There is a magic to the early morning.
I awake and the world is quiet. As part of my morning routine (which rarely changes), I stretch and mediate before dressing, making coffee, and writing. Each piece is vital and irreplaceable to my life.
The stretching helps my body to feel alive, fluid, pliable, and although I have no scientific basis for this, I believe that it does prevent quite a few potential injuries. The meditation helps me clear my head and to get myself into the clear, grateful, and positive mindset that I choose to have while going through the day.
But in this writing, I want to address the "dressing" part of the morning.
Up until not too long ago, I always dressed with some purpose, a bit of flair yes, but functionally. I would wear a pair of jeans, a sweater, T-Shirt, etc. Sure, I supposed that I often dressed better than many of the men I knew, but never gave too much thought to it.
Now, something has changed.
A friend of mine who works in clothing design approached me in October about the long term prospect of my helping design some clothing and shoes. It was an odd prospect for me, seeing that I know nothing about the clothes business and have no business designing anything. "What in the world could I add to the world that it doesn't already have?"
"Michael, you are one of the most unique people that I know. We don't want the clothes that you are wearing now, we want your eye, your aesthetic."
But what WAS my aesthetic? I had no idea. So, I spent some time thinking about it and something occurred to me.
I had none. There was a general idea of "style", but really, I always just bought what was available, made sure that the belt and shoes roughly were the same color, and that was that. My lack of real choice was my choice. Yet I, and most of the people I know, have made it unconsciously.
What did dressing mean to me? As a man, we're supposed to care a little, but not a lot. The classic study in contradictions visited on men and women all of their lives. I really didn't care and honestly still am not sure that I do. But, in the face of this thinking, I came to an understanding.
Much of culture and the long tail of traditional lifestyle, like Christmas, weddings, parties, clothing, etc, are about cultivating a beautiful life out of the rough patches in life. You hold conventions like you hold principles, not to confine you, but to have something to hold to.
I've found that dressing well falls into this category for me. The key is elegance.
elegance (noun) el·e·gance \ˈe-li-gən(t)s\: a) refined grace or dignified propriety b) dignified gracefulness or restrained beauty of style
When I make the effort to dress with elegance, it is a repose, a pause, from the rest of the world telling me to "Hurry up!" I take a moment. I decide how I will meet the world. It's a "f*ck you" to the powers that would have you scrambling to follow their agendas for your life.
With that realization, everything changed for me. I began focusing more and more about how I presented myself in public. I would encourage readers (especially the men) to consider this for themselves and notice if there is purpose behind their appearance, of if it's just thrown together by what was for sale at a local department store.
Elegance says that it's alright to slow down and savor the moment in a fast moving society. It is about the cultivation of civility in the wilderness.
This might forever change how you see me. You see, I have failed and hurt somebody.
Recently, I had a "breakup"with close friend and teacher. (I'll cover that in another blog post this week.)
He had taught me for over a decade, mostly for free. I wasn't a great student at all. I made progress, but it was slow. I never could make myself train much outside of the actual sessions.
We had our differences, but we were close. I knew I frustrated him. He also deeply frustrated me for his own lack of action in his life and what I (and his other ex-students) perceive as a raging ego streak that makes him very difficult to be around.
I've edited some of the conversation, to make a point beneath. There are all his words, unedited for content. It's starts right after I said that I had nothing to prove to anybody.
"And you're right. There's no need to prove yourself when the only company you keep is people with a superficial knowledge of you, or at the very least, people who have never seen your failures or watched you run from them. People who won't, or more specifically can't, call you out on any falsehoods. I bet to those people, you walk on fucking water.
You know what I think? There are many hats that we all wear. You have many Mikes. Marketing Mike. Author Mike. Musician Mike. Seven or Eight other hashtags. But I'm the only person, even including your parents, who saw the depths of Quitter Mike, Failed Mike, Shamed Mike, Hype Mike. I think you are trying to build a new life for yourself and have a carefully crafted image, and there were only two problems: your training, and me. We don't fit the hype, so you got rid of those elements."
You could call yourself the greatest rockstar ever, the next Shakespeare, and crown yourself the King of the fucking Danes. I would laugh, and cheer you on. But sometimes.. Sometimes you cross a line in what you say, claim some quality, make a statement, that is either hypocritical, or I know for a fact you don't have because I stood there for 10 years and watched you not achieve it. Those moments are unbearable, and so I'm reduced to looking like a complete asshole for reminding you (however bluntly) that you didn't achieve those things. And you just ignore it (and me) and move on.
