Old Melbourne

It’s easy to develop a fat arse when you work at a desk and so most lunch breaks I’ll go for a walk. I’ll head out in any direction with some destination in mind. It could be the Vic Market or the Aldi, it might be a book shop or department store or a little boutique. I’ll aim to walk for 30-40 minutes at least, rain, hail or shine.
Yesterday I set out for the Hill of Content book shop at the top end of Bourke Street. I’ve been going there since I was a kid, and recall – I think – actually visiting with my bibliophile grandfather. It’s a beautiful store with the just the right ambience for fine literature to nestle in. These days I browse the shelves without buying anything much, such was the case yesterday, but I had no intention of buying. I went for the walk and to survey books I might want to buy one day.

After the Hill of Content I walked the short distance to the Paperback Bookshop, which likewise has been there forever. It’s very different from the Hill. It’s small and inelegant but crammed full of nourishing books. I reckon I’ve been visiting it for 30 years and probably bought 30-40 books from there in that time. As much as anything else it was good to be back in such a familiar and warm environment. Once more I bought nothing.

Between the two book shops is Pellegrini’s, another Melbourne institution. Pellegrini’s has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. It was a couple of weeks ago when the alleged terrorist threatened with knife in hand, injuring some, and killing one – the co-owner of Pellegrini’s, Sisto Malaspina.

You’d have to have been living under a rock not to have heard of this. The outpouring of grief at the death of an iconic Melburnian has been immense. Everyone had a Sisto story, including me, such was his influence on the café society in this town.

Yesterday Pellegrini’s was shut. Not far away a state funeral was in progress for Sisto. Still, there was a small crowd outside the restaurant, loitering there and peering in the window and taking pics with their phone. There’s a strange, ghoulish aspect to many people that I can’t come at. I admit I looked twice at Pellegrini’s as I walked by but I wouldn’t dream of stopping. That’s just a bit too shabby for me, and somehow disrespectful.


Learning from the movies

Over the weekend I caught a Danish film director discussing how Nicholas Roeg, and his film Don’t Look Now, influenced his vision and style. It was a fascinating and thought provoking conversation. What I knew I could agree with. I’m a fan of both the director and the movie, which is a classic. What I didn’t know – or hadn’t thought of until then – was intriguing, and sent me off in a new direction.
What caught my interest particularly was a conversation about how Roeg edited the movie, and how effective it was in communicating mood and sense. It was discussed how the things left out shape a story – a not unfamiliar notion as Hemingway was big on this from a literary perspective.

I like talks like this because I’m curious and have a passion for the arts (and most things actually), and like to understand. I especially like how discussions like this set off different trains of thought in me. Things like this can reverberate in me for days. I’ll examine it a bit at the time before letting it go, but it’ll keep coming back to and until I have my own, 360 degree perspective of it. I have an objective understanding, but I’ve also got a personal understanding of it.

Occasionally there are more practical applications for such information. As my mind span off on Saturday it naturally occurred to me that I can apply these tricks to my writing. It’s a different medium, there’s no vision I can play with, but I can break things up and dictate the flow easily enough. Till then it was something I’d given only cursory consideration to.

As it happened it was a very timely reminder – but then these things reverberate especially strongly when there’s something to attach to. This time it was a section of prose I was uncertain about how I should proceed. Here was the answer.

It worked, too. I took the lessons of Nicholas Roeg and applied them to this writing and it changed entirely the feel and mood to exactly what I wanted.

Last week I explained how some weekends I’m more productive than others. This was a productive weekend. I managed to put down a couple of thousand words, on top of sketching out in some detail the scenes to come.

All art is a form of communication. How you communicate is just as important as what you communicate: substance and form.

Democratic processes

Did my civic duty early and voted today in the Victorian state election. Election day is not till the 24th, but there’s always a rush on the day, besides, I’ll be away on a golf weekend. Good to get it out of the way, and an easy decision too – one of the candidates gets things done, the other is a ratbag.

As usual, there were people handing out flyers with earnest persistence. I escaped the clutches of an eager Socialist asking if I knew about the “upper house deals being done.” I told her I knew all about it – a slight fib, I know some, but the truth is I know all I want to know about it.

