It’s Saturday afternoon in a quiet corner of London’s most peaceful borough. All week now unseasonably hot sunshine has roared down to assault the pasty skin of the natives (well, the few Londoners who were actually born in England). Yesterday I picnicked in Regents Park by the lake, nibbling on homemade sausage rolls brought by the fine young English filly I’ve been seeing lately. Today both Dante and I have patches of sunburn and a lazy demeanour.
We are lying in garden hammocks under the horse chesnut trees. It won’t be long till all the conkers have fallen to the grass and we can begin the annual house conker competition. Dante is wearing a panama hat and making gin pahits. We’ve decided its 1935.
Recently I discovered a personal pattern in my hobbies to synchronise my media. Let’s imagine I’m reading a memoir of a South African mercenary, learning about life in the Liberian civil war. A good book is immersive and makes me want to experience more of the world the author is painting. What to do? Naturally I found a video game that closest represents the vibe (Far Cry 2) and listened to the music he casually mentions. Then I’ll dig around for movies of chaotic warzones in oppressively hot climate such as Apocalypse Now or Beast of War. This will often kick off a mini-cycle of interest until I’ve learned and felt alot more about this little corner of life. Then I move on.
- Bioshock kicked off an art decor interest that had us listening to 1940s jazz, smoking cigars in dark lounges, reading old magazines and books such as Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead.
- A few Hard Case Crime hardboiled novels switched me on to LA Noire, LA Confidential, and drinking neat whiskey in the middle of the day.
So right now Dantes is dipping into W. Somerset Maugham, an imperialist writer of the early 1900s who regals his audience with short stories of empire and the indolent, self-satisfied, interesting characters who always have an anecdote or two spare. Hence the panama hat and gin pahits. It’s sweltering hot now.
I fancy a game of billiards. Perhaps we’ll be bathed and dressed for seven, then a slap up meal at the Savoy and a rubber of bridge in Mayfair.
Flow with the go
Back in Newcastle at one of the fight gyms I trained in, there was a sign on the wall: Higher Consciousness Through Harder Contact.
There is a single unifying factor in all man-vs-man competition, a single peak moment of self-actualisation when you hit the “flow” and everything comes naturally, in the moment. I have personally experienced this in Brazilian Ju Jitsu, Muay Thai, and BMX stunt riding. If I’d practiced guitar more often instead of taking the soft option and playing power chords in all the songs I wrote then I’m sure I’d have eventually begun hitting flow state there too. When hitting the flow the world disappears. There are no techniques, defences, scales, tricks. Time slows down and all that matters is in front of you right now at this moment. You see everything. Your body is moving before your mind orders it.
I wonder if the sports flow is tapping into the same moment of unburdened self-actualisation that Maslow put at the peak of his hierachy of needs, and Tolle placed in the power of Now. Consider the hierarchy.
The lower layers must be satisfied before the higher layers open up. You can’t concentrate on finessing social relationships when your stomach is rumbling and you have nowhere to sleep. You don’t worry over status increments and the corner office at work when the mugger holds a knife to your throat. I believe this explains much of the shock people feel when suddenly cut down by illness or physical violence.
I was once mugged while walking home from a late session at the university library. Two chavs asked me for a light and then followed me for a 100m before jumping me. One smacked me in the mouth with a brick and knocked out a tooth. Luckily my boxing training meant I didn’t collapse under attack but I didn’t kid myself I could take them both. After the first blitz failed to overwhelm me a stand-off ensued and finally after a tense thirty seconds they wandered off. An hour later in the hospital as I had my teeth and nose checked out I had a sudden attack of nerves, out of proportion to the severity of my injuries. I think the problem wasn’t fear (two days later a couple of friends drove me around the area as we tried to find the chavs to give them some payback) but just the massive relative shock from total comfort in life to having the curtain of civilisation ripped down and looking at the reality of danger in the world.
In modern societies most of nature, red in tooth and claw, is hidden from view. Unlike tribal savages we can go our whole lives without witnessing death, whether violent, natural, or pestilence. Unpleasant experiences are quarantined in specialist locations with specialist staff. Abattoirs prepare the meat. Soldiers fight the wars. Surgeons saw the bones. We get to sit a safe distance in offices and apartment blocks. Antony Giddens calls it the sequestration of experience.