But really.. Facing up to your failures and owning them? You posted about that? REALLY? And you see, this inspires very toxic behavior from me, because it's all you've left for me to work with, and I refuse to be that false person anymore due to your gross shame and negligence.
I don't want to remind you of the bad things about yourself, or your past. I want you to kick the shit out of them. But you haven't. All you've done is exclude me from your life because I remind you of them. And I (don't want) that role anymore.
The credit that you don't give me is that if what you say is true, then I admit it. That's balls you never had. How many businesses, how many projects did you give up on? Because I'm betting they were many times greater than mine. Are you even aware that you have 17 facebook followers? Facebook doesn't let you view your own numbers, for obvious reasons. That's who your dog and pony show is for.
World Poetry Open Mic... My friend's corgi page has three time the likes as that page.
How many promises of commitment did you break, exactly, over the years? You can't even return a fucking phone call when you say you're going to.
One of the primary differences between us is that if/when/where I'm full of shit, I keep it to myself. You don't do that. You have this dog and pony show about how great and productive you are, except I watched you be lazy for 10 damn years. All hail the mighty narrative and fuck whoever doesn't fit into it, right Mike?
And another difference - if I gave up on many things, whatever the reasons, or have bad qualities about myself, I don't call myself too good for anyone who can offer any real insight on helping me change that. But you do. "Not too good for your training or me," I suppose that would make you a liar as well.
You never have, or never could tank our relationship by telling me the truth. You tanked it by being an asshole who's full of himself over small numbers.
So who has the bigger ego, Mike? Me helping you however I could for 10 years, mostly for free, and however little that obviously was. Or you, for being willful, arrogant, lazy, and talking the biggest game with the smallest delivery that I've ever heard of? And I've studied car salesmen.
The simple fact is, at the end of the day, you being the biggest hypocrite I've ever met didn't prevent me from loving you like a brother. I have no doubt you've harbored your unvented feelings for years, as I have mine.
You know what really matters? The only thing that's relevant? I never proposed teaching you anything outside of training. I never overstepped my bounds, not even once. Not even when you turned yourself into a writing hack for money. We had one objective, one primary goal, and you were just too goddamn proud to humble yourself and do what you were told to achieve it. No finances, I directed you elsewhere to study virtue, no careers, no adolescent pissing contests. I stayed on track, and you failed every promise you made in that department. And THAT is all on you, and no amount of attacking my character, true or simply reflections of yourself, will change that you failed that objective spectacularly for all the reasons I mentioned. It's been years since I had any faith that you would succeed in it, but I didn't let it color my teaching, and because of the rapport you threw away - and for what? Image."
So, there you have it.
EXT. PARK - DAY
MICHAEL ENTERS AND APPROACHES YOU. HE OFFERS HIS HAND.
MICHAEL (TO CAMERA)
Hello, I'm Michael. I'm a failure, a hypocrite, a hack, an asshole, I'm lazy, I'm too goddamn proud to humble myself, willful, arrogant, lazy, and talking the biggest game with the smallest delivery that you've ever heard of. I'm also Quitter Mike, Failed Mike, Shamed Mike, and Hype Mike.
Pleasure to meet you. I've been trying to figure out how to put all of that on a business card, but I've failed thus far to do so. (Oh! The irony!)
You know what? He's right. I have quit. I have failed. I have felt deep shame. I have engaged in hype. I've been a hypocrite, been willful, arrogant, lazy, talked a big game and delivered small.
But is that all that there is to me? Of course not.
Have I bounced back from failure or difficult positions?
Yes. From a failed (there's that word again) marriage, deep heartbreak, near bankruptcy, failed businesses, rejections, etc.
How do I know?
Because I'm still here. Because I'm still fighting. I'm still working on the things I've always wanted to do, even if I've failed in the past.
The point here is this: I have done all of those things. But he is hardly the only one who has seen it. I've failed in front of many, many people. I've also succeeded in front of many people. In fact, without the failures, there would never have been any success.
And I plan on failing again. And again. And again. Until I succeed.
You are more than your failures. You are more than what your detractors say. They are more than you say, as well. We are people, infinitely complex and with many facets.
I am a failure, because I am human.
As for if I'm successful or not, I'll let my results speak for themselves.