations of her own total sexual self-sacrifice, I enabled the prolonged hurt and alienation of her damaged sexual identity, which was the result of having been a survivor of past sexual abuse (from a cop. Thanks asshole). This was before I was in any way educated as a feminist.

In the case of the second woman (which was after said education), I seemed to not attach the same level of meaning to sex that she did, which hurt her feelings of womanhood and of being wanted.

Truth be told, I was more attracted to the first woman than to the second woman. One conclusion I could draw from this, then, is that I simply have not had a meaningful, sex-positive/feminist relationship with a woman that I was very attracted to. Perhaps that is why I am somewhat underdeveloped.

In sexual situations now, I often feel tons of pressure to meet certain expectations and come off a certain way. If I don’t know the person well enough (a condition I endeavor to avoid), the pressure is, of course, greater, because there is a dearth of mutual trust.

This creates an association with sex in my mind that relates it to anxious feelings of insecurity. Will I be mind-blowing enough? Will my body function the way I want it to? Will the setting be perfect? Will she see the real me also? Because that’s important to me too. My sexual self is not nearly as cool as my nonsexual self, with all of its humor, creativity, passion, thoughts, ideas, and further generosity. This is why I usually like the moments after the sex act— talking quietly in a darkened room, wrapped in each others’ limbs—more than the act itself.

And then there is the societal expectations that I feel I also must live up to (which are related to but separate from the expectations I place on myself). Will I be “alpha” and masculine enough? What if I underwhelm? I often focus on pleasuring the woman in order to overcome this area of insecurity. If she is pleasured adequately, how likely is she to be underwhelmed? To be dissatisfied? To be unamazed and without wanting more? It is a strategy that usually works, I’m not going to lie. At least at first, until she asks me what she can do to satisfy me. I never know what to say.

My needs can be dealt with later. My fantasies can be explored and dealt with later. The actual sex act can be dealt with later also. As long as she’s happy.

It is easy to see how some arrested development could occur, some negation.

I guess the real question, which I hinted at earlier, is, am I really not super-interested in sex? Or is it that I have just not found the right person, someone with whom I share a mutual trust and understanding, and a lasting chemistry? I think that might be half of it. The other half is, I have other things on my mind than pointless self-indulgence in bed all day. I have a tendency towards self-absorption as I pursue the myriad things that I’m passionate about and in which I am constantly engaged: writing numerous blogs, stories, diary entries, and books; thinking and learning how to “do” politics and political action; doing and learning about fitness and building my fitness business; making YouTube videos; exploring veganism; optimizing my environment to minimize obstacles to my productivity; finding new ways to self-improve and divest myself of unwanted and self-defeating tendencies for which I seem to have such an affinity….and this list does not even include what I do to unwind.

A somewhat ironic thing is, because I am a man, society has not tied my sense of self-worth to my appearance at ANYWHERE NEAR the level it does so for women. All of these activities are the result of believing in my self-worth. I’d rather engage in them than waste time in bed, is what I’m saying. Whereas a woman, for whom much of her own sense of self-importance might originate in the bedroom (an idea I’ll expand on in a moment), hanging around in bed or having more “sexy time” in general can seem like a grand idea. Most guys would say, “sure!” But, sometimes, part of me says, “Ehhhhhh…”

But does my less-than-constant desire to bang make me any less of a man? I don’t believe that, in reality, masculinity and femininity are fixed ideas.

Let’s explore the concept of, “You must act a certain way in order to be a man.”

What if I am always true to my word, help my friends when they are in need, talk about a grievance I have with someone face-to-face rather than behind that person’s back, and clean up my own messes, literally and figuratively? These are traits that, while basically being those of a good person of any gender, are commonly referred to as “being a man” (which suggests that the opposite of them—being a liar, being selfish, talking about people behind their back, and being unable to solve problems you create—could be seen as being “like a woman,” which is a slur on women). And guess who lives up to all of these “manly” behaviors, to the best of his ability? I do. Ask anyone I know. I’m not perfect, but I sure as shit try.

So not wanting to “smack my bitch up” in bed somehow diminishes my manhood? NOT wanting to dominate?

This is the problem with masculine and feminine as fixed ideas: we associate behaviors with them that all genders are fully capable of evincing, when in reality, the positive ones—like the “manly” ones I list above—are simply how anyone should and can act, and the negative ones I list above as their opposites are how no one should act, but plenty of people do, of all genders.

What are some positive attributes commonly associated with femininity? Softness, emotionality, sensitivity, nurturing, spirituality, being book-smart. Therefore, the opposites of these are associated with men, and men who feel themselves going in these directions are often insecure in their manhood despite being offered a great gift: the ability to feel, and maybe even to think.

See, it is not so much that one set of behaviors is truly masculine and the other set is feminine. It is that one set is positive and admirable and enriches humanity, and the other set is negative and petty and degrades humanity. And all genders are capable of all behaviors. Simple.

So there is no fixed essence or idea of masculine and feminine. They are comprised only of what we associate with them, what society tells us they are. Why? So that we’ll be simpler and easier to control, and so that people will fight for these ideas as they would for any other tradition against those who believe in a broader range of human potential for self-determination beyond what “masculine” and “feminine” have laid out for us.

So maybe I don’t want to “develop a sexual identity” if it means embracing the oppressive conditions that society wants to impose on me by making me question my manhood. Basically, fulfilling societal expectations. Maybe the “sexual identity” that I’d like to develop, and I wish everyone could develop, is based on shared affirmation and equality through the sex act, rather than the unbridled self-interest, domination, and alienation that our society is based on, WHICH CREATES the inner anger in men which we men are given permission to take out on “our” women.

If I seem at all defensive or excusatory, it is probably because I anticipate that this blog entry will turn some women off from me as a sexual partner (whaddayagonnado), or open me up to accusations of Full Betaness from bro-dudes who believe that their sex-partner list is essentially their scorecard for life, because, for whatever reason, they have no other standard by which to judge the success, fullness, or quality of their lives. Except maybe their bank accounts.

As I’ve discussed in other entries, I don’t like to let people down or disappoint them, and I don’t like to open myself up to harsh criticism, even if the people who might be criticizing me, and their opinions, don’t matter. I also tend to anticipate conflict. That might be my one definitive Beta trait: subservience to the opinions of others. It tends to get me exactly nowhere.

Sometimes when women ask me about my fantasies, they’ll project their own fantasies onto me. “How about you dress up as my English teacher and discipline me for showing up late to class?” I mean, sure, that sounds kinda hot, I guess, but it’s definitely not my fantasy. It’s hers. Which is fine.

