Abdiel Vallejo-Lopez is an MFA student at SCAD Atlanta. He earned a B.A. in Humanities from The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Abdiel now works as an intern at Paste Magazine, writing the latest articles about music, movies, and entertainment. In his free time Abdiel likes listening to music.
Man in Five Steps
In a hospital crib, nestled inside a glass box you find that you are now a parent to a baby boy. A son that looks half like you, half like the person you procreated with. You identify that your boy is healthy by a few selective qualities. They have toes and fingers that reach aimlessly in the air, they have weak necks struggling to stabilize bald heads that bobble up and down. They are given strong names like Joshua, Ismael, Mathew, or Salvador passed down from generation to generation, and there is a responsibility to that name. They carry a burden of debt that’s acquired after passing male genes. Soon they’ll be running and swimming and playing catch with their dads (if they’re fortunate enough). They’ll turn sticks into machine guns and throw mud, reluctantly play house with the girls when there’s no other option. Go to school, grow moustaches barely visible without a magnifying glass. Try a cigarette for the first time, get sick. Graduate, meet a nice girl, loose their virginity before 20. Then with more difficulty, they’ll reach adulthood and become a man. Contrary to what some might think, being a man is inherently simple. Get a job, get a car, get a loan or a mortgage and pay it off. Take the family on vacation once a year. Get a drill and a compass and a hunting knife or bow. Get a diesel engine, 8-cylinder Ford. Occasionally say phrases like “How many horses you got under there?” Take the wife dancing once in a while. Eat a sandwich, fix a flat. Yes, being a man is simple, but becoming a man is one of the most difficult things we have to do. It’s interesting to think how the fabric of our existence is created by the surplus of a chemical that makes us aggressive and bald. Looking back over my short time here, I’ve compiled a set of steps that have helped me understand what masculinity means. These steps aren’t meant to be taken too seriously or much less taken in chronological order. I wrote them mostly as place marks or suggestions to someone struggling to find something substantial. Of course with any piece of advice it goes without saying that this information comes out of personal experience and that this isn’t a one size fits all approach or a measure to which men are defined. It’s an outburst mostly, a humorous interpretation into what has become of me. Snapshots of irreverence that, if anything, should mostly entertain.
Step one, lift heavy weights. The philosophy behind this as explained to me by people like Mark Rippetoe is that men have evolved to be strong. It’s in our blood, our genetics have been reaffirming this in us over centuries of development. The hunter, the Spartan, the jaguar warrior, the Marine shouting “ooh rah!” as he battles into the night. The mental toughness in gaining physical strength is invaluable and the lack of it often disguises itself as emotional distress. Beyond bouts of serious depression in men, often swept under the rug because of pride and a level of emotional numbness that’s socially required, is another form of depression, a depression which is side-effect of a lack of physical strength. Because of this, training to become stronger is one of the best natural remedies for low self-esteem. This action boils down to a basic principle that things aren’t easy and the view of strength as a tool to overcome hardships. This lesson becomes clear under a barbell when you’re pushing twice your body weight at a low bar position on your back and your knees want to buckle under the pressure of the weights as your back is tight and your legs, arms, shoulders and everything in between is screaming, begging you to drop the stupid thing and walk away and you ignore them and push the damn thing up anyway and rack it and rest. With sweat dripping down your brow and stinging a salty sting in your eyes and you contemplate in the mirror the dilated pupils of a spectacle of a man that has conquered, sitting down for a minute or two to rest before getting back up and doing the whole thing over again. That is what it’s all about. It isn’t about looking the like a supermodel flexing for a camera phone or worrying about the symmetry of your biceps. Leave that for Ken dolls and body sculptors. What you’re here to do is to become better and push yourself to the edge of you limits. When training for strength, stick to a program that focuses on the primary barbell movements, squat (and its variations), the deadlift, and the press. Take at least 135 pounds, squat it, deadlift it, press it then work your weight up from there, and call me in the morning. When you squat take the bar down until your hips go below your knees and breathe with your belly. Become judgmental if anyone does it any other way. Talk to people about their routines and discipline. Say things like “which program are you on right now?” Always use the term “bro” when referring to people in a gym. Be disciplined and work towards a clear and tangible goal.
