A curious thing happened in the last 10 days odd. I was put forward for the CIO job, expecting nothing to come of it, and not even sure if I really wanted it. Then it progressed against expectation and I found myself excited, not just at the sheer unlikely possibility, but at the thought I might be able to do something. Do something real. Do something profound. I imagined again the power I had forgotten to effect change.

I did miss out on the job, but I was just a whisker away. They liked me. They were impressed, I was told. They had a preferred candidate going into it though and it was to them they made the offer. I was first reserve, if their candidate knocked it back the offer would come to me. It may still, but I don’t expect it.

The whole episode has had a minor transformative effect on me. I lay in bed the other night unable to sleep and feeling, despite all this, a tad blue. It seemed to me I was either in one phase or another. I was either conservative and looking to quietly manage my situation and expectations, trying to accept the altered worldview. Or else I was aggressive and striving, defiant of circumstance and expectation and convention. One phase was perfectly sensible, and acceptable to the viewing public. The other phase was ambitious to the point of arrogance, dismissive of contrary views. That night lying in bed I was somewhere between the two, and conscious of both. I knew I was happier in the second phase.

This job opportunity has renewed my belief and restored hope. I had doubts, doubts I didn’t realise until thrown into relief by this episode. I can believe again, perhaps unwisely, that my great hopes may be possible. I am greatly reassured in my person. I had questioned, but now I feel validated again.

All my doubts about the rightness of the role dissipated. I understand how I might want to retire to something quieter – my abiding wish to find a home in the country or by the beach is testament to that. Yet that’s not inconsistent with a want to achieve. When push comes to shove, when the acid’s on, I want to be the one in the driver’s seat*. I don’t want to be watching someone else drive. This is me. The true me. It’s my DNA.

It’s had an impact upon my everyday conduct. I’ve come out of myself. I’ve always had charm in me, but for a long time it’s been subverted. I felt it blossom in me again last week. From Clint Eastwood I became George Clooney. I felt people turn to me. I felt them open up and respond. One guy said I had “charismatic intelligence”. Another, one of the gay guys, called me a “big, gorgeous Australian”. I flowed. I joked, I teased, I engaged.

I felt something familiar in all of this. I felt monumental. A force of nature. Now that sounds like hubris, but understand it was understated, a statement of possibility more than arrogant proclamation. Ride the possibility and the sky’s the limit.

I have another interview next week, and a meeting with the headhunter that put me up for the CIO role. I remember how effective I can be, and I want  to embody that again. It may not happen soon, but I know there’s a place waiting for me somewhere, and opportunities ready to ride.

*I apologise for the untidy collection of mismatched clichés, but they make the point well.

Beautiful to behold

I’ve seen some great racehorses in my time, and had some particular favourites.

I remember as a kid being taken to the races by my grandparents and watching the great Manikato thunder down the straight. Manikato was a big, powerful beast of a horse. There was little finesse in its racing, it simply went hard and fast again and again until its legend was made.

Possibly my favourite horse of all time was Kingston Town. This was one of the great horses in Australian racing. He was a dark, handsome, imperious beast. There was something almost patrician about him, a born to rule attitude that smacked down the impertinent rivals that threatened to upset that. He had a mean determination that verged on arrogance, as well as a turn of speed. He was brave though too, winning an impossible Cox Plate along the way and missing the most courageous Melbourne Cup win ever by just a nose. In between he won more big races than any other horse.

A horse rarely mentioned now is Northerly, but I loved him for his stubborn courage. He was never the quickest horse, but he was as honest as they come. He would go out front, or close to it, and horse after horse would come after him. He wouldn’t falter, and never quit. He just kept on going while the horses behind fell away. He won some big races, but the classic probably was the 2001 Cox Plate when behind the great Sunline and a few hundred metres to run he just did the business.