As I mentioned earlier, some women (keyword: “some”) like to be dominated because they want to see a manifestation of extreme desire for them (or so I have read). They want to see a man who is so consumed with physical need and arousal that he can’t control himself and must—absolutely must—“have” her then and there. So this type of scenario forms the fantasies of some women: to be dominated by hot-tempered, impulsive men. That’s what turns her on.

I get that a woman’s sense of self-importance and purpose can easily be closely tied to her attractiveness. As I mentioned earlier, attractiveness has historically been the main societal determinant of a woman’s value. And as a man, I have been taught the opposite of what women have been taught: that I have distinct value besides my physical attractiveness. This is a condition I deplore.

And that’s partly why this idea kind of wigs me out. I like to have my ego reinforced and built up, sure. I like to feel wanted and that I arouse the person I’m with. Who doesn’t? It’s a groovy feeling.

But, as I mentioned above, my sexual fulfillment largely comes from pleasuring the other person. Therefore, when the other person’s fulfillment comes from the same thing, that’s a winning combination for me. I think that wanting to pleasure someone is a pretty sure sign that I’m attracted to that person. Why does it have to enter into dominance and “discipline”?

I despise societal images of men and women that depict men dominating or punishing women. On a personal level, I don’t carry around anger towards women. I don’t blame them for my frustration and inner turmoil; I blame the system under which we live, and life itself. It’s these things called “root cause analysis” and “taking responsibility for myself.” So I don’t really fantasize about disciplining or punishing them.

I explained how I don’t fantasize about dominating women to a female partner recently, and her response was, verbatim, “huh. Well that’s somewhat depressing.”

Of course, some folks will say, validly, that a feminist man is, in fact, able to have domination fantasies without being a misogynist, just as a woman having submission fantasies doesn’t make her “oppressed,” “brainwashed,” or “confused” by society’s expectations on her. Sexual activities are separate from social behavior, separate from what is genuinely, truly believed. You cannot extrapolate misogyny or any other oppressive tendency from someone’s sexual proclivities. Fine.

So where do these fantasy ideas come from? Are men innately dominant and women innately submissive? Obviously not; otherwise there would be no market for dominatrices. So SOME women and SOME men. Okay, sure.

But why them? Do their fantasies and fancies just appear out of nowhere? Or are they somehow the result of their environment? Their upbringing? Their relationships with men and women throughout their early lives? How their values are formed? Et cetera.

It’s naive to think that these fantasies appear out of nowhere, and worse than naive, it’s downright dehumanizing to think they are innate. That’s the essentialist, reductionist standpoint of those who would argue that there are fixed ideas of “masculine” and “feminine,” that men are “naturally meant” to dominate and women are “naturally meant” to be dominated, and those men and women who deviate from these fixed ideas are somehow wrong, bad perversions of “real” men and women. That’s fucked up.

So then it is environmental factors which create these phenomena, that implants these desires, these inclinations, these so-called needs.

Why can’t society be organized so that women don’t need to be told how attractive they are in order to get off? That’s what domination fantasies are about, at least the type that I describe earlier.

Why can’t society be organized so that men don’t need to dominate or punish in order to “feel like a man” or express the anger and frustration that they can’t express anywhere else? Men AND women alike (although I’m not saying equally) are spiritually crushed, oppressed, and exploited by the system of bosses and profit known as capitalism under which we live.

And what about James Deen? Maybe you’ve heard about him; he’s that male adult film actor who was reputed to be a super-feminist man and then ended up ignoring his girlfriend’s safe-word and raping her. He appeared in all kinds of dominant sexual situations opposite women throughout his career, earned tons of money from it, and became a household name (as far as porn actors go). And it turns out he’s a horrible human being. Is it just an isolated incident?

Or is it possible that sexual desire may, in fact, and perhaps only in some men, reflect a man’s everyday attitudes about those that he seeks to sexually dominate?

What about the movie, “Hot Girls Wanted”? In that film, we see the somewhat horrifying reality of a porn market based on dehumanizing imagery that goes beyond misogyny—rape, humiliation, racism—all of which earns millions of dollars because so many men pay handsomely for it.

Is it merely that such imagery is taboo, and if we were a more open sexual society men wouldn’t seek it out online? And then, if it was more available, the desire for it would diminish because people would have less shame about it?

So if men could just get together and openly express their feelings and their desire to dominate women, that would somehow remove that desire.

I don’t see that working out too well. The images of male domination still exist; the pressure to dominate is still there. Of course I think men should express how they feel, but dominating women is pretty much accepted in society and it’s depicted all the time: commercials, movies, TV shows, in the news, etc cetera.

In other words, while certain specific images are taboo, the male act of female domination is very much the norm. So men would be expressing something that society basically already approves of. Although things have improved in a lot of ways and are still changing, the man is still expected to financially, socially, and interpersonally dominate the woman.

My point here is quite a humanistic one: men are not born misogynists. They are not born “pigs.” They do not, “by nature,” want to dominate women in order to feel like men. Society tells them that dominating is how one behaves “like a man” and submitting is how one behaves like a woman, and every person is always either dominating or submitting. To this binary, there is no in-between. And of course, there is a value judgment placed on his ability or lack thereof to dominate, just as there is a value placed on a woman’s ability TO BE dominated (if she’s not hot, she’s not desirable, therefore she’s incapable of being dominated because she arouses no sexual desire, therefore she has no value).

Men want sex, sure we do. Of course. I mean, hell yeah. And so do women. Sexuality, even coitus itself, does not intrinsically involve dominance and submission. Sure, the man generally does the “fucking.” But if said fucking is fully consensual, it is a 100% two-way street, mutual and equal and capable of making both parties feel equally great, empowered, and human.

And men can be raped.

Men are made into misogynists by images and formative experiences that shape their understanding of male/female relations. It is only by combating the purveyors of these images and the societal conditions that create the formative experiences that the “natural” desire of men to dominate women will be diminished.

We can’t control how we develop and the types of things we find “hot.” I don’t fully blame people for their tastes. At the same time, rich people are raised to be greedy fucks who expropriate huge amounts of money from their workforce, invest in the defense, prison, animal torture, and fossil fuel industries, and take as much as possible from those who need it most in order to further enrich themselves.

These people are fucked up. Their “tastes” actually hurt and ruin society and lead to the deaths and misery of millions of people. And how do the conscience-driven among them deal with it? By giving tax-deductible donations to charities that dubiously have a hand in cleaning up the messes they and the system they profit from create. That’s not very manly.

They would never attempt to actually change that system. They are not beyond judgment because of how they were raised.

The same is true of those men (and the world is run largely by men, Angela Merkel notwithstanding) whose sick capitalist upbringing produced a mindset in which domination, desecration, and destruction are somehow “natural” and therefore desirable. The root causes of this mindset must be attacked mercilessly.

