Being a woman’s man

I’ve never aspired to be a man’s man, though I’m sure there are many who see me as that. I can play the role well enough, and a lot of it comes easy. At work I mix easily enough with the blokes, stopping to chat about the footy or cricket and portraying some classic Aussie persona both laconic and sardonic. I can settle over a beer or ten and happily chew the fat about classic male subjects such as sport and work reminiscing about times shared in the past. That I have a confident, strong aura, and perceived to be independent of mind, means that I portray a masculine authority that papers over a lot of the cracks.
I’ve never really been terribly interested in it though. Sure, it can be fun and the conversation of passing interest, but generally its superficial too. This is one of the pities of masculinity, that we rarely engage in the deep and meaningful with each other, and when we do it’s generally awkward and uncomfortable. It’s sad to think that as men that intimacy man to man has been bred out of us. Even when we choose to we’re generally poor at it. It’s easier to skate across the surface with a ready laugh and a glass of beer. Of all my male friends I think there’s only one I have a truly candid relationship with, and I barely even see him.

I wish this was different, particularly given the challenges of recent years. I can’t say I’m particularly good at this either with other men, but it’s a different story with women.

I was at a party last Saturday at which there were a bunch of people I knew quite well but hadn’t seen for a while. It became familiar very quickly and easy and all the rest of it. I ended up sitting between two women, which suited me fine as I was a bit weary of the blokey carry-on at the other end of the table.

What resulted was a series of very authentic and open conversations. There are probably a variety of reasons why this happened. Everyone knows of my struggles and I think that makes it easier for others to be vulnerable with me. I’m a good listener, too, and trust comes into it as well. I think a lot of this plays to my natural self. I’m reflective by nature and I think women particularly see me as thoughtful and sensitive. This is not something new.

In a lot of ways I think I’m more naturally a woman’s man, as opposed to a ladies man (though I’ve been accused of that). I’m interested in those things. I’m curious about what moves and motivates people. Cause and effect is fascinating to conjecture. And I care too, really. I understand that each person has a life, it has weight and complexity and, to them at least, is precious. You can’t help but respect that.

I’m wary of generalisations, but generally women have a closer, more intimate relationship with their deeper self, and are much less wary or self-conscious of it than men. I think many women wish more men were as sensitive and as open as they are. That’s where I play well. I am interested, I am sensitive as well as curious, and I’m respectful of their feelings. Both women the other night gravitated to me, and at the end of it expressed the hope of catching up again soon.

This is why I miss all the female friends I used to have. It’s a different conversation and a different way of being. As I get older I realise that more and more I become a woman’s man – because it’s more real.


The pain I’m meant to feel?

Sour today. Back at work after a day home yesterday. The wind and the branches of a mulberry tree out back had ripped off a bunch of roof tiles a few weeks back, leaving a hole. I worked from home while someone walked on the roof in the hot weather. It was hot still last night. Even with air-con it made for a disturbed sleep, and then I dreamed, it felt, all night long. The dreams were not bad dreams but they were dreams I would rather have not had.
All of this leaves me feeling a bit pinched today (not helped by the disgraceful behaviour of federal parliament yesterday). It’s another hot day today and I have no real appetite for anything.

I was flat-out yesterday preparing this submission and that doesn’t help either. It was a productive day but by the end of it my brains were leaking from my ears. I can’t really face much more of it today, though there’s still more to do. Somehow I can’t be bothered doing much else either – but then you have days like this, especially when you’ve not slept well.

You know me though, I’m always searching for causes and effects. I reckon all this started a little after lunch yesterday when I pulled from my letterbox the first Christmas card of the season. It was from my aunt, and once more she invited me to share Christmas lunch with them. I wish she wouldn’t.

I appreciate the gesture but it places me in an awkward position. Even if everything were good I’d think twice about going. They live about 90 minutes away, and though I’m fond of them all I’m close to none of them really. It’s their do and as far as I’m concerned Christmas day is not a day to be a hanger-on.

