All that jazz


It was a disappointing weekend of footy finals and after a few beers with the boys on Saturday afternoon watching the second of the games I set footy aside and reclined on the couch to watch a movie.
The movie I chose this week I think is a classic, though perhaps not as widely recognised as it should be. I don’t remember the first time I watched All That Jazz, and all I took from that were fragments. The next time I watched it was about eleven years ago, I reckon. It was a Sunday night and I was flying out the next morning for a week of work in Darwin. I watched as I ironed and packed, before I settled down to watch the movie properly. It had a vivid effect on me.

I think this is a great film. I love Bob Fosse as a film-maker, and reckon he’d have been interesting off set too. He has a distinct style and sense of adventure. Another of his movies, Cabaret, is also a favourite, but he was cutting edge throughout. It’s interesting that given his background as dancer and choreographer how that might have influenced his film making.

All That Jazz focuses on a choreographer much like Fosse, a character called Joe Gideon, played by Roy Scheider. He’s a dissolute genius, a chain smoking womaniser and heavy drinker, living right on the edge. The movie focuses on a show he’s preparing for, while in the background he is putting together a movie of a comedian (based on Lenny Bruce – and a movie Fosse himself made a few years before). The comedian riffs on death, and on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ seven stages, which becomes a theme. Around him are the people in his life – a mediocre dancer he’s having an affair with, the loving girlfriend he’s cheating on, his dancer ex-wife and daughter, as well as the investors in the show.

It’s a high-wire life and he lives it recklessly, almost daring it. Throughout the first half of the movie it jumps between these scenes, with the odd fantasy diversion. There are some brilliant set-pieces, fantastic imagination at play throughout. It’s daring and inventive, but in the second half of the movie it really becomes an artistic expression.

By then Gideon has had the inevitable heart attack and is in hospital. The movie takes on a psychedelic vibe as it alternates between fact and fantasy, with Gideon confusing the two. His life and background are explored as his health declines further, leading into the final musical number with Joe Vereen singing Bye, Bye, Life to Joe.

The whole movie is a tour de force, and I can think of few other films who carry such an imprint of their maker. It’s brilliant.

It’s funny what you remember. Things stick in your mind. For me there were three things I recalled whenever I thought of the movie before watching it on Saturday. In my memory the scenes featuring the comedian were more significant, like a commentary on Joe. There’s another lovely scene when the girlfriend and the daughter perform to Joe to Peter Allen’s Everything Old is New Again. Then there’s the final scene, where Joe’s life and death are played out musically.

All of this melded into my mind creating an overall impression. They were the elements my psyche was drawn to, and I think influenced one of the ideas for a novel I’ve had in my head for the last 18 months.

This novel is more extroverted and fantastical, and in fact occasionally when I stopped to think about it I was reminded of another movie, Fellini’s . It was only after watching All That Jazz again that I realised the influence of that, unknown till that point. In fact the two movies have many elements in common, so it makes sense. Both protagonists are auteurs, of different types. Both are troubled, intense souls living on the edge. Both movies feature fantasy elements and a sort of cinematic stream of consciousness. Both, in their way, are intellectual movies – movies that provoke and explore and ask questions. And both have a distinct directorial perspective with an autobiographical inspiration.

Funnily enough that’s pretty much how I conceived my novel too. I love that stuff.

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This is what I choose


It went pretty much as I expected yesterday, and while I had a moment of bitter reflection I soon got past it. I’d conditioned myself to the outcome and was ready to move on from it.

Moving on, in this case, means to disengage myself from the process. I understand realpolitik, and I can respect it in aspects, but it doesn’t mean I want to be a part of it. For me, engagement means I’m all in or I’m out. I’m at the stage of my life, certainly, when I can’t be halfway engaged. I think this is more pronounced in this stage of my development, but I think it was ever so in some shape or another. I’ve always been contemptuous of dilettantes, who I’ve considered too clever for their own good. It’s not a way I want to be.