But we feminists want it both ways. We want to give good men room to have their dominating fantasies, but we also want an end to the societal conditions which cause domination to be sexually arousing, and the male identity to be tied to domination. It will take a long time and lots of resistance from those men for whom there is no other metric of their value as people besides dominance (a group from whom, I suppose, some feminist men are excluded).

It will also necessitate resistance from those women for whom being dominated is the only metric of their value. People will fight it; they will fight the “pussification” of men, and the “butchification” of women. But when people of all genders can simultaneously submit—by which I mean mutually accept that they all share similar human conditions of oppression—and dominate—by which I mean struggle, not against each other but against the system which creates those conditions and pits them against one another—both categories of behavior will cease to mean anything.

Society is not composed of one idea which dominates and another which submits. It is composed of those ideas that win while the others, despite struggling, lose. But the struggle continues. Eventually, true equality will be pitted against dominance/submission, and dominance/submission will lose, because those who benefit from equality far outnumber those who benefit from dominance and submission.

 

Am I Too Serious?

My last relationship was not an altogether bad one, but it was definitely not a “healthy” one. In terms of temperament, this person could be the complete opposite of me. I have trouble expressing anger, while she would have angry, seemingly uncontrollable flare-ups of anger and suspicion.

While we were in the process of breaking up, such as it was, one critique she made of me while in a sound and calm state of mind was that I’m overly “serious.”

I never seemed to “let loose” and talk about “whatever.” As I recall, I spent a lot of time talking about art (she was a painter), politics, music, and our lives. I like to know about the person I’m with. People’s lives are interesting and inspiring and heart-rending. I have learned not to pry, though.

There were times when she would tell me about friends of hers and their  relationship problems. As far as I can tell, I was always polite and interactive during discussions of this kind. I listened, I asked questions, I did what I always do. But I never had anything to say about my friends and THEIR relationships. Partly it’s because my interactions with my friends are more irregular than hers were. So there’s that. But partly it was because I assumed she wouldn’t care.

When it comes to conversation, I generally approach it the same way I approach writing: if I don’t want to read what I’m writing, probably no one else will either. If I wouldn’t want to hear about a specific subject—if I find that subject trivial, dull, or unrelateable—other people will too. I like to talk about “real” things.

Jump ahead a bit in time. Just last night, I went to an outdoor birthday party held for an old family friend of mine. The friend, Kyle, always plays guitar and sings at his birthday parties, and this year I joined in on bongos, tambourine, and maracas. There were a few songs I knew, but most were old country and western classics, outside my general purview.

But I played all the same, kept a steady beat. I have been playing drums and percussion for over 20 years so I should be able to do at least that.

I take my performances very seriously. I get engaged in them and make something of them. I think about what would sound best, given the instruments at my disposal, and I play them excellently. That is simply how I operate.

After about 45 minutes of playing, I took a break. I was speaking to Kyle’s wife, Kerry, who told me that there was a young blonde in the audience who’d said she thought I was cute. “She asked why you’re so serious, though,” Kerry added.

It occurred to me to wonder about seriousness. I have a great sense of humor but there is a lot that doesn’t make me laugh, like sexism, racism, Islamaphobia, and general stupid ignorance. People who claim to not be racist, sexist, et cetera, but make absolutist “free speech” arguments are, in my opinion, doing the work of the ACTUAL racists and sexists for them. So they might as well BE actual racists and sexists, et cetera. My recent post on WhyNotBeMe about the band Death Grips discusses this viewpoint further.

I also don’t care for scatological humor; I’ll generally never make such a joke, and if you make one around me, I won’t be a dick about it but I very well might not laugh, either. Just not my thing. And that’s where I’ll end that subject.

There are times when I’m constantly concerned about the state of the world. Or, I’m angry about something. However, unlike the girl I was dating, I don’t take my anger out on people. I keep it very carefully controlled.

It’s starting to sound like maybe I am too serious. Maybe I’m uptight.

Lately, I have been thinking mostly about my small business, and about personal training in general. I would say about 75-80% of my daily activity pertains directly to one or the other. The rest of it is spent on stress, working out, eating, and trying to find ways to deal with the stress. Obviously, this could compound my seriousness. I haven’t been pursuing relationships lately because I have too many other things on my mind. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t make the best company these days.

But personal training wasn’t what was making me “serious” at Kyle’s party. I was concentrating on doing a good job with percussion, doing a stellar job even. I do stellar jobs on nearly everything I do: personal training, vegan cooking, doing yard work, and of course, writing. Playing music is no exception, basically ever.

Some musician friends of mine started a fun project a few years ago wherein they get together and record songs that were made up that day onto a 4-track tape recorder. They’ve actually made four full-length albums this way. They go by the name Legends of Neglect.

I took part in Legends for a few sessions. It was fun, indeed. I really liked being asked to play bass and write lyrics, neither of which I have done much of in the bands I’ve been in. But eventually I backed off. I don’t thrive musically in an environment where I’m actually encouraged not to try hard or think too hard about what I’m playing. I take my playing very seriously and strive to innovate whenever possible, and if I can’t innovate (because sometimes it’s just not called for), I at least try to connect emotionally to the listener, to be forceful and affecting. It is one of my trademarks as a drummer.

Was I too serious? Should I have been able to just “create” along with the others? I “just create” whenever I sit down at a drumset, just like I do the same whenever I sit down to write, or cook a meal, or whatever I’m doing. But creating is not necessarily a casual matter for me. I’m not a “lah-dee-dah” creative type, where everything I do is of value. Creating value takes work. Same with personal training; if I’m not creatively involved in training you, I’m not involved, and I don’t enjoy it.

I feel a great pressure to succeed and do well and stand out and be different, and to make an impact on everyone that I encounter. I don’t like to be seen or heard and then forgotten. I don’t like to be unremarkable. It is a standard that has fed many a piece of work of mine. I don’t mean to say that everything I do is perfect or ideal. Far from it. Rather, I mean that I take each thing seriously and put my time, thought, imagination, and passion into each one to the best of my ability.

I guess I do the same with most of the things I do, whether it’s watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, or making chit-chat with people. Sometimes, it can hold me back from enjoying myself too.

Part of my seriousness relates to an inability to relax. The question is, then, is it possible to strive and be focused and single-minded without losing your ability to relax? I don’t know, and I don’t think it really matters. If something is important to me, I damn well should be serious about it. If 99% of people aren’t serious about anything—if nothing is worth their time, thought, effort, passion, anger, engagement—then maybe they’re just not worth my time. This is a somewhat alpha mentality.

The funny thing is, I spend a lot of time trying to affect these same people, trying to get through to them and make a difference with them. In a way, I need them. I can’t scorn them entirely; I can’t turn away from them. A lot of what I do is for them. This is the beta side of things.

