Becoming older

Donna came over late yesterday afternoon, and we went up the road for a coffee and some flourless orange cake. We sent an hour just talking, which has always come easily for us. At one stage, we spent about 20 minutes discussing our various ailments and health in general. I’ve documented my issues, most of which are more annoying than serious. We share an ailment, but generally, I think that Donna’s health is of more concern than mine. In the wash-up though, both of us are okay and what we’re experiencing is probably normal once you become more senior – and a lot of our conversation was about that. After about 20 minutes, though, I said to her with a smile, “you know, we just had an old people’s conversation!”, and we both laughed.

It came after a conversation the night before with my Sydney mate. We went to school together and still catch-up every few days. He’d been to a neurologist and had diagnosed a variation of Tourette’s that affected him physically. Once more I sort of laughed, muttering how we were getting old. He said no, “we are old!” Seems to have happened awfully suddenly, I replied.

Not having experienced this stage of life previously, I don’t really know what is reasonable or how to react to it. The whole experience has likely been thrown out of whack by the COVID experience, and lockdown particularly. I observed, and my hairdresser agreed that I’d become quite a bit greyer between hair cuts (9 months). Donna said the same about herself last night.

In the scheme of things, I’m certainly not so bad. A lot of us went backwards in that time. Now that things are improving, it’s time to reclaim some of what was lost.

I seem to have a handle on the digestive ailments that had beset me. I’ve been sensible, and the medication I’ve prescribed myself seems to be working. I’m getting more exercise now, too. The weekly walk with Cheeseboy has recommenced. Over and above that, I’m doing more exercise around the house, with immediate effect. I only need to look at a set of barbells to put on muscle, and that hasn’t changed as I got older (from a muscular-skeletal sense I’ve probably got the body of someone 10 years younger than me – still limber, powerful, without a wrinkle). The other side of that is that I’ve struggled to bend down the last couple of days after overdoing it on Monday.

I also got a hair cut on the weekend, which is important. It’d been a good 2 1/2 months between cuts and I was looking pretty shaggy again. I walked out of the joint looking a good 70% better than I did walking in. That speaks to my vanity, which perhaps gets more precious as I get older.

I guess everyone has an image, or sense of themselves. A lot of us adopt an image, and maybe that’s the most of it. Regardless, it becomes ingrained over time, but is likely threatened as we get older – the strong become frail, the handsome and beautiful see it fade, and the general sense of capability diminishes. I think this is more true for people like me, and for Donna perhaps also because there is little else to compensate or distract us from the view. We are ourselves only, our physical and mental self, without the carapace of family or duty.

It’s not altogether healthy, and not just because it’s a tad superficial. It’s an image of the self that becomes rigid with time, which is why any variation to it can be troubling. Speaking for myself – and I’m sure it’s true for others – there are occasions when you feel that you must live up to that image because it’s what others – and what you – expect. You feel otherwise, but you project something false. This can become a burden.

Still, I feel reassured to look in the mirror and see someone who reflects that view of myself, the self-image I have built up over time – confident, masculine, calm, strong, attractive, which is the general perception of me by the world. It sounds silly, but there’s an immediate uplift when I feel like myself again, and it’s ridiculous how a simple hair cut can do that. And a bit worrying.

It’s funny how I only ever became aware of this once it was threatened, which is in the last few years. Before that, I hardly wavered from that view. I had no cause to. There was no distinction between what I showed and who I felt myself to be. It’s funny to think. For many years I felt royal. There was a patch I felt bulletproof – and that’s how I appeared to others.

Times change. Life moves on. Things happen, we get old. I may feel better about it now, but I think it wise to begin separating myself from that image because there’s only one way it’s going now, and that’s downhill. I’ll become greyer, one day I may become frail. Chances are, my health will degenerate and – gasp! – I may even develop some wrinkles. My faculties may dim (and that would be hardest of all). Much of that, I can only hope to slow. It’s the stuff inside that doesn’t need to age with me.

