Guante – “The Art of Taking the L”


Batman, driving the Batmobile
pulls up to a four-way stop. And he gets there first
so he’s like about to go when this other guy, who clearly got to the stop
after Batman, just goes. So Batman just slams on the brakes,
this guy’s white truck flies by. He’s talking on his phone,
looks at Batman, just keeps going. Now… instead of continuing on straight,
does Batman turn right, follow this guy, this criminal
to wherever he’s going and then use his billionaire,
vigilante, ninja skills and teach him an unforgettable
bone-cracking lesson on how to properly navigate
a four-way stop? No! Batman has more important things to do. Batman takes the L,
and continues on with his day. That may not be the most exciting
Batman story, but it contains an important message. Just like when someone cuts
in front of James Bond who is waiting to get a fried apple pie
at the State Fair, or when Achilles has to squeeze through
a crowd of people at the airport who have lined up, even though their boarding group
hasn’t been called yet. Or when Wolverine discovers that his beefy
5-layer burrito has sour cream on it when he ordered it without sour cream, but he went to the drive-thru,
he’s already back at the X Mansion. Sometimes, you just have to take the L. Sometimes, getting your way
no matter the cost, costs too much. Of course,
some people learn that very early, depending on, you know, your race,
your religion, where you grew up. It may not be a revelation to hear that
your heroes aren’t bulletproof. Others, however,
don’t hear those stories growing up. We only hear the other ones,
all those heroes, all those powerful men, always in control, always dominant,
always winning. My earliest memory of masculinity is… and I’m supposed to say
something dramatic here, right? Like, the smoking rifle
and the dead rabbit, or the stepfather’s fists, but it doesn’t take a bolt of lightning
to keep the television on. Just the steady background hum
of electricity, the invisible power
coursing through the walls. My earliest memory of masculinity
is not a particle, it’s a wave. My earliest memory of masculinity
is not a man, it’s a mask, and the look reflected
in that TV screen… me, an acorn kid, the son
of a single mother’s son, who gave me all the light I ever need. I was [nam] soft, an indoor boy. It’s not a bad thing or a good thing.
It’s just a way to be. Tell that to the TV though, of the infinite number of ways to be. Look at our heroes.
Look at what stories we choose to tell. A million different jobs and half the shows on TV
are about cops. A million different ways to be
in relationship with other humans, and at the movies have the same
“boy-meets-girl” ’cause it’s got be a girl subplot. A million different looks
and half of the video games star the same strapping 6-foot tall
white guy with short brown hair, a 5 o’clock shadow and a bad attitude. A million little examples
that mean nothing on their own but they add up to a story. The story we tell about manhood
is an old one, and an obvious one, a real man is what? Strong… brave… stoic… sexually experienced, has a firm handshake,
orders his steak rare, drives a big truck, plays sports, wins. And look, none of these things
are bad or good either. They’re just ways to be. But what happens
when that’s the only story we tell? From the TV screen to the locker room,
to the dinner table, to the headphones,
to the comments section, what happens
when that’s the only story we hear? The real man: all fist and no hand, all swirling cape
and six-chambered steel heart, that man who wins at any cost, that hero, always in control,
never sad or confused, or frustrated. So when we feel sad or confused,
or frustrated because every human being does watch insecurity bloom like a virus. Watch how our bodies fight back
by seeking security and power, and conformity in that story. Watch how easily being
the stereotypical guy’s guy goes from one way to be a man
to the way to be a man, and then watch how that gets enforced because masculinity has always been
a team sport. Man up. Stop crying. Be a man. If I could fit in this box,
then you have to fit it in too. And watch how easily
all the positive qualities we assign to men,
reveal their secret identities. Courage becomes carelessness. Strength becomes violence. Leadership becomes entitlement.
Cool becomes cold. Watch how easily the “desire to win”
becomes the need to dominate. Watch how easily the desire to win
becomes the inability to cope with loss, with frustration, with rejection. And watch me, a young man, soak it all in like cosmic rays, like radiation. Watch how I mutate,
how I become something bigger than myself. Maybe stronger than myself, but also other than myself. And if you know how stories work,
you might expect this to be the point in the story
where something really bad happens. Right, maybe the young man
at the center of this story hurt someone. Maybe he finds himself in a situation
where he knows what the right thing to do is, and he knows how the story goes
and he knows they don’t line up, but that story is so powerful,
so full of power. That isn’t how my story goes, and I’m definitely not any smarter
or better than any other man. I’ve swallowed that same big story. It’s just that somewhere
in the margins of it I’ve been able to write
this other one too. And there’s no big phone call