I guess it comes down largely to moderation. Should I endeavor to not need other people, to not accomplish things for anyone else but myself? If someone is dull and uninterested in the more complicated aspects of life, or if they don’t appreciate me, should I scorn that person? Should I disdain them? That wouldn’t feel right. Maybe I shouldn’t go as far as scorn, but maybe a little further than I do.

And as far as lightening up, I don’t know. I don’t see that changing. I don’t fuck around. Deal with it.

But love me!

Are Alphas Driven?

I’ve been away from this blog for a long time. The fact is that my perspective on things has evolved or moved on. But the ideas still resonate with me.

Lately, I’ve been working at a small fitness studio in Fairfield, NJ, where I’ve been able to transcend nearly all of the obstacles that plagued my development at Crunch. I’m also pursuing my small business as an independent personal trainer, which my current place of employment is only too happy to accept. At Crunch, working elsewhere was prohibited.

I find myself quite driven to build my small business. Partly, it is that the things I am doing to build it are relatively second-nature for me. They largely involve writing: blogging, writing articles, commenting on message boards, updating my Facebook page, “networking” on LinkedIn. When I get on a roll, two hours can pass like 10 minutes, and they are usually the two hours before I need to get ready to go to work.

It feels good to finish some marathon of networking and such, or some article or another. I have learned, the hard way, to take breaks every two hours or so, or to leave time to chill for awhile before leaving for work. Otherwise, I show up frazzled and uncentered. The work I am doing, sitting at my dining room table drinking an espresso or two with my mind flying at 100 miles an hour, is indeed work. It is indeed taxing. I know there is always more that I could be doing, and I have to calm my instinct to castigate myself for not doing it, for having to stop at all.

Whenever I reflect on my current lack of social or political life to my friends, they all say, “you’re doing you.” It’s true; I am building up the foundation for success and stability moving forward. I want to add a “but” to that but I know I shouldn’t. I think sometimes general disbelief regarding my own life holds me back: disbelief that I am in the fitness industry, disbelief that I have the ability to build a small business, disbelief that I am fortunate enough to be able to get paid to show people how to exercise safely and effectively and cleanse their lives of at least some pain. And this disbelief seems to reinforce certain fears, fears of being unprepared and unworthy.

The last ten years of my life have been fairly odd. I only recently grasped the idea that my father’s passing in 2008 left many things “unresolved.” That is, I had issues with him—about anger and authority and motivation and being driven—that I was never allowed to overcome by interacting with him. By overcoming him, in a way. Now, I have to overcome them, if I’m going to, by overcoming “society.”

But society is not as well-known as a father. I often anticipate disappointment and anger from other people who don’t have any inclination to feel that way, because Dad was angry a lot. I am often obsessed with being liked by everyone—being adored as the best trainer ever by my clients, and if I don’t succeed at this unrealistic ideal, I sometimes feel like a failure—because Dad’s demanding personality required a high level of supplication, or so it seemed. It has turned me, somewhat, into an accommodator, a compromiser, a beta, eager to please and in need of constant validation.

Of course it is an important ability to know when and how to compromise and accommodate, but compromise shouldn’t be made out of desperation. It should be made only when your decision-making is based on a strong sense of self and position, and foreknowledge that your objective is being at least partly accomplished in accepting the compromise. It shouldn’t be an acceptance of failure.

Anyway, I think this sense of disbelief sometimes holds me back. For a lot of other people, I think the sense of disbelief would be couched in feelings of being fortunate. I know intuitively that I am fortunate. I am fortunate to be able to build a business, to be in good health with no injuries, to have a strong sense of what I want to do with at least the next five years of my life. Just the other day, I designed the floor-plan of what I want my future gym to look like. It was inspiring and exciting.

But I know that no feeling, no inspiration, no uplifting sense of being fortunate, will keep me going. These are motivators that don’t last. Only pushing myself, no matter how frustrating it gets—no matter how much I “feel like it,” or even how much I want it—will get it done, will accomplish forward movement in my life, will provide me with that sense of self and position and alpha clarity that I want so much, that might’ve come with overcoming the challenges my father placed on me but now I must cultivate by myself.

Maybe that outcome, that struggle, will provide fortunes of its own. I guess we’ll see.

Alpha in Action is Not Always Like a Lion

After about two-and-a-half months, I have left my coffee shop job in order to pursue personal training and online coaching full-time from home. I realized, through the influence of others and of my own words, that it’s time to follow my own advice.

My initial plan was to work at Java Love, go to grad school, and maintain some supplementary income through PT/OC, but one day, while I was scrubbing Java Love’s dishes, I realized that this plan made little sense. In order to attend grad school without paying tuition, I would need a graduate assistantship, which required a full-time classload and a 20-hour per week research commitment (albeit adding a small stipend; almost too small to mention). Add to that 15-30 hours of work at the coffee shop to make working there even worthwhile, and 5-10 per week spent on personal training…at minimum that’s forty hours per week. When am I supposed to do my work for class? I have procrastinatory tendencies; this all sounds like setting myself up for failure.

Many folks work full-time and go to school full-time, you say. Yes, but wouldn’t it be groovy if I didn’t have to do that (not to mention them)? And what’s a way to, perhaps, effect that outcome in my case? It is, of course, to focus on personal training now, which pays me literally 3-7 times more per hour; which doesn’t require I have a boss or set hours; which allows me to work from home; which allows me to maintain my own healthy habits (whereas coffee shop work—all the bending and leaning and reaching and cash-registering—will bend a tall guy like me all out of shape, and make me lose weight that took years to put on); which leaves me with enough energy and time to pursue personal projects like this here blog, for example. Et cetera.

I recently saw a few old friends from college, and told them what I was up to: “I work at a coffee shop,” I’d said. I said it with both a certain humility and a certain pride. Work is work, food on the table is food on the table, and in large part, who really gives a fuck? In addition, on the pride side of things, I am a great barista and I could own my own coffee shop someday (it would be a co-operative). But at the same time, I was humble. I’m in my early thirties, I have a college degree, and I’m working in a coffee shop. I spoke to one of the friends again on the phone a week later, and she told me how she felt when I told her how I was earning a living.

“Poor Mark! He’s a college graduate and he has to work at a coffee shop to make ends meet!”

Mind you, this is coming from someone who has worked numerous unpleasant jobs in the service industry, and damn well aims to be done with them completely one of these days.

But it is not with contempt for coffee shops or coffee shop jobs that I received her sentiment. More than that, it was with the understanding that, in a way, I was squandering a cool gift: the ability to work and earn something resembling what my labor is worth. My NASM certification gives me that gift, as does my personal training experience for the last two years. All I needed to do was decide that, not only COULD I focus on it, not only SHOULD I, but that I WOULD, and wholeheartedly. No underachieving, no waffling, no fears that lead to deterred ambitions. There may be fears, there may be failures, but there will be no regrets. And no unnecessary hardship. Someone who needs a coffee shop job should have that job. But I don’t, and as a 32-year old man, it’s time to grab hold and make it happen, as best I can. Make what happen? Life.

