Why I blog


I get regular emails from strangers promising to enhance my blog readership and turn it into something I can make money from. They come every 3-4 days, and many are very persistent. Most I never respond too, not because I’m rude, but because I get a million emails a day it takes me a while to get around for them and, let’s face it, responding to unsolicited emails are the last of my priorities.

Occasionally I will respond to the more persistent. For a start I understand how tough it is to reach out to potential clients – it may be an annoyance to the recipients, but if you’re a business it is an vital and mostly uncomfortable necessity. It’s a tough road, and I acknowledge that.

I’ll then go on to explain the reason I write my blog. I’m not so precious as to suggest that having a readership is unimportant, but it certainly comes second to the act of writing. Let me put it this way – I don’t write to be read, I write to get the written word out of me. As this is a personal blog that is a very personal process. The feelings, thoughts, ideas, opinions, attitudes, reflections, observations pile up in me and intermingle, and some of them become notions which ultimately I choose to explore by writing them down.

I think a lot of writers do that – they seek to make sense of these things by expressing them. It’s rare that these posts come to me fully formed. I start in on a position and as I proceed the way ahead of me becomes more clear. A key part of understanding is expression, for me at least.

You can see then that for me blogging is a journey. It’s gratifying if others read and take something from what I write. I’m like anyone else, I’m chuffed when someone appreciates my work. It’s irrelevant to purpose though. If no-one read anything that I wrote I would still continue to write.

I try to explain this. I’m not interested in artificially inflating my following. Much as I could do with the dollars, I believe to commercialise this blog would be to corrupt and influence the philosophy that inspires it. In fact, for me, it feels fraudulent – but that’s because the whole process of writing this blog is personal.

Strange as it is, this is where my ego becomes subsumed. I have to write straight, and that’s my therapy.

 

To resist, or not to resist


A couple of nights ago, on his way home from work, one of the guys here was set upon by two muggers. There was no physical violence, it was all threat, but the threat was real and confronting. Both of the muggers wielded axes.

Their victim is a pleasant, gentle soul, much more a lover than a fighter and so he handed over his wallet and hurried home. With a young family he packed up and spent the night at his in-laws. Understandably shaken he didn’t come into work yesterday. I caught up with him this morning to venture my concern. He’s okay, though the encounter is undeniably disturbing, and has the potential to be disturbing for quite some town.

Crimes like this seem to be more common, though it may be we are more aware of them, or they are reported on more often. The general view is that these are the times we live in. Law and order, always a hot potato, is a big ticket item right now. I don’t agree with everything being said, or even much of it, but I understand the rhetoric.

On hearing of this encounter I was initially shocked. You know these things happen, but there is a distant between you and these events. Then it happens to someone you know and it becomes far more real.

After the initial shock I wondered how I would react if faced with the same situation. I know the sensible thing is to do what he did and be compliant and passive, handing over my valuables and walking away. That is, if you like, the rational, sensible approach. I pride myself on being rational at least, and in conversations around law and order would rather take a calm and unemotional approach to it. It’s easy to be outraged, but it only distorts the truth. The solution comes not from emotion, but reason.

I suspect that if I was in a similar situation all of that would be forgotten. I’m well known, even notorious, for being stubborn (surprisingly so). Much of that comes from a rational place. If something is true and worthy then I will stand up for it, but undeniably there is an aspect of ego to it.

I fear if faced by a couple of axe wielding muggers that I would dig my heels in. As soon as someone tries to compel me to anything is the moment I resist. On top of that I can taste the disdain I would feel for these men. They feel the need to threaten me with axes? How weak. I would find it hard to hide my utter contempt for then. I could not stomach the possibility of them prevailing. Quite irrationally I would fancy my chances with them. Even considering the distortions of an inflamed ego I would reckon I could outsmart them. I would like to think of myself as a lover, but I’m very certainly a fighter.

What then? Who knows.

This guy was mugged in Lalor; it’s very unlikely I would ever get approached in the civilised streets of Bayside, let alone threatened. I suspect also that they wouldn’t try it on with me. I have a bit of size and confidence on my side, not to mention attitude. I don’t swagger, but people pick their mark and I reckon they would assess me as too problematic. Even so.

