THE ART OF MANLINESS by Brett and Kate McKay (Book Review)

>At some point last year I stumbled upon a website called The Art of Manliness, “a blog dedicated to uncovering the lost art of being a man.” I believe another blog I follow linked to an article there, and I got a kick out of what I found. The About page from their website explains what it’s all about:

The Art of Manliness is authored by husband and wife team, Brett and Kate McKay. It features articles on helping men be better husbands, better fathers, and better men. In our search to uncover the lost art of manliness, we’ll look to the past to find examples of manliness in action. We’ll analyze the lives of great men who knew what it meant to “man up” and hopefully learn from them. And we’ll talk about the skills, manners, and principles that every man should know.

I found many of the articles interesting (for example, how to’s about using various tools; entering a room with confidence; leaping from a speeding car; and reading lists of “manly” fiction and adventure stories), and a good blend of practical information and tongue-in-cheek humor. When the book came out, I bought it on something of a whim, just because I thought, and still feel, that the idea and the themes are pretty cool. It sat on my dresser for some time before I finally got around to reading it. My wife actually read it before I did, and gave it the thumbs-up.

The Art of Manliness: Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man is essentially an extension of the website into book form. It is a collection of articles that provide information on everything from practical skills, like how to be a perfect houseguest, to some that lean farther toward the humorous (how to give a man hug, for example). There are tips on fighting like a gentleman, instructions on how to change a flat tire, and musings on fatherhood and providing children with rites of passage. There is even a section detailing how to land a plane in an emergency.

Fun as it is, the theme that runs through it is a compelling one. Men really have dropped the ball when it comes to being gentlemen. The book strives to get across the point that we can look to some of the cultural norms from “back in the day” and reclaim some of those “manly” attributes without being the misogynist pigs that dominated much of those eras. Being mindful of how we treat other people, owning our responsibilities, and always putting our best foot forward are notions that plenty of us could do better at living up to. The ideas are simple, and it does make one think. I don’t think one must be a man to benefit from the bulk of the advice either. The last chapter on Virtue is particularly interesting, and would be beneficial to all readers, men and women alike.

That’s not to say I totally agree with everything written here. In particular, I found some of the examples of “real life” or “today’s man” a little off-putting by the time I reached the end of the book. It seems to suggest that every man is some white collar corporate stooge trying to make his way up the ladder. I don’t recall one instance of an anecdote relating to a blue collar working man being used in the text, and that is unfortunate. Believe me, there is just as much stress and irritation to deal with in the grimy world of punching out parts and building machines as there is in cubicle hell. Nor was much thought given to what I think is the pinnacle of manliness — sticking it to the friggin Man. If there’s anything I find particularly loathesome it’s how men have become such a collection of two-faced suck-ups. We aren’t all striving to get that corner office. Some of us, frankly, couldn’t give less of a shit about that. The very things that have made so many men such jerks needing a smack upside the head have really fucked up our culture and world too. Remaking that entire hierarchical construct is going to take a lot of men, and women, putting their best feet forward to overcome. Trying to be a good man while buying into the rest of the bullshit about “how things are” is just pissing into the hurricane.

Regardless of these minor quibbles, I enjoyed the book. Aesthetically, it’s wonderful. The cover art is done so that the book looks old and battered, and the paper used for the jacket feels somehow different from the usual trade paperback — I don’t know what it is, some kind of matte finish or something, but I like it. It’s easy to read, with lots of sidebars and quotations, and the interior art made me chuckle more than once. Clearly a lot of thought and care went into producing this book, and it shows in the final product. I can definitely appreciate that.

A fine effort from the McKays, an effort that continues to gather steam online. I’m sure everyone knows a man or two who could really benefit from reading a book like this!

>Six Down, One to Go!

>I really don’t have much of an idea of who looks at this blog outside of the handful who regularly comment. I imagine the ones who are addicted to writing blogs and crime fiction and all that are pretty tired of seeing so many posts about a fashion design contest, but whatever. Julia would totally shout it to the world if I ever started kicking ass with my creative pursuits, and I feel the same way about what she’s doing. Besides, it’s fun.

April 16th: Challenge Six — The Fantasy Design

This would be the final challenge before the Grand Finale to determine the overall winner. With only four contestants remaining, one needed to be eliminated so that three could advance to determine the champion. This time around the designers were told to close their eyes and imagine themselves as some alternate version of themselves, and what they would like to be. They were allowed 5 yards of a single color of fabric, plus they could then accessorize it with whatever they wanted to.

