Category Archives: Just Living

Throw Me Away

Suicide…Let’s talk about it…..I must admit I’ve thought about it.

I feel sick, bubbling up with tears in a way I’ve never done at the mention of suicide. Today I remembered how in high school I was on the verge of doing so. How close?

I struggled with academia and comparisons with higher performing peers and siblings brought shame to my own efforts. Though I was never beaten for bad grades, the constant sniping was death by a thousand cuts. I wasn’t good enough, I’d be like such and such a person. If it wasn’t A+ they don’t want to hear about it, don’t mention creative stuff, that’s not going to get you anywhere. Don’t you dare disagree, or have an opinion that contrasts with another vision for you.  Walk like this, talk like that, hold your knife and fork this way, your lips moved – you must be being rude even though no sound was made. Your eyes moved this way, you’re supposed to be that way, stop being disrespectful. Dismiss it as nothing if you will.  For me, without validation from important adults, I was nothing.

I was bullied often and at different points, year in year out, from the beginning of primary school to the final years of high school. During break times playing basketball in high school, guys would actively shout “1000 points if you knock his glasses off or 10, 000 if you trip him over and get him to cry”.

There was one physical education session where I was playing football. I came in for some rough treatment as an outfield player and became the goalkeeper. Although I fared better in this position, the fouls got worse to the point where I blurted out that I just wanted to kill myself. They thought I was joking.

I had struggled with self-esteem issues (body etc) and all-around confidence. At this point, both were 6 feet under where I wanted to be. They had never accepted me for me. Nobody did. No matter what I did, being me wasn’t good enough for anyone. In my head, I mused whether school tie around a goal post or by other means away from there would do the job. How close did I get to it? close enough.

I fell ill and was out of school for over a week. When I returned, people told me that they thought I really had taken my life. They joked about me returning from the dead. I don’t know what stopped me from doing it. Maybe there was a fighter in me after all. I didn’t dare tell anyone how I really felt. Nobody would have listened anyway, not without making me feel worse than I already did. Dead rappers get lauded, there are no prizes for near misses.

Although I’ve thought about it in my adult life, I’ve been able to divert my intense thought patterns to a better place…just. Whilst I’ve been able to pour myself into writing in times when I had nobody to talk to, a creative outlet to channel destructive energy isn’t given to everyone.

I don’t want to be in a world where 9-year-old boys or anyone else feels like their life isn’t worth it. That hurts me to my soul. I hope that we create environments so that those who struggle can freely express their struggles, their pain. Talk to me, talk to someone.  Together we can change the puzzle so that more people feel like they fit into this world.

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Re: Definition?

I’m not the kind of man that can have his manhood away, Jamie Neville, fellow cast member.

Although my body no longer feels the emotional weight of a week of shows, I find my mind is still processing it all. It is still at the checkout scanning everything on the conveyor belt and counting the cost.

Now that I’ve cross-examined masculinity and mental health, what do the words “Man Up” mean? The negative association it had has been vanquished by virtuous relationships. Machismo is no longer the main mode, nor is there shame or intentional repression.

Maybe I was privileged to have encountered so many genuine people at once. Maybe it’s the post-show comedown. What I do know is that there is hope. Man Up is a statement of encouragement to be open and honest with yourself. It is a smoke signal for friendship and fostering positive behaviours. It is men recognising that they are not alone or other men cannot be their best selves alone. To hear those words is to tell someone that you’re ready to serve them, to support them.

I could argue whether the phrase should still exist, I won’t because I know it will outlive me. This phrase is a statement of your attitude and intent.

If I’m committed to using what I’ve learned then I will listen without judgement. I hope to understand the journey and help you along the way. Maybe we’ll see the finish line together. Are you ready for that level of vulnerability? Can your ego and prejudice stand down to help a man up?

If you’re the kind of man that can’t have his manhood taken away, your actions will answer the questions. I live in hope.

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All Good Things

The piano tinkled one last time as a man mountain of hugs closed the final show. A stream of tears became a Mexican tidal wave that overtook us all. Grown men sobbing publicly without fear or thought to what any of the audience may think. It was real, for all of us.

We had worked with each other, for each other, we loved and laughed, we embraced as we grafted and crafted something special. We hoped that it was impactful whilst entertaining. For many of the 600 or so that came, this was essential viewing.  A conversation on masculinity and mental health has well and truly been started, how far could it go?

When the last drop of celebratory beers had been drunk, and the last of our multiple hugs had finished, each of us returned home to face the reality of life outside the bubble of a performance. I didn’t know what to do with myself, I didn’t know how to feel. For all my emotional intelligence and self-awareness I was numb. I knew I’d grown but I didn’t know how. I was exhausted and fragile yet strengthened by the experience.

As I write this, I don’t know how I’ve grown personally, maybe I’ve grown as an artist. I remember the first performances where I messed up lines but got through my solo in the show. That started an incredible mental battle that I had to overcome. Slow down so that every line can have the impact you want it to, was the message from the directors.   I duly started my piece in 1st gear rather than 3rd and found a groove that allowed me to shine. Word perfect and performances 3 – 5 got better each time. Some said they saw me grow through each one.

Some have said they’ve learned a lot from me, again I don’t know what. So I ask myself what is the legacy of Man Up for me? Perhaps it’s relationships.