or splash page, life-altering lightning strike event
at the root of it. Just a bunch of random little moments: luck and privilege,
and relationships, and loss, especially loss. When I felt the most defeated, the football coach who found me crying
in a hallway after a tough loss and just gave me a hug. When I felt the most inadequate,
the friends who modeled for me a strength that was not based on our capacity
to hurt someone, who affirmed for me that
as easily as we can be warriors, we can be healers. When I felt like the most persecuted, the mentors who reminded me
that the L’s we take matter, but so do the L’s
we’ll never have to take. Batman never has to worry about
where his hands are when he’s pulled over. John Wick never has to laugh off
an inappropriate joke his boss made because he really needs that job. Wolverine never has to walk back
to his car holding his keys between his fingers
like adamantium claws. When I felt the most unforgiving, the rapper who told the story
about getting carjacked, having a gun,
but choosing to let the car go. Because even an enemy’s life
is worth more than a car. When I felt the most alone, the question echoing through
that funeral home, “What if we treated every loss
like the way we treat the loss of a loved one?” Not a reason to punch through the dry wall
or run an SUV off the road. An opportunity for reflection. An excuse to step back and breathe
and put things in perspective. When I felt the most cynical, the activist who showed me that
there are some matters worth fighting, that winning them is work and so is choosing the ones that matter
in the first place. The million little examples
that mean nothing on their own, but again, they add up to a story. It’s not that loss makes us stronger. That can be true sometimes, but loss also kills some of us, drives us to hurt others. The heart of my counter story
is not loss itself, it’s the impulse to understand it, to know how to take the L
when you have to and keep moving. Learning how to lose. Learning that I’m entitled
to so little saved my life more than once. Because… when you step outside that big story
we tell about manhood, you can start to see the poison in it. When the hero always wins. When the hero always “gets the girl.” When the hero always has a trick
up his sleeve to save the day or one last burst of energy
to defeat his enemy, when you’ve been taught all your life
that you are the hero, that a real man is always in control,
always dominant, always wins, what happens when you lose? Because you will. And not every man can share the little
heart-warming stories about learning how to lose
that I shared a minute ago. So the small things
like getting cut-off in traffic or someone being mean to you
on the internet transform from annoyances
into challenges. And the big things like getting laid off, going through a tough breakup,
having people you love die. They transform too. The difficult chapter
becomes a sea of red ink. The story tells us
that a real man always wins. So when we lose, some of us take that as evidence that there’s something wrong
with the story and some of us take that as evidence
that there’s something wrong with us or with the world. In the U.S. 75% of suicides are men. 85% of gun deaths are caused by men. More than 95% of mass shooters are men. We can talk about guns,
we can talk about access to mental health, but why aren’t we talking about men? The vast majority of sexual violence,
no matter who the victim is, is committed by men. And we know that rape isn’t about sex.
It’s about power. Sexual harassment isn’t about pleasure.
It’s about control. It’s about entitlements. Our heroes never ask for help,
never ask for anything. As much we talk about how “man up”
means to take responsibility, how many of us really do that? Admit when we’re wrong, apologize, reflect, grow. This is an old story,
the rugged individual, the self-made man, the Dark Knight,
007, Weapon X, all these code names, all these masks, all these hysterical TV pundits and some barstool intellectuals
say that men are in crisis because we’ve forgotten how to be men. I think we know all too well
how to be men. We’ve heard that story since birth. What we’ve forgotten, what we’ve lost
is how to be ourselves, untethered from that stereotype, that sense of entitlement
that burden all these heroes, all these real men we will never be
as strong as because they’re not real. The Batmobile continues on its path. Batman has to pickup his two daughters
from volleyball practice. There’s no Joker in this story. It doesn’t mean that
there aren’t villains in the world. And yeah, there are some times
where taking the L is unacceptable. When you fight on, no matter the odds
and never give up, and yes, our heroes do teach us
some good things, right. “Be true to your word.
Stand up to bullies. Do the right thing even when it’s hard.” But none of that has anything to do
with being a man, much less a hero. It has everything to do
with just being kind, with being yourself. Whether you’re Bruce Wayne on a budget or Wolverine with bones
simply made of bone, or a father, driving along
with the family he loves, windows down, just going home. All we have lost, for better or worse,
has brought us to this moment. If we could lose just a little more,
imagine how light we could become. If we could lose just a little more,
I bet we could fly. (audience applauding and cheering)