Jodi imagined herself as a child again, and dressed her daughter in a little pink faerie outfit. While she talked about her design, Caryn and Candice looked on.

Candice said her alternate self lived on a world where it was never cold and was always sunny, and she could fly around like a Jetson’s character.

As soon as Caryn came out, it was clear that she was sporting a totally different identity. This was her “power suit” as they called it; bitchy and brash is what she was trying to portray, which is totally different from her real personality.

There was some serious questioning and answering going on with the judges. My mom and sister, in the background to the right, are clearly focused on the goings-on here.

Of course I only had eyes for Julia.

Especially when she was walking away.

Of course coming back wasn’t too bad either.

She’s really a striking woman, if I may say so myself. She’s 5’10” in her stocking feet, but when she throws her big heels on she’s about 6’2″ or 6’3″. That made her about the tallest person in the room! I have to remember to wear my boots just to stay even with her. She gets a kick out of that.

Julia talked about making some kind of “explorer” outfit, but the right color fabric wasn’t available. Then she talked about how she’s always fancied some kind of monastic existence, which would come as a surprise to people who know her, but that she realized she couldn’t handle the celibacy part. So this was her “When God Was a Woman” alter-ego. In a nutshell, she was dressed up as her version of a Priestess of the Goddess, growing up surrounded by women with no notions of ever getting married, etc. But having other “duties” as well, as she called them, as it relates to menfolk — if you catch my meaning. It was definitely a PG-13 rated critique/explanation session with the judges; I was a little disappointed, because I wanted her to go Full R. Oh well. I guess someone needs to think about the children. She looked great.

Julia and Caryn were standing next to each other when they learned they tied for the popular vote (I teased our friend Autumn and her sister, who came to watch but showed up late, that if they’d showed up in time to vote then Julia would have won the popular vote).

When all was said and done, Julia was judged the winner of the challenge (woo hoo!) and she advanced to the finals with Caryn and Candice. That event is in three weeks, on May 7th. You won’t hear any more about it until it’s imminent, so rest easy!

After all the festivities we went next door to the new tapas restaurant, The Silk Road, and had dinner with Autumn and her sister (whose name continues to escape me). The food was great, and the company was even better. All in all it was a great night!


>I’ll See Yours and Double Down!

>My friend Becky in Denver, aka the Mile High Seductive Enchantress, keeps one of my favorite blogs over at Release the Kraken Please, and she is also a frequent commenter here on my blog. She’s humorous and fun and I get a real kick out of her blog posts and twitter updates. Sometimes they’re random, sometimes they are hilarious, and sometimes they are heartfelt and warm. They always have lots of pictures, something I really enjoy (which probably isn’t surprising considering how I usually load my posts with so many pictures). I like her style of blogging, the kind that is a little window into another person’s life that doesn’t feel all pre-planned and manufactured. So yeah, Becky is on my list of favorite people.

What is really odd to me, though, is that while she used to live in Missoula, and we know a lot of the same people, we’ve never actually met face to face. It’s possible that we did back in the day and just don’t remember, but it’s still strange to me.

The Office Experiment

She and her work friends occasionally do these little outings they call “Office Experiments.” It usually involves food of one kind or another, and usually food that’s kind of gross. For example, one time they did one around the McDonald’s McRib. Another was a trip to a Dave & Buster’s restaurant. The other day she mentioned on Twitter that they were going to go try the new Double Down sandwich from KFC. Literally minutes before I read her post, I had been in my truck running an errand and had heard an ad for the sandwich and was properly horrified. So when I read her announcement, I knew that I had to be IN on the project, as kind of a satellite member of her crew.