I stood in line and as always refused every bit of electioneering guff with a polite no thank-you. It’s a waste of paper and I always know who I’m voting for regardless. It’s fascinating nonetheless. The unassuming Labor types, a grim-looking woman telling us it was time to ‘take back control’, another earnest and passionate Socialist I’d happily share a bottle with, and a lovely middle-aged woman who seemed to epitomise the Greens.

It took me back to a time – many years ago – when I was one of them. I’ve written about this before, so will keep it brief. I was a scrutineer for the republican movement for the referendum in 1999. It was an interesting and unexpected experience – I became ‘it’ because there was no-one else there to do it. I set up that morning stringing our banners up early on a cold winters morning and ahead of our monarchist opponents who arrived after I did. Take that royalist scum, I thought.

On this occasion, the royalist scum happened to be a lovely, reasonable man who’d had the foresight to bring a thermos of hot coffee with him. When he offered me a cup midway through the morning I hesitated, wondering if I would compromise my political integrity if I accepted it. I was easily bought it seems, and that little episode has informed much of my political thinking ever since. We demonise our opponents when they’re in the abstract. Face to face we realise often they are reasonable people with a view a little different from our own. I guess it’s about respect, ultimately. As it happened this guy was not against the republic per se, just against the model being voted on. That’s all down to John Howard, a man I have no respect for.

Funnily enough this week I had a passing thought that I would nominate as an independent senator prior to the next federal election. It wasn’t entirely random, I’ve thought about it occasionally in recent times – and why not? I’m informed, I’m informed and I’m educated – which is more than can be said for much of the riff-raff being voted I these days. I’d like to make a difference.

Even if I did nominate it’s a million to one against being voted in, but I’ve got a lot better chance in the Senate than in the house of reps. It’s unlikely I’ll do it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

How I write

When I’m writing I try and get around a thousand words a day on the page. I only write on the weekends between doing domestic and social stuff, but I still aim to get a couple of thousand words added over the two days.

That’s the aim, but it doesn’t always work out that way. As I write this I’m about 36,000 words into this novel – about 18 weeks of writing in this context. Except for many of those weekends, I only wrote one day out of two, plus the trend is it goes in fits and starts. I remember for about a period of about three weeks I was becalmed. I might have written 500 words, and probably deleted most of them as being inadequate. But then you strike a patch when it flows like honey. Suddenly it’s all clear, you know what you want to write and the words are there just waiting for you to transpose them.

I’m said to be a pretty quick writer, but last weekend I added about 800 words. That’s because right now I’m less certain of the direction I want to take in this phase of the book, and the words are a lot stickier in me. I did a lot of editing though and that has to be taken into account also.

Before I start writing I’ll probably read the previous two chapters to get into the groove, but also to clean them up. First time I put things on paper I’m not overly fussed about the details. I want to get the major points and the framework on the page. I’ll probably re-work it a little more before the session is through, and I’ll certainly return to it next time.

By the time I finish this first draft most of the manuscript will have been re-worked two or three times already. Often the edits become pretty big – changes are made, bits are taken out, other bits put in, and in general, the writing itself massaged to the point that it expresses what I want both clearly and somewhat lyrically.

I’ve been writing this since around March, I think. Say eight months, thirty-two weekends. Over that period I’m averaging about 1150 words a weekend, which sounds about right.

I’m actually considering taking a pause from this book. I’ve made some recent mental adjustments regarding how it ends. Not major changes, but significant. I’m at the stage now leading up to it – I reckon this’ll top out at about 75,000 words. The last three chapters as I’ve conceived them will be around 10,000 words. That leaves around 30,000 words of content leading into that. Much of it I have mapped out in my head, but I’m uncertain about the best way to get there.

My experience is that taking a break is pretty productive. It becomes less familiar and you view the story more objectively. Distance lends a perspective that allows you to see the whole rather being mired in the detail.

This is what I’ve done with the book I’ve finished. I stuck that in my bottom drawer around February and left it there. I’d think about it every now and then, but gradually it went from front of mind to back. At the same time, I had someone read it who would report back to me occasionally with their impressions. Over time my thinking on the book has changed quite a lot, which is what I hoped for.