I’ll need to find some comfort in the years ahead, the things that compensate or distract, that make the years ahead full of opportunity rather than deterioration. It’s the same old tune really, but it’s a classic.

Coffee needed

Yesterday was awful. I was grumpy as all hell having to start work again. I actually felt bitter at the thought of returning to the same work and the same issues. I was cynical at the culture and workplace and didn’t want anything to do with it.

Today is much better. It’s always hard returning to work after a break, but I’d never experienced such a violent reaction to it as I did yesterday. Today, the hard edges have been smoothed over. It feels more familiar, and my muscle-memory is returning. I’ll survive.

There has, at least, been some progress with my role, though, as always, I remain sceptical until it happens.

Apparently the request for my pay rise has been escalated further to get a resolution. And, apparently, I should get a call sometime today from the boss outlining an enhanced role for me. He’s already called once, but I couldn’t talk.

Right now, I’ve set it to one side. I’m very keen for it to happen – for something to happen – but the immediate priority is to get over this bump.

To ease the transition, I’ve just placed my bi-monthly order of coffee beans. I get in two 250g packages of beans, each from a different roaster, and trial them over the next couple of months with my morning flat white. Everyone has different coffee tastes, and I like a stronger, richer coffee – more chocolate than citrus generally, though I’ll drink most.

This coffee routine is quite revealing of personality, I think. I know many people who find their brand and stick to it. Me, I like trying new things. I’ll make a note of my favourites and will return to them, but otherwise I’ll keep trying other combos out of curiosity.

In Australia, and particularly Melbourne, the coffee scene is huge and there are heaps of really good artisan coffee roasters out there. I know that many will think it typical Melbourne snobbishness, but I reckon the art of blending and roasting coffee is right up there with the culinary arts. Just I am with the food scene, the more I explore the better I like it.

And it’s great fun. Now that it’s summer, I make a pitcher of cold-brewed coffee every few days and drink as an iced coffee. Hot and cold coffee, all good.

Could be that was my problem yesterday – insufficient coffee to get me started.


I finished reading Mephisto last week, written by Klaus Mann, son of Thomas. It’s probably better known these days because of the movie made of it about 40 years ago – which I went and watched straight after finishing the book.

The story is about a German actor in the 1920s starting out in Hamburg who, through a combination of talent, ambition and the right connections makes his way to Germany as the Nazis come to power. Once a Socialist, he becomes complicit with the Nazis to serve his career.

His famous role in the book is Mephisto. If you’re familiar with the story of Mephistopheles – or Faust – then you’ll recall that Mephisto was the diabolical character to whom Dr Faust sold his soul to in return for earthly success. In terms of this book, Hendrik Hofgren may play Mephisto, but it’s he who has sold his soul to the Nazis.

It’s rare I say this, but I thought the movie was better than the book. I found the book quite pedestrian and pretty obvious for the first two-thirds of it. I thought the writing a bit muddy. It really becomes compelling only when Hendrik achieves some measure of success in Berlin, and is drawn into the clutches of the Nazi hierarchy.

In my view, the best villains are those with a conflicted soul – neither all bad, or all good. Hendrik Hofgren is such a man. His overweening desire, and the ultimate justification for his betrayals, is his love for the theatre. As he says many times, he is not a political man. Art and theatre are above politics, as he often proclaims as if to ease his conscience. That isn’t true, and you suspect he knows it in his heart. As the Nazis showed better than anyone, art is a prime tool of propaganda and submission.

I preferred the movie because I thought the themes were tidied up and better expressed. Hofgren is presented more sympathetically, but in so doing the ambiguity of his personality and situation are highlighted. He’s not a bad man – in fact, he’s probably pretty normal in many ways, but that he has a particular talent and an ambition that matches it. He’s not without conscience, nor a kind of courage, but ultimately he is damned because he plays along.

The choice he faces is to make a stand against creeping fascism or complying with it. Instead, he attempts to compromise with it, giving something, and trying to take something back – but you can’t do deals with the devil. While some resist and pay for it with their lives, and others exile themselves abroad, he becomes a part of the system. For convenience and ambition, he has sold his soul.

