This post will be a bit different from the rest as it will not have anything to do with trains or the Burnesyd Magical Muggle Railway. However, I felt it was an interesting enough mental exercise and substantially thought-provoking and thus was suitable for inclusion on this site. Hopefully, you may enjoy it was well and perhaps challenge yourself and your friends to complete it.
A few weeks ago, I told my wife that I had a secret list of five guys that I would like to have dinner with (wow, your minds…. tsk.. tsk..) That alone sounds suspicious and – of course – the first thought would tend to stray to the sexual, but this does not fall into any prurient category. Rather, I have an abiding appreciation and respect for these men because I feel that they represent – at least for me – an ideal of some sort of respectful and respectable manhood or masculinity. So much so that I feel enjoying a dinner with them and even just casual discourse would be an opportunity to move more towards the type of man I’d like to be. Of course, I’d relish the chance to actually address the things I admire most in them, but I think even the simplest of interactions would be a wonderful opportunity.
Before I continue though, let me comment on the gender specificity here. First, I’m distinguishing between ‘better person’ and ‘better man’ quite on purpose. I could also make a list of five people of any gender – or even just five women – that I feel could help me to be a better person, but that’s not necessarily the same thing as my concept of gender identity and inherent gender-unique goals or aspirations. In this day and age, our society tends to pull away from gender-specificity in our public discourse. I think that this is a generally ideal place to start any discussion because truly very few things innately have (or should have) any gender considerations attached to them.
However, some do.
My mother played a large part in guiding me towards being a better person while she was alive but there are parts about being a man, about my concept of my gender and my expectation surrounding my gender that she would be either hard pressed to have answered or be simply unable to definitively answer at all. I would imagine that my wife’s father would face the same problems with my wife’s ideas and perceptions about being a woman. In the end, I’m not even referring to traditional concepts of masculinity or femininity; this is not me just wanting to be more manly, although that could theoretically be a part of the process. It is being a better, more fulfilled realization of my ideal of what a man is. Anyways, let me just answer the challenge I’ve posed and I’ll let my answers speak for themselves.
The 5 Men / 5 Woman at a Table Challenge: name 5 individuals of your identified gender that you feel would help you become the best representative of that gender (or 5 guys that would make me a better man).
Lin-Manuel Miranda – a man who seems to have combined an insane amount of ambition and creativity with seemingly endless determination and humility. Listening to him speak about his creations and his creative processes, allowing yourself to become immersed in his works, you not only see him in every word and note he creates, but can feel that this isn’t just a creation to; it’s him, lyrically, musically and ‘narrative-ly’ on the page and in the world. In some ways, I see the creative man I want to be in him and hear what could be myself and my voice coming from the mouths and hearts of his creations. I allowed my creative side to atrophy for a very long time in my life and I would love to absorb his suggestions for ‘fanning my spark into a flame’ and harnessing it with pure will and determination.
Aside from that, he is a passionate activist and harnesses his talent and his craft towards that activism. In some ways, it is very traditional: raising money for Planned Parenthood -which his mother is an important figure in – by giving away a three-city Hamilton tour. Or starting Tee-Rico, a t-shirt business where everything they make has some charity that benefits from it. Yet, his very craft seems laced with what seems his underlying thirst for equality and justice. Hamilton is built upon it, from his view of the integrity, vitality, and essential nature of immigrants and immigration as the lifeblood of this country to his fresh and biting while also humbly reverent commentary on our government, both at its inception and its transformation into its current state. Most are unable to mix art and craft and politics without it becoming pedantic and overbearing; not Miranda; for him it is just another seasoning he employs in his craft. That is talent I would love to learn to master as well.
Nick Offerman – Being a politically progressive individual, there are certain traits that one normally exhibits as a reflection of your core values. These traits can take many forms, but rarely are they considered innately ‘manly’ or ‘ruggedly masculine’, at least not in the traditional sense. Yet, Nick Offerman seems to accomplish just that, for all intents appearing like the human equivalent of a redwood workbench, hewed with a hunting knife, and painted with a elixir of blood, sweat, scotch and testosterone: He sips whiskey for hours on end on Christmas morning in a log cabin. He builds canoes with his bare hands. He can also give Steven Colbert a run for his money in appearing like a faux-right wing Conservative and have people actually believing it. Yet, he’s a staunch progressive.