I don’t want to be mugged, and I seriously don’t know how I would react. Part of me is glad of my obstinacy. I believe in it as something just when faced with injustice. You can’t give way to these things. But I’m smarter than that too. Sitting here at my desk while it’s still but a hypothetical I hope I would be humble enough to give way. Quite aside from the danger of resisting there’s the peril – and ultimate weakness – of letting my ego prevail. To be a true man I need to let that go. The ego is not about being rational, and is entirely selfish. I need to be better than what my ego demands, and that’s true in all aspects of life – but much easier saying than doing.

 

Larry vrs Magic: the great days


30 For 30 must be one of the best programs of its type ever. For those who don’t know, it’s an ESPN program, which basically are in-depth sporting documentaries. What makes it different is the qualities of these shows which often take a different angle to a well-known story or personality, or perhaps take a more intimate perspective. They’re well made, highly intelligent, and far beneath the surface. If you happen across a story you like you find yourself completely immersed in it – this is what happened to me last night.

I happened across last night’s shows. I was doing some random channel switching when it popped up: Celtics vrs Lakers.

I discovered the NBA back in the early eighties. It would be on TV here in Oz late at night and then only the finals. Sitting in a darkened lounge room in suburban Melbourne and watching the feats of unknown basketball stars started off as a novelty. It was strange and foreign and to the teenager I was then pretty dreamy. As the novelty wore off real appreciation grew. I came to know the players and the teams intimately, I found my favourites and cultivated my allegiance. I don’t how or why, but I became a Celtics fan.

Back then if you mentioned Celtics in the next breath would be the Lakers, and vice versa. I can only imagine now, but I reckon I favoured the Celtics because they were the earthy alternative to the flash and glamour of the LA Lakers. I could appreciate the show the Lakers put on, but the Celtics seemed more authentic to me. And, they had Larry Bird.

I loved Larry Bird. He’s probably my favourite basketball player of all time, just ahead of Michael Jordan. I loved him because he was a superstar, and because he was such a damn smart player, and probably loved most because he was so damned unlikely. Here was a tall, gangly, very pale skinned, red haired white guy without any particular athletic gifts who dominated in a league of flashy and explosive athleticism. What he had was his great smarts, an incredible passing game, a pretty good shooting hand, and an unsurpassed competitive edge. He was a leader.

Like the Celtics and Lakers, if you mentioned Larry Bird then Magic Johnson came next. He was Bird’s Laker’s counterpart, and epitomised the differences in the teams. Magic was immensely talented, a great athlete, a happy go lucky, larger than life motor mouth with a great ability to take a game by the scruff of the neck. You had to love Magic. He and Larry came into the game at the same time – a blessing to the sport – and then dominated it for the next 10 years.

The show last night was about that great rivalry, between Celtics and the Lakers, between Bird and Magic, between two different cultures and philosophies.

I loved it. I remembered so much watching it. I could recall moments sitting there watching clutch moments in the key finals series between the two teams. Sport is like that. We interact with it as a spectator and an aficionado, and in so doing it threads its way through the simple day to day of our life. We remember things by the sports we watch, and remember sporting moments by the things we did. They become enmeshed.

This is a two part show and last night I watched the first part before having to go to bed. Tonight I’ll watch the second part which will feature the epic battles between the two sides. Can’t wait to watch.

Disunited Kingdom


Another interesting few weeks in international politics. Trump gets nearer and nearer the precipice, though if anyone ever gives him a push is anyone’s guess. Then there’s the UK. Jermy Corbyn gave Theresa May an almighty scare in the general election, to the point that to form government the Conservatives need to enter into a coalition with the uglies of the Irish Unionists, who don’t believe in same-sex marriage or abortion, and in general have a range of retrograde policies – and they hold the whip hand. Then came the awful Grenfell Tower fire in London. Last I heard there were 58 reported deaths, and bad deaths too – trapped in a burning building and succumbing to smoke or flame. The firestorm has spread far beyond the building though.

I don’t see how Theresa May can survive this. She got a very shaky mandate from the electorate after running a poor campaign. Her conduct and behaviour after the election inspired little, but it’s the Grenfell Tower fire that is her death knell. But let’s start at the start.