I was in love with Might and Power – no horse was better named. He was a handsome brute who could do with ease what other horses could only dream about. I watched many times as he sat off the lead until the moment arrived when he’d click into a gear no other horse possessed. He would tear up the turf overpowering the leaders and flash by the winning post. He was strong, and quick, but tough too, proud, capable of winning any race, and good enough to win the cups double, as well as the Cox Plate

I had a soft spot for Makybe Diva, not because she was a great mare, but because I feel like I discovered her. I remember marking her down at some race meeting after an impressive place and thinking this horse will be a good ‘un – though I had no idea how good. I had always had my money on her after that.

There have been many other great horses through that time – Sunline, Bonecrusher, Octagonal (another favourite), Saintly, So You Think, Black Caviar. The latest great horse is Winx, and today I saw it win the most impressive Cox Plate ever. She was breathtaking.

You know there’s something fundamentally moving about a great racehorse. It’s that combination of power and grace and beautiful lines that seduces you. They are innocent beasts that gallop fast because they can, for the pleasure of it. For the simple punter there’s something spiritually uplifting about something so elementally pure.

I had tears in my eyes as Winx went by the winning post. She won the best race in the land by 8 lengths, going away. It was literally hold your breath stuff. I won’t ever see the likes of that again.

Today was Winx‘ 13th win in a row, and second running Cox Plate. It’s a great horse, how good we don’t yet know.

Letters from the past

 I’m going through my filing cabinets and throwing out what I don’t need any more and keeping what I must, and digitising as much as I can. In the course of that ‘m trawling through many layers of history. Much of it is pretty boring – a tax return in 2003, the receipt for an investment I made in 2006, the copy of a registration notice, and so on.
But then you hit pockets of interesting stuff. I’ve always been conscious of the personal/cultural/historical significance of the small notes, the occasional letters, the bits and pieces of memory true in that moment, but likely to fade in the years to come.
Last week I posted one such frivolity, a fax received from a pretty girl 20 years ago. Today, randomly, I’m copying in a letter I wrote to a third party about 15 years ago. The story is told, more or less, in the letter, and may not be of interest to most readers – I post it here to retain the record and to fill in some of the gaps. End of the day this blog is a record of my existence, and for completeness sake documents like this belong here.

Dear Had…,

Even if you recall who I am, the fact of this letter I am sure will be a surprise. I am going to impose on your good nature, for which I apologise and thank-you. I hope you come to understand why.

We met at the beginning of August, in the Synagogue. I was the Australian who wandered in off the street, soaking wet from one of the sudden deluges I was always getting caught in. I remember standing inside the doorway feeling a little unsure – I am not Jewish, I am not even religious. You smiled at me though and made me welcome, and we came to talk.

I guess this letter attests to the fact that you made an impression on me. I had come to pay homage, but did not know what I felt or what I wanted to feel. You set me at my ease, and exuded an aura of serenity that calmed and impressed me. This is why I write to you now, and no other.

I had come to Singapore to declare my love for a friend who had just moved there from Melbourne. I was full of grand ideals and romantic notions, of poetry and hackneyed dreams of living happily ever after. I found though that the words I had sung so loudly in my imagination I could not speak aloud to her. For days this went on, like a lump of wood I was, without the courage to speak the truth in my heart.

That day in the Synagogue I had come to share some of her life and background. T is Jewish, as we discussed then. I wanted to know something of where she came from, what made her. When you love someone you want to understand them, and want to cradle that intimate knowledge close to you. You and I spoke and then I wandered slowly around the Synagogue.

A strange thing happened – strange for me. I found myself becoming overwhelmed by emotion. There were tears in my eyes as I looked around me. T had written a piece about celebrating the New Year in your Synagogue last year. As I looked around, her words came to life, I could see her there, and see what it meant. For a moment I felt as if I could touch it, and could feel in my stomach the love, respect, affection I had for her. I felt enlightened and transformed.

Since that day I have traveled far and wide. I went from Singapore to Europe, then back to Singapore and ultimately Vietnam. Then finally back to Melbourne, my hometown, have seen many great sights, had memorable experiences. My journey has been more than geographical though. I have felt the distance traveled both in my brain and my heart. At times I have felt a tumult of emotion that has been left to my intellect to understand. This journey continues, and perhaps it never ends. Never before though have I felt the miles pass by so swiftly.