Step two, kill something. This is a very simple idea repeated over and over again throughout time and culture. The ritual of hunting has been practiced by men for thousands of years, a transferring of energy from somethings death. It happened to me one night in the aridity of southern California. Between the dry thorn bushes and coyote scat on the bottom of mount Two bit in Riverside. Where I chased a rabbit with a friend of mine named Steven, and we caught it. The rabbit was slow compared to the rest, and elderly it seemed. We had some trouble catching it but in a half hour we had cornered it between a rock and Steven grabbed its frail body clenching it in his hands. As he held the rabbits body I took it by the neck feeling his pulsating rhythm on the palms of my hands and I yanked and yanked on his neck-bone trying to dislocate his head. I twisted my palms and snapped the rabbits neck then looked down at it with remorse that I had made it suffer so much, angry at my sloppiness. I remember the rabbit’s head laying in my palms cold and stiff with dead eyes. We stretched it out by its legs and skinned it with a hunting knife, we gutted it and chopped his carcass by pieces, legs, thighs, and torso. Inside our apartment we felt good over our hunt as we marinated the rabbit and seasoned it with salt and pepper, then grilled and ate the skinny rabbit with barely any meat. Years later I would watch, with my 6-year-old nephew, the killing of a black calf. They brought the calf in the night before and tied it to a tree. In the morning it took three men to hold the calf on each of its sides and on his back. My grandfather came out with a sharp 10-inch kitchen knife and raised the calf’s head to expose its jugular. It was obvious that my grandfather had to be the one to cut the calf’s throat, by the steadiness of his hand and the ease in which the blade glided across the neck. The cleanness of my grandfather’s cut made the blood flow out of the animal like a warm scarf covering its neck. Unlike the panicked rabbit’s dilated eyes, the calf closed his lids in dizziness as he slipped away. As with everything, practice makes all the difference. In killing something for sustenance there is reverence, no matter how mundane or unnoticed it may be. In order to get a good cut of meat it’s important that the animal doesn’t panic and suffer under its last moments. Because of that my grandfather hid the knife behind his back until the end. He petted the calf and shushed it quietly before ending him with a single quick movement of his knife. It’s always such a surreal moment for me to watch an animal die. It’s a sad and terrifying experience that hasn’t gotten easier, but there is merit to it. There’s comfort in the realization that the animal didn’t suffer and that they lived freely until the end. It’s a reminder that mistakes are often times irreparable, a reminder to make sure to do things right the first time and to take responsibility for your actions. Keeping in mind that everything has consequences even as simple as the tenderness of a cut of meat.
Step three, get a woman. It’s fundamental, there’s a quality about women that makes them captivating, intimidating, scary as all hell, and overwhelmingly beautiful. Its ineffable. Most importantly, the future of the species depends on it so get some confidence and get to it. Getting a woman to notice you can difficult at times. Start with a good sense of humor and a joke to make her laugh. Think about telling a good story and then practice it at home, always being aware about the importance of comedic timing. Usually I’ll tell a story about a time in California, hanging out with the artist crowds, being isolated in my own little world of drug induced creativity. Or I’ll talk about the simpler things, my dogs and the stray cat that hangs around the backyard of my house. I stray away from talking about the mundane like politics or the weather, because I’m an extraordinary man equipped with the language and creativity of an advanced artist with a writing degree (don’t tell them you have a writing degree). Tell them you’re in business communications or marketing say words like “portfolio” and get in the habit of going to the barber every week to line your beard. Be a little bit of a jerk. Learn to dance and actively go on dates that encourage dancing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions like, “where do we go from here?” or “do you want to hang out later?” or “do you love me?” Be critically aware of the shocking momentariness of sex because it’s in the moments after where a relationship takes root, eventually taking over the two people involved. If you’re serious go and meet her parents and take part of that awkward conversation surrounding one heavy hitting question; “What are your intentions with my daughter?” This question was asked to me by a man in his fifties who with whiskey in his breath stumbled into his daughter’s room filled to the brim with drunken parental clichés. Sitting at the edge of his daughter’s bed, I almost hurt myself trying to think of an answer that sounded better than; “well, what do you think?” In hindsight, however, I loved her. In hindsight, part of me wants to talk to her again, but it’s difficult to trust your perception because everything looks better in hindsight. I think the problem with love is that no one knows exactly how it’s supposed to feel. Or maybe, it isn’t a feeling at all. Maybe, it’s an equation that can trick you multiple times. One day you think you get it, and the next day it turns out that, in haste you forgot to carry the one and the solution is wrong. But I keep trying despite the endless possibilities of something going wrong. When we look at the probability of finding the right person, the odds are stacked against us. But the future of the humanity depends on it and as a useful member of society, I’ll do my part.
