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The Good, The Bad, and the Better

May 10, 2011

Years ago in an underground newspaper I caught a cartoon strip that I never forgot. Satan was calling God from hell and said he wanted out. God listened and knew what he was talking about, because He felt the same way. Both of them were lonely and bored. God was loving and all good, but listless, spent, and flaccid in every way. Satan was all bad but completely dynamic. They decided something essential was missing for each of them. The solution was obvious. In the final panels you saw them reaching out to each other and then merging into one. This way they regained (in Satan’s case) meaning and connection to the sacred, and (in God’s case) vitality. Only together were they made whole.

This little piece of art has had meaning for me all my adult life. All I ever wanted was to be a good man, and it always meant the world to me to be told I was.  Today, though I live in a world where everyone now seems to want to be considered a good person, I’m still pursuing good manhood. But what exactly does “good” mean? Or “man” for that matter?

Besides being born with an essentially loving nature, I was also raised to be sweet and obedient, virtuous and nice above all else. My mother, bless her heart, sure did much that was right while raising me. But looking back I get the feeling that if she could have reached inside me and extracted the gland that produces testosterone, she would have. She really had no idea what to do with the mischievous, boisterous, fun loving boy in me. So she decided it must be crushed. Along with the ability to say No, or get mad, which in my house were considered mortal sins.

So one Sunday when I was ten and mom and dad were out for the day, and Mr. Parker from next door rang the bell and said that our lawn was too unkempt and told me to cut it, I took out the lawn mower and did just that. When my parents returned, and asked me what got me to mow the lawn, they were aghast. Someone else had ordered their son around! I gave them a look like “What’d you expect?”  They’d raised me to do what I was told, and never taught me how to say No to an adult.

So I entered the world unprepared, and was soon to have my balls cut off, and not by men. The girls would always want me…as a friend. I was the one they would complain to about how those dicks out there would mistreat them – the very dicks they let enter them. I, they assured me, was not like the other guys. I was good and kind. I was the one they sought advice from about how to win the hearts of the assholes they couldn’t stay away from. Something was wrong with this picture.

Of course I learned the hard way. Women don’t want nice guys and never did. Oh sure, some women with dads who’d beaten or molested them would seek out  a soft and sensitive guy to work things out with. But mostly, regardless of what they said they wanted, they perceived – correctly – that nice guys tended to finish last. Nice guys like me wanted to please and be liked a little too much. We’d get angry or aggressive only passively, which would be infuriating. To befriend such a man was one thing, but the sexual charge that turns women on would be missing.

A turning point for me came the day back in ’77 when one particularly voracious female allowed me to walk her home from a party. We had been drinking, and, once in her place, we started having sex. Out of somewhere long suppressed in me I acted on a hunch, and, while on top of her, lifted her leg up and, tentatively gave her a little pat on the ass.

What came out of her in response was the single most exciting word I’ve ever heard from a woman in bed.

“Harder!” she said.

 

What a revelation! I had always thought sex was something I needed to do in a certain (i.e., civilized) way to make a woman happy so she would stay with me. But you mean it could also be fun, wild and outrageous?! Indeed, in that moment I realized that, as Woody Allen said, if sex isn’t dirty, why bother? And also that some women liked the one part of me my mother assured me was revolting: The bad boy.

Actually, what I like most about sex is the spectrum, from oh-so-tender-and-sweet, to a hard rockin’ fuck fest. The freedom to ride that range is the best part of making love.

But what I’m talking about today isn’t just about sex.

It’s also about the other middle class taboo: expression of anger or aggression.

“Don’t you raise your hand to me!” was a refrain I heard from my mother throughout my early childhood. She knew I wasn’t about to hit her. What she was making clear was that even (or especially) in an argument the expression of anger was “rude” and unacceptable.

In other words, for me this journey of manhood has been largely about working out my relationship with my own healthy aggression. We tend to think of and condemn aggression as violence and abuse. But I’m talking about healthy aggression, the kind you need when someone is being abusive with you and you need to call upon your tongue-fu. Or when there’s a mosquito on your hand, or a mugger wanting to follow you into the building.