As you may surmise, despite my renewed zeal things did not pan out as I had dreamt of with T. That is what happens, too late do you realize your mistake. Happy endings happen in fairy tales, and only rarely in real life. Still it is hard to swallow sometimes – hope dies an ugly death.

This is what I am learning to do though, swallow hard, without the aid of the jam that my mother used to use to make the bitter pill go down easier. It goes down eventually, and will now also. This is not why I am writing. I am writing I think, to understand, and to be understood. There seem too few people I can turn to for this.

I wrote how I visited the Synagogue so I could hope to understand T better. That was an ambition simply thought, without truly understanding what it meant. This is the crux maybe of this letter.

I think I am a decent man. I try to treat each person equally. I am a proud Australian but believe in human beings more than nationalities. This is cause for much argument, but I am sure I am right (an admitted fault – I always think I am right). I try not to be prejudiced or bigoted in any way. Of course I fail. I am no saint, and it is natural for a man to prefer his neighbour to the stranger who lives in the next street. Still I try not to let this natural prejudice affect my relationship with people.

I am Protestant by christening, though my father is Catholic, my mother only being Church of England. I am naive when it comes to religion. If I am forced to declare my denomination I admit I am Protestant, though it seems to me I must be half Catholic, as if blood meant something. Either way it matters little though.

When T told me she was Jewish I did the equivalent of shrugging my shoulders. My best friend is Jewish, I had no bias against Jews, and besides, I liked this girl very much She could have been from Mars as far as I cared.

It is since I have returned from Asia that I understand it is not as simple as this. Nor should it be.

I was in a bookshop the other day idly browsing. I picked up a book of photos and flicked through the pages. The photos showed the Warsaw ghetto in 1941. I understood what I was looking at. Something clicked in me, finally. I am a student of history, but till then it had been removed from me. Here it was though, in my hands. Finally, because of my feelings for T, because the emotional turmoil I was feeling, I understood.

I went outside. I called my Jewish friend. I explained what I had seen. I told him I realized that I could never truly understand T, or him even, though we grew up together. I told him I could never understand what it felt like to walk around as a Jew because I could never begin to appreciate the burden of history that brings, of hate, of being ‘the chosen’, and those facts compacted by days and years living with that knowledge. He answered matter of factly, but as if I had finally discovered some secret truth.

I wrote earlier that you seek to understand the person that you love, but I ask, how can I possibly understand if I have never experienced that? I did T a disservice by simply accepting her religion when I thought I was being generous. I denied her, surely, by simply shrugging my shoulders? I denied her life, her history, a large part probably of why I had come to love her. Is this not true? How sorry now I am for that.

It was my ignorance. My religion means nothing to me, but the weight of it is nothing to what T, and R, and you too Had.., must feel.

I am sorry for having troubled you with my agitated thoughts. I could think of no-one else to whom I could turn. Wrong religion I know, for both of us, but I feel a little as I have confessed, and you are my confessor. Regardless, saying it doesn’t absolve me of it. That much I know.

Thank-you for listening. I hope one day to be in Singapore again.

For the record, I never sent this letter. I wish I had.

You just know

So I’m working late last night and there are 5 of us in the general vicinity, 4 male. While I’m working I’m chatting to one of the other guys about his love life. He’s flamboyantly gay, a little sloppy with his work, but with the exuberant charm that so many gay people possess. He’s got a lovely heart. 

I got around to asking a question that has always intrigued me, and probably most straight people at some stage or another: how does the gaydar work? How do you know? 

Well, he said, you just know. It’s just something in the person, in their eyes or how they talk. He then turned and yelled across the room at the other two blokes sitting there (the other being a woman), hey Peter, Toby, how do you when someone’s gay? He cried.

 So there you are – 4 males in the office, 3 of them homosexual – that pretty well sums up how different my workplace is to what I’m used to. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just different. So anyway their answer was exactly the same: you just know.