Step four, get your heart broken. Think of it as a rite of passage. The only thing that’ll break a man faster than anything else in this world. The key to getting over it is distraction and a good bottle of whiskey as well. It starts with an overly calm demeanor, a false sense of relief after getting rid of someone, this is a precursor to the next stage, a stage that involves you on the floor sobbing like a blubbering fool. You’ll find out that your guy friends who you always regretted not spending enough time with are actually kind of boring, that country music now suddenly gets you. You’ll block her from Facebook and erase her phone number, but it’s useless, because that number is now carved inside your brain like hieroglyphics at the tomb of your relationship. After a month or so of laying around in your house in a worthless shadow and a puddle of your own filth you might end up copulating with a poor girl that you obviously have no attraction for. You’ll be pathetic and the loneliness will eat you up inside so you’ll call her again and say that you forgot something at her house as an excuse to see her again and she’ll tell you that she met someone and that it’s time for you both to move on. She’ll say phrases like “We’ll always have that time in Carolina” and you’ll grow numb to her. Your resilience will allow you to create barriers inside the mind as a sort of blockade against the fickleness of emotions and turn cold and nonchalant. It’s a defense mechanism meant to protect the body against the sharp irrational pain in the wedge of your chest. The kind of pain that only comes after a love. A tight squeeze in the barrel of your torso that lodges itself inside and turns you cold. This frigidness is a defense against the angst and the bitter taste her name leaves in your mouth. Eventually you’ll get over this and you’ll move on, and that once familiar thought that you’ll never love again becomes a distant memory lost in a vague hue.
Step five, learn to fight. Take a punch in the jawline and give one back. Don’t make a habit of this. It happened to me one time at a friend’s house on a summer night. We were drinking agave and listening to music when a guy came up and accused me of calling him gay. As a side note I’d like to mention that arguing with drunks is a terrible idea. This lesson became evident to me as I was being pulled back by an entourage of guys after he sucker punched me in the middle of my nose. We stared like death at each other howling like baboons as snot filled my nose and my eyes began to water. The red face of my embarrassment was only saved by the kidney shot I landed on him that undoubtedly had him clenching his side for a couple weeks. At another altercation a person was taser shocked in-front of me for not wanting to leave after he had been kicked out of a nightclub. Fighting serves as a vessel for the innate destructiveness in men. Without a proper channel this destructiveness would consume us like a drug and be a cause for more senseless violence. Competition is an alternative to this. If you can’t win a fight pick up a ball and join a sport. Practice swimming or gymnastics. If all else play chess and when you lose a match after you opponents bishop takes your queen because you failed to protect it pick the chess board up and fling it at him with the pointy bit. Do it because you’re strong and hate losing, learn to take a loss with dignity.
In the end, the biggest attribute a man can have is the freedom to take control over his life. The value of a man is given by his ability to make his vision a reality. It’s a difficult task to do because so many of us go about daily life in a rut, a routine that’s comparable to lab mice running a maze. The challenge is to live without fear, to do something in the complete best of one’s ability and be proud of what you’ve earned. If it seems difficult don’t be discouraged, it’s not supposed to be easy. Regardless of our differences and out of all the complexities that come, it’s good to know that we can take comfort in the simple things. That bread and milk and meat still sustain us. That there is peace in wheat and barley and sitting at home in solidarity with a cold beer.