We live mostly at the higher levels of needs, so when we suddenly drop right to the bottom and our body goes into fight or flight, we are not mentally ready. Even if the danger is mild, the relative shock is significant.
At the bottom of the pyramid all the social constructions, future projections, and ego props disappear. The lizard brain takes over. You see this in boxing when a pretender is put under pressure by a veteran. As Evander Holyfield said of Mike Tyson, “Pressure busts pipes”. After fighting your way up the pyramid you are once again freed of all the structure in life and enter the flow but this time as a free man, not a hunted animal.
Recently all of the men in my house have taken up fisticuffs in our home gym. We have a little room matted out and equipped with heavy bags, a mirror and two pairs of gloves and shin guards. There’s always someone in there cuffing his housemate around. It has changed the vibe of the house. In the middle of hearty sparring you can dip in and out of flow state. Usually after taking your first stiff jab. It’s lively.
Like the movie narrator states, “after a night at Fight Club the rest of the world has the volume turned down”
Holding out for a hero
I’m driving through Bosnia with Dantes after a few days in Sarajevo. It’s a strange country utterly dominated by the mountains. Our car trundles along at depressingly slow speed through half-finished roads bisecting the thin strips of land between these looming mountains. It’s imposing on our psyche at first but soon gets repetitve. So we crank up the music.
The Greatest Driving Songs Ever reaches the top of our CD cycle. Bonnie Tyler’s raspy voice belts out her two best hits, Holding Out For a Hero and Total Eclipse of the Heart. Big bombastic tunes that rattle the packet of Werthers Originals in the glove compartment. Most interesting is the lyrics. These songs are about women crying out for a real man in their lives and then hanging on as tight as they can. It’s an interesting insight into female psychology and one which it behooves a Renaissance Man to learn.
Where have all the good men gone And where are all the gods? Where’s the street-wise Hercules To fight the rising odds? Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed? Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need
Women are born with a lean against men. They are not designed to stand alone. That’s why teenage girls will always find a boyfriend even if the available lads aren’t good enough to actually have sex with. It’s why women respond so well to laying your masculine vibe onto them. In Dubrovnik we met an Austrian girl who was supping alone in a seafront restaurant (her friend arriving the next night) so Dante chatted her up from the pavement and we took her out to a few bars. After some light pseudo-feminist resistance she just crumbled under the “I’m a man, and this is how it is” vibe we gave her. She was gushing effusively. Same thing in Sarajevo when we pulled two local girls out of a bar with more of the same.
I like to have my lady friends listen to the whole Jim Steinman playlist. The arrangements are emotional rollercoasters and the lyrics constantly position girls into the feminine lean-against position of desiring, chasing, pleasing and pining over their man. It is positively light years ahead of the classless dross sung by the likes of Rihanna, Lily Allen or those other mannish tarts.
What you saying now
Give it to me baby, I want it all night
Give it to me baby, What you saying now
Give it to me baby, Give it to me baby, Give it to me baby
Good grief! Reading the rubbish the Jay Z sings in that song is even worse. I’ll stick to the 80s.
I adore women who want to be first-class women rather than third-rate men. Women of the Audrey Hepburn mould can inspire noble feelings in a man over and above basic lust. Women who understand and embrace their need for a man as more than just “wanting it all night”. These are the girls who will get it all night and still have the quality man hanging around in the morning.
Just make sure you explain in advance that these rock operas are seriously hammed up.
‘Coffee and biscuits’ video games
Video games are scorned and frowned upon by those who didn’t grow up with them, dismissing them as childish, time-wasting and somehow low-brow. When the goal of your life is happiness you learn to tune out the chatter of witless snobs and focus enthusiastically, unapologetically, on those things that make you happy. Video games please me.