The events described in the book and the movie both conclude in 1936, with most horrors still to come (Mann published in 1936).

At the heart of the movie is Klaus Maria-Brandauer’s performance, which is magnetic, and a good reason why the movie is so good.

The book has a great, though plain-drawn and simplistic story. At least in translation, it’s not as good as you think it could be. The movie cleans a lot of that up and adds a layer of complexity to the storyline that makes meaningful for many more of us: how normal people come to collaborate.

Girding for the real world

It’s a beautiful day in Melbourne. Near perfect really. I’ve not long returned from the first walk of the new year with Cheeseboy and the dogs along the beach. The sun is bright and warm, the sky an uninterrupted blue – the sort of weather that recalls seasons past of blazing sunshine, the beach, cool drinks and barbecues.

On our return leg, we stopped at the hole in the wall cafe we often do and ordered some smoothies. We got talking to a retired couple, who were the typically well educated and amiable types that inhabit the neighbourhood. They admired the dogs and spoke of their children and the world we live in today. They told of how their globe-trotting children had returned to Melbourne to live, knowing this was the best of worlds. We all agreed how lucky we were to live in such a place, safe from so much strife and with the glories of summer upon us.

So much of this is baked into our cultural memory. I sit here in a pair of shorts with the Sydney test match on TV in the background. Later, I’ll visit a friends place for a cool beer or two and a barbecue dinner. Tomorrow is back to work.

It’s work that gives me misgivings, though it should be easier now than in years past. I’ll stay in bed until I feel right to get up, I’ll throw on a pair of shorts (36 degrees tomorrow) and wander into my home office, where I’ll flick on my work laptop for the first time in over three weeks.

I expect to take it slowly. I have no great appetite for the job. I’ve been keeping tabs on things and clearing off my emails on my phone, and have been a silent witness to a few dramas in my absence. In a way, it’s good, as it demonstrates the sort of things we must contend with regularly. But I’m jaded by it, too. All of it is so familiar as to be stale in me now. I don’t want to return to the same things, like Groundhog Day. I seek something fresh.

This break has not had the desired effect of freshening up. I hoped that both physically and psychologically, a few weeks away from the job would act as a tonic for me.

Physically, I feel drained still. I’m not sleeping as well as I should, though I suspect there is more to that than simple relaxation. My health has been up and down though it may be settling down despite another episode last week. (In the absence of a decisive diagnosis from my GP I’ve self-diagnosed myself with dyspepsia, and self-medicated myself for it).

Psychologically? I have no interest in my work. Whether it’s just the job or a general condition, I don’t know. I feel a bit cynical about the place. In the past, I would push past it. That was the difference: for years and years, no matter how I felt, I would suit up for the challenge. Now I wonder why.

I finished reading The Island Inside yesterday. I had tears in my eyes as I closed the book. There seemed so much wisdom and grace within its pages, and I realised how much I missed those things. They’re in short order worldwide, and their absence makes for existential pangs.

So much in the book evoked memories, for I have experienced nature in the raw and breathed it in. I’ve felt the spiritual curiosity and sense of communion that nature inspires when we open ourselves to it. I count myself fortunate to have had the opportunities to experience that, and the sensitivity to be aware of it.

In the vastness of life, the problem is that returning to a job such as mine feels so small. It’s not irrelevant, but it feels it. If I do it, then it’s because I must – but I can’t take it seriously.

I feel sure this is what so many feel when they a mid-life crisis encroaches upon them. I may have encountered this sooner in the normal course of events, but was distracted clinging onto the wreckage trying to survive. I have survived, more or less, and now this.

It may be a phase, but it feels true – but perhaps that’s how it works, as it does for much of life: we reach an accommodation with the truth. Ultimately, life demands pragmatism. I teeter on the edge between them, yearning for the pure air of ideal knowledge and the pragmatic need to push forward, to overcome.

I have options, at least. Let’s see what unfolds over the next few weeks. In the meantime, work must be.

What comes next?