Still, I have to exist in this world. These are facts of life. Bold leadership is hard to find, anywhere, and the sort of compromise that caters to the lowest common denominator rules the day. Pure ideals and the courage to be true to them is an anachronism. I can either move with the times or be true to myself.

I think for me to be a part of that would be a compromise of my nature. That may make me an anachronism too, but I’d rather live believing in something true and noble than stoop to emulate those simply more ‘pragmatic’. I think this is one of the problems we see in society today – too many have compromised on their principles in order to be heard. Too few stand for anything these days, and this has become the new normal. It’s the narrative of our times, a spiral that has made our discourse both more confrontational and less incisive and gives power to mediocrity.

I can either be part of that or step aside from it. It goes against the grain to step aside because I always believe I can make a difference, and there is shame in refusing the fight. In this case though I feel to remain a part of it is to be complicit, and to validate its methods.

Instead, I will stay true to what I believe and closely attend to what I do. It makes for a smaller me, but then I have been craving that, haven’t I?

What many don’t understand is that I don’t work for them, or their brand; I work for myself in service of an objective. I will always do my best because anything less is a betrayal of myself. I think that confronts some and confuses others. Some, I fear, feel disrespected by it.

I accept I’m a purist, and I understand it puts me out of step. I’ve always quite liked that, though much of that was ego. Now, I just don’t want to be in step with a way I deplore. This is the choice of every person, to go their own way, to think and act for themselves, to be a true individual.

When you care


I’m sitting in the dark in the quiet, the glow of the screen the only light. I’m meant to be doing my weekly ironing, but… I have other things in me tonight, a mix of them that leave me with a peculiar edge.

There’s some wariness in me. I fear tomorrow I will once more be on one side of a confrontation. I don’t resile from these things, but wish they weren’t necessary. I sit there wondering, are they necessary? Why not just give way? Wouldn’t that be easier?

It would be, but to what end? I don’t know if I could give way. It’s not in me. But let’s say I could, what then? I don’t know if you can understand this, but that would represent almost the worst thing I could contemplate – to go on day after day contrary to my desire and nature and rational consideration. I know people do it, but for the man I have become that feels like a living death.

People do that. Many do it easily, and lots besides rarely hold such deep-seated convictions in the first place. I do, and always have. I remember when I was barely out of my teens thinking about principles. It was something in my head, a value I held onto that I justified by rational argument: if I’m not this then what am I? It was in my head but it was also much deeper in the middle of me, something I was instinctively.

I wrote the other night in Facebook how much easier it is when you care less, which is true enough, but when you care less it also means less. I don’t care overmuch about what people make of me – that’s too much hard work. I care about what I stand for though, and for principles of honesty and decency and democracy. I care about the things I do because, among other things, there is meaning in that and purpose. Without that isn’t life a pale thing? We are our beliefs, they’re the spice of our character. Without that what are we?

I’m glad to be that way, but in all honesty don’t know any other. The value you take from things comes from the effort you put into them. The challenge I set myself is to do things with integrity. I’m not perfect, I’m deeply flawed, I fail sometimes, I don’t wish to set myself up as a paragon – I’m not by any stretch – nor do I demand it from others. We dance to our own tune. This is my tune though and it means regardless of other things I’m committed to the job at hand and giving it my best and being true to its meaning. I’m a man who puts his hand up. I believe in things. I want to make things better. I put my heart into what I do because what else is there? I’m hard at it and single-minded sometimes because there’s only one way, and that’s the right way.

Of course, you say – there’s your right way, and there’s mine. I’m not pushing ideologies though, that’s every mans own business and if I take you up on that then that’s something completely different. I’m not going to tell you what to think, or how to live your life, and if you choose to do your thing differently to mine then that’s your business. There are some things less ambiguous. If it’s meant to be fair then it should be fair. If it’s supposed to be democratic then it ought to be democratic. And always we should be decent and honest. I won’t accept any back-sliding there and so that leads, sometimes, to disagreement.