This is another way of saying there is much power on the dark side. At least there has been for me. For instance, I could be lost in a mental state that would feel like a muggy day – spacey, confused, morose, depressed. Until lightning would flash in my head, followed by a thunderclap of anger like a cloud burst that would come and go in a minute and clear the air, and leave me revitalized and with clarity restored.

And I like playing with this energy in others. My therapist, for example, is generally sharp and incisive. But when he’s mad he’s downright scintillating. When I’m dissatisfied with a session and need some brilliance from him, I just piss him off. It works.

What this all boils down to for me is integration — the good, the bad, the balance between them. My brother put it best when he once told someone that I was “A good man…and a bad boy!”

I never felt more acknowledged.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. May 10, 2011 5:50 pm

    I’m reminded of a terrific Star Trek episode in which Captain Kirk becomes split into a ‘good’ Captain Kirk and an “evil” Captain Kirk. The good Captain Kirk is unaware of his evil self, which is roaming around the space ship creating havoc, but he has now become namby-pamby and ineffectual. Meanwhile the raging Captain Kirk is attempting to destroy him and his ship. Finally, the solution is to combine both sides of the Captain to achieve a balanced personality. Hail to Captain Kirk, Charlie!

  2. Daniel Wininger permalink
    May 10, 2011 7:46 pm

    Well Charley, you’ve touched upon a tradition of taboo that is probably the Wininger family’s single worst quality. Shame of anger. I’ve bought into it too, hard, and I’m experiencing the consequences, socially, mentally, and physically in various ways. I know too well how to shut down anger inside my body, and I’m in the process of lighting the fire again. You are so right, anger, “the dark side” has all the power that “the good side” can’t live without.

    That said, no one is 100% a nice guy, or 100% a dick. Just clearing that up. And I don’t think it’s fair to assume that those who seek out “nice guys” had terrible relationships with their fathers. Not only do those people also tend to seek out abusive relationships (I think), but as a so called “nice guy,” I’ve been sought out by females with perfectly fine minds and histories. It’s tempting to buy into the “nice guys finish last” thing because it encourages you to release anger and your “bad boy” but that is not the universal solution. Everyone has their own style of relationships, and the only universal thread between all of them is love.

    Love is often expressed better through being “bad” than being “good.” The freer a person feels, the more love flows through them. And accepting that one can be “bad” is certainly freeing. But that doesn’t mean you need to be “bad” to attract the opposite sex.

    But you’re right: People like real people, not unreal people. Doesn’t matter if you’re nice or mean, as long as you’re Real.

    PS- I was also reminded of that Star Trek episode.

    • May 16, 2011 4:56 am

      Thanks for pointing out that not all who seek out nice guys had abusive dads. But for some, it’s been their solution.

  3. May 11, 2011 2:59 am

    I think it’s a conflict not so much between good and bad as between being overly socialized and anti-social. Sometimes you have to be anti-social to be morally in the right (for instance, in an evil society). And I agree with you that there’s a class component. Middle class people tend to become middle class or stay middle class because they’ve learned how to not offend, how to follow the rules, how to be “nice.” The lower classes either don’t know how to be nice or don’t give a damn because being nice never got them anywhere anyhow. The upper classes almost universally became upper class by committing some great crime. I don’t think one should become a criminal like the upper classes. But neither should one become a flaccid, overly socialized middle class wimp. One should be able to challenge social norms and customs and behave outrageously if that’s the right thing to do. In other words, morality — real morality — should trump social correctness.

    • May 16, 2011 5:01 am

      An interesting point, but your stereotypical take on the “lower” and “upper” classes is disturbing to me. Working class people don’t know or don’t care how to be nice? And most rich people got that way by committing some great crime? What great crime did Bill Gates commit? Or Mike Bloomberg? Or Warren Buffet?

      • Tresa permalink
        November 23, 2011 12:53 pm

        I would agree with Ed, even if part of me feels like arguing on your side, for the exceptions, for the injustice in the sentiment that demonizes rich people and overlooks the power of people in lower classes. I wonder what he would say now, in these OWS days….

      • November 28, 2011 1:17 am

        Ok Tresa,

        Now you got ME interested in who YOU are.