I could end this entry right here with that inspirational message, but I wanted to describe what else converged around the last few weeks to get me to face my fears and focus on training. My brother’s rock band, Apparus, were all set to break up in a few months. My brother, John, was scheduled to move to Italy in July. You see, after several visits there, part of John’s soul is in Italy and he feels it’s about to time to reunite himself with himself, and really begin living. I can relate due to my experiences in Vermont at Marlboro College, a decade+ ago.

But after a recent Apparus show where everything came together—performance, sound quality, audience reaction, et cetera—he’d started to reconsider. How often does a person end up in a cohesive, distinctive rock band at its peak, filled with great musicians? He’d sacrificed some years to it already, but suddenly it didn’t seem like as much of a sacrifice; it seemed like a gift, like an opportunity for fun, adventure, perhaps even financial gain. So he altered his hard-made plans, and everyone in the band felt invigorated. Far from breaking up, it was time to redouble their efforts.

Around the same time that this was developing, I watched a Youtube video by Chris Jones from Physiques of Greatness, in which he explains his take on “overtraining” and whether it is a real thing. Chris’s perception of it is very pragmatic: overtraining exists in relation to a person’s lifestyle. In his case, he trains up to two hours a day doing high-volume bodybuilding training, far more than the average person—with an average lifestyle—could handle. But then, once he gets home, he eats bountifully and sleeps prodigiously, allowing him to recover adequately. This made me think: hey! I could work from home too, sleep and eat to match my health and fitness goals, NOT lose weight and NOT get neck and upper back pain from all of the bending. I have that ability, and yet I’m not making use of it.

The last inspiring experience that I’ll describe: I was talking to a friend about drug abuse, and how it can take over your life. I’ve had drug problems in the past and I know how being in a drugged state creates a kind of “pleasure dome” as Samuel Coleridge described it, in which the problems of the world and the unanswered questions and the angers and jealousies and inequities and discontinuities don’t touch you, and questions exist to remain unanswered, and no feeling or thought or development or disorder is unnatural or undesirable because all judgment has been suspended. It makes a chaotic mess of one’s life.

I told my friend, who is considering leaving his pleasure dome, how hard society makes it to transition into a “conventional” life of values and decisions. Rarely can someone do something they love and survive on while maintaining enough free time to also pursue personal interests, hobbies, or passions. Very little is provided: healthcare, no. Education, no. Employment, no. Housing, no. All of these things must be worked for, or you will be a failure, indigent, possessionless, worthless. It is up to you, completely, to give direction and then meaning to your life, and either you will succeed or you will fail. It is a harsh (and in a way, incomplete) realization to make; it makes leaving the pleasure dome all that more difficult.

So rare is the person who can do what he or she loves and have free time to boot. And I heard myself talking about myself in a way. Are writing and music closer to my heart than fitness? Perhaps. But I could be making money right now as a trainer, not years from now as a musician or novelist. And I can still write novels and make music as a personal trainer. Not so much as a barista/research assistant/part-time trainer.

It took a lot of courage to send that resignation email. I wrote it on my computer and left it, and picked it up again on my phone. Each time I mustered the courage to hit Send, by the time the phone was in my hand, awakened and ready, I’d lost the courage. Until I finally made myself do it. I made myself press Send, and in doing so, I crawled out of my sub-standard pleasure dome, my dome of insecurity, at least a little bit, towards a present—never mind the future for now—of my own making.

The Sum of Alpha Fears

Recently, meaning within the last six months, I realized the origin of ninety percent of my debilitating fears: fear of rejection from others, and fear of failure.

First I’ll describe the fear of rejection. When I have a dopeass idea for a project, or some cool aspiration for what to do with my life, whether it’s creative/creative, creative/commercial or commercial/commercial, what often holds me back from really pursuing it with all my heart—the way “successful” people do—is the fear that people will respond harshly. There will be critics, especially online critics, who are hateful, who point out my faults, and who revel in their perceived superiority, though they do nothing else with their lives besides criticize, belittle, and put down.

For some reason, I believe that people will not take me seriously, and many will not like me or the things I do. I find that idea hard to handle, that anyone would not like me or think what I do is great and of value. I think my parents telling me I’m a valuable person and that my ideas are good has something to do with this, but it’s also that many others have said the same thing since then: friends, teachers, coworkers, professors, colleagues, bosses. I have a decent idea that what I have to say IS indeed of value, and yet I still fear the voices of those who have never met me, who don’t know what a nice, generous, friendly person I am, and who, without that familiarity, would judge my contributions very harshly. Because the world doesn’t care about you, or what a “great person” you are.

Does their lack of familiarity mean their judgments are more fair? I think it depends on the person, but maybe that’s partly what I worry about. True, some people are shitheads who just get off on being critical (or worse) when they themselves lack either comparable expertise or accomplishment. Yet, for others, maybe it’s a little bit of the “human nature” that society instills in us: maybe everyone who has ever said something encouraging to me was only doing so in light of my warm, uplifting personality. To reciprocate, so to speak. I am generally found to be a considerate, pleasant, enjoyable person to be around. Almost by necessity, making someone feel good is likely to improve that person’s impression of what I do.

But I realize this borders on pathology, this level of suspicion. What it really signifies is a fear that I will be exposed as less of an exceptional person than I identify myself as. Additionally, I have very thin skin for harsh criticism. Constructive criticism, yes, I welcome it, but many people equate harshness with constructiveness. They have an idea in their minds that because they “don’t pull any punches” and they “speak their minds,” somehow the content of their minds is worth more, when in reality they are often like the folks I describe earlier, who get off on being harsh and have nothing of their own to show for their lives besides their harsh views.

So I am not averse to constructive criticism. I have a natural deference to authority figures whom I perceive to be intellectually superior to myself, like great professors or people who are better readers than I am (I’m a not-great reader, to my chagrin.) When these people can say something useful, I like, appreciate, and might even act on it.

It’s the rest of the fools out there that I worry about, the hidden “haters,” “trolls,” and the like.

The other fear that keeps my ambition at bay all too often is the fear of failure. What I absolutely cannot stomach even thinking about is setting up something cool and interesting and exciting, only to have to break it down and to remove it later. Think of it as a storefront, literal or metaphorical. The idea of dismantling it—of tearing down the walls, the organization, the floor, the personal touches, of a dream now lost, broken, and burned—is abhorrent to me. Putting my heart, my love and passion, into something, and having that thing fail….the idea of it physically upsets me.

