Several years ago I got into reading Robert E Howard’s old Conan stories. They instantly struck a chord. This was a hero I wanted to be. He strode with ease through the world like everyone else was his guest. He had control of his destiny, and wandered wherever he felt like, enjoying the moment and rarely thinking further ahead than the next wench or the next flagon of ale. He didn’t start fights but he’d not back down from a challenge. He let nobody knowingly take him for a ride but if he was outsmarted he gave grudging respect and cheerfully got back on with his life.
To the modern girly-man, Conan is a savage. An anachronism. Where are his issues, his depth, his supplication to women, his social awareness? He’s a brute.
I loved these stories and sometimes wondered if I’d been born 800 years too late, like I’d be better suited in an era of swordfighters and swashbucklers. I decided to implement subtle Conan-esque behaviours into my life. Subtle, mind. Things like:
I started to communicate with my wife through grunts and shoves. She’d say something and I’d respond “unnnnn”, or I’d walk past and shoulder-nudge her so she fell onto the bed
We’d be in a shop. I’d grab the back of her neck declaring “We’re finished here” then lead her out, giving her a shove in the back.
While walking hand in hand I’d suddenly tug her closer to me, nearly pulling her off her feet.
Sometimes for no reason at all I’d pick her up and carry her across my shoulders.
Conan began to infect my body language. I’d stride rather than walk. I’d sit in an alpha position in cafes, my back to the wall and all exits in sight. I’d carelessly slop food around and not really bother wiping my mouth. I’d subcommunicate a barely suppressed wildness in everything I did, like at any moment I could suddenly pick up an axe and cleave a skull – though the victim would have to be deserving. I wanted to be an uncouth barbarian.
And I quickly noticed something. My wife absolutely fucking loved it.
Time passed and I forgot about it, got interested in other things. Now I’m doing game I’ve been casting around for how to shape my identity. Inner game requires a strong personal position. You have to know your values and be the man. I’d kinda lost that over the past couple of years and allowed myself to be pushed off what used to be a very clear path of what I wanted and why.
So now I’m re-reading the Conan stories and remembering that this is what real manhood is. Conan is part of my core. I have barbarian values. I’ve always had them. Now I’m proud of them.