It’s not long ago that Corbyn was deemed unelectable, and May called an election in the expectation of a landslide. Corbyn improved his game, and May was diabolical on the campaign trail, and these in combination were a catalyst for reconsideration by the electorate. The elements were already there though – general cynicism, disenfranchised voters searching for something to believe in, and those disenchanted in general with the party system and the rhetoric that goes with it. Much has been made of the Conservative mantra throughout the campaign of strong and stable government and I agree it played a big part in the outcome – as a negative to the conservatives.

That’s not always the case. As mindless as these slogans may seem, it’s apparent that by the perpetual repetition of them something gets through to the electorate. In the past it proved a positive for like trained monkey’s we (well, never me) came to associate the proponents of the slogan with the message. That was in simpler times.

These days it’s a rowdy crowd. They’ve come angry, unwilling to be appeased by mindless drivel. Had May been better that sense may never have been activated in the electorate. As it was she was unwilling to engage and came off as being evasive and untrustworthy, while Corbyn was campaigning on simple sincerity. Get a load of this the punters thought, and just listen to the bullshit she’s spouting! The electorate became aware, at which point the repetition of empty phrases became a negative.

The move towards Corbyn was a rejection of political party machinations. All over the world voters have become jaded by cynical politics, faceless and cruel bureaucracy, and an utter absence of sincerity or ideals. May embodied that and in comparison Corbyn’s homeliness and home-spun wisdom was positively attractive. In the end I think the English electorate were drawn to Corbyn and what he represented, but were unsure whether they wanted him to govern. That was then.

Now it might be different. The disaster at Grenfell Towers is almost biblical in what it means. It feels as if a message from on high sent to expose the inequity and utter poverty of the Conservative movement. What is a human disaster has been proved to have been utterly preventable if not for corruption and shortcuts being taken by the ruling Tories. Added to that was the deplorable conduct of Theresa May in the aftermath – a more out of touch leader you won’t see.

Where do we start? Well, Grenfell Towers is public housing in a posh area, Kensington. The victims were working class strugglers. They had complained about the risk of fire and were ignored. The building itself had no smoke alarms or sprinklers – unimaginable (and illegal) in Australia. The cladding added to the building during a recent renovation was proven to he highly flammable, but chosen to save money. Then of course there were the cuts made by Boris Johnson when he was mayor to the fire service. And so on. Then, to add insult to injury, after this barely comprehensible tragedy Theresa May turns up shielded by minders and talks only to the firefighters – the homeless victims are ignored. (In comparison Corbyn, and even the Queen, showed normal human compassion. Corbyn has really shone throughout this).

May copped a lot of criticism for this, and rightly so, but what I see is a woman totally out of her depth. She’s not a particularly attractive character, but this misjudgement I suspect is borne of complete confusion – not that that’s an excuse.

A government has yet to be formed in Britain, and Brexit looms. After Grenfell Towers great swathes of the population are outraged. If they had an election today I think it’s Corbyn who would win in a landslide. That’s not going to happen though. What will happen is hard to know. I think May’s leadership is now not sustainable; and I think there are too many questions about the proposed coalition which, after Grenfell Towers, contradicts entirely the mood of the nation.

I’m fascinated to see what will happen now. There must be victims – sacrifices – which is all a part of the political culture. May is dead, and I think Boris is terminal now too. Admission must be made, the sacrifices made public, and a conciliatory leader who promises to ‘bring the nation together’ will be found. How they resolve the political stalemate I don’t know.

As for Australia, if we’re watching then there’s a lot to learn – but I’ll get onto that another time.

 

Necessary compromises


I went out for dinner on Saturday night and in conversation was told about an acquaintance who has been out of work since late last year. I hardly know him, but have been kept informed over the last few months because of the similarity to my experience. And I took an interest for the same reason.

This guy had been well established and had a defined occupation, but was forced out of work by the usual economic factors. When he went searching for a new job he ran into the usual frustrations – advertised jobs that weren’t really jobs, dodgy recruiters, and promising opportunities that never paid off. I heard the stories and understood the scenario. I was sympathetic, but in a perverse way was reassured that my experience was not unusual.