Perhaps that’s why so many people would rather work a regular, decently-paying job as someone else’s employee and have some children, rather than start their own businesses, because it’s somehow easier to envision raising a child relatively well, healthily, “successfully,” than realizing some dream in real life: a music career, opening an art supply store, coffee shop or restaurant, or even to be a dentist instead of a lawyer, or an engineer instead of taking over the family business, George Bailey-style. Never mind my dreams or dream job; my children will fulfill my dreams. My own life doesn’t matter, nor does challenging or changing the world that denied me my dreams, even though I chose not to pursue them. And I will raise those children to believe they can do whatever they want with their lives, and then when they are 18, I will tell them the truth: make a living, or be a failure.

I can understand people’s aversion to taking such chances. It would be great to be a paid novelist, or musician, or voiceover artist, but I have yet to pursue those dreams to their full conclusion. Still, I can’t stomach the idea of going the straight-and-narrow route either. I don’t want marriage or children. I want what I want. The degree to which I want it, however, is the variable. Do I WANT one thing or another enough to make it happen? And if decidedly so, what is keeping me from acting on that want?

Fear, largely; fear and follow-through, or procrastination. But this blog entry is not about procrastination. It’s about fear, which I think is the main cause of procrastination anyway. I don’t want to start something—say, a novel—that I won’t finish, or that won’t be of superlative quality, and I mean transcendent. I want everything I do to be excellent, and finished. Nothing wrong with that. But what exactly is it? Fear, the fear that someone will not like what I do. And for some reason, I think I can control that by being so focused on quality and universal appeal that NO ONE will not like it, or it will not lead to total success as I envision it. The actuality is I do control it: by not writing anything, by not putting anything out there, I completely avoid any chance of rejection, or for that matter, failure. And I have met others who possess this apparent tendency far more notably than myself.

Obviously, that is not a very Alpha manner in which to live. So what is the solution?

A week or two ago, I came up with two slogans to help me circumvent my fears somewhat.

“You are not important enough to worry about true rejection.”

“What you are trying to do is not difficult enough to really warrant a fear of failure.”

The purpose of them is not to redraw the scale of my ambition, but rather to remember that there is no need to worry about large-scale rejection by society when I’m not really all that important.

Though getting a novel published or whatever else I might do is certainly difficult, there have been people who have spent their lives doing MASSIVELY more difficult things: integrating public schools, getting a vote for women, trying to end wars, and the like. Additionally, I have numerous levels of privilege on my side, whereas those who fight those kinds of battles often do not. For many non-white non-male non-heterosexual non-able-bodied non-middle-class non-cis-gender non-criminal-record-free folk, some dreams will remain infinitely closer to “dreams” than to reality because they don’t possess the freedom to act on them.

So, what I am doing, on my own, is not all that hard in any absolute sense. And if I remind myself of that, I can do it. And if I try to do something that IS that hard also, with others to help me, as the Freedom Riders, Suffragettes, and antiwar activists had, that’s even better, and it makes my own dream, not inferior, but part of a greater vision of the society that we fight for: one in which the fulfillment of a dream—like the freedom to practice one’s art without fear of poverty—is not the exception, but the rule.

What Makes a Job Alpha? Part I

Recently, I left my job at a corporately-owned gym in Hoboken, New Jersey, and took up work as a barista at an independently owned coffee shop in Montclair (still in my trial/training period there, but it looks like I have a really good shot at the job). I’ve worked as a barista before, at Starbucks between 2007 and 2008, and being that the gym job was so unconventional and in many ways unfulfilling, I sought work that was a little more clearcut, a little more basic and familiar, where true accomplishment was a bit more self-evident, as was a paycheck.

And with better music. The music at gyms is terrible. It gets stuck in my head and drives me insane all hours of the night.

I have no gripes about needing this change, really. Sure, I felt a little bad about “quitting.” It’s a huge challenge being self-motivated on the floor of a big-box gym, being there for 10 to 14 hours a day if you really want to do it right, selling yourself (90% of the time while you’re off the clock) to potential clients who already pay 90 dollars a month in membership fees, and trying to get them to pay 100 dollars more per hour (of which I received under 30) to work with you one-on-one, one or two or three times a week. There is a huge turnover rate in the personal training industry because so many folks are “not up to the challenge” of trying to sell a luxury product to the masses at the expense of their own health and free time. And I turned out to be one of them.

But I don’t think it’s particularly Alpha to struggle through something to which I have no great devotion, to produce possibly half-assed work as a result, and to generate disdain and contempt for my situation which I chose to perpetuate based on an abstract principle. The long and the short of it is, if you have the freedom—if you possess the privilege—to change what you are doing from something you don’t like to something you do like, then why not do it? That seems more Alpha than vain struggle. All I really wanted was to get paid for the time I spent at work. Not so much to ask.

Also, as a friend of mine helped me cogitate, while fitness is a huge part of my life, it is not the only thing I think about. Perhaps someone who thinks about nothing but fitness could spend 14 hours a day at a gym, which is fine, but I couldn’t. Large segments of my brain—the segments that contemplate writing, politics, society, feminism, music, the English language—were scarcely being put to use. There is no better way to become unhappy with a job than to be disengaged from it both mentally and emotionally, no matter how well you do it.

I don’t believe that happiness is necessarily the purpose of life, so it would have been nice if this particular hardship (I use the term “hardship” loosely) were in service, somehow, to a greater good. That might’ve been enough to sustain me. Unfortunately, I know what astronomical good humans are capable of in terms of social justice and the struggle for freedom, and I didn’t feel that my apparent self-sacrifice was effecting that kind of good to any degree whatsoever, or even working towards a place where I would be.

You might ask, “well, does working at a coffee shop allow you to ‘effect that kind of good,’ then?” Possibly not of itself, but what it does do is provide me with three things: confidence and competence at doing honest work, and a steady paycheck, so that I might actually feel more empowered to effect the greater good in my free time. The fact that I am working for a small, independently-owned business that pays its employees and coffee farmers well is just a perk. I’m not overthrowing capitalism, but at least I’m living a little bit more inside my principles.

Also, at a coffee shop, I can think and talk about a million things with tons of different types of people. At a gym, nobody talks about Alfred Jarry or knows who the fuck he is.

You might now irritably ask, “SO WHY DID YOU GO INTO THE FITNESS INDUSTRY, BUB?!” Believe me, I have asked myself that a few times, and rarely come up with better answer than, “because I like fitness and I didn’t want to be an English teacher.” Now I am reconsidering the possibility of teaching, while still personal training and online coaching on the side, because I still enjoy doing it and I’m really good at it.

