Origin stories. We all have one. And if you haven’t realized it yet, your own is a tale interwoven with the chronicle of our age. In it, you discover which of your actions or words have significance and how far your reach extends. For some men, that means a desire to accomplish big things or have their name resonant down through the generations, if possible. For others, it might mean sticking closer to home and to bring meaning to the lives closest to them. Still, however modestly, your legend is added to the myths and parables of our day.
Of course, there is also the corollary to this outlook. For example, today, the buzz is less about beginnings and more on the ending, the finale of empires or the fruition of societal tragedies. Many are talking about our last days rather than of renewal or re-birth. You could also call this the twilight of the idols but it’s really just chickens coming home to roost. And in it, we discover that there can be grave consequences to which paths we’ve chosen, individually or collectively. Yet equally, we still find many men of our times with little interest in understanding where they’re headed, let alone where they came from.
But where am I going with all this?
You are likely surrounded by other men who have little idea who they are, let alone what’s happening around us. In truth, they have no idea what direction they’ve chosen or why it matters. When I set out to hammer away at this blog, you might not have realized that you were joining me in rectifying this problem. And joining me in a beginning, a renewal of sorts. And setting out with me on a journey. Although I’ve spent my life writing in one capacity or another, part of it remains an expedition, an adventure of exploration to map an unknown landscape. Still, another part is a pilgrimage, a crusade to plant a flag in the hill we intend to defend. But it is all inexplicably bound up in setting a direction from which we depart and a destination we intend to arrive at, one where we can ask and answer simple questions like “What the fucks going on? What do you do about it? And where will our decisions lead us next?”
Beginnings and endings.
During this marathon, you and I must learn which battles matter and which do not. We must learn to speak so that our audience hears us but also act so that our tribe is uplifted. Most importantly, we must decide which risks are worth it and which are not. This is as much true if your concern is your family only or the fate of entire civilizations. And though these are basic concerns, they’re topics that men have deliberated over for all of recorded history.
If you’re like famed Japanese author Yukio Mishima, you begin life under a veil of violence and fear as a little boy writing your prose in the dark after everyone else has gone to sleep. But then later, as a grown man, taken in by political aspirations of nationalism, you conclude your own life’s story in a futile coup d’état where you die of ritual suicide.
What is the lesson for us there?
Or, if you’re like author Charles Bukowski, an outsider shunned even by outsiders, you start by growing up in the Great Depression. Often hungry and abused, he would go on to be one of the most prolific drunks in modern history. But he would also end his journey as a dirty old man dying of cancer with a wall full of books penned under his name. Written on his tombstone? “Don’t try.”
Why is this significant?
In reality, there is an unceasing line of men before you, each of which has a story with a beginning and an ending. After you, there will be an unceasing line of other men who will look upon your beginning and your end. After all, while it is difficult to identify the currents of history in the moment, we are, in fact, living it ourselves. Our names will one day join the ranks of many more thinkers and authors that are possible to ever list here.
But in the case of Mishima, we find one man driven to extremes but with a desire to affect heroic change, however much his audience mocked him on the day of his death. His political ambitions may have ended in little more than wreckage. However, he brings us a cautionary tale of personal desires running headlong into the social constraints of his time. And he was, like us all, a man, however misguided, trying to make sense of a changing world.
Then, in the case of Bukowski, we discover a different sort of man than is common, one who despised the stupidity of crowds in an era of mediocrity. He clung to an old idea of greatness no matter what anyone said. With his death, we see a subtle turn of phrase on that tombstone. Some lesser men will hear a warning not to begin, least we meet with failure or mockery in our endeavors. Better to avoid the sting of defeat. Or better to lay low and not risk anything. Still, other men will instead hear the invitation: don’t try anything. Either act boldly or not at all. Take a risk and throw off false ideas of security. Speak confidently or shut up entirely. Do not try anything, only do it or not.
But for the love of God, figure out what the fucks really going on around you. Stand for something other than cotton-candy phrases and easy slogans. As a man, find what path you’ve set out on before you discover ourselves at a dumb, tragic end along with those you consider closest to you.
Your lesson will serve as history either way.