On top of that, however, I can’t really go because my sister and father will be there and I don’t want to see them – and don’t want to make it awkward for my aunt and her family. They know nothing of this. I’m not about to gossip to them, mainly because it would be unfair. And so, instead I run the risk of seeming aloof.

So I got the card yesterday, read the message, and all this ran through me. I worked on through the afternoon, I stopped to watch the cricket sometimes, I made dinner – but all this had started I reckon.

It informed my dreams in the end. That’s how it works in my opinion. Not always like that, but often, the things you’ve put aside or lingering at the back of your mind return to you interpreted through dreams. There’s something pure about the process. It synthesises the real dope, stripping the extraneous white noise. It gets to the real cause, and then creatively portrays it in much the same way as when I sit down to write – though perhaps more psychedelically at times. Dreams are magical realism.

What I’m left with is the sour residue. Back in the day I’d shrug it off and get back to things. That was a strength. Funny thing is that if I wasn’t running from it then I was just about sweeping it under the carpet. These days I figure I’m meant to be running to it. I think I’m meant to feel this pain.

Too busy to be H

Busy days mean there’s not much time to write, and not much mental space to consider what I’ll write. Generally there’ll be things floating by in my mind and every so often I’ll pluck one of them from the mental ether and set to write about it. But when your mind is fixed so intently on other things there is much less floating by. When I’m not working I’m thinking about work – and that goes equally for my work in the office and for my writing work at home.
It’s full on. For months I’ve been developing a chat bot, virtually solo. It’s a ridiculous situation to be in. I look at the well-resourced projects around me bumbling along in their slow-witted, indecisive fashion, while I’m doing it all myself, sanctioned by the higher-ups though off the books like. They’re fortunate to have me doing it and, I’d suggest, if I didn’t exist then this project wouldn’t either. I’m the creative force that drives it along, I can carry it all in my head, and because needs must pretty well do all the project functions myself, in liaison with an external vendor.

I like the challenge of it, like the creative demands, but I get frustrated too. I feel as if I’m off in a tributary and no matter how it turns out I’ll derive nothing from it. The vendor is well meaning but disorganised and I’m doing half their work often, which just adds to the strain. And the lack of resourcing and buy-in sometimes pisses me off. I report ostensibly to one of the Digital managers and I can see now he’ll take the credit for this if it works. He’s not a bad guy, he’s got some smarts but – with a marketing background – there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. He’s smart enough to leave me to my devices, but I cock an eye sometimes when he swans in and begins to grandstand. By now he understands how I feel.

It’s come to the pointy end of this project, which is why I’m so busy with it. I’ve literally got my fingers in every bit of the pie, but I need my hands elsewhere. Christmas should see it done, and it should be good.

The other stuff I’m working on is a submission to certified for somesuch. I’ve been coordinating every part of the business to get their contribution, which is a bit like herding a pack of wayward cats. Their submissions were due last Friday, but predictably many were missing. So, I’m chasing up the missing bits while collating all the bits I have to make sense of them. We have about 40 submissions across 27 different categories and my job is to combine, shape and re-configure. It’s a bit like being given a couple of jigsaw puzzles and told to combine them into one picture.

This is full-on. Basically the plan is to get this done by Christmas too, but a lot of this is very complex and comprehensive. It’s not something you can rush, but I have little time.

Then there’s my home writing. I paused it over the weekend – or rather all I did was go back and clean bits I’d already written. I’ve had a growing conviction over the last few weeks that I’d taken a wrong turn. More particularly, the story needed another element. I considered putting the book away for a month or two while I figured it out – no point continuing down the wrong path. But, as it happens, the mind continues to work away and I think a solution has come to me. It’s just an outline right now but I’m sure my mind will continue to furnish it with details.

So, that’s the story. That’s why I’ve been missing from these pages, and why I might continue to be absent. My mind is full of other things, and my time too – not forgetting I have to write a poem by Saturday as well.