“AND WHY THE HELL WOULD PEOPLE DISCUSS ALFRED JARRY AT A DAMNED GYMNASIUM?!” Well, that’s true. It’s less that I expected such subject matter to come up at a gym and more that I didn’t anticipate the lack thereof mattering to me as much as it does.

When your gifts and passions are not being put to use—whether in the service of your own happiness or of “the greater good,” however you perceive it—that’s when self-affirmation really starts to shrivel up, and the reason for doing something becomes unclear aside from the valid need to “make a living.” Maybe doing that thing is a means to reaching something better: earning a promotion that pays more money, a sit-down job instead of a laborious job, or enough savings to do something big. And that end will justify the means, and bring happiness and fulfillment.

But at a certain point, even these motivations can become hazy. When our minds and passions are not engaged and our sense of self is diminished, it is easier for us to lose focus on that bigger picture, to slip into routines, to yield to the pressures that society puts on us to be successful, married, and with children, rather than a “dreamer,” a “failure,” or an “outcast,” even though most of the people we are told to admire—from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Steve Jobs to Arnold Schwarzenegger to Harriet Tubman—were themselves dreamers, failures at one point or another, and made outcast (or worse) because they questioned the “way things are.” It’s no surprise that many people’s “dreams” are never fulfilled, because, like a muscle, if you don’t work out a passion, it gets weaker.

As I’ve said before, part of why I feel “Betaness” is an issue in our society is that we’ve been taught to avoid failure, confrontation, and risk, while being simultaneously raised to expect some level of general material comfort that only comes with economic affluence. This leads naturally to the desire for high income without risk of failure or discomfort. What better formula for creating a generation of workers doing work whose sole virtue—whose sole purpose—is financial enrichment, regardless of whether one’s passions are being engaged. And all of this in the midst of economic downturn and spiking education costs, with a proportional devaluing of the dollar and of education itself.

Yet we are also taught to believe that our own happiness should be the goal of our lives, so we only want jobs that we can be “happy” doing and ideally related to the subject matter of our graduate and post-graduate education, as opposed to anything “menial.” Discomfort, even in service to our ideals, becomes unseemly and unsightly and undesirable. Leave those jobs to the non-college educated!

Keep in mind, I believe we are taught to feel this way. It’s no coincidence that in order to get the education that’s supposed to improve our position in the societal hierarchy, we have to be plunged into absurd amounts of student debt (I’m in for $40k), thereby removing the freedom to earn only a modest or frugal living.

What might we be doing if, instead, we were taught to embrace risk, and be satisfied with very little, and lived in a society that materially and ideologically supported such behavior? Well, rather than working purely for our own self-interest, we might work for greater things, new and bold ideas worthy of entrepreneurial pursuits, or even for “the greater good,” to improve society and widen people’s access to everything that allowed us to succeed in our own way, and that actually didn’t require us to sacrifice years of our lives to jobs for which we had no passion and from which we drew no fulfillment (which I, in fact, do draw from being a decently-paid barista, and I do a damn good job).

I guess what I hope to impress on you, the reader, is that no job is intrinsically Alpha or Beta—nor is any position or place of power or privilege—but rather, “what makes a job Alpha” has more to do with your mentality. Do you work hard because “hard work” is a widely-held virtue? Or because you work towards something greater and bigger that you’ve decided is virtuous just because you’ve chosen it?

Or, do you work because you need money, and is that the only reason? Rather than react to that sober realization by strengthening your resolve to earn more money, consider the possibility that it is more Alpha to change jobs from one that only earns you money to another that both earns you money and engages your passion. And if you can’t find that, whether because of economic, socioeconomic, or geographic limits, or whatever other valid reason, consume less and do work that pays the bills and pursue your passion in your spare time, and KEEP and MAINTAIN that spare time for that purpose.

And if you have no spare time, I hope I can help you someday, because when work neither engages your passions nor leaves you with enough free time to pursue them on your own, that’s the definition of dehumanizing, and labels of Alpha or Beta become irrelevant if they weren’t already.

What Made Me Beta

In basic agreement with many Alpha Male-oriented websites, I believe there are underlying reasons for the perceived prevalence of Betaness in our society among males (not that I believe the meaning or implications of this perceived prevalence are the same).

But rather than complain about why there are so many “girlie men” and how public acceptance of blatant male chauvinism has diminished since the “good old days” due to the rise of “political correctness and feminism,” I think it would be more constructive to explain what compelled me to seek out a more Alpha way of living. That is to say, what made me Beta?

1987-12_0002_2I was a very gentle and sweet child, always assuming the best of people. Always the tallest kid in my class, I was also burdened by severe asthma. Though I’d excelled in basketball and track and field, this condition prevented me from engaging in any organized sports after middle school.

My father, Michael, was only IMGmildly dismayed by my inability to be an athletic son. Truly, he wanted me to grow and succeed in my own way. His greatest fear was that my younger brother and I would end up like some of my uncles, who were sheltered their whole lives into their 50s and developed “a fear of life,” as Michael put it. He didn’t worry as much about my older sister.

Michael himself came from a working class background, and the pressure he put on himself to provide for his family was enormous, intense, and constant. This led him to develop a keen work ethic, such that he worked hard all day long in the corporate arena at NYNEX (then Bell Atlantic, and finally Verizon), and saved all of his patience and collaborative spirit for his colleagues, having none left for his family upon returning home.

He never hit us, but his anger was oppressive. My gentle and kind nature never really developed a way to deal with it other than to become passive, an “accommodator.” All I wanted was for his yelling to end and for things to be calm again. I inherited this trait from my mother, who remained generally passive and oppressed by it. My mother and father divorced while I was in my late teens.

This characteristic “accommodating” carried through to being bullied throughout middle school. Upon moving to Upton, Massachusetts (the second of my three childhood residences) from Middletown, New York, I made fast friends. But within the first year, all of my new friends had turned on me and made a habit of verbally, physically, and psychologically victimizing me on a regular basis. Maybe because I was tall, or from New York, or just different. I never understood why; they never explained.

My response was based on the advice of adults—“just ignore it”—which I later realized to be among the worst advice anyone can give when it comes to dealing with irrational people that you’re exposed to on a regular basis. I eventually “had to” fight my next door neighbor, who’d been my first friend in Massachusetts and later my worst and most hate-filled enemy. And I did fight him. Even though he bruised me up badly, I came to school the next day and he didn’t, so everyone at school assumed I’d beaten him.

Did these violent encounters make me a stronger, more capable person? Did they help me “build character,” as we perceive to be the silver lining of totally unnecessary hardship? Yes, in a way. They made me more aware of what kind of people are out there: there are people who don’t care about your feelings or what hurts them, and who will go out of their way to hurt you because hurting people actually makes them feel good.