He has achieved a miraculous blend of loving his masculinity, loving his progressiveness, and not falling prey to the stereotypes of either; few men can accomplish that. I’d like to share a couple of perfectly grilled medium rare steaks with baked potatoes (and fixings), a nice kale salad, and a 5th of a 20 year old whiskey and learn his secrets for building a sprawling log cabin retreat, becoming a master of timber wolves, scaring away bears with the thunder of my flatulence all while being #woke and enjoying an iced chai latte.
Senator Bernard Sanders – Atypical for today’s Washington, but archetypal of what I feel should be the standard for politicians, Bernie Sanders proves that politics should be about more than power and money. He fights for the citizenry, even in defeat and even when his only possible reward is just his service to this country. As much of a patriot as the bravest soldier, Bernie Sander’s moral compass is firmly set on the greatest and most notable ideals of this country. Even among hours and days that seem to threaten a storm of intolerance, bigotry, authoritarianism and anti-reason, he continues to show us that there is a better way, challenging his corrupt and morally repugnant enemies on the right as well as suborning the status quo of the hidebound and unimaginative remainder of the left. I would love to learn how to be a bold and idealistic revolutionary as well as a calmly persistent outsider.
Tim Gunn – I suppose Tim Gunn is an outlier of sorts in my group, at least in terms of the concept of traditional masculinity, Tim Gunn challenges that idea of masculinity by showing pride in his identity and his who he is as a person (as well as his sexuality) as well as being an exemplar of style, pose and generosity. I add him to my list without consideration of his love life because (honestly) that is not what should define or qualify us. He has a keen and critical mind in his observation of creativity and artistic expression yet can perfectly articulate that in way that do not defeat or deflate those that are doing the creating. He also has a unique and assured sense of style, which is both bold and challenging yet also equally stately and reserved. You could also use the same terms to describe the man who wears those clothes. He is a ‘boldly dapper’ man. Lord knows I could wish some of his inimitable style would rub off on me, but not as much as the pride and comfort he clearly feels within his own skin.
Robin Williams – As for my last choice, I clearly could never have lunch with the late Robin Williams, a brilliant man, but clearly also a haunted one as well. He was a humorist extraordinaire and I personally could not feel whole without possessing some humor in my life. I would like to think that Robin of all people would understand the importance and necessity of humor in ones life, although all to often it seems to be ignored or neglected in favor of other traits. Some say that humor is sexy and I must agree: my wife is often at her most beautiful and alluring when she is laughing or is making me laugh.
Humor is a powerful tool in our life. It allows us to face adversity head-on, to take a punch and come back up swinging, to face down a bully and laugh at his worst attacks. It also gives us a powerful attack against those same oppressors, a weapon if you wish. It is the most cunning and skillful of weapons because – if used skillfully – the target doesn’t even know they’ve been attacked. I’ve held for the last several months that protests against the current state of the nation is vital, but the best weapon against Mr. Trump is mockery, irreverence, and disregard. I try, in my own limited way to add to the collective commentary, although I cannot speak to my effectiveness. I make a few folks happy every once in a while and we laugh at our shared commiseration and dubiety; that’s sufficient. #trumpocalypse
More importantly than all of that is the fact that humor gives us the ability to appreciate the ‘nectar’ of life, its sweet and poignant moments. Some are beautiful and happy, but others are bittersweet and humor allows us to transform grief to jubilation, to see the good among the bad. Humor fills us with joy and with vitality and I think Robin Williams knew that best of all of us. I’d have liked to have sat and talked with him and learned what humor meant to him and how it guided his life. His life on this earth may have ended sadly, but his life felt nonetheless joyous and I would like to know better how to find more joy and humor in my life and share the same gusto he seems to have possessed.
So, there we go: my 5 guys to make me a better man. I share these because I felt that in thinking about this list, in considering my choices and deciding who to condense this down to, I discovered what is most important to me as a person and how I wish to grow. I will most likely never have the opportunity to even meet any of these people, let alone have a colloquial dinner with them. However, their examples nonetheless motivate and inspire me, lead me to a place I’d like to one day reach, a measurement I’d like to equal.
In a time when we are focused on so many things externally, too often reacting to something instead of acting in pursuit of something, I feel it’s vital to periodically turn our gaze inside and center on our own internal compass. And every compass must have its cardinal points. So, I encourage you to join me. Find your 5 men or your 5 women who exemplifying who you’d like to be, where you’d like to go emotionally, spiritually, whatever. Write them down privately or share them here on this blog post or on my Facebook feed, to share with me and (perhaps) others. I look forward to seeing who inspires all of you.