There is an article over on The Atlantic about Lumbersexuals. Go ahead, read it if you haven’t and then come back. If you don’t want to read it, I’ll sum it up. Lumberjacks are the new cowboys, flannel is back in fashion, and certain groups of men are happier working with their bodies and their minds as opposed to just their minds.
One of the iconic things mentioned in this article is a man with a flannel and a can of PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, which is cheap and drinkable but definitely not a microbrew or what anyone would call artisanal) and I smiled because cheap beer has a place in my heart from the old college days of cheap drinking and loud singing in large groups for no good reason. The article then goes on to talk about men in crisis and how they try to recreate these things that they felt were “real” because their lives seem so “unreal” and about three quarters of the way through I realized this is the same problem in a different light.
If these men wanted to feel masculine and do something with their bodies they could join a union. Or they could join a trade and not join a union. The trades get a bad wrap sometimes as a bunch of lazy guys doing bad work and being dumb. They are not. My husband needs to be able to eyeball 1/8″ and do fraction math all day long in his head while he lays brick. He gets a sense of doing real work at the end of a day where he has worked on an elementary school or a retirement home. We have pointed out buildings to our girls and said, “Daddy helped build that.” He tells me it is an immensely satisfying feeling.
It also pays a living wage once you get past being an apprentice. A wage that is enough to properly feed and clothe a family of five….if you are willing to live within your means and don’t want to eat at a farm to table restaurant every week and don’t mind cheap beer.
Lumbersexuals and hipsters want the accouterments of a middle class life but do not want to make the sacrifices that come with one.
PBR is fine and dandy as a symbol to show that someone doesn’t require a microbrew to be happy. To show off that you don’t need name brand things.
It is a different personification of the rich not needing to show off with a bunch of branded items. You are well off enough you don’t have to prove it to anyone so you don’t care if your car is ten years old. You are not showing off. It’s the understanding that once you have truly arrived the only person who needs to see you there is you. You don’t need anyone else to notice what you’re wearing because you just. don’t. care. It’s what my great grandmother taught me rich was and, while she was talking about having enough money, I think I misinterpreted at the time and thought she meant enough money as in loads and piles of money, not enough money in the very real sense of not feeling fear anymore.
But the posturing? The overt symbolism this entails? When you are drinking cheap beer (but the RIGHT kind of cheap beer, for sure, otherwise people might think you’re poor or something) you are sending a message as much as someone who is wearing DG sunglasses while sporting a Louis Vuitton handbag and … I don’t even know … pick some clothing that has a brand all over it and you get my drift. There are people who need/want to be billboards and there are people who want to be the billboards that are the mirror image of those other “bad” billboards but in doing so are just as much of a billboard as the first people. I don’t want to buy the things to look like I’m from GQ they say….I want this cheap beer and this (probably not cheap) flannel and I will grow my beard and not be mainstream.
Sure, they are not mainstream anymore and I do love looking at guys with beards because beards are nifty, but trying to pretend you’re something you are not happens as much in a thousand dollar suit as it does in a hundred dollar flannel.
It’s a costume.
If these men (and hey, I’m sure women feel this way too…I know I miss my flannels from high school and college like crazy!) want to do something meaningful with their bodies as well as their minds in order to make a paycheck they don’t have to risk their lives the way actual lumberjacks did. There are safety regulations that help keep people alive and everything now! Ah, the future! My husband doesn’t go on a scaffold twenty stories up without safety gear (thank goodness!) so he doesn’t have to deal with the horrible conditions and he gets the joy of a job well done that will last at least a few generations before it’s turned into a parking lot. Hell, the law of numbers states that our grandkids’ grandkids (I’m just using it as an example) will be able to find at least one building in the Chicagoland area that their ancestor worked on.
The sacrifice for these bearded, lost men (the real sacrifice that would give them satisfaction instead of symbols) would mean they would have to drink PBR because that’s what was in the budget, not because they were slumming. It would be a choice, still, but a different kind of choice.
A choice to live a life with less money and more life.
It’s a simple shift that would probably make a lot of people happy. The symbols of a satisfied life will never make the person wearing them as satisfied as the life itself would, but maybe it’s the best they can do. Maybe they can’t let expectations of what life should be just … go.
Switching our lives around from being a white collar family to a blue collar family has been one of the most difficult things we have ever done individually or as a couple. A new state, a new living arrangement, new schools, new expectations, and a new budget have left us reeling but feeling satisfied and at home. I know that there is a Mary Engelbreit quote that says, “Bloom where you’re planted.”
Sometimes, though, you have to tear out your root structure and move to the sunlight so you can bloom your best.
Dumping cheap beer and old symbols on the problem isn’t going to solve anything.
Only a change in perspective can do that.