The Manchild Chronicles
A twentynothing trying to become a twentysomething.
May 2, 2011
When I went to preschool I used to wear a clip-on tie and always enjoyed opportunities to go to work with my parents. I was fascinated with the totems of their employment: desks, copies, fax machines, screen savers, fancy pens, and paperweights. Playing house, I was always the father. In school I continued dressing nicely and getting involved in any clubs that would keep me out of the house. On weekends I often roamed DC by myself. I learned about world events, economics, philosophy, and cinema so that I could have important conversations with my parents’ friends. I had two girlfriends and I admit I thought about marrying them when I was with each of them. When I left high school, I looked forward to leaving home and becoming an adult.
Then college came, followed by graduation, much gnashing of teeth, and furniture moving. After several bouts of illness, political disillusionment, a pile of rejection letters, failed relationships, lost friends, and unemployment, now I am back where I started.
Hello, my name is Ben Nardolilli in case you’re new here (I am too). I am twenty-five years old and live in Arlington, Virginia, my hometown. Some of you might remember me from my main blog, mirrorsponge.blospot.com. Don’t worry, it’s still up and running. You can click on the link on the side and become a follower. This is just a new project for me. Now, you might be wondering what this blog is about, so I’ll tell you.
Basically, I am trying to avoid sinking down into the depths of that dreaded demographic, the Manchild. Plenty has been written about him, usually taking a position between moral panic and trendy lifestyle choice. I am not siding with either here because there are worse things to be in this world than a Manchild. There are men who have jobs and are paid to do evil things. There are others who have wives and families but abuse them. There are fellows who live on their own and neglect their parents completely. However, there are better, more productive lives to live and I see everyone around me living them.
So my goal in this blog is to document my hopeful progress towards such a productive life. What are the hallmarks I will take for my destination? I believe they can be derived from the definition of a Manchild and living its opposite. If we take a look at that great resource by and for the masses, Urban Dictionary, we find several definitions that I can work with. Here is one that reflects the general consensus of the term I am referring to:
“A man child is a male who is over the age of 25, who still lives as though he is a juvenile. Many man-children are not gainfully employed, and survive off of the financial support of their enabling parents. Heavy video-game addiction to fantasy games such as World of Warcraft are key to the man-child.”Already, I meet some of the criteria here, not a good sign. I am 25, not gainfully employed, and living with my parents, though I would decline to say they are “enabling” me, they would probably deny it as well. Then again, whoever joyfully declares that he or she is an enabler? However there is one sign of hope, I am not addicted to video games or any other copyrighted flights of fantasy. Such things are the opiates of Manchildren everywhere. I make up my own stories as a writer, and no, I don’t do fanfic. Other unmentioned traits of the Manchild include a lack of personal hygiene, wearing sports jerseys, eating directly out of containers, subsisting off of fast food and candy, and an inability to form lasting relationships with members of the opposite sex.
I won’t comment on which ones of these traits I also embody. Let’s just say my daily wardrobe relies heavily on t-shirts from college and summer camp. There are other definitions that take a different spin on the term Manchild as well: “(Australian context) A boy who goes through puberty at a very young age, and is usually the tallest and oldest looking amongst his peers between the ages of 11-13. After that, he stops growing, and his peers go through puberty and become the same size/taller than him in the later teenage years. Despite this, however, a manchild will retain his characteristically mature features well into later life.”Surprisingly, I was an Australian Manchild growing up. There is also this definition,“A man that is so large and/or powerful that he makes other men around him look like children. Usually an athlete that dominates others on the field/court because of his size and strength.”
There is no risk of me turning into THAT kind of Manchild any time soon. My main concern is fulfilling the first definition and become one of the millions of men who have become the source for ire, mockery, exasperation, and embarrassment because of their inability to transition into adulthood. If I do not take steps to turn things around now, I worry that I could very well end up like Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons or Ignatius J. Reilly.Already, people are saying such things as being thirty is the new twenty-five and being twenty-five is the new twenty, which doesn’t make much sense since twenty year-olds can’t drink. Anyway, the point is that we as a society have begun to become used to this state of affairs and see the Manchildren spread out across our land as a normal feature, not just here for the time being, but the natural product of our economy and society, like a herd of ill-kempt buffalo. I refuse to believe that.