        To begin with, where do you live? What do you do for a living?

        Hey, anyone who likes my writing so much has got to be worth knowing better:)

        Charley

  4. Dave Abramowitz permalink
    May 11, 2011 6:26 am

    I think, at a certain point, it no longer becomes a question of owning “both sides of oneself,” but of integrating both sides, and realizing the truth we would express and would live is really part of a greatly freeing spiritual awareness. The real tragedy of our times is that we know in the deepest part of ourselves that God exists, but we run from the implications of it, and have precious little time for God, but settle, instead for being “good” and “nice” and “ethical” and “humanistic” persons. We have been spooked into thinking God will condemn us and must regard us as sinners, and so we don’t really even try to connect. As men, we may lose contact with that place where God lives and breathes in women and through women, just as God sees and breathes in men. God has put something of God’s essence into each of us and we have only to wake to it to want to celebrate it and The One Who gave us all the gifts and all the blessings.

    Our truth only lives in context of God’s truth, and that Truth delights to set us free.

    For me, it’s all a question of how much we are each willing to trust God. The truth, is how much we’re afraid to trust God, and how crazy that always is.

    In regards your semi-fascination with owning and claiming your “dark side,” I think you’ve grown past that and are capable of more than that. Just as each of us is born with the capacity to remember God, we’re all born with the capacity to recognize Satan is a soul in denial, who needs to cling to his false idea of what power means. The tragedy of Satan is he’s essentially a con-artist and a liar, who has pathetically first conned himself into believing he can not trust The One And True God. He can’t face the light and, so, would turn away. He doesn’t realize his underlying fear when saying God does not exist and needing us to believe him. We each need to become capable of synthesizing a new perspective, broadening our horizons and coming to a new place of freedom in ourselves that is not ungracious and can honor God, and is not afraid to turn to God when needed. Then, we can celebrate that any would-be Satan needs God, first, but God can do just perfectly without this or that Satan, should souls deny the gifts they’ve been given, and The One Who gave the gifts, and turn away.

    I respect your desire to own an honest and positive freedom of expression and your desire to be “a natural man.” However, I think that also can lead us to a more honest and more meaningful and deeper spiritual truth, too ….

  5. John Dillinger permalink
    May 17, 2011 12:57 pm

    Chas . . . What you experienced as a child, American Youth is experiencing across America today, as our educational institutions are emasculated and mind-raped. Kids are suspended or expelled from school for things like drawing a picture of a gun or interrupting the teacher too often. The use of mind-numbing drugs like ritalin has skyrocketed, so that America’s children will sit like little zombies and absorb the droning indoctrination. No longer is Civics taught in our schools, and our children grow up never knowing that Government only exists through the consent of those governed. They grow up thinking that they must obey authority — the teacher, the policeman, the taxman, the president; in fact, it is supposed to be the other way around since all public employees are just that — paid by us and responsible to us. Kids grow up and never question a government that ever-more-blatantly disregards the rights of The People. Charley, I greatly enjoyed this essay and understand you better after reading it. But what you say is much bigger than you and your own childhood. We should all take note and be vigilant that the young generation must be awakened from their hypnotic trance and told the Truth; the country belongs to The People and we are not the property of government bureaucrats. Young Americans do not protest because they don’t even know that they have Rights. We, the aging revolutionaries of the ’60s must teach them. Teach them that theirs are the God-given rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Teach them to speak freely, to arm themselves — not simply with muskets, but with knowledge of The Constitution — to resist illegal searches and other harassment by The Police State. Teach them to control the Government and not to let the Government control them. Teach them that their teachers may not trample their human rights. It is up to us to do this — before we are gone. The Founding Fathers gave us a free Republic. Let us try to keep it.

  6. Tresa permalink
    November 23, 2011 12:52 pm

    Word, John.

    Charley, my mind is lit up with insane excitement at coming across the term “tongue-fu,” I cannot curb my enthusiasm in the least. Like the first time I heard the term, “word vomit.” THAT’s the word I’ve been looking for all my life.

    Otherwise, I love the way you illustrated embracing aggression and anger.

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