It seems to me this stubbornness leads me to regular conflict. I’ve been called a warrior again and again, and I understand why. I don’t crave these confrontations though. I’d rather we agreed, I’d rather that we all understood the same thing. I understand how self-interest works, I can even respect it in a way because in a way it’s honest. I’ll oppose it still when it crosses the line, but what I really can’t abide is the craven submission to it by some because it becomes simpler. I can’t abide these moral bullies getting their own way to the detriment of some higher principle because those who could stop it, don’t – and because it’s easier to compromise than it is to stand for something.

I could be talking about anything these days – certainly it sums up much of our parliament.

So this is something of what I face tomorrow. I dread it, but I won’t back down. I suspect I’ll be defeated, but a point will be made.

So all of this in me now, but at the same time, there’s a fantastic sense of poignancy in me. I cherish the fact that I’m capable of feeling so delicate and sensitive. I tremble with feeling unrelated to anything I’ve written above. If I am a warrior then I am also a man riven by deep feeling. It feels like a flaw, a crack in me, a vulnerability if you like, but because I’m cracked in such a way I have a direct sense of the mystery about me. It’s like my skin has been peeled back and upon the raw flesh I feel life, stinging and oppressive in a way, but true and pure and real as well.

I can say none of this to anyone, which is a pity. Something like this is made to be shared. I feel wonders. I feel illuminated. I feel something more than the man contained in this body. Sometimes I preen, I’m a man full of vanity and it delights when I can make a girl smile with my clever words or impress with my smarts. I realise though what I want is to be loved for what I have inside me, this delicate thing I can’t begin to understand, no matter how many words.

The fight justifies itself.

Random perspectives


There’s been a bunch of things happen in the last ten days which have exercised my mind but which I haven’t commented on. More often than not I’ll never comment because I won’t get around to it, but today I reckon I’ll set my thoughts down to the lot of them and be done with it.

One of the big issues last week was the Mark Knight cartoon referencing the Serena Williams eruption at the US Open. As soon as I saw it I thought, uh oh. Very clearly it features a racist caricature of Williams, and anyone who doesn’t recognise it is either terribly ignorant or deeply racist. I can’t see any ambiguity in it, though Knight himself reckons it was drawn without racist intent.

There’s a couple of problems with that. To start with, Knight has history. Not long ago he depicted black gang members in very broad and offensive terms also. On that occasion, he drew the figures in scurrilous detail, while perpetuating a false stereotype of black youth gangs over-running Melbourne – which, as anyone sensible living here will tell you, is utter nonsense. He has drawn similar cartoons in the past, and though cartoonists are permitted some artistic licence – much of what they do, after all, is exaggerated and made a caricature – there must be sensitive to culture and history, which is where the second problem emerges.

I remember about ten years ago there was a huge outcry when a local TV program had a talent show in which some contestants got up in blackface. It took me a long time to get my head around that. Unlike North America, blackface has not the same resonant and racist overtones, and the contestants themselves likely did it as a bit of fun, rather than looking to perpetuate a stereotype. That was my view then, but it has evolved since as I, and we, have become better informed. It’s safe to say we’re much better educated on these matters now, which is why I knew it was racist the moment I saw the cartoon. Knight pleads innocence in this matter (and has since doubled down), but that no longer washes in this day and age, though I believe there are still many uneducated who are effectively ignorantly racist.

It wasn’t a particularly clever cartoon in any case. He’s a fine draughtsman, but he has none of the wit or insight of a Rowe or Pope or even a Wilcox.

There was a great outcry also over Steve Bannon being interviewed for 4 Corners. 4 Corners is a venerable ABC program. I’ll watch it most weeks, and it’s record of breaking news and catalysing change is unequalled in Australian television.

On this occasion, it was the left that felt by giving a voice to Bannon the ABC was condoning his views.

My instinct on this is almost the opposite. I recognise there are limits, people unworthy of airtime, or who are so dreadful that any exposure is poisonous. We don’t need to see them on TV. But otherwise, in the spirit of free speech and equal opportunity, as well as in the hope of being educated, my strong belief is that we shouldn’t be shutting down the voices we don’t agree with. That amounts to censorship.