And it’s not unusual. This is a thing now. I know of many guys around my age who, out of work, have struggled to get back into it. One friend was out of work for 12 months and ultimately had to move overseas for a job. Another had 6 months out of work, found an ordinary job, then endured a succession of ordinary jobs with patches of unemployment in between. Another found himself unexpectedly unemployed, disappointed with job applications, before finally settling on a junior role to get back into it. All these guys are well qualified and very experienced – a CFO, an FC, and a top notch IT guy.

Getting back to the original guy I was told on Saturday that it looked like he finally had a job – as a Corrections Officer. I blanched at that. I know very well that any job is a good job when you’re not working – I returned as a customer service officer. Corrections Officer seemed a different order of job though, a hard, possibly unforgiving job – though I don’t know, it may be fulfilling and rewarding. Still, it seemed tough – but when you have a family to support anything goes.

Good luck to him, but I hope he doesn’t lose sight of who he is and what he did before. I was very conscious of the fork in the road. I knew I had to work, to get money in, but also I knew I had to get back to what I was before I travelled too far down the other fork. Leave it too late and it’s too far to backtrack, and that has psychological implications as much as it does financial.

Whether you like it or not, we take a lot of meaning from the work we do. We become identified with it, and identify ourselves by it also. If it so happens we become accomplished at it we draw pride from it and a sense of personal purpose.

To be unemployed is to have all sense of meaning, purpose, pride stripped from you. It’s not pretty. When I took on the job answering customer phone calls I applied myself to it as I did my jobs previously, and set myself the challenge of doing it well. It wasn’t me though. I did fine, but I was a square peg in a round hole – I knew it, and so did others. And there was not the emotional nourishment I had experienced when I worked doing the things I was expert at.

All throughout I had my eye set on returning to some semblance of work as I did before, even if junior. The clock was ticking and I knew if I couldn’t manage it soon then it might never happen. I had been one thing all my life, and I didn’t want to become another (not of my choosing) for the rest of it.

I managed that. I’m not content, but I’m back in the game and I can have that conversation.

Everyone is different. It’s hard when you get to a certain age, but I would urge this acquaintance to either find something to love in his new role, or else to look beyond it with the idea of getting back to what he did best. This is why so many employers are unwilling to take chances on people like me – the fear that we might only be temporary. It’s a fact of life though – each of us has something inside that needs to be nourished, and from that comes our sense of self-worth. All of us want to be happy. You can compromise along the way, but I don’t think you should ever compromise on what you want from this, the only life you’ll get.

What’s a great Aussie song?


Switched the TV over to one of the music channels yesterday and caught a playlist of, allegedly, the 50 best Aussie songs. I listened to it in the background, then watched for a bit switching between the footy. I agreed with a lot of the picks, and disagreed with a few too. Anyway, it got me thinking, and being a bloke I decided to put my own list together.

Now I’m not going to list 50 songs, and I’m not going to put them in order either because I reckon that’s impossible.

  • Buy Now Pay Later (Charlie No. 2) – The Whitlams
  • No Aphrodisiac – The Whitlams

Coupla Whitlam’s songs, which won’t be popular with everyone, but Buy Now is a very poignant song, and No Aphrodisiac was a quirky hit at the time, added more for spice than any other reason.

  • Harpoon – Something For Kate
  • Captain – Something For Kate

Something For Kate are a forgotten, overlooked band, but they had a couple of cracking songs. These aren’t the very top shelf, but they certainly belong in a top 40. Harpoon was a cover of a great Jebediah song, and a better version.

  • These Days – Powderfinger
  • Passenger – Powderfinger

Long, celebrated Australian career, but a tad unfashionable Powderfinger. IMO these are their two best songs.

  • State of the Heart – Mondo Rock
  • Cool World – Mondo Rock

Now we’re going back to the early eighties. Ross Wilson, stalwart of Australian rock music, lead singer of Mondo Rock and been around forever – he’s also got another track on this list with Daddy Cool, when he had long hair. State of the Heart is just a very beautiful, very true song, and has memory associations for me. Cool World is just a very catchy, very clever pop song.

  • Power and the Passion – Midnight Oil
  • Short Memory – Midnight Oil
  • Blue Sky Mine – Midnight Oil

The Oils have got to be on this list, and probably unlucky to have only three songs on it. I reckon they were the best band in the world for a bit, and their passionate, hooky songs are classics. I don’t know which is my favourite. Great band.