Then today I’m chatting with a temp just started in the office. He asked me what brought me to the job, and I explained the best I could. He then said he’s been to a few offices like this and there is always the same interesting mix of people. In that moment I realised that I too was another type. In my own mind I may be an outlier, and in the general context of this office that appears true enough, but then in every office there is an outlier similar to me. I fit to a pattern.

Stranger things

I got a call on Monday from a recruiter I’ve had dealings with in the past inquiring if I’d be interested in a role he had to fill. He called it a CIO role – according to the PD I’ve received since it’s actually Head of IT, but it amounts to the same thing. The role is with local company with a strong profile, and as it stands has approximately 70 IT staff.

I was surprised by the call, though on reflection the greater part of the surprise is due to the sheer incongruity of my situation. I have an impressive looking CV and roles similar to this listed there – but I’m currently working in a dead-end job. The surreal aspect is further heightened when you consider the roles I’ve missed out on, and the fact that this role is offering a little more than 4 times more than my current annual salary. As I wrote the other day, it’s a perverse world.

 Perhaps because of that I didn’t take it terribly seriously. It was a conjecture, an oddity, an unlikely kite flying across my horizon. But then I got a follow-up phone call yesterday morning. This was with a different recruiter who was keen to get me in the mix. I listened in and asked questions, both intrigued and bemused, then finally curious. I asked for some further detail on the job and said I would get back inside 24 hours.

 I went through the job overview and PD overnight. I was torn.

 I have never refused a challenge like this before. It’s always been principle to say yes. There’s pride in that, and vanity, and mixed with genuine curiosity and ambition. I’ve always wanted to do more. I was always restless. I always figured the further you went the more interesting the work became. And if none of that was sufficient, I couldn’t live with myself knowing I’d not been big enough to take the plunge. I couldn’t refuse the challenge. I had to test myself. Anything less would shame me.

 Now I felt trepidation. Was it genuine, or was it fear? That’s the question I asked myself.

 High profile jobs mean high profile risks, but I’ve never been afraid of that before. This certainly is a challenging role in what will be a challenging environment. I don’t know enough about it yet to claim categorically that I can flush it good. There are technical aspects I just ignorant of right now. But that raises the fear of failure. Have I never experienced that before? Or did it just motivate me more previously?

 I felt a sense of embarrassment. How can I, virtually working in a call centre, explain that? Did I want to have to explain that? Did I want to be exposed? If I didn’t venture then nothing could be lost.

 The most legitimate of my reservations was if I really wanted to take on such a full-on job. A role such as this is all-consuming. The rewards, both financial and intellectual, are great, but the cost is being all in. The question is whether I have moved past that stage of my life? I still don’t know.

 In the end, as I knew I must, I agreed to take it to the next stage. I don’t expect too much of happen, but you never know. Stranger things have happened, though not many.


Bomber of the month

reaming a lot lately, but let’s face it, other people’s dreams are generally a bit meh, regardless of how fascinating they think they are.

With that caution I can report I had a curious dream last night that I found quite droll.

In the way of most dreams it was played straight. Dream events may be uncanny or surreal, and may be confronting, but it’s rare that they seem strange. Dreams exist in an alternate reality where anything is possible, and likely understandable.

This one was only a little off. Essentially the dream was about a new initiative whereby terrorist bombers where given the opportunity to publish a short bio, much like the pocket biographies of sportsmen you find in footy records.

In this case it was a little more than favourite meal, first car, and who would you invite to dinner. The terrorists were given the opportunity to explain their explosives technique, favourite munition, and dream target, and the highlight of their terrorist career so far.

Admittedly it’s not in the best taste, but I have little control over my dreams when it comes to that. And I’ve had some doozies.

If you look at this seriously for a moment it observes a world where the extreme and abnormal has become normal and accepted. It’s not the world we live in now, but at the same time we have been conditioned to the extreme acts of terrorist bombers until their acts are a kind of normal. It’s almost as if my dream is taking the piss. It’s an an exaggeration sure, but not as extreme as first it seems.

Where this dream came from I don’t know. Often you can see the genesis of a dream in an idle conversation, or something you’ve seen. Not this time. I have no idea.