With the release Elizabeth Gilbert's newest volume of real-woman-real-time narrative I am again reminded of the difference between us guys and you gals. I also find myself yearning for something so missing in our national discourse as men.
Don't get me wrong. I am not all that big a fan of Gilbert's work. It's fine. The attempt to reach deep conclusions, and wisdom, about oneself usually takes more than a few months of around the world travel. I hit the wall over a decade ago now am only beginning to understand how far I have to go. But then you ladies walk and talk months before we do and have a sincere interest in petting just about the time we are mastering the toilet.
It's the deep nerve Gilbert's work has touched in the female psyche that I am moved by, not the quality of the work itself. There was a period of months when I literally felt like every woman in every public space, from beach to train to nursery school pick-up, was reading EPL. There was something about the ugly truth of a woman who made mistakes and was attempting to find, despite those failures, an authentic life for herself that all these woman grabbed a hold of as their own life story. That's what I am jealous of.
Reading the front-page review of Committed in the New York Times Review of Books, and randomly hearing Gilbert interviewed no less than three times while driving around in my car over the weekend (Sweetheart, you have change up the jokes, okay?) I found myself thinking of guys, good and bad, young and old, lost and redeemed. Of Tiger and Letterman, of Marines and Auto Workers, of inmates and the boys they have left behind, of investment bankers and talking heads, of firemen and insurance salesmen, of fathers and husbands from Boston to San Diego and Selma to St. Paul.
What about us? Why isn't there some book that can touch a nerve for us too?
Publishers say men don't read but that is nonsense. Women often say we don't talk either but try telling that to Chris Rock. We read and talk plenty. It's just we seem to have a hard time digging deep, connecting the inside with the outside. Too often we live in a superficial world while underneath we as guys suffer in silence.
At this point the silence is at a breaking point. With war and recession and the increased demand that we step up to the plate at home, the guys I know are screaming, not because they have any answers but because they have no clue what just hit them. They are waking up to stare in the mirror to see a man they barely recognize. I often scream obscenities at myself in the shower to man-up, not that it does much good. I just figure maybe it will wake me from my slumber and renew some long lost superhuman powers to get me out of yet another mess.
A review of the current best-selling guy books doesn't shed any light on the issues face by everyday guys: Edward Kennedy, Bill O'Reilly, Larry Bird, and George Carlin are not the answers to our prayers. Andre Agassi is the closest thing we've got to a guy getting real, but for most guys suffering in the trenches the blue hair isn't something they are ever going to get over no matter how much Stephi has had a positive impact on the guy.
So we are left with the question of why? Ladies have Oprah and mommy blogs and a zillion women's magazines. We have Sports Illustrated and the occasional down and dirty male profile in the New Yorker. Don't we want more than that? Aren't we sick of sport and money and misery?
I do see cracks in the armor. Ray Romano was willing to bet his career on a show featuring thee fat guys in midlife crisis. Alec Baldwin has become a demigod of the divorced dads in his own twisted, egomaniacal way. Up in the Air features not only the superficially gorgeous Clooney going deep but a leading man who gets dumped by a lover with a spouse she forgot to mention.
Just maybe we are getting somewhere. But change, in the end, is only motivated by pain. Guys have you had enough to start telling the truth?
If not ask your wife to get you another beer while you watch another pointless NFL playoff game to hide from your demons. Just don't come crying to me when the world goes upside down on you when you lose your job or your wife or your kids. I have been there. A stiff upper lip is a house of cards waiting to fall.
They say the hardship plaguing men across the country was caused by a complete disconnect in the financial markets. As the former CFO of a billion-dollar media company and the founder of a venture firm, I can tell you packaged mortgages sold at par even though they have huge default risk is just one way to look at the disease. Another is far more personal and scary.
The amazing thing about one person getting honest is that it leads to a second and third and pretty soon the whole country is thinking about their lives in a whole new way. That is what Elizabeth Gilbert did for women. Guys, it's about time we had the guts to tell our own stories of imperfection with as much candor and courage as she has.
Thomas Matlack is the former Chief Financial Officer of The Providence Journal, is the founding Managing Partner of Megunticook Management, and is the co-founder of The Good Men Project.