I’m of the left myself, though I’d call myself a moderate liberal. I don’t believe in the extremes on either side, where it tends to get rabid, and I’m a great advocate for the democratic principles our society is founded on. That means allowing for a broad range of voices to be heard. Speaking for myself, I like to understand. I’ll often read opinions I disagree with or find offensive, but it’s useful for me to understand what their arguments are and how they think.

In the case of Bannon, I think that applies very neatly. He was the guiding philosophy behind the current American president, and his broad manifesto has many advocates around the world, including in Australia. I think that makes him a relevant opinion, even if toxic. So, on the one hand, I believe he was a worthy subject for the program, but unfortunately, that required a more rigorous interview than what occurred. Bannon, a savvy player, manipulated the interview to his advantage. I’m a great admirer of Sarah Ferguson, but in this instance, she didn’t hold Bannon to account.

The ABC, being the national broadcaster, has a responsibility to present a range of views and opinions. They get unfairly criticised by the right for being partisan to the left. Here they present a right-wing view and get pilloried by the left. Somewhere in this democratic principles are lost, which is one of my great fears these days.

As I’ve noted before, we live in a binary age when everything is either black or white, right or wrong, left or right. Our public discourse has become unsophisticated and hostile. There’s little nuance and often no acceptance of contrary views. This is true of both sides. It’s dispiriting observing the battles between the rival views, and though I’m inclined to a left perspective I find myself dismayed still reading intractable and inflammatory views in support of that.

Let me make this clear. I’m not going to tell anyone how they should lead their life. As a general rule, I’m not going to abuse someone who disagrees with me, exceptions possibly being rabid bigots and fascists. If possible I’ll sit and listen and then unpick contrary arguments – I’d rather debate than pronounce. I believe in individuality and fear that if we get our way we might end up with a society of drones. I believe in difference, which is where creativity springs from. And, regardless of my personal ideology, I’ll attempt to approach every issue with a rational mindset. Finally, I don’t believe anything is one thing or another – we live in a world of degrees, imperfect and flawed but amazingly diverse. Any other notion is nonsense.

Time to get on the tear


Someone started a discussion about poetry in our book club yesterday, and I was quick to add to it.

I don’t read a lot of poetry. It’s not because I don’t like it, rather I’m pretty selective and hardly get around to it. Good poetry affects me quite powerfully though. It opens me up. It smooths out the jagged edges and eases me into a different way of thinking and feeling. I believe more after I’ve read good poetry, I’m both gentler and more sensitive. Poetry is a way for me to transcend present reality and to enter into infinite possibilities.

Last night it led me to look back on this blog. I’ve posted about poetry now and again and copied out individual poems. I wanted to return to them, not just to the poems themselves but to the person I was in those moments. I wanted to read of the context and state of mind.

For some reason I had a particular poem by Pablo Neruda in my head and figured it was about 10 years ago I wrote of it. I started a little over 11 years ago, from midway in 2007.

What happened is I got caught up reading of those times and entering into the mindset I had then. It was an eventful time for me. I had a busy social life plus I was falling in love.

I was surprised by how well I described it all. I found myself really liking the man I was then – clearly intelligent, confident, digressive but original, a little cheeky, very masculine. Naturally, I couldn’t help but compare the man I was then to the man I am today.

It’s a bit unfair really. None of the shit had hit the fan then. I was on a comfortable salary – about double what I’m currently earning – working at a job I really liked. I had great colleagues and I was both respected and admired. I had a fair whack of authority then, working either with the CFO or CEO, and was given my head to do whatever I thought needed doing. There were times then I think I was brilliant – brilliant in the sense that I wasn’t just competent, I was innovative and daring, and it all worked.

Because I had money as well as the inclination I had a busy active life. I knew a lot of women, and it seemed like a lot of women knew me. I had fun with that, but as I am now I was the loyal type. I would flirt, but because my desires were elsewhere mostly I let it go there (not quite always). I had every reason to be confident about the future, and indeed in years to come, I would flourish for a while.

I have to admit, I don’t think I like the man writing these words as much as I liked the man writing here 10 years ago.