Yesterday was one of those strange, in-between, days. I’m still on leave. I had the TV on, switching between the cricket and coverage of the events in Washington on CNN and the ABC. In my lap was my iPad, and I doom-scrolled through many comments and updates on Twitter. That was most of the day.

The day after it seems strange still in many ways. I still don’t know what will come of this. I was amazed to see so many Republican senators uphold their objections to the election results when they were certified last night. If nothing else, it’s an abysmal reading of the room. And what did they hope to achieve? Surely – not even they – can hope for the results to be overturned and for Trump, magically, to be restored?

The only answer I came up with is that they’re playing to their deplorable base – the terrorists who stormed the institutions of democracy yesterday, and the 45% of Republican voters who supported it. This is their signal to them affirming that they’ll continue the fight, no matter the fight is foolish, futile and destructive. It’s all about power.

It doesn’t inspire one with hope. Where now with the GOP? Trump has ruined them, near enough, as a coherent political force, but I still think they can do a lot of damage. The hardline conservatives will continue on their path, bolstered by the support of the sort of people that stormed congress yesterday. They’ll give hope the radical right and be a voice for them. It won’t go away, and I expect they’ll be a thorn in the side of any attempts to re-integrate America into a single nation.

There are moderate Republicans, but they seem in the minority and will likely splinter from the party’s rump.

The good news is that the Democrats are back in control come a fortnight. Things can only improve across the board. Common sense policy-making and decency will make a return, and the hope is that it will filter across the world, especially here to Australia.

There’s no doubt that Morrison has modelled himself and the party behind him into a version of Trump-lite. He uses many of the same tricks as Trump – the open, brazen lying and corruption; the refusal to face scrutiny; the undermining of discourse and commentary by refusing to engage, and deflecting it as false news; and the sheer arrogance of pursuing an agenda that suits the party and his mates ahead of the national interest. And they’re just as lazy as each other.

It will be harder now for Morrison with Biden as president and setting a much gentler tone for the world. He risks being marginalised in a policy sense, and his style grating when politics becomes more accountable. That’s my hope, but in the meantime, the Labor party, and Albo, have to step up, and I have little belief that will happen.

But back to America. I think one of the big problems they face goes to their very soul. They have been inculcated with American exceptionalism from the day they’re born, but there’s little to justify it. America is great by virtue of its size and (waning) power, but the moral edge Americans have claimed has never really existed.

It’s an exceptionalism that is now at odds with events, and it’s the conflict between belief and reality which has caused so much grief. Trump campaigned on a slogan of making America great, and those who invaded Washington yesterday are firm in their belief that America should be top-dog.

The world has moved on. America is an insular country and for the most part, has no idea of how proclamations of greatness are so tiresome and ridiculous for the rest of us. It sounds so often like immaturity, claiming at something without complete conviction.

Watching from far away I’ve always found it curious some elements of American culture that appear naive to my Australian eyes – the reverence for institutions, both political and religious; the rituals and ceremonies that litter American public life; the love of high-flown rhetoric and sentimentality in general; and the need to advertise their patriotism. Perhaps it says more about Australians. We’re a pragmatic, sceptical and unsentimental race, and I find so much American culture both foreign and endearing.

This is not an attack on America. Some of the very best of us are American – but so too, as we have witnessed, are some of the very worst. I’ve consumed American arts and commentary all my life. I love American literature. There are some great thinkers come out of that land. But, so it is for most places, without the scale or the fanfare. We are all individuals.

I think the overt nature of American patriotism clouds reality. It is automatic and unquestioning, a reflex without real consideration. Events are cracking that facade now. Like someone who has belonged in a church all their life with unquestioning faith confronted by evidence that casts doubt, this is a time for Americans to examine themselves and what they stand for.

They don’t need to be top-dog. I think that’s gone anyway. As they say, be the best version of yourself and leave everything else alone. This is a time for humility and reflection. I believe the commentators who claim they can put this right – but they need to address the blight at the heart of their problems. They have to say it out loud and own it. Only then can they overcome it.

That’s what I think.

A broken world

If I was an American, I’d be broken-hearted tonight.

