Being a Man

Is part of being a man doing things that you don’t enjoy?

I’ve been mulling this over lately. There’s a certain perception that men should do classically manly things. Even small things that you might not think of. Drinking black coffee, for example. How many TV shows have you seen where the wannabe pussy-man orders some fru-fru coffee drink with four sugars and plenty of cream–or, in this modern heyday of Starbucks and its own brand of coffee culture, some kind of soy latte frappa-whatever-cini? Right? And then the manly men on the show, usually characters with whom our sadly feminine main character is trying to gain masculine acceptance, all laugh in his face as they drink their burning hot black coffees and smoke their unfiltered cigarettes. Because that’s what men do.

So why is that? I’ll be honest with you. I’m not a huge fan of black coffee. But for a while I tried to be. I assumed that it was more mature to like black coffee, and so I tried to condition myself to liking it. A good friend of mine is a stout believer in the virtues of black coffee, and I have to wonder if he initially liked the taste, or if he had to learn to appreciate it. Because of course it’s possible to come to like something. But why? Why do we strive to appreciate things because we’re supposed to appreciate them?

You know how I like my coffee? With lots and lots of cream. Heavy cream or half & half and, again, absolute tons of it. I just finished my second cup today, and I made sure to add even more cream the second time around because the first time the coffee was still vaguely coffee-colored, and that ain’t the way I like it. And I’ve only learned to like it this way after having started a low carb diet that doesn’t allow me to add sugar to my coffee. And guess what? I put some artificial sweetener in the other day, and holy damn it was delicious. Sweet coffee tastes good, and I’m not really sure why I find it hard to acknowledge that.

It’s not just coffee, either. My girlfriend got me a pipe for my birthday, because I’m the type of prematurely old and cantankerous weirdo who would love to receive a pipe as a gift. And–thank God–I really enjoy smoking it. The smoke tastes and smells nice, there’s a level of simple but satisfying skill to pipe smoking that appeals to me, and it looks super cool. But I’m fairly confident that, even if I’d hated smoking the pipe at first, I’d have stuck with it until I enjoyed it, because to my mind it seems to be the sort of thing a growed-ass man should enjoy. The kind of thing you could offer a less virile friend to try, and then laugh with satisfied smugness when he spluttered and coughed, confident that you had won the manly day.

The list goes on, too. Whiskey is another obvious one. I like whiskey. I’m a big fan of bourbon, in particular. I like bourbon and coke. I like bourbon straight. I like Manhattans. But I’m pretty certain that I didn’t really like it when I first tasted it. I’ve come to like it and appreciate it now, and I feel like a straight up boss every time I drink it.

But what’s the use, really?

I read some comments online about dieting recently that brought these thoughts to my mind. The question posed was something along the lines of, “What should I use to sweeten my food?” and the low-carb advocate’s response was, “Why do you need to sweeten food? I encourage to learn to appreciate the way food tastes.”

I read that and thought, yeah! You totally should learn to appreciate the taste of food without sweeteners.

Then I stepped back a moment and analyzed my reaction.

Wait, what? Why? Why should you feel pressured to like something that, upon first experiencing it, you don’t enjoy? Of course it’s possible to learn to like something, and liking more things is good, generally speaking. But who says that you can’t dislike things? Especially as an adult. It’s accepted that kids are picky, but once you become a man you’re supposed to like manly things? Shouldn’t adulthood be the point where you no longer have to pretend to like shit? Shouldn’t a tall, bearded son-of-a-bitch be the last person to have to like certain things?

Of course, you can’t blame it all on the pressure to seem manly. There are plenty of things we do once we grow up that we don’t really enjoy, but feel are appropriate to do. If we’re lucky we learn to enjoy them. “Yes, I train Muay Thai. Hm? No, it doesn’t hurt to get hit in the face. It’s awesome! What’s that? Oh yes, I like to wind down after sparring with a glass of Scotch and a cigar, followed by a drunken walk in the woods, avoiding clearly marked trails at all costs, of course.”

Well, guess what? I don’t like getting punched in the face, and I ought to be able to admit that. I don’t like Scotch. I do like the woods, true. And I do like cigars. But I don’t like having to learn to like things that rub me the wrong way, even if I do so anyway.

So here’s to being your own version of manly, womanly, or whatever you want to be.

And here’s to coffee with sugar (or Equal) and lots of cream. Because face it–black coffee tastes like a kick in the teeth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Success

So… It’s been a minute since I’ve posted on here, huh? I use the word minute figuratively, of course, because it has in fact been months. And I would simply say, “I won’t mention it if you don’t mention it,” if I didn’t know you better. Let’s not kid ourselves, after all. We both know that you wouldn’t be able to resist bringing up the time I went months without posting on the blog. You just can’t help yourself, can you?