I think the big difference is that there’s not nearly as much joy in me now as there was then. I don’t think I’m any harder than I was then – and I was pretty formidable – but the mix has changed. I carry the scars of battle now, and if I’m no harder then I’m less joyous. Unsurprisingly I’m come out of my ordeal grimmer than I was before, and perhaps warier.

It might be different if I had the same opportunities now as I did then – I’m sure it would change a lot. But then I have changed in that way.

Back then I was digressive and interesting, heading off on fascinating tangents. I don’t see those tangents so clearly now. Because I’ve been so focused on getting myself right my digressions have been personal. I’m often conscious even as I describe how I must do this or that how self-indulgent and whiny I’ve become.

I’m not whining now though. It’s good to go back and read because it reminds me of my essential self. It’s fine to make plans – and I think I’m on the right track – but let’s not forget to have fun.

Amid all the necessary changes I identified earlier this year was one dedicated to becoming more expansive and charming, as I once was. I’ve noticed a change in that regard over the last couple of months, and others have commented on it. I’m not as I was then, but there are recognisable aspects and generally, I’m much more open and spontaneous with my colleagues, and more so with some.

This is the thing: it doesn’t take much to change things. I’m still the same person I was then, just adjusted differently. I need some readjustment – though it’s not as simple as that.

I’ve got two sides of my soul. One is more intense and ascetic, disciplined and responsible. The other is more spontaneous and irresponsible, extroverted and extravagant. For many years I would alternate between the two, almost consciously – I would write about it. I’d go on the tear for a while partying hard, socialising here there and everywhere, flirting like there was no tomorrow, all very Rabelaisian. Gradually I would weary of that and eventually would retire to a more thoughtful and quiet life, enjoying the small things and reflecting on what it all meant.

For the last 6-7 years, I’ve been the ascetic. Life jolted into that situation and stuck me there. There’s been little opportunity and small excuse to cut loose. I won’t say it’s made H a dull boy, but it’s made him very controlled.

I had forgotten all about that. That other H, he’s a lot of fun. I’ll know things are good when I get back to being him.

This week’s outrage


The big sporting news over the weekend was Serena William’s blow-up in the final of the US Open. As so often these days it has taken on a much greater and political significance than it merits.

The bare facts are these. Having lost the first set it is early in the second set when the chair umpire penalises Williams’ for ‘coaching’ – her coach had been spotted in the stands giving hand signals to her, which is disallowed. She protests vociferously but the penalty stands. She loses that game on serve and violently smashes her racquet and is penalised another point, as the rules dictate. It’s at this point she goes ballistic.

Williams starts to abuse the chair umpire, upset that she has essentially been branded a cheat, and invoking her colour and gender. She calls the chair umpire a cheat. It continues in ugly fashion and finally the umpire penalises her for abuse by calling the game on her. Williams’ calls in the referees, but to no avail.

The match goes on in front of a restive New York crowd who hoot and catcall and boo and in the end Williams loses to Naomi Osaka. The circus continues, robbing Osaka of what should have been a great moment in her life.

Afterwards Williams’ continues her spray in the press conference, once more suggesting that the actions by the chair umpire were both racist and sexist in nature. This theme is taken up by many thousands across the world outraged by what they believe to be the victimisation of Williams’. Social media is bitter with competing perspectives on the events. It’s all very 2018.

I had an immediate reaction to the news when I heard it, before it became political. I’m one of those people who dislike Serena Williams, and have done for a long time. I think she’s a graceless and insincere person who’s all smiles when things are going her way, but who turns into a hostile and aggressive person when it doesn’t. She may claim persecution but the fact is she has form. In past finals she has turned on umpires and linespeople when the game has gone against her, spouting vitriolic bile – and these have been female officials. My general feel is that her actions are those of a person of entitlement who becomes petulant when the game doesn’t go her way, and when her exalted status counts for nothing. Let’s not forget she is the most successful tennis player of all time, and has the riches to go with it, and playing a young, humble Japanese in her first final. She’s not the David here, she’s the Goliath, and her behaviour is a form of bullying.