I’ve refrained from commenting much on American politics since the election. The events have spoken for themselves, and while it’s been messy and strident and ugly, there was nothing really unexpected. Like many of us, I never believed that Trump, or his supporters, would go quietly. And yet, right now, I struggle to get my head around what’s happened today: the storming of the Capitol building by Trump’s ragtag mob.

I sent a message this morning to a friend when the news broke: “Amazing. But somehow, not surprising.”

Not surprising, but I feel a form of wonder. It’s one thing to conjecture that anything was possible, quite another to actually see it happening. It’s a blow to the system. I felt it inside me. This was America. It was like watching as a mighty tree that’s stood for hundreds of years in the forest was being toppled.

It’s bizarre to watch the imagery coming out of Washington. A more feral bunch of morons you’d never hope to see. They’re dressed in combat jackets and draped in confederate flags. One is bare-chested, fur draped around his shoulders and wearing a horned helmet. They’re the disaffected dregs of society, hillbillies and social misfits and undoubtedly a fair few inches. They’ve been given power throughout all this, encouraged by Trump and his establishment, and incited to drastic acts like this by the likes of Rudi Giuliani. This must be what it was like when the Vandals sacked Rome.

It seems apparent that this was allowed to happen. There seemed little security at the Capitol Building ahead of what was a monumental occasion. There’s footage of guards letting the mob through, and others having selfies taken with them. Inside, the mob ran riot. Senators and staffers took shelter behind barricaded doors while the mob took control of the chamber. Two people have shot; one has died.

Police and National Guard have now taken control, long after they might have. Trump absconded his responsibilities and in a rational world can no longer go on as President for this last fortnight of his tenure. He should, in fact, be impeached. This was an insurrection, and there can be no doubt that Trump has incited it.

No surprise, and yet, there is shock. It has actually come to this.

So, what happens now? It’s a tricky time, and anything is possible. Trump should be impeached, but I suspect he won’t be. Perhaps he’ll be censured. I can’t see how it’s possible that he can continue as president. Pence must assume the role.

This is a country divided, though. Trump will go, many of the mob will be imprisoned, but the problems run much deeper than that. Nearly half of America voted for Trump. A goodly portion of them are fanatics and believe that they’ve been ripped off, and have god on their side. Even with Biden assuming office, they will remain.

I can’t see much end to the dissent and violence. The mob will rule again. Perhaps it will die away in time, but I think it won’t go far away. It’s in the blood of many now. It’s heartfelt belief. They will rouse again until there is such a figure that can heal the country. In the meantime, the risk is making political prisoners of the terrorists who stormed congress today and, with Trump, martyrs of them. Trump will go, but he’ll remain a rallying cry for millions.

It’s bad enough that such a terrible attack on democracy has occurred today, but what is heartbreaking is that there are two Americas, and never shall they meet.

Old TV

Last night, I finished watching the BBC series of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, starring Alec Guinness. It was made in 1979.

I suppose I must have seen it before. Certainly, I was familiar with Alec Guinness as Smiley (I used to picture Arthur Lowe as Smiley when I read the books, but Guinness is perfect). I have no memory of it otherwise, and the reason I chose to watch it this week was curiosity and because it is a great story – but also, nostalgia.

It always strikes me watching the difference between observing an era as defined by programs contemporary to that era instead of those made years later, looking back. Oddly, it seems to me that there is more detail in productions made decades after the actions portrayed. That’s probably because there’s such an effort in production design to make it authentic and to ramp up the atmosphere after the fact. Contemporaneous productions take it for granted, and it’s all very matter of fact.

Watching a BBC production from the seventies highlights some differences very quickly, starting with the aspect ratio. The video quality is poorer also – no HD in those days for TV. Otherwise, it’s a bit drab to look at – the colours used, the skies overcast – but then that’s both England and the BBC, I suspect.

Everything is a bit less glam, and I would guess that is authentic. England was struggling at the time, and much of the wealth and the polished lifestyle we’ve become accustomed to since would have been a very remote possibility. A lot of the interiors look like they could have been decorated by my grandmother.