  • Because I Love You – Masters Apprentices

Hands up who knows this song? Kinda psychedelic, late 60s/early 70s, this song creeps up on you.

  • Great Southern Land – Icehouse

This is a great song in its own right, but it also rouses a patriotic urge in me too.

  • Throw Your Arms Around Me – Hunters and Collectors

A classic Australian band, but this is their standout song. They recorded a few versions of it, most of them not it justice, but they got it right in the end. Much covered, this features Mark Seymour’s raw, imperfect voice, but it adds something to it. Has some great lyrics. Close to the top of this list.

  • What’s My Scene – Hoodoo Gurus
  • Bittersweet – Hoodoo Gurus

The Hoodoos are just a great Aussie band, catchy, fun songs, these are their two best. Continue reading

Undoing


This is another little story about my train trip into the city this morning. It’s becoming a genre of its own, but I think that’s because in that space of time and making that journey you are in a state of transition, from the comfort of home to the density of work. In between you are in a neutral space, not quite yet up to speed, but receptive to the dawning day. Everything is fresh again, and though it’s far from being a conscious thought, with the new day everything becomes possible again.

This morning I sat there in the usual way. Across from me sat a mother with her son. The woman was middle aged, plain, a little plump. She was dressed in a heavy black winter coat, and in general her dress was more functional than stylish. Like so many women she had a big, black leather handbag, from which she took a copy of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend.

Her son was about 10 years old. He wore a dark duffel coat with loops for buttons. He had an old fashioned haircut, like a fighter pilot from the 1940’s. It was cut short at the sides, with a distinct part and his hair neatly combed across the top of his head. Did he comb his hair, or did his mother for him, I wondered?

I’m listening to a story set in Morocco and I’m remembering my own journey there, how Casablanca was boring, Fez interesting, Marrakech fantastic, and Essaouira funky, but at the same time I’m curiously pondering the mother and her son. Is it school holidays? I thought not. What brings them out then? It appeared as if they were set on a trip together to town, for reasons I could never discern (they stayed on the train as I got off at Richmond). I recalled that these brief forays into the city when I was his age were like an adventure to me, remembered how with mum we might go shopping for school books or clothes or something altogether different and then end up having lunch in the Myer’s cafeteria, or perhaps somewhere like the Hopetoun Tea rooms.

As I’m thinking this the boy looked around curiously. He was not accustomed to the peak hour train crowd. There wasn’t much to see though, and soon he retrieved his own book to read – something called Bomber Boys.

There is something about such scenes that make me feel incredibly tender. Perhaps there is something nostalgic about it that recalls moments just as I described when I might have shared such a journey with my own mother. But that’s only a small part of it. I don’t know but it seems such simple scenes undo me – and it is the simplicity of it that does me in, or rather, the simple modesty of it. You see in something like that the established pattern of love and affection. It is known, felt, perhaps overlooked by the boy, but real for the mother. You imagine the small worlds, the boy spying the book he was interested to read and contriving to own it, the mother out shopping with her son and spotting the coat she decided to buy for him. Then there is the mother reading her book. You imagine this is an escape for her, a little bit of time all hers. I wondered, what does she think when she reads such a book? What does she feel? Is it just entertainment, or does it tug at something deeper?

And of course there is something in the very modesty and conservatism of her dress that becomes poignant. I don’t know what it is, but my imagination works overtime. Is that her nature? Or has she sacrificed something to be a mother? Or is it a reflection of self-image? Perhaps because I’m bolder in style and ambition I am often abashed by those who are not. I want to get around them. Celebrate yourself, I want to urge them. It doesn’t matter what other people think – or more aptly, what you think other people think. Live for yourself.

I feel that and it cuts deeply, but I know also there is something condescending in it – and besides, who am I to tell anyone how to live or what to feel? They know their life. Doubtless they are happy, more or less, with it. Not all lives are big, nor should they be, but it doesn’t make them less true, and what value fruitless striving when all you need and want is beside you?

I think it is the recognition of that which moves me. It puts me in touch with a corner of myself that is deeply felt, but neglected. I am straightened up and humbled by the simple truth of what I see, and envy, in a sly way. I feel strongly the urge to acknowledge it, to reach forward and look in their eyes and bless them – or ask for their blessing.