So what is the Double Down? Get a load of this:

The new KFC Double Down sandwich is real! This one-of-a-kind sandwich features two thick and juicy boneless white meat chicken filets (Original Recipe® or Grilled), two pieces of bacon, two melted slices of Monterey Jack and pepper jack cheese and Colonel’s Sauce. This product is so meaty, there’s no room for a bun! » Watch the TV Commercial

I haven’t been to a KFC in years, that I recall, though I have a long relationship with the place. When my friends and I moved to the Seattle area back in the 80s to become rock stars, the first job my roommate and I had was working at a KFC (for those who know the Renton area, it’s the one on Rainier Avenue just north of the I405/167 interchange, next to a strip mall that housed a Budget Tapes & Records store). We worked there about 8 months or so, at $3.35/hour, before landing bigger and better jobs (starting a $6.00/hour; we thought we were rich). Of the many things I remember about working there, one time KFC introduced these mini sandwiches called “Chicken Littles.” They were actually pretty tasty; basically oversized nuggets on a bun. What I recall though is we were all brought in on a Saturday morning to be indoctrinated on them. The regional manager, Tom (we referred to him as Dick because that’s basically what he was), gave this big speech about them, and we all got to sample a couple. A couple other little mid-management sycophants were there, and I specifically recall the trio standing near the back office, talking about the ramifications of their new sandwich in the fast food market. This guy said, stone cold serious, “What we are doing is starting a war. We are starting . . . a WAR.” I about died laughing; I had to retreat into the walk-in cooler to regain composure. What a dork.

So I don’t like KFC, even without going into a rant about their factory-farmed chicken. This particular KFC in Missoula, which is also an A&W, is in a building that used to be a fantastic pizza joint called Little Big Men Pizza, with a big round fireplace in the middle. I ate many a LBM pizza; it was a favorite. We’d splurge there now and then after band practice, when finances allowed us to deviate from the usual 4-hot dogs-for-a-dollar menu at Ole’s. It’s a travesty that this once great enterprise is now a friggin’ KFC and 2nd-rate burger outlet.

Via the genius of our synchronized efforts, you can check out Becky’s Double Down results right here! Dig ’em. Here’s mine. . . .

Fortune Favors the Bold

I was still game for the Office Experiment, though, don’t get me wrong. I was in the middle of a busy day when the whole thing went down, so I went for the drive thru, since the KFC is only about 6 or 8 blocks from my house.

I took it home and put it all on a plate to eat at my desk. The dining room table has pretty much been owned by Julia’s Project Selvedge work, and I don’t like to risk touching anything with my greasy fingers.

Opening up the sandwich, it somehow didn’t live up to the publicity photos. Imagine that!

I hate pepper jack cheese, so I just doubled up on the Monterey Jack. The whole thing was pretty slippery and squishy, and the bacon was essentially invisible. I wasn’t entirely sure how to approach the thing.

At this point I was a little grossed out. I ate a couple potato wedges (at least I think there was potato somewhere under all the grease and breading) and contemplated. I cut away the excess cheese and attacked the thing with knife and fork. I figured if I tried to hold it it was going to slip out of my grip and soil my desk. I couldn’t have that!

With all the excess gook cut away, it wasn’t too bad. I don’t know that I would order one again, though. If I’m ever forced to return to the Colonel’s, I’d probably go with a couple slabs of extra crispy instead. Or maybe some fake mashed potatoes and gravy and a couple biscuits.

All in all, I’d give it about 2.5 out of 5 stars. Sorry, Colonel. Should’ve stuck with Chicken Littles.

Don’t forget to check out how things went down in Denver right here!

>The Mayhem Continues — Design a Silkscreen

>April 9th: Challenge Five — Design a Silkscreen

Project Selvedge continues! Here’s a picture of one of the grand prizes — a fancy new, high speed sewing machine. The winner also gets a gift certificate for fabric, dance lessons, a spa day, and a couple other things too, I believe. So the stakes are high!

Leah was there, as always, laying down the ground rules describing this week’s skirmish.

Julia’s model this week was our friend Autumn, a woman Julia also bellydances with. She looked great!

So each designer came up with a silkscreen for a t-shirt provided as part of the challenge, then had a fabric budget to complete the ensemble. Here are some of the other entries.

I liked this last model’s tattoo.

Julia got vicious in describing the hows and whys of her silkscreen and the outfit she put together to accompany it. That’s my sister Mitzi in the far right of the frame laughing at Julia’s antics.

I thought the screen came out awesome. There were a lot of people asking how she did it and made it look so intense. I’m telling you, this woman knows her shit!

It was a good night.

There is no shortage of pretty girls as part of this competition either, and I’m not afraid to say so.

But the best of the bunch left with ME.

One more challenge, then it’s the finals for the whole enchilada! Cross your fingers for Julia!