I need hardly to say that the show was great. I’ll be watching the follow-up, Smiley’s People, sometime over the next few weeks.

Now that I’ve come across a whole bunch of old TV, it’s my intention to revisit a lot of it – and mostly out of fascinated sentimentality.

There’s a bunch of Australian mini-series from the eighties available for viewing. Mini-series were the big-ticket item back then, and there were heaps of them. I would have watched many, if not most, and to go back and watch them again would interesting to see how I respond to them all these years later. Do they hold up? What do I recall?

I’m also rereading Dune at the moment, about 30 years after I read it first. It’s good. I remember of it coming out in the eighties and thinking it was crap. There was a mini-series made of it in 2000 which I never saw, and have mediocre expectations of – but I’ll look to watch that also once I’ve finished the book.

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

The dreams I have

I dreamt last night that I was a contestant on MasterChef. I had been entered into the competition by friends and wasn’t happy about it. I felt out of place. Everyone was younger, and most appeared to be exhibitionists, rowdy with exhortations and positive vibes. There were a couple I’d become friendly with, but otherwise, it was foreign to me. No-one seemed capable of a meaningful conversation that didn’t involve food, and that left me feeling sour.

There was a food challenge – concoct a finger food involving chicken. Pretty simple. While everyone whirled about me coming up with their fantastic concoctions, I stood there like a shag on a rock. Since I was there, I had to come up with something good, but not just good – novel. That was the crux of it.

Then I started. On reflection, the recipe isn’t as novel as I hoped, but – given it was a dream – not nearly as ridiculous as it might have been.

I cut pieces of chicken into long fingers and then marinated them in lime juice and chilli. In the meantime, I crushed some cruskits and seasoned with chilli. Then I coated the marinated chicken in the cruskit crumbs and fried until they were crispy – the cruskits gave it a distinct crunch. That was the novelty angle. Then I served with a dipping sauce of sour cream with pomegranate and lime rind.

Don’t know how I got on with the judges. By this time, I had become fascinated by the recipe. I might try it some time – crunchy lime spiced chicken fingers.

PS I may as well record this in the same place – my dream the next night, which is unusual enough to be worthy of recording.

It’s in the last days of WW2, and I’m a German commanding a King Tiger (II) tank. The war has come to Germany and we’re stuck behind enemy lines trying to make our way to the relative safety of the west.

Though we are without support and against the might of the Russian army, for a warrior such as me, there’s a kind of exhilaration as we battle against them. Our tank is the most mighty weapon on the battlefield. Any opponent we strike is destroyed, but they seem unable to inflict serious danger upon us. Our major threat is being overwhelmed by numbers, which is a real possibility.

We shelter in the ruins of a village one night. Around dawn, I sense the enemy approaching. I rouse the crew so that we can make a quick exit. Unfortunately, it takes minutes longer than it should for us to get underway. By the time we do, the enemy is behind us and, as we roll towards the outskirts of the village, we can see a dozen Russian tanks coming in the other direction. We appear trapped between two forces.

I curse and change direction. I’m defiant, but years of battle, of death, have left me bitter.

The enemy has not spotted us as yet, and we hide in the ruined streets of the village edging our way towards a potential escape route between them. Finally, we make it through, our engine’s noise and crashing through the ruins unheard over the massed engines of the Russian tanks.

When it appears we have reached some safety, I turn on my 2IC. He had been slow to pack up when I commanded it. He had doubted that the Russians had closed so near. He is a good man, capable and compassionate. He cares for the men, as I do, but in a different way.

I am a tough leader. I know to be compassionate means sometimes being harsh. My sole objective is to lead the crew to safety, and there are no compromises. I remind him that next time I give an order, he is to follow it without question – they can come later. I suggest that he trust my judgement and instinct, my experience, which is far greater than his. And I give him the very practical instruction that for everything he unloads from the tank he must put something back, and that we must be ready to break camp within a maximum of two minutes, that’s the rule.