Seeing in the dark

Had an unexpected wobble earlier this week. I’ve been sailing along quite well after the storms a couple of months ago, then I hit turbulence again. In hindsight, it’s perfectly clear why, but at the time, in the middle of it and trying to stay afloat, it’s not so clear.

I wrote about how a friend here had likened me to a character on TV whose life was all fucked up. Normally I would have shrugged it off. I’ve got skin as thick as a crocodile. Normally I would have seen it for what it was, a light-hearted but ultimately complimentary analogue. This time all I could see were the negative aspects of it, and it hurt.

What made it abnormal was the conjunction of events that had left me more sensitive than usual. Having re-visited some of my bleak past over the weekend I was left a little frail. I was in a condition where it wouldn’t take much to tip me over the edge – and so it proved. What it really triggered in me was my absolute rejection of sympathy.

I did contact my friend that night. I pointed out to her that while there have been tough times my life as a whole has been interesting and rewarding and replete with fantastic moments. It sounds like an exercise in justification, but it’s true. I’ve copped some shit, some hard times, but I’ve had a full and interesting life too. I’ve been a participant, not a spectator. I wish some things were different, but on balance I’ll cop it.

Of course, this missed the point entirely, as our conversation over the next hour or so made clear.

I didn’t blame her or anything like that, but she picked up that she had offended me. After some initial confusion, she discerned the cause of it. She was apologetic but pointed out she was always teasing and jesting and this was in the nature of that. She was right. She made it clear that far from pitying me she had the utmost respect for me. The point she had tried to make was though I’ve suffered hardship I’m always smiling, always positive, always helping others. I had her admiration for that. I was a winner in her books. Plus I was cute.

At some point in this, it dawned on me. You see, I’m getting closer to things. I’m learning all the time.

What I really struggle with is being vulnerable. When someone points out the obvious I feel exposed. The very fact of being frail and struggling is to some extent unmanly in my books – I should be above it. This is why I reject so vociferously any hint of it. I can’t believe that anyone can like or respect that me – frankly, I feel pathetic, and part of that is because I have no control. There’s H in control, which includes my emotions – and there’s H, allegedly, out of control, embarrassed, and subject to prevailing winds. I don’t like myself then and don’t believe anyone else can either.

I think I’ve always known this about me but never wanted to own up to it. It goes to the nub of this issue too, and it’s resolution.

This is the path I’ve set myself on – to be vulnerable, to expose myself, to learn from it and come to accept it as valid and reasonable. It’s bloody hard though and goes against my nature.

I understood that as I spoke to her and apologised. I explained the problem and said I had a tendency to push people away when I suffer from this. This is the very thing I have to stick out though.

In the past I would’ve rebounded from this in my belligerent way, refusing to be frail, refusing to be intimidated. That was my hard shell. That’s what made me survive the tough times, a native combativeness that refused to submit. I’m like a boxer taking a beating but getting up from the canvas each time refusing to accept the other man is a better fighter than me. Somehow I managed to survive the big fight, but after it now I realise there are other ways, better ways, to deal with it.

This is what I’m trying to learn. The easy thing is to get belligerent again, but that solves nothing. The very hard thing is to remain vulnerable, but that’s how I heal and, ultimately, become a better, stronger man.

I have to remember that. I’m standing out in the dark alone. I could turn and return to shelter and to light, but then I’ll never accustom myself to the darkness. This time I must refuse to be tough. I have to submit myself to the darkness until I can see.

Victoria shows sense

I remember the last state election I was staying in Rosebud. I voted there and in the evening my entertainment was watching the election broadcast. By coincidence I was once more in Rosebud over the weekend when the latest election took place.
I was busy out and about through the day but caught up with latest reports and results as they filtered in as I sat down for dinner. Very early on it was a clear that Labor where going to bolt it in. As it turned out that was spot on. The Libs in Victoria have been decimated and Daniel Andrews and his government given a ringing endorsement. It’s well deserved.