29 thoughts on “Guante – “The Art of Taking the L”

  1. 1 million little examples that mean nothing on there own, wow this poem is amazing!🙂

  2. Batman never has to worry about where his hands are when he's pulled over 👏

  3. I don't know why, but this video reminds me of Chris from The Pursuit Of Happyness

    Edit: Also Henry from Gemini Man. I just love Will Smith lol

  4. Guante does it again, he does it every time. His poetry is so awake and resonant

  5. Thanks for sharing! The text of this piece (plus discussion questions, resources, readings, and more) is available as a ZINE available now for purchase via Button's web store.

  6. The self awareness and empowerment I get from the man's poems is phenomenonal. It's on a level with Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society.

    The thoughts behind this need to be a movement. It's inspiring.

  7. The Art of Taking the L by Guante

    Batman, driving the Batmobile pulls up to a four-way stop.
    And he gets there first, so like he's about to go when this other guy who clearly got to the stop after Batman, just goes.
    So Batman slams on the brakes, this guy's white truck flies by.
    He's talking on his phone, looks at Batman and just keeps going.
    Now, instead of continuing on straight, does Batman turn right, follow this guy, this criminal to wherever he's going and then use his billionaire, vigilante, ninja skills and teach him an unforgettable bone-cracking lesson on how to properly navigate a four-way stop?
    No! Batman has more important things to do. Batman takes the L, and continues on with his day.
    That may not be the most exciting Batman story but it contains an important message.
    Just like when someone cuts in front of James Bond who is waiting to get a fried apple pie at the State Fair, or when Achilles has to squeeze through a crowd of people at the airport who have lined up even though their boarding group hasn't been called yet.
    Or when Wolverine discovers that his beefy 5-layer burrito has sour cream on it when he ordered it without sour cream, but he went to the drive-thru, he's already back at the X mansion.
    Sometimes, you just have to take the L.
    Sometimes, getting your way no matter the cost, costs too much.
    Of course, some people learn that very early, depending on, you know, your race, your religion, where you grew up.
    It may not be a revelation to hear that your heroes aren't bulletproof.
    Others, however, don't hear those stories growing up.
    We only hear the other ones, all those heroes, all those powerful men, always in control, always dominant, always winning.
    My earliest memory of masculinity is and I'm supposed to say something dramatic here, right?
    Like, the smoking rifle and the dead rabbit, or the stepfather's fists, but it doesn't take a bolt of lightning to keep the television on.
    Just the steady background hum of electricity, the invisible power coursing through the walls.
    My earliest memory of masculinity is not a particle, it's a wave.
    My earliest memory of masculinity is not a man, it's a mask, and the look reflected in that TV screen… me, an acorn kid, the son of a single mother's son, who gave me all the light I ever need.
    I was nam soft, an indoor boy.
    It's neither a bad thing or a good thing.
    It's just a way to be.
    Tell that to the TV though, of the infinite number of ways to be.
    Look at our heroes.
    Look at what stories we choose to tell.
    A million different jobs and half the shows on TV are about cops.
    A million different ways to be in relationship with other humans, and at the movies have the same "boy-meets-girl" 'cause it's got to be a girl subplot.
    A million different looks and half the video games star the same strapping six-foot tall white guy with short brown hair, a five o'clock shadow and a bad attitude.
    A million little examples that mean nothing on their own but they add up to a story.

  8. Guante, killing the toxic in masculinity, one poem at a time! Thank you for this, keep going, bruv!

  9. How does one get on this? I would love to be able to come on and read something. 😥

  10. so darn beautiful, im obsessed with pieces like this about masculinity. i wish they would play this in every school in america

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *