Despite the title, I don’t want to get into the whole debate about what a man “should” be compared to what a woman “should” be, like that it’s somehow okay for women to express emotions other than anger or triumph but not men, who need to repress that all in order to “be” manly (except during sporting events), because that’s what society expects.
However, it is emotional control that I seek, as I’m still prone to stupid bouts of anxiety and confusion these days, even if I’m better than I was last year, more confident with my daily tasks, and even physically moving with more certainty. Despite my building confidence, one little thing can still set me worrying like a child…
For example, even though my boss expressed happiness with my performance before she went away on holiday recently, she also told me off for looking at the Internet (despite everyone else in my team doing that between tasks), and it got me anxious all over again. I’ve been dreading her return to the office, which is happening tomorrow, but why should I? I work hard in my role, I’m learning all sorts of things, and everyone makes mistakes — and if there’s a lesson to learn, it’s not “don’t goof off”, it’s “don’t let the boss see you goofing off”.
(I actually wonder if that’s precisely what she wanted me to learn!)
Another thing that messed me up recently was “other female best friend” posting an article in Facebook about trypophobia, an irrational fear of holes in patterns, especially organic ones (and most of all, lotus pods — Google them if you dare). I’d never consciously felt such nervousness before, but now the holes in the walls at the Castle climbing centre, the speaker grill in my alarm clock radio, or even certain patterns in stone doorframes of posh houses around Marylebone (where I work), can make me feel scared for no sensible reason…
And speaking of walking around Marylebone, there are quite a lot of beggars (presumably thanks to Islamic State driving them over here) — and maybe it’s fear (rather than contempt) that keeps me from even acknowledging them, or maybe I’m just too afraid to admit that I don’t want to give money to strange people, and feel the need to rationalise this as “they might be con artists or in a gang”, or “they’ll spend it on booze anyway”. It’s hard enough for me to interact with strangers at all (otherwise I’d tell off cyclists who ride on the pavement instead of tutting).
It’s possible I’m just experiencing similar fears to those everyone else has, but I don’t want to — I really do want to “man up”, and become a proper grownup who can face problems confidently instead of finding childish excuses to wimp out. The problem is that I never really had any real life male role models growing up: my father never visited, my cool uncle died when I was young, and my grandfather, although a good man, was of a completely different generation. Perhaps this is why some of my few male friends over the years have been a kind of “alpha male” to me, including “good housemate” when I was at Caledonian Road: he challenged me, accusing me of being gay (and also a heterosexual virgin, depending on his whims), and helped toughen me up a bit.
(Probably not intentionally, of course!)
These days, lacking any significant male celebs to admire (because I’ll never be a footie fan), I find myself trying to emulate some of my fictional heroes, men who keep their heads and replace fear and anxiety with confidence and competence. An obvious example (cited a few times in these hallowed pages) is the unflappable genius Mr. Spock, of course, who taught me to think logically and rationally when dealing with problems, and that it’s all right to be internally conflicted as long as your intellect remains in control and you maintain a quiet, knowing demeanour.
However, perhaps my greatest inspiration in terms of “manning up” comes from Stephen King’s very own gunslinger, depicted at the top of this post: Roland of Gilead, from the Dark Tower novels (yes, I’ve reached that far in my attempt to read through all of King’s works). Like him, I want to be someone who never gives up, always moving forward instead of focusing on the past (“if only…” being one of the most futile things to waste thought upon), doing whatever is necessary without hesitation or complaint (however unpleasant), and never shirking, goofing around or forgetting the face of one’s father (i.e. screwing up like a fool).
I also find myself wishing I could be more taciturn, like both men: watching and listening intently, noticing every little detail, instead of feeling the need to make smart-alec comments, ask nagging questions and blunder around making silly and avoidable mistakes — to be quietly confident in all things instead of concealing my anxiety behind a facade of manchild whimsy.
Of course, the most grownup thing I could do would be to accept myself as I am: yes, I have room for improvement, but what’s wrong with me being a bit of a joker, if I make people laugh and cheer them up? That’s always been a major personality trait, and while my inane attempts at humour may annoy Vulcans or gunslingers, maybe I’m not such a bad soul after all. The main thing I need to do to “man up” is discipline myself and work hard in everything I do, never putting off things I can do right away or finding excuses, but also to accept when I can’t do a thing (as happens with a lot of my IT tickets), and either ask for help (when appropriate) or be patient for a resolution.
Truth be told, I’ve been a bit withdrawn for the past couple of weeks (I’d love to say that’s the reason I’ve not been posting in this blog!), but now I’m once again forcing myself to go out and socialise at meetup groups in the evenings, instead of rationalising that staying home is about saving money or preserving my spare time (though it doesn’t help that my exact bit of the Northern Line is closed many weekends in April and May… it’s 2012 all over again!). It’s fine to be afraid, as long as you’re honest with yourself that it’s the reason for not going out, the first step to fighting and overcoming it (which is what grownups do).
Since I (still) feel loathing for most of the male population of London, going out is a case of leaving my comfort zone and facing my fears — and thus a good example of “manning up”, don’t you think?