I’m a big fan of Daniel Andrews. I was a sceptic when he took on the role of Labor leader but I’m a convert. As premier he’s done what few of his predecessors have managed to do. He’s set out an agenda and delivered on it. It’s been a bold, innovative agenda too – removing level crossings, starting on the much mooted but forever delayed metro tunnel, he’s brought in assisted dying legislation, the safe injection room in Richmond, has championed safe schools and initiated a ground-breaking inquiry into domestic violence – among many other things.

Andrews has made things happen and my admiration on that front is shared by many Victorians. That’s a big reason he got so many votes on Saturday: he does what he says he will do, and he does a lot.

That’s not the only reason he go re-elected. The Libs, both federally and at state level played into his hands.

The rank dysfunction federally, the policy confusion, the stupid booting of Turnbull, along with an embarrassingly buffoonish PM don’t go down well in Victoria.

At state level Matthew Guy is a uncharismatic, slightly shifty character it’s hard to warm too. He might have had a chance, however, but for the ridiculous policy direction and campaigning.

Their slogan for the campaign was ‘Getting back in control’. I guess they’re trying to make a point, but fact is most Victorians would have laughed at the idea that things weren’t in control. The corollary of this slogan was law and order.

Law and order is a classic election theme, especially for the conservative side of politics. The problem in this case is that the scare tactics so much in play over the last twenty years have worn thin. It’s taken a while, but people are beginning to see them for what they are – hysterical attempts to inflame outrage and fear. Most of us have become cynical, if not disgusted, by the hyperbolic attempts to politicise what are matters of humanity.

It might work in Queensland, but there’s no chance in Victoria. Victoria is the most progressive state in the land. Victorians are not prone to knee-jerk reactions and will make their own judgement. Much has been made of this post-election, but I think it’s true. The Liberal tradition here has always been small ‘l’. We are liberal by inclination. With the Liberal party swinging to the unpalatable right a successful Labor party becomes a much more attractive option. Add to that a pretty handy protest vote directed at Canberra there’s no surprise it was a Labor landslide.

What is surprising is how the Libs have been ignorant of this. None of this comes as a surprise to the man on the street. I’ll tell you what’s important – climate change matters and we should be doing more about it, rather than playing politics. Education and transport matters. We’re tired of the demonization of asylum seekers and pity the children marooned offshore, and we’re cynical of the dog whistling regarding Muslims and ethnic groups – the likes of Dutton and Abbott have been disastrous in Victoria.

I expect the Victorian result will be largely replicated come the federal election next year. The Libs show no ability to learn and Morrison is a fool of the highest order. And I expect the lunatic right wing fringe will continue to hold the party to ransom. Reality is they’re too damn stupid to deserve power. I thought Abbott was a shocker, but Morrison comes a close second.

Not fucked up

I’ve been opening up and sharing more lately, going back further and deeper. It’s a way of neutralising the poison of things held too close. And it makes me acknowledge these things, which is very different from overcoming them. In my combative way, I sought always to defeat these things when what I should have done is accept them. By saying them aloud I let these things out into the world where I have no control over them.

A good example of that is a conversation I had today with one of my closer confidantes at work. She’s a 30-year-old Indian with a big personality and a heart of gold. I told her some things way back when and again more recently. She’s sympathetic and even admiring, and very supportive.

She was telling me about a show on Netflix she’s been watching and of how the main character reminds her of me. He’s such a good man and he’s calm and composed but his life’s all fucked up, she said.

I wondered, is that how people see me: that my life’s all fucked up? It’s hard to argue against but I never feel that – well, rarely feel it anyway. I didn’t like hearing it obviously. It makes me sound like a victim. Like I’m helpless. As if I’ve been put upon by forces bigger than me. That’s my paranoid spin on it when what she has said is much simpler than that. Yet there’s an inference in her words that I’m due sympathy, if not pity.

There’s nothing in the world I want less. And I don’t feel that either. In my mind, I’m still striving forward. As I always used to say, I’m not winning but I haven’t lost yet. I’m still in the fucking game.

I know this is something I shouldn’t care about. I’m supposed to be above this. Anything else and I’d let it go, but this is hard to stomach. There’s every chance I’ll try and set her straight. I’m good, things could be better, but I never give in.

Of consequence

For months, maybe over a year, we’ve been trying to organise a golf weekend away. It’s bloody hard work, either because so and so is busy on this date, or, more often, because no-one will make a call or commit to a decision. I’m the decisive one, by nature and inclination, but then I’m also the one without a family commitment, so it’s a lot easier for me.

The other two don’t make it any easier. One is deferential to keep the peace, and other is a procrastinator – both self-declared. (I’m a controller). It makes for a noxious, dysfunctional process, and some acrimony occasionally, but led finally to a round of golf last Saturday at Safety Beach.

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t live up to the occasion, but at least was an improvement on Friday when the temperature didn’t get above 15 and it rained all day. Saturday was maybe a degree warmer, and though pretty bleak, the showers were light and intermittent.

Golf was fun. We had a fourth and played Ambrose. For the first dozen holes, I felt like a robot needing a good oil. I was stiff and inflexible. It had been so long that some of the science had gone out of my game, and it took until about the 14th hole to begin visualising my play. I improved a lot on the back nine, but the 19th hole came at the right time.

We stayed in Capel Sound, which is really just a dressed up name for Rosebud. We went to dinner in Dromana and had a few drinks and JV was laying on his bead snoring by 9.30. Lights out for all of us by ten.

Yesterday we went to breakfast at the place I used to frequent during my banishment to Rosebud. We went to Arthurs Seat then, went for a bushwalk, before going down and up in the new cable car. To Red Hill, we went where we checked out a cheesery before ending up at Red Hill Brewery where we had a few beers and a fresh barbecued beef brisket roll, before heading home. It was lots of fun.

In between all this, other things were happening for me. Driving into Rosebud after the golf I recalled all the many years when I was a kid when we would head down the peninsula for a couple of weeks of summer holiday. I’ve been down many times since and not had the same strong sense of nostalgia as I did Saturday. It seemed strange to me that my memories were not of my last time there – my banishment – but of a time long before that. It was almost as if that experience had reset my memories. What I felt so profoundly was that it was so long ago, but felt so vivid. How can that be?

Soon enough though my memories reverted to that period a few years back when I ended up in Rosebud because I had no other place to go. The prevailing feeling was of dread. I endured it when I was there, you have no other option, but it was a stark existence. I stayed in a converted garage with a bathroom attached. Most mornings I would walk Rigby and end up at the same café on Saturday where I would have a coffee and sometimes a meal and a chat with the waitress. After that – nothing. There was nothing to do, no friends to see, no real life to lead. The one bonus from it is that it forced me to begin writing.

I felt it though. I could feel it in my stomach as we drove by. There was an abiding sense of loss. From where I sat I wondered how I had endured such a bleak life for so long. It seemed so empty and negative, so fucking inconsequential. And that’s what I felt looking back, that I lived a life of no consequence and was, by extension, a person of no consequence. How awful it felt remembering that. I gazed out at the passing scenery and wondered – for all the changes since – how much more consequential has my life become?

It wasn’t a negative reflection, simply an objective assessment. What makes a life consequential? It’s the things you do and the relationships you have, I think. As far as I’m concerned the only thing of consequence I’m doing is my writing, and even so the jury is out on that. As for meaningful relationships, there are few.

It was as if by jarring reflection I was forced to consider these values. As I said, it wasn’t judgemental. It was the sort of objective assessment we rarely undertake. When was the last time you thought about your consequence? Odds are you’re a long way ahead of me.

So I had a lot of fun but at the back of my mind was this, and lead to nothing that was new. I may ask new questions, but the answers are generally the same. That basically means situation normal, more work to do.