In a more obvious way, though, they made me feel less strong and less capable, because they instilled a great fear in me. I did not magically become better at dealing with adversity; my kind and gentle nature did not give way. I still assumed the best of people, and rather than assume the worst of some, as I’d learned firsthand might be prudent from here on out, I chose instead to distrust my judgment of others. Suddenly, I was kind and gentle, and full of fear. A born victim, a natural sucker.

This contributed to my Beta qualities of accommodation and passivity. I became nearly incapable of dealing with anger or any other “negative emotion,” except by suppressing it. Throughout early adulthood, I felt I could and would be victimized by others at any time, and would be completely unable to handle it.

It was during high school that I’d started to embrace the “role” of the the sensitive musician-poet type, as opposed to the jock, computer nerd, or whatever other stereotypes exist for kids to latch onto. I was living in Montclair, NJ at this time, where people and culture were far more civilized than in Massachusetts, and my interest in drumming and writing, and general uncategorizeability, had shuttled me, as social currents do, towards the less conventional crowd. Asthma had prevented any type of sport trajectory, and I was fine with that.

I soon started to believe that I simply wasn’t “made” to feel strong or robust, or express anger or any “lesser” human emotion, but rather was destined to be an “artist,” to record and depict all manner of beauty and the human condition, and basically be a victim to it.

When I was 18, my best friend died of a heart attack due to an unforeseen congenital heart defect. He was also 18 years of age. Needless to say, this occurrence reinvigorated the acute fear of my younger years, specifically of death and of losing people who were close to me. All of my writing from the years afterward was motivated, in large part, by feeling like I was going to die at any moment, like Stefan did.

It was only in my late 20s that I discovered a place for myself in the world of physical fitness. My father had also died by this time, of cancer, my longtime girlfriend and I had broken up, and my rock band of five years—Rocket Surgery—ended, all in one year. I was doing nothing but drinking alcohol and eating candy. I needed a new beginning, a “new me.”

What motivated me to get into fitness? I wanted to feel strong, robust, to have some “stopping power,” to be able to fuck someone up if they were trying to fuck with me. I wanted to be able to defend myself and others, instead of being scared of conflict, to which my father’s anger had built up an extremely entrenched aversion. I was tired of getting pushed around (mostly by myself and in my mind, constantly anticipating conflict with others that did not materialize) and feeling vulnerable everywhere I went.

And what does this 6’6″ tall vegetarian ectomorph look like now, five or six years later?

I worked out my legs too, so chill

I work out my legs too, so chill.

I can honestly say that basically nobody fucks with me or gives me any shit. But guess who still anticipates conflict? Guess who still doubts his judgment? Guess who’s still often shy and withdrawn and afraid of being disliked by others and rejected? Me.

These occurrences in my life have made me who I am. The simple fact is that this world is not made for kind and gentle people, it is made for those who don’t worry about how they appear to others or even really how their actions affect others. They assume the worst of everyone and mistrust kindness and compassion. They respond to adversity by becoming a source of adversity themselves to whomever or whatever is causing their adversity. They are not passive; they are aggressive. When they feel their rights or freedoms are being trodden on, they are not quiet; they are the squeaky wheels who get the oil. Such people, if they are relatively intelligent, go far in life, and they are often perceived as Alpha.

My father was, in fact, somewhat passive at work. He was always Mike, the “nice guy.” He never made a big deal about getting the recognition he deserved. He let others take credit for jobs that they had actually messed up and that he had fixed. And he never quite got ahead, while nearly everyone around him was promoted. Sure, we lived a comfortable middle-class existence. But the actual comfort of that existence—the peace, the leisure, the enjoyment, the reduction of stress, more time with the family—never came to him, and subsequently it never came to us either, because he was always yelling at us and ruining our calm.

When he died, I largely blamed this sick, self-defeating morality he had imposed on himself: work yourself to death, and always “just ignore it,” and you’ll get what you deserve because the world rewards hard work, and even though “nice guys finish last,” they do finish. Well, he didn’t, except in a casket at 54.

Obviously, there are people who have had much more difficult childhoods or lives than I did. We were not poor or starving; I was never the victim of physical abuse of any kind (except a few swats on the bum). But I feel now that the material comfort of my middle-class upbringing coupled with the spiritual discomfort—issuing from my father—that I witnessed and experienced on a regular basis created the sense of being incapable of dealing with the world. I was both sheltered and subjected.

This type of dynamic is, in my opinion, why Betaness seems to be prevalent these days. Being raised middle-class and/or on middle-class, materialistic values, coupled with the spiritual discomfort of watching a self-contradictory lie unravel before their eyes—that of parents doing jobs they hate to provide unneeded things to kids who don’t appreciate them, in the midst of a governmental system rife with corruption, bald self-interest, and institutional violence—leads to both a sense of entitlement and a sense of being ill-equipped to deal with the frightening, dog-eat-dog world, to take on real challenges, to embrace failure.

Or, perhaps worse, reinforcing that materialistic value system within a spiritual vacuum, where no other values are instilled, no real hopes or confidences; a child is told simply to “succeed” or end up a “failure.” My father was mean but at least he wanted me to “succeed in my own way,” as I said above. He felt that principles and individual expression are important.

Many people don’t. They raise their children to just go with the flow forever, and to never deviate or question the powers that be. Happiness is not important, nor is pleasure or intelligence. Never take a chance, never jeopardize your position or your standing, whatever it is. Just do whatever is required of you at any time to stay afloat. Grow up, get married, have kids….your own will and sense and conscience are irrelevant. Pretty soon, you’ll be manager of the hardware store, or the car dealership, or the office.

I am not saying there is anything wrong with managing such places or wanting to manage them. I am saying that being raised with material comfort as a value but little else creates a person devoid of a sense of self, and I believe it a sense of self that allows a person to become Alpha, to become someone who is strong, confident, and passionate enough to address real conflict and adversity in an assertive way.

The underlying cause of my Betaness is not feminism or political correctness. On a material level, it is my father’s self-destructive quest for “success” that was built on a foundation of sand. It was the poor parenting skills of the folks in Massachusetts, who didn’t teach their children not to be sadists. It is basically “life” which took my friend from me at a young age.

On an ideological level, the underlying cause is much more vast: it is the hollowness and contradictory nature of our society and its values, which produce people who are terrified of hardship and adversity and failure, because they have never known it materially, only spiritually, and therefore remain overcome by such fears, as I have.

And on top of all that, they feel alone. They know that it’s “every man for himself” in this life, and that the people who have the power to help them—the successful ones—won’t, because if they’d been helping people all their lives, they wouldn’t be successful. So it’s our own fault if we need help, and “nice guys” get what they deserve: a mediocre and anxious existence.

But at least there are sports, women, and minorities for us to take our aggressions out on.