Rilalities V: Challenges and Insecurities


The 6’5” Guy

“I’m six foot five,” a man named Joe said when I met him. He did not work this into his greeting, and he did not say it in the early minutes of our introduction but it hung over his sizable head until he acknowledged it.

Those fortunate enough to meet Joe will discover the reason we learn about his height soon after learning his first name. The natural inclination of most is to drop their last name soon after saying their first name. Some drop their last name soon after mentioning their first name as a matter of habit, and some do it because they’re so proud of their family and heritage. Others might mention their occupation soon after mentioning their first name. I didn’t learn any of that from Joe in the brief moments Joe and I spoke. I learned that Joe was 6’5”. Joe was more 6’5” than he was Joe, and those fortunate enough to have a conversation with him that extends beyond superficial pleasantries will learn how 6’5” he is. If the conversation we share with Joe evolves into a minutes-long discussion, and the listener doesn’t acknowledge his height in anyway, he’ll break the news to them:

“I’m six foot five!”

Although Joe and I spoke for a total of about three minutes, I had the impression that the man could’ve written a bestseller, won the Heisman Trophy, saved children from a fire, or discovered the cure for cancer, and his height would still be his greatest and worst attribute. No matter what happens to him in life, I think Joe will prefer to have “Here lies Joe. He was 6’5” chiseled into his gravestone.

Joe was an interesting guy. He appeared to be conversant on a wide range of topics, and he managed to tell some stories from his life in an impressively timely manner, but everything he spoke of kept coming back to that refrain of his life.

His height was the reason he had trouble finding chairs to sit in with comfort, the reason his 5’3” mother was always on him about stuff, and the reason he couldn’t be as particular as he wanted to be about the clothing he wore:

“You can’t be finicky about clothes when you’re 6’5” and built like me.”

Joe, we should also note, was broad-shouldered. This attribute, coupled with the idea that he was 6’5” was the reason he had trouble going door-to-door to talk to people.

“Would you be comfortable discussing politics, if a man my size came-a-knocking on your door?”

His height was also the reason, he informed me, that he had such trouble finding a decent woman. That subject matter may have shocked most people, or at least made them somewhat uncomfortable, as most people would deem such a discussion inordinately intimate for a conversation between two people meeting for the first time. I had a best friend in high school who was 6’7” however, so I was well versed in the travails of being an abnormally tall male in America today, and I was used to my friend going into such intimate details with people he just met. Joe and I did try, at various intervals, to move on to other topics, but he was unable to let the fact that he was 6’5” go as easily as I was.

What struck me as odd was that I never mentioned his height, and I don’t think I provided any verbal or physical cues that called attention to it. Was that the point though? I later wondered. Was my refusal to acknowledge his height such an aberration to his experience that until I acknowledged it in some way, he would not be able to move on until one of us did?

Being a tall man has numerous advantages, but it has almost as many disadvantages. As I wrote, I was well versed in the travails of being an abnormally tall man in America. I knew, for example, that a person’s height is the first thing people notice when another is taller than 6’3”, and the thing they talk about after the person leaves. “How would you like it if no matter what you said, ’Man he is a big fella ain’t he?’ is the only thing they have to say about you after you leave?” When you’re 6’5” people pester another about in malls. It’s the reason some guys won’t mess with you and the reason others do. It’s also the reason some women want to date you and others don’t. A 6’5” man could be the most charming person in the world, in other words, and most people will have preconceived notions about them based on their height.

With that in mind, one would think that an abnormally tall male, or a woman with abnormally large breasts, would find it refreshing when they’ve finally encountered someone who seems to be genuinely unconcerned with their attribute(s). One would think that they might find it refreshing when they’ve finally found a person who is willing to talk geopolitics with them without looking down their shirt, or saying, “How’s the weather up there?” One would think that someone who broke those patterns of human interaction would receive a bright smile as a reward, and maybe even something along the lines of, “Thank you. You may not even know why I’m thanking you, but thank you!” Yet, tall men and large-breasted women, just like all humans with exaggerated attributes, become so accustomed to these patterns of interaction that they feel compelled to draw your attention to them just to complete a line of dialogue comfortably.

Most people try to avoid talking about a trait they generally considered a negative, and they will do everything they can to avoid noticing it. When they consider that person’s attribute a positive, most people think you should feel privileged to have it, so they don’t mind drawing attention to it. “You’re tall Joe!” they will say, or “I wish I had those,” and they will add something along the lines of, “You should feel privileged.”

As my conversation with Joe continued, and he began to belabor the point of his height, I thought he was trying to assert some sort of dominance. I may have been wrong on that note, and it might have had more to do with everything I thought later, but I began to rebel against his theme by making a concerted effort to avoid the topic of his height. Our conversation ended soon thereafter, and we moved onto other people at the gathering.

“What did you say to Joe?” our mutual friend later asked. She thought Joe and I would have so much in common that we would hit it off.

“Why?” I asked.

“He says he doesn’t think you two hit it off.” When I asked her for more details, our mutual friend said, “He said he can’t put a finger on it, but he doesn’t like you as much as I thought he would.”