Those are my observations, but let’s set them aside for the facts in this case.

Firstly, there’s no doubt coaching occurred – her coach admitted it. Whether Williams’ saw or acted on the coaching is irrelevant, as are her claims of lilywhite behaviour. Her coach is not going to wait until the final to begin coaching, so there’s little doubt that Williams’ has been a recipient of it in the past, contrary to her claims. So, there’s that, but should she have been penalised?

The letter of the law says that the penalty was justified. The issue with that is that coaching is commonplace and rarely called. The chair umpire, Carlos Ramos, is known to be one of the best umpires, as you would expect for a final, as well as being a stickler. I don’t think he can be blamed for what he did, but a warning might have been appropriate in the circumstances.

In regards to the broken racquet then that’s a clear code violation and penalty.

The remaining question is how he should have responded to Williams ranting and abuse. Personally I’m all for umpires taking a hard line. Like many people I’m sick and tired of the petulant antics of these professional sportspeople. By all means crack down on them.

That may be so, but was this fair? That’s where a great deal of the contention comes from, with many suggesting that men are allowed to get away with much more.

I’m thinking hard on this and its difficult because there are degrees of abuse. I can recall McEnroe being penalised repeatedly, and even having a match forfeited at one stage. Most of the leading men these days are very well behaved. The outliers perhaps are players like Kyrgios, who has been penalised occasionally, and who’s rants more generally tend to be against the world. I think Williams’ was unnecessarily personal in her abuse, but in any case I would totally support anyone – male or female – being penalised as she was when justified.

I certainly don’t believe it was either sexist or racist and the suggestion is offensive in general and, more particularly, to the chair umpire, who has no opportunity to defend himself. He is being effectively bullied by a powerful sportsperson and her legion of fans. It’s very unseemly.

To summarise, the chair umpire ruled to the letter of the law and shouldn’t be criticised for that. What makes it controversial (putting aside the political spin) is the inconsistent application of these laws.
This is not a view that will be popular with many. I don’t care, but I think any possible ambiguity can be removed going forward if the rules of the game are applied consistently and evenly.

  • Crack down on coaching. Penalise any who transgress.
  • There’s already a rule in place about racquet abuse. Stick to it.
  • And when it comes to abuse of any umpire go hard. It’s not to be tolerated. It might make a difference to the sport, and it sends a wider message to the community.

This is what the tennis authorities should do now. Come out in support of Ramos, and make it clear in future that no infraction of the rules will be tolerated.

Ups and downs


So, I get into work tomorrow determined to let things go and, of course, two things happen.

First one is someone does something inappropriate which basically threw me under the bus. It was recognised as being wrong and management scrambled to rectify the situation, but a lot of the damage couldn’t be undone. Safe to say I had steam coming out of my ears.

Then later in the day I have a meeting with the enigmatic digital manager, the guy ultimately responsible for the project I’m managing. We meet downstairs in a café and talk confidentially. Probably as I’m writing this (8.47am) he’s presenting to the board a strategy he wants them to opt for. It’ a departure from the present steady as she goes philosophy and is contentious with many. It accords with both my assessment of the business and my general philosophy. The things we do should be determined by an overarching strategy and be part of a roadmap in which one things leads onto another. Momentum is built that way and economies of scale achieved.

For this business it’s quite a bold strategy and there’s no certainty it will be adopted. If it is there will be a whole raft of related projects and BAU activities, and he wants me to be responsible for a great slew of the operational components of that. I would basically become a channel manager, which would suit me fine and satisfy much that I need. It changes the conversation from the other day – maybe there is hope here, and maybe I can move on.

The other side of it is if his proposal is not adopted. In that case he reckons there’ll be no place here for him and he’ll move on, and it’ll probably be the same for me It’s all a gamble.

What do I think? I know this place. They’ll aim for a safe compromise solution that satisfies no-one. It’ll blow up to the point they need to make a cal. Which call I don’t know – there’s a lot of politics involved.