Throughout my life, I didn’t have many deep connections with the males, one every blue moon at best. The connections I had were generally social and rarely along meaningful lines. Ultimately they’d fizzle and I’d be left to fend for myself. As the weeks pass, I intend to build even deeper personal connections with the family or UpMen as we called ourselves. If brotherly love must continue, being intentional is necessary.

“Yes I’m a mess but I’m blessed to be stuck with you…”

Thank you, Paul & Clare, for your direction and process of co-creation, thank you Up Men for your love for this overthinking wordsmith. We have redefined the words Man Up in a positive way. Let’s build.

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Old vs New Man

To some, the new man seems more feminine. They seem too sensitive, soft, more cushions and curtains tan grit and graft. They don’t know where man has gone. This new man isn’t real man. They don’t fit, they’re the ones fighting for acceptance. They find fewer outlets for their kind of guy.

Is this new man an evolution? Is it the standard for men to come? Or is it just a phase that will go full circle? How does sensitive man teach the toughness that manhood is known for?

I see this so-called new man as more of an expansion to the existing property rather than a standalone building. It is an exciting addition to the stoic menu of masculinity. Our base instincts to build, conquer, fix will always be there. It is simply that we have better ways to protect ourselves. Better ways to heal.

Protection from being honest and open. Protection by knowing what our fights really are. Allowing ourselves the chance to heal properly and become stronger for it.

It is also about better day-to-day maintenance of the man mentally and physically. We have access to greater resources than ever before. Can we trust ourselves to use them?

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I admit it, I don’t Understand!

Generational or cultural expressions of what it is to be us in our natural and spiritual selves have in many cases been the foundations for who we are or have wanted to be. The expectations of those “passing the torch” may come with a pat on the head and a “be a good boy, do what I say and things will be fine” mantra. They are loaded with warnings and implied repercussions for disobedience.

In light of this, I have learned when to argue and when to keep my mouth shut. I have learned that by appearing to agree with them, I’m protecting myself from a storm of daggers and thunderbolts. I am protecting myself from the exertion of their demigod-like power for the sake of peace. I am shielding myself from myself because to expose that would be war.

Is it your duty to maintain or to advance?

At times I find myself trapped between a desire to maintain the best of what I have received, and build better versions of the worst. Within that are insecurities pertaining to the reception of my evolved view of the worlds I am in. There are also insecurities about knowing enough, being skilled or capable to deliver. Am I enough?

What I can say is that foundations require work. What held the initial version of you together may have to be revisited brick by brick. I am at that point.  I admit it, I don’t understand a number of things that relate to the worlds I belong to. The questions I have, are generated by a level of discomfort with varying structures, attitudes and practices. The byproduct of this is a greater understanding of what I consider to be important.

What I consider important may not line up with generational or cultural expressions or expectations. However, my level of comfort in articulating that through word and deed can only increase by acceptance of that fact. From there, as I know more, I become more. I can exchange old clothes for new clothes and accessories because I know my size, my shape, my style.

Humanity has many dimensions, it’s our duty to discover as many of ours possible.

 

Photo Credit: Jenny Harper Photography

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Brothers in Season

If you listen to the movies, life happens when you don’t make plans. Materially successful people will sell you a book that tells you to make plans for your plans.

If I’d had my way I would have changed career and left this city long ago. It would all have been on my terms and conditions, there wouldn’t be any of this, beyond your control malarkey.

When the mist of Christmas cleared, I was thrust into a spiral that at times became a whirlwind of despair and frustration. There were days when I couldn’t face the mirror let alone the world, days where I didn’t want to hear my own thoughts or superficial well-wishing. Give me what I need or leave me alone was the sentiment. I believed I had to roll with the punches and keep the scars hidden. The blessing in the storm was that for my sanity, I wasn’t allowed to do that.

For me, the darkness that descended occupied 3 out 4 seasons this year. Despite the fears, the tears, the rants and the rejections I find myself grateful for the unexpected brotherhoods that have developed. Support networks of guys who somehow appeared when I’ve needed them to keep the light on for me.

I’m thankful for the school friend who introduced me to a global group of like-minded guys who were open about their struggles and gave each other support.

I’m thankful for the Man Up project which has given me a greater understanding of the journeys to and through masculinity. I’ve been able to drop a mask or two and find acceptance waiting for me. I have learned that masculinity cannot truly be taught from one-dimension.

I’m thankful for my brother CJ who has been the general on the ground who doesn’t use “how are you?” as a greeting.

By the end of August, I will have told my story to a few hundred strangers. At some point, I’ll have new colleagues to create new stories with. It may take time to recognise all the lessons that this season within seasons has taught me.

However, the one I resonate with the most is that life is a team effort. As we understand each other, we grow, we become ourselves, we fly higher and sew into new teams.

For this, I am thankful.

 

Photo credit: Rob Mcleod

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Plodding

You’ll never know what you can bear until you fight with one.

Though I wasn’t bred that way I take a slice to know the light is on.

Been decked by my cards so I shuffle around the boat.

Drowning in the blue that the red mist lead me to.

Clutching pearls that swine gave me.

Scorched earth screaming green as new shoots.

Golden boots give tours of their shoe collections.

You’re only good as your answer to the last question.

The fable of favour requires faith to become a fact

I fight with enlightened beasts, it kills me where I’m at

Blind mice testifying of finding big cheeses releases of hope of planting my flag on the moon.

Everything I should have done has been festooned.

Everyone I should have been, marooned by who am I now.

I look up to look up though I’m down.

What now?

 

 

 

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