I’ll pull that out of the bottom drawer sometime in the next few months, maybe sooner than later. When I return to it it will be with a changed perspective and quite radical notions of how I want to re-write it. If I can nail that I think it will be a much better book, and much closer to my original conception of it.

I’m sure I’ll be doing that with this novel too. Can’t speak for others but reckon it works for me. Come this time next year I hope to have two novels finished and in a state I’m proud of.

No shame

Okay, this is another grizzle about work, just for the record.

I got out of the engagement committee about six weeks ago for reasons I explained at the time. It’s gone through a rocky patch since but has started to steady. The key guy on it has close links to me and is now running with some of the big-ticket proposals I put forward at the time – namely a proper rewards and recognition program, plus a wellness program. That’s basically my IP and so he comes to me often seeking guidance on it and general info – though, naturally, it’s being obstructed at a management level.

As each week goes by another engagement initiative is either announced or is seen as an obvious need. All of these, bar just one, are things I proposed back then and documented. At the time they were held up by office politics or personalities or the general disorganisation of the committee. I’m glad to see these things happening, but it twists the knife a tad.

This follows on from the creation of a new function on the floor which I first submitted as a proposal around the middle of last year. Back then it was ignored, or else I was told it was too advanced for this place. Somehow it got resurrected a few months back. Whether it was because of their good graces, or because they were scrambling, but at least this time they contacted me to get a copy of my original and very detailed proposal. That was the only reference to me – I wasn’t involved with or consulted regarding the set-up, or acknowledged in any other way. As it happens they’ve implemented it in a half-arsed fashion, always the way here, as if lacking the resolve to take the final step to do it properly. It’s a nice idea, and better than nothing, but lacks the metrics and reporting that was such an integral part of the initial proposal.

Now an email has popped up in my inbox advertising for a new role almost exactly as that I put forward around the same time last year. It’s an overarching role that should tie-in with the function I proposed as above while taking on additional responsibilities and being a conduit to related areas. Once more this was subject of a detailed briefing paper. It seems like it’s been adopted 15 months later, even down to the job title, but of course, it came as a complete surprise to me when I saw it.

I wonder if I’m entitled to be put out by all this. It feels a bit petulant. And, if I’m honest, I’m glad to see my ideas being adopted. What pisses me off is that after being basically pooh-poohed initially (for pretty spurious reasons), my ideas finally see the light of day but without any reference to me, without any input, and certainly without acknowledgement. As one of my colleagues said, pretty de-motivating.

I’d cop it easier if I was being properly paid. It wouldn’t matter so much, it would just be the product of my job. Here I am though, paid a pittance, on top of which they have the temerity to pinch my IP.

PS A day later and I feel a little embarrassed by this. Everything I wrote is legit, except it amounts to a mighty grizzle. It’s done now and I should be above feeling sorry for myself, and my ego has no business getting involved. Easier said than done, but time I attended to what I wrote the other day: just be.

Kindness and grace

The girls from the shop want to take me out for dinner – that is, the girls from the massage shop I sold out of four years ago. It was such an intense period of my life that it comes as a surprise that it was so long ago. Most of the girls from then have dispersed since, and many of them are back home in Thailand now. There’s a few still here though, and they’re the people I was closest to back then. I don’t see them a lot, but I probably catch up with them 2-3 times a year – which is surprising in itself given the time passed, and very gratifying.

This is what I know about Thais. They’re loyal and hard-working. The best of them are reliable and will bend over backwards to help. They’re famous for being gracious and friendly, but they’re also honest and uncomplaining. There’s no way I could have survived my time as a massage shop proprietor except with the active support of my staff, and the fact I got out of it by the skin of my teeth is thanks to their efforts. I’ll always be grateful to them, which is why I can’t do enough to help them when they need it.

That’s the other side of the Thai character. They want to shout me dinner because I’ve helped them out with this or that over the last year and they want to do the right thing and acknowledge it.