I don’t know if we make it to safety – the odds are against us – but I’m a believer it can be done. I won’t surrender or give in. The dream ends there.

What I’d like

As I took Rigby on his afternoon walk yesterday, I gave thought to my immediate future. In a little over a week, I’m back in the job, and I can’t say I’m looking forward to it. The break from the daily routine seems only to have reinforced some of my misgivings. I still see things pop-up in my thread regularly, some of which I respond to with a directed action or comment. All of it feels tedious and familiar. I’m jaded and weary by the same things again and again and have little appetite for a return to it.

Still, I must, though the other job remains a possibility, as do others. I’m not locked in, and that’s important to remember.

The reality is that I must return somewhere, but if there’s a silver lining, it is that at some point soon my pay should be increased – either the long-promised and overdue pay rise at my current workplace or starting somewhere else. There was some reassurance thinking that, and as I walked along, I calculated what would be an acceptable minimum increase.

I did my sums, factoring in a desire to move from my current home at some point into something bigger and better, the prospect of a proper holiday somewhere, and a need to begin salting some dollars away for the rainy days a’comin’.

I figured that I needed a minimum of an extra $14K on my existing salary. That’s probably a few K more than my alleged pay rise, but the other job is offering approximately $25K extra. An extra $14K would allow me to budget for an extra $100 a week rent, and for the bigger, better home that would allow, and the consequent uplift in quality of life. It leaves enough over to grow in my bank account, especially when you consider my various, sundry debts should be paid off by late next year – that’s about an extra $250 month freed up.

It’s a pittance really, but enough. When I think of the years ahead when I’ll be living in retirement, I’m still well short of what I need, but that’s an incentive to be creative. The important thing is, get it right now, and build upon it. I have to make a start.

That’s the practical side of things mapped out, more or less, and so my mind turned to the less tangible.

Probably for the last week I’ve imagined finding someone I could talk to about such disparate topics as Richter’s recomposition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, the works of Erich Maria Remarque, and the peccadillos of Australian test selection, just as an example. And throw in discussions around food and wine and politics and the state of the world, and pretty well most of the stuff I take time out to write about here.

Sure, I’ve got people I can discuss Test selection with – I did that the other day – or the footy. I’ll have occasional conversations around what’s happening in the world and the state of politics, but generally, they’re fleeting. I don’t think I ever talk about books, and though music is an occasional point of discussion (though not nearly as much as when I was 30 years younger), there’s only one person I know of who would even know who Richter is.

Certainly, there’s no single person I know who can embrace such a diverse range of subjects and converse knowledgeably on them. I was about to say how much I miss it – but I’ve never really had it. The best I’ve ever had it is experiencing quadrants of these conversations with different people. It would be lovely to discover it in someone this year. It would make my heart full.

There are other things I wish and hope for, and things I need to sort out. I don’t have resolutions, but I’m happy to call some of these – the financial – as goals.

Next week will come, and more things after it. I don’t know all that’ll come my way, but there will be possibilities to explore and experience. Now’s not the time to be passive.

A matter of conviction

One of my character flaws is that I like to control things – or, at least, be in a situation where things are controlled. It’s not hard and fast, and it applies much less to social situations than professionally. And the truth of it is that some things are best enjoyed without control by letting go – but those are rare.

I’ll feel uncomfortable sometimes when situations are confused and unmanaged. It’ll frustrate me, and if no-one steps in to take control, I’ll often do so myself. Note, it doesn’t have to be me managing things – I’m very happy for someone else to take the lead, just as long as some order is restored. In my experience, most are unwilling or uninterested in taking that part – and into that vacuum, I’ll step.

It’s one reason I find myself taking the lead in things so often, or directing the conversation. It seems convenient, as oftentimes, others are happy to fall into line once a direction has been set. I admit, there are elements of a control freak in me.

It’s much less obvious in a social setting. When everyone’s talking at once trying to decide what we’re going to do or where we’re going to go, I’ll often jump in to hush their baying voices and break the deadlock. I’ll seek consensus by leading the discussion. Generally, I’m the one who’ll go and speak to an official or organise things formally. In actual fact, it pisses me off sometimes that it’s always me, and often I’ll encourage others to do that instead. But, people fall into roles, and mine is as the organiser, for want of a better word.