Well, whatever. I’ll let bygones be bygones. Being the bigger person here. Plus, you knew what you were in for when you read the About page. I made no promises of constancy, consistency, or anything vaguely resembling blog activity when I set out on this venture. All I promised you was a handful of rambling, focus-less posts. And boy, are you in luck today!

Because I’d like to talk about a movie I saw recently. And if you’ve read this blog at all, and know what kind of fiction I read and write, you can probably guess what movie I saw.

That’s right: Jack Reacher.

Kidding, kidding. It was The Hobbit, of course, and my reaction to the film is actually a lot more positive than it sounds. Ready?

I am less disappointed than I expected to be.

Now, like I mentioned above, that doesn’t sound like high praise. But let me explain. You see, The Hobbit is one of my all-time favorite stories. I haven’t read it through in a while now, and it’s not one of those books that have on a constant reread cycle. But I count it as the first book that truly left its mark on me. In Elementary school, I was a quick and gifted reader, but I didn’t really love books. They told me that I read at the level of a college freshman when I was in fourth grade, and despite how proud I was of that esteem, I didn’t take full advantage. I could comprehend books just fine, but I only read when I had to. The Hobbit changed that for me.

I picked it up after hearing about the upcoming Lord of the Rings movies. Even then, I was the type of kid who had to start at the beginning to feel that I’d gotten the most out of anything (I still do this with bands, TV shows, and book series today). So my mom bought me The Hobbit, which I was determined to read before getting into The Lord of the Rings proper. My copy had beautiful, detailed illustrations, and I was grabbed immediately by Tolkien’s vivid, grandfatherly style of storytelling. And I still look back on that book with more than just fondness, because it’s a style of storytelling that isn’t often seen in fiction anymore. It’s not every author who can write a story and instantly transport the reader to a warm oversized chair by a fire with the first words. But The Hobbit has that power.

So you can understand why it was with some considerable trepidation that I approached Peter Jackson’s film adaptation, especially with all the negative things I’d heard already. I had heard that it was bloated and unnecessarily drawn out (the adaptation was initially announced to be one film, and then two, and then a ridiculous three). I had heard that it was filled with obvious CGI and corny 3D gimmicks. And, of course, I had heard that it was a totally unneeded attempt to cash in on the success of the first three Lord of the Rings films. I was feeling a familiar, Phantom-Menace-esque lump in my throat at the thought. And, to cap it all off, Patrick Rothfuss, whose writing I love and who has led me to many other great books and films in the past through his blog, publicly stated that he would not be seeing the movie because of these factors.

So, again, I was not expecting much. But I think those low expectations saved the experience for me. In the end, strange as it sounds, I was pleasantly surprised to be unexpectedly un-disappointed. I’d spent so much time before the film bracing myself for absolute garbage that, when the time finally came to plonk myself down in the theater, I was able to have a really good time with the film.

I’ll break it down, briefly.

Being the geek that I am, I was particularly susceptible to all the random bits of nostalgia-inducing fan service throughout the movie. When the tale began with Tolkien’s immortal lines, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”–well, when I heard those first words I immediately broke out into a smile. And the original story is that dear to me that not even my powerful inner cynic could prevent Peter Jackson from playing on my nostalgic impulses. There were plenty of little inside lines like that designed to capitalize on the fond remembrances of the initiated.

Still, it’s that same geek mentality that made me more likely to cringe at all the silly Hollywood guff, and guff there was in spades. Jackson’s ridiculously lengthy action sequences are a prime example. It was also jarring to see scenes from The Lord of the Rings repeated almost exactly in this film (Gandalf, I’m talking about you and your ever-present friend, the moth–and his ever-present friends, the giant eagles, for that matter). But I suppose it ended up cancelling out in the end, and I found myself able to look past the silliness of some moments (a sled pulled by rabbits? Really?) and appreciate the thing as a whole.

Don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t perfect. Does this adaptation need to be three films long? Hell no. Did the first installment need to be almost three hours long? Absolutely not. Does it promise to measure up to the quality of the Lord of the Rings movies? Not by a long shot. But was it an enjoyable film? With all its flaws, I am still compelled to answer that question with a resounding yes. It was plenty fun, it had all the little moments and jokes from the books that you could want, and it looked pretty damn good (provided that you don’t see it in 3D).

And, fellow geeks, let’s be honest with ourselves. No one’s going to sully classic books like The Hobbit. No one has the power to do that. No matter who adapts it or how, Tolkien’s book will always be a wonderful, vintage bit of fairy-tale storytelling, always untouched by time. So just enjoy this popcorn-munching affair for what it is, and return home to your pipe, blazing hearth, well-stocked larder, and well-worn copy of the original book, knowing in your heart that Peter Jackson’s Hobbit could have been much, much worse.

I mean, at least Legolas wasn’t in this one.