Without going into what I deem to be the unnecessary details of our otherwise innocuous conversation, I can tell you that the conversation I had with Joe involved no disagreements. To my mind, there were not even moments of subtle tension, and there certainly were no overt ones, but he didn’t like me. Now, I’m not one of those people who thinks every person has to like me, and if they don’t I think there has to be something wrong with them, but to my mind this conversation I had with Joe proved to be amicable if not pleasant. Joe and I also proved to be as like-minded on certain topics as our mutual friend thought we would be. The only thing I did, and that which I presume led Joe to state that I didn’t live up to the characteristics our mutual friend detailed for him, was refuse to acknowledge he was 6’5” in anyway, and I think he thought that if I was’t going to do that, I was probably a phony.

Going Clear—

Anytime I finish a book as fantastic as Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear, I wonder what I am going to do with my free time?  The book gives credence to Phillip Roth’s line about non-fiction being stranger than fiction.  A complaint that an Amazon.com reviewer posed was: “If everything Wright writes is factual, why would anyone want to join the Scientology religion?”  This reviewer stated that this was the only point, and a central point, that they found lacking in the book.  If I were this Amazon.com reviewer’s teacher, and I lived by the credo, there’s no such thing as a stupid question, I would simply require that student reread the book.

Kiss in Rolling Stone—

Anyone that thinks that being “king of the hill, top of the heap, and ‘A’ number one” means that you will be able control your press, should read the March 28, 2014, issue of Rolling Stone magazine.  Kiss may no longer be the band that sells platinum records every year, and they may be more about marketing than music at this point in their career, but this Rolling Stone article was supposed to be about their soon-to-occur induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  To read this piece in the Rolling Stone, however, that fact means little-to-nothing.

This piece of rock journalism was so shockingly brutal that one has to imagine that Gene Simmons is still throwing some of his much detailed Kiss memorabilia at the wall when he thinks about it.  All four members of the band Kiss came under attack from the author of the piece, but the author reserved most of his unprofessional brutality for Gene.  This writer’s attacks were so petty and snarky that a regular reader of Rolling Stone would suspect that Gene was a Republican candidate running for office.  Yet, Gene’s not even a Republican voter, as he has made it public that he voted for both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton twice.

This article would also be an excellent read for journalism students seeking answers on what not to do with subjects they’re covering in an article.  Having never taken a journalism course, I would have to imagine that one of the primary rules discussed in a Journalism 101 class is: “The articles that you write are not about you.  No one will be reading your article to learn what you think, unless you’re writing an opinion piece.  If you’re covering a subject in a journalistic manner, however, remember that your readers are only reading your article to learn more about the subject.  It’s not about you.  Your readers won’t care about your opinion, your preferences, or what you think about the subject you’re covering, so be careful how you frame their answers.  If your subject says something stupid, infantile, or in any way revealing of their character, put that statement on the record, but do not comment, or frame, that quote in anyway.  That’s not your job.”  Judging by the course journalism has followed in the last generation, I’m quite sure that most journalism schools now include an asterisk with each of these rules that states: “Unless your subject is a Republican politician.”  As I wrote, however, Gene Simmons is not a Republican voter.

Inspiration—

“This guy sounds like a complete fraud,” a writer said of a fellow writer I was describing.  I wasn’t even done with my description of this fellow writer, when this writer interrupted me with her blunt characterization.  I wasn’t shocked by her assessment of this fellow writer.  She had said as much of other, more established writers, but it was apparent to me that this woman believed that by diminishing all other writers around her, her stature as a writer would somehow be fortified.  Had this been the first time I heard any writer say such a thing, I would’ve passed her comments off as flaws in her character, but I’ve heard a number of novices, and well-established writers, engage in the this practice.  If you’ve ever heard a U.F.O. chaser, a ghost hunter, or some fortune teller attempt to establish their bona fides by telling you that every other person engaged in their craft are fraudulent, then you have some idea what I’m detailing here.

Knowing how hard it is to come up with ideas, and execute those ideas to the point of proper completion, one would think that a writer would bend over backwards to extend professional courtesies to anyone trying to do the same.  If you think that, you’ve never sat down with a group of writers.

“You can say he’s a poor writer,” I said, “But are you saying he’s not a writer?”

“I’m saying he’s probably a hack,” she responded.  She didn’t arc her nose upward after saying that, but that’s how I now remember it.  It seemed like such a violation of the code, on so many levels, that it was hard to comprehend how she could be so brutal.

She cut me off before I could ask her what she meant by “hack”.  I know the general term applies to writers that write just to write, and churn out poor quality submissions for financial gain, but she had never read this person’s material.  She had never even met the man.  Yet, he was a hack in a manner that made her appear adept at using the word.

One essential component to avoid being called a hack, apparently, is to write so little that everything you write can be perceived as enlightened, or divine in nature.  If you want to avoid being a hack, you should never write what others might consider mundane.  Yet, those of us that truly love the minutiae involved in writing, believe that it’s only through exploring the mundane that moments of inspiration can be discovered.    

One key component to being in a position to level such a charge, and have that charge stick –I now know after reading her material— is to never allow those that hear you level it, read your material.  Your charge should remain an indefinable accusation that leaves you with the dignified, nose-in-the-air air about you.

Her material brought to mind the one key component of storytelling that every writer should focus on —be they a writer of vital, substantial material, or a hack— make sure it’s interesting.  Translation: You can be the most gifted writer the world has ever read, but if your material is not interesting, no one will care. 

In the face of the constructive comments (see negative) this woman received from our group, she said, “Perhaps, I’m a better editor, than I am a writer.”  Translation: I have little in the way of creative talent, but I am, indeed, gifted in the art of telling others how little they have. 

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