On Thursday night, at the restaurant, I became frustrated by JV because I thought he was being wishy-washy. It was such a trivial thing – waiting to be led to our table – but it was the lack of decisive action that riled me. It was unreasonable and unusual, and I knew it even as I urged him, repeatedly, to do something, but it didn’t stop me from doing it.

It was a small thing and soon forgotten, but afterwards, it seemed significant. This is the sort of thing that happens when I’m under stress – it’s behaviour that is symptomatic of something deeper. In this case, I was unwell and had been feeling it for a while. I was tired, and I had other issues I was dealing with, and continue to. Basically, I’d have preferred to be home, but that’s no excuse. It’s not how I want to be.

As I do, I seek patterns. In the time since I’ve paired this moment with our tour of the vineyards on Wednesday.

Wednesday was benign, but it was also indicative. I noticed throughout the day how every winemaker was mainly addressing themselves to me. I thought that was because I was the most curious: because my gaze didn’t shift from them as they spoke and I listened to them with intent. I asked questions of them, genuinely interested. I was a good audience.

But then I realised that this was happening even as we walked in the door. I was the one that they went to first as if my presence was greater than the others. I thought, intent communicates itself. If you have a purpose, people observe it, even if they don’t consciously understand it. I was the one that entered their space boldly, and so to me, they turned.

These are probably related attributes. It’s possible to be one without the other, but I’d suggest there’s generally a high correlation between the two, as they are different aspects of the same thing.

What did I make of this? I wondered how much of this was instinctive behaviour, and the answer must be ‘most of it’. That’s important to note because I’ve been feeling very vulnerable for a while, but it appears that it’s not evident to others. In my mind, I see myself as much frailer and uncertain than ever before. It embarrasses me sometimes. Occasionally I feel a kind of shame. I feel diminished, and as if I’m a lesser man.

It tells me that how I see myself and how the world sees me are two different things. It tells me that no matter how I see myself, many of my ‘old’ behaviours persist. What then, is the truth? Is there a truth? Is it one single thing? It comes back to the question that has dogged me for a while now: who am I?

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it’s always been important that I’m strong and masculine. It’s as if that’s the persona I found suited me best as I was developing and adopted it as my own. What are the attributes of that? Calm, decisive, brave, resilient, honest, steadfast, generous, determined, perhaps a little stubborn, and with some fierceness thrown in there. They’re not a bad set of qualities to aspire to, but the point is – I needed to be that man, and any variation from it was a blow to my psyche.

That’s where I’ve found myself in recent times. For many years I think I embodied many of those virtues, though my perspective is biased. The important thing is, I believed I did. In more recent times, that belief has waned. And I guess that is at the core of my recent problems – the loss of belief, and with that, a sense of identity. I’ve lost conviction.

I guess one solution is that I could become that person again, or at least, convince myself that I was. I could go on my way blithely then, as I did for years before. I have no issue at all in becoming that person – I think he’s fundamentally a sound character, but it’s not as easy as wishing it. The important thing here is not how other people see me, but how I see myself.

The healthier solution is to remove the meaning from it. Be that man, by all means, but remove the soul-deep need to be him. In a way, this is what I’ve been trying to do for the last couple of years – to remove myself from moral need.

We’re talking about the ego, which places unreasonable expectations on us. As soon as we feel the need to be something, or be seen as something, then our ego has us in its sway. It’s human nature that we are subject to its claims. Such is vanity. But are we fully ourself if a tyrant within us demands all for itself? I see it in others sometimes, am embarrassed for them, and wonder what others see in me.

I don’t know how to do this – how to separate myself from my ego. I’m sure it can’t be done completely – the ego has a role – but I’m guessing that recognising the need for change is a good start.

This is an ongoing challenge, but if I’m to find peace, something that must be overcome. I won’t always be well behaved, but if I’m to find my way I feel sure humility is a key to it.