As a seven year old boy I used to go to my school film club every third Thursday of the month with my brother. A couple of the popular teachers would put up a screen in the assembly hall and play kids movies and serve hotdogs in the intermission. Very happy memories. The hall would be full and the cool kids would lie on the big crash mats laid out on the far left. I fingered my first girl on that crash mat a couple of years later. But I digress…..
One night as my brother and I arrived home from the club my mother was in an inexplicably bad mood and send us through to the lounge. We were puzzled. But then as we opened the lounge door the surprise hit us – my father was standing next to a brand new Atari 2600 with PacMan playing on the screen. They’d set us up for the old rollercoaster emotion trick to heighten our pleasure of the present. Nice one. It’s a dear childhood memory of mine.
From that day on I was never without a video game console. Atari, Sinclair ZX81, Dragon32, Commodore C64, Amiga, Sega Megadrive, SNES, Sega Dreamcast… and on to the present generation. I’ve literally grown up with video games. My memories are littered with great gaming experiences both in disappearing solo into game worlds (e.g. the first night I played Resident Evil 1 for eight hours straight) or big post-pub Tekken sessions with fellow young professionals in London. There’s not a snob in the world can make me ashamed of being a gamer.
I’d go so far as to say the best quality art is now in video games. But that’s for another post.
Coffee and biscuits
Games allow your imagination a window into alternative lifestyles of which you could only experience one or two in real life. In the game world you can be a race car driver on Monday, a super spy on Tuesday, a space marine on Wednesday, a blue hedgehog on Thursday and perhaps a guilt-ridden murderer on Friday. Ok, I’ll admit it – Count Cervantes can be all of these things in real life should he choose….
One particular genre of game I enjoy are what I term “coffee and biscuits” because rather than rely on rapid reactions and constant input (e.g. a first person shooter) you can actually sit at your desktop and patiently plan your moves while leisurely sipping your coffee and dunking your biscuits. This genre includes the “tycoon” management simulations, God games, strategy and so on. Why are they so satisfying?
Men have a will to power and empires to build.
Take Civilisation, the classic world domination game. You start out as a little tribe of grass-skirted savages and must explore the world around you, settling in villages, shaping a local resource-gathering economy until as the centuries pass your country is a superpower churning out scientific advances, cross-continent trade routes and of course nuclear war. The whole time your minions are running rampant across the globe you are reclined in your favourite leather chair industriously demolishing a packet of Hobnobs.
Speaking of minions, Evil Genuis allows you to become a James Bond supervillian masterminding a secret criminal organisation. Ever wanted to own a lair in a volcano with orange boiler-suited minions operating banks of flashing-lighted 1960s computers around a shark tank? This is the game for you. As your criminal schemes build notoriety governments send super spies to assassinate you and you must outwit them with hidden traps.
How about commanding an army and building a dynasty. Rome Total War has both a Risk-style economic / political game of intrigue but also tactically faithfull battles. How about running a business? You can have a hotel, a shopping mall, a Jurassic Park theme park with real dinosaurs or how about just running a vast capitalist empire?
These games speak to the man in you. The likes of Call of Duty channel your warrior energy but I tend to prefer the king games. If you were to sift through your gamesplaying history you could probably plot yourself on the Jungian King / Warrior / Lover / Magician grid without needing to trouble yourself with all the expense of pyscho-analysis.
And speaking of Warrior energy… nothing channels that more than Demon Souls. Oh my god, what a game!
What does a fully developed man look like?
Vibe – How do you feel when you are around a man? He is fun, relaxed, happy in his skin and with his superiority over those around him. He needs nothing but freely gives of himself. He is the warm end of the pool.
Presence – What is the initial impression that strikes you as you meet for the first time? When you size him up in those first moments how does he make you take note and think “this guy has something about him?” It’s a combination of physical competence, grooming, dress, body language, facial expression.
Mastery – A man is master of his world. He has seen it, done it, become extremely good at it. Whether he’s observing the world with clarity, advising a protege, or playing chess he is able and focused.
Intrigue – He leads a lifestyle of experience and magnitude. He travels, he fights, he loves, he drinks. When sitting at a dinner party with a fully developed man he weaves story upon story into a early hours as everyone sits fascinated.