Hence, the reason for the blog. It is a means to chart my progress from boychick to mensch. My hope is that it will not take too long to accomplish my goals, though I will keep this project going as long as necessary. One might say that this sort of process has no natural end, except death and that one is always becoming an adult. Maybe that’s true. However one can certainly stop making any progress whatsoever, which is where I feel I am. I do have a few concrete goals I want to achieve, some more important than others, and it is towards them that I am working.They are a mix between public and private, popular and personal. My journey away from turning into a Manchild will be made up of goals that will reflect not only what others want me to be, but what I want to be as well. Yes, some are typical. I would like to have a job, live on my own, and no longer be single, but there are tasks I am setting out for my sake as well, such as getting published, studying Italian, and living healthier, goals that are “independent” of my becoming more independent.
Although I want to avoid becoming a running gag in my parent’s basement, I do not want to simply turn into an aging cog either. My growing up and away from being a Manchild should be taken as a step towards creating a new and improved version of myself, not just producing a copy of my father or grandfather. Not only would it be inauthentic, it would be impossible. Times have changed. The key is to become fulfilled on my own terms, understanding that independence means taking responsibility not just for others but myself as well.
May 19, 2011
Yet, I have to be careful about which comparisons I make. Otherwise, I am liable to get distracted, or worse, beat myself up for being something that I can never be. It is like height. There are people taller than me and there are people shorter than me. There is nothing I can really do about it, except maybe start a secret society devoted to committing hate crimes against Tall-Americans so that they are scared into leaving. Or I could just hang around Danny DeVito. Likewise, through this journey, I have to remember there are goals that really are not that important to me and so when others achieve them, there is no reason to feel left out or upset. For instance, I do not want a car or a lawn. Those things just scream maintenance to me and represent a loss of income that could be better spent on nice socks and wine.
This weekend I went to my brother’s graduation at Carnegie Mellon University (put a hyphen in there as you may wish). It was your typical commencement, except they had a prayer and made us say the Pledge of Allegiance (which I thought was strange for a school that salivates over having a campus in Qatar). Through the event, I felt the acute pain of countless comparisons. Not only did I feel like I was falling by the wayside because he already has a job, but I was around a sea of people receiving doctorates for doing that work with soaks up society’s accolades even if society does not understand it. Overall, the message I got the whole time was “praise for entrepreneurs and engineers, the rest of you can go to hell.” On top of it, I was supposed to feel some sort of awe for Aron Ralston, the imbecile who lost his arm in between a rock and a hard place. I think it would have been better to have a Congolese amputee speak to us, who did not have a choice to risk her health for excitement. But at least he was an engineer in a previous life…
Such is the treatment the liberal arts student and graduate receive. It starts in elementary school and goes on for the rest of our lives because someone decided that what we do and what those in the sciences do are mutually exclusive. This has been to everyone’s detriment, but it goes on. So much is made of math and science and our scores in those subjects. History? Civics? Writing? Culture? Who needs those things that cannot be measured? Who needs the people who devote themselves to studying them? Let those subjects atrophy. What matters is that everyone knows their calculus. Their constitution? It is better for us all that they do not.
Yet, I am not a scientist, nor a mathematician, and was never born to be. Their role is not my own. I cannot compare myself to them, it is foolish. I can only measure myself up to my ability to contribute because the rest of us graduates do have a role. Even if we are not entrepreneurs in business, we still matter. I must remind myself that society needs us too. Why? Because we are the glue, we are the connections that link the parts of every organization together and join each organization to one another. We the liberal arts graduates are the explainers, the summarizers, the proofers, and the exchangers. We who were taught to connect and draw sources together by citation and paraphrase are always needed. Others may have the data, but we are the sentence makers.
I have to keep my eye on the real prize, which is independence, living on my own and on my terms. If I can achieve that, the rest is irrelevant. Other people will earn more than me and others will earn less, but if I can earn enough to live on my own, it does not matter how much I get. This is especially true if I spend less than everyone else. One can gain their independence and just as surely blow it on a major purchase. It is what most people in this country end up doing for one reason or another. I have to avoid the comparison game that measures a person’s life in terms of how many zeroes come following after their name. It is difficult because in this country it is a national pastime and often substitutes for real dinner conversation or journalism. We list and we rank and we feel all the more miserable for doing it.
Everyone else has their road and their track, and I have mine. I just need to get away from everything that tries to convince me I am in a race. As soon as you are in a race, you start obsessing about nothing but shortcuts. And if I feel bad for wanting to be a writer and a poet and nothing else, I must remember that I am writing for that part of me that is in other people. The hope is that what I write can resonate in a cinderblock prison in the city with a generous curfew, or the padded cell of a gilded cage hung high in the country, if it is any good. I must remember that plenty of people have used their “practical” knowledge to great harm and that so many of our breakthroughs are really fixes to previousbreakthroughs, then praise us poets for making nothing happen.
Excerpted from IDon'tWannaBeAManchild.Blogspot.com