In my mind, there’s no need for it, but it’s gracious of me to accept it, so I do. Unfortunately, they have a tendency to contact me in the morning wanting to go out in the evening. That would work for me a lot easier when I was younger. These days I want more notice, particularly because of Rigby.

Right now I don’t know if I’m going out for dinner tonight or not. Whether it’s tonight or another time I look forward to seeing them again. In the toughest of times, they were people I could rely upon and were a rare friendly presence in my life. When I look back at that period of my life seems incredibly hard, and very grim. I don’t know how I survived it but know I wouldn’t have without the small acts of kindness and support from my friends and the girls in the shop.

To be

I had a woman during the week tell me I was a good man. When I answered that I try to be she said that I was good without having to try. It’s funny, but I can’t hope for a better compliment than that.

I had a bunch of women tell me the other week how handsome I was. Isn’t he handsome? Don’t you think? Yes, of course, very handsome. And recently I’ve been told repeatedly how charming I am – though I reckon there’s an equal number who mutter under their breath about my lack of charm. These compliments flirt with the ego, but they don’t speak to character. I can’t hope to more than being a good man, and it’s lovely to have someone tell you so.

For most of my life, I’ve been conscious of being this or that. I’ve strived to be a good man because I believed in it, but I also strived to charm (sometimes) because I wanted to – and so on, across the board. I’m very ‘conscious’, very self-aware, so this was natural to me.

I’ve had my tribulations in recent times and lately, it hit hard. It’s a lot better now as I have consciously dealt with it. For a man such as me, life often feels like a series of trials designed to test and potentially mould you. How you deal with these trials and what you learn from them feed into who you are, but it’s a constant feedback loop, ever adjusting, ever assessing. I think this blog attests to that very well.

I am what I am, I’ll always be a thoughtful, analytical type, I don’t know any other way. I process things. That’s what makes me good at my job because I get to the bottom of everything in a very rational way.

I hesitate to proclaim what I’ve learnt from this latest episode, but I have come to some provisional understanding – and the first may seem surprising.

I think part of my problem, and probably common to most people, is that I am striving to be something. That’s a complex thing wrapped up in identity and personal history, expectation and ego. I set myself and even when I go some way towards achieving whatever it is it’s never enough. I don’t think anything of this is surprising, except that the answer as I see it is simply to ‘be’.

That will be hard for me because my mind is always engaged and I’ve got a hand on the gearstick. I’m not about to disengage my mind, even if I could – but it means that I might be inclined to let things take their natural course rather than trying to intervene. I’m always searching for ‘ways’. I get stuck in one of these fugues like lately and I’m right on it trying to figure things out and make a difference. That’s fine – here I am, after all – but I might not be in this fugue in the first place if I was less consciously trying. I am a lot of things and many of them pretty good – why not let them take me where they will?

This means not making rules – won’t do this, can’t do that, and so on. If I just let it happen then I’ll find the way that is natural and right for me. Don’t worry, be happy.

This will take some adjusting to and I’m bound to get it wrong probably more often than not, but it’s no more than an adjunct to the philosophy I embraced earlier this year to open up and let go, to accept.

Part of all this is to accept who I am. I think some of the troubles I’ve had comes from the conflict between what I feel and what I want, but such are the complexities of human nature that sometimes they reverse. That leads to much confusion.

Let me give you an example. I feel a general reluctance to take on too much these days. That may pass, it may not, but it’s true for now. It rubs up sometimes against notions of self. To be honest, it embarrasses me sometimes, it feels unmanly even – but really, it’s only against the arbitrary standards I set myself before. At the same time, I still feel often that surge of adrenalin and competitive fervour. How do I reconcile these things? I don’t.

I’ve always been someone eager to take things on. I’ve always been bullish and aggressive. Over time that’s manifested itself in self-image so that I’ve strived to be that man, rather than just being that man. He’s still in me, but I don’t have to be him if it doesn’t feel right. There’ll be times when that assertive character will take it to the ring and it will feel perfectly right; and times when I’m happy to bystand. They don’t have to be incompatible. I don’t have to be one or the other. They can be simply different elements that abide in harmonious balance. This is what I have to get my head around. Everything is true, everything is right if I just be.