Do insiders and outsiders go together?

There was a time, back in 2008 I think, I felt somewhat like what I do now. That was when I was caught up in a tricky relationship with a girl who had a boyfriend back home in England. It was a tumultuous, difficult time that left me wondering what was about to happen next. As a result I felt unusually uncertain, though it was situational rather than personal. I felt as if everywhere I looked there were signs and portents, and I sought them out. I’m definitely not experiencing that now, but what I have in common with that time is a sense of extreme sensitivity, and often times a feeling of great tenderness that seems to sweep over me feeling tender and gentle. I don’t mind it, but there is a precarious sense to it as well.

This time the cause is the decision I made at the beginning of the year. Looking back it feels as if I’ve levered open a door that had been long rusted shut. Through it now are coming all sorts of unexpected feelings and thoughts, and unforeseen events. The very act of doing so seems to have changed my personal climate, which has become volatile and uneventful. By opening up things are happening, one after to another. It’s challenging, though not in the sense of it being difficult – more so in that it keeps asking questions of me. That’s no bad thing.

It feels like it’s been a busy year, the most recent events as noted the emergence of my step-sister, and an ex-girlfriend coming back onto the scene. All over I’m being engaged much more than ever before. I have become much more candid and open on Facebook, so much so that people have commented. It’s very much out of character, but feels right for the moment. Nothing is really different except than my sensitivity has been dialled up, and the things that normally I would keep to myself I’m now putting out there – and people are responding, as if my candour permits them to be just as open. I feel a great amount of goodwill.

This will not go on forever. I’ll retract a little, though it will be a natural thing. This is a phase, but at some point that way of thinking and feeling will be instinctive, with no further need to prove or test it. It will be me.

The only real inconvenience right now is the situation with the girl, which continues on in quiet tumult. It’s felt quite intense at times, and at times she has been forthcoming – but then she withdraws again. I’m less concerned than I have been in the past because at least now I have put it out there, and she responded. All the same, I feel moments of frustration. I still like her, but more and more I’m backing off from anything more than friendship, if that is at all possible. I’ve given reasons before, but here is another, emerging in the last few weeks. We have a lot in common, but in one key attribute we differ: she’s a polished insider, while I am forever and very happily an outsider. That may be a good combination for all I know, but it doesn’t feel it just now.


Better yes, than no?

I’m on my Facebook account yesterday and randomly I click on the Followers link as I see the number has increased. I scroll down, noting that they’re either people I don’t know, or people who have submitted friend requests I haven’t approved. All, that is, except one.

I give a start as I read the name of my stepsister, someone I haven’t been in contact with since about a month after my mum’s death.

We used to be very close. I was easily much closer to her than I was to my own sister, and she was a favourite of mum to. She was the daughter of the man mum married, and I met her first when she was 17, a very attractive girl still carrying some puppy fat. In the early days she had a bit of a crush on me, which is almost clichéd – the son of the woman your dad is in love with, older, more worldly, a little bit dashing, and giving you the time of day. To be clear I was very fond of her too, but our relationship shifted from borderline inappropriate to fond and affectionate, which is how it remained up until the day mum died.

It changed after that. It’s ancient history now, but when mum’s will was promulgated all bets were off. Any bond between us was set aside in favour for the family ties – she had an older step-brother she’d never been close to, but now found it convenient to ally herself with. Things turned nasty and at some point she unfriended me. The whole thing still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

About two years ago there was an attempted contact by her via Facebook messenger. It was post-midnight, and after she’d had a few wines I’d figured, and I didn’t get it until the next day. I pondered it for a while. I was torn, angry still, but with a residue of affection remaining. In the end I did respond, but not till a few weeks later, enquiring if she was okay. She never answered.

That’s where it remained until yesterday. I don’t know how long she has been following me, but probably not more than 6 months. I note that she is still friends with a cousin of mine on Facebook, which means she has probably had access to my newsfeed.

I felt very strange on seeing her name. I clicked on it and was taken to her profile. The first thing I noticed is that she’s reverted to her maiden name. Her marriage had always been fraught, and it would be no surprise to hear that they had split. There were photos of her children, now nearly grown up, and pictures of her too, just as I remember her – a handsome, engaging woman.

I was curious, but I also felt stalked. I was surprised it was so easy. And though I’d felt initial surprise on seeing her name, on reflection the surprise lessened. I’m sure she reflects on that time with regret and sorrow, and may even feel remorse at some of the more extreme things done. I’m sure she feels just as affectionate for me – I did nothing wrong except abide by mum’s wishes. And, as the bond was deep, it becomes unsurprising that her thoughts might return to me, years later, her life moved on, and her husband gone.

The question is, what do I do about it?

It’s funny, I was explaining the circumstances of what happened back then to someone about a month ago? She suggested that perhaps it was time to patch it up. I heard, but didn’t think it was time – or perhaps I felt embarrassed by the notion, my pride sticking, thinking that it was not for me to do the patching.

One thing I’ll say about myself is that I can’t bear a grudge. Passion runs hot sometimes and I’d happily kneecap someone who does me wrong, but give it time and it seems pointless. That ability to move on and keep moving on is one of the things that allowed me to survive my travails. Now, faced with this situation, I have to ask myself do I still want to stick to a point five years old?

In my heart, I think not. I was greatly disappointed in her at the time, and saw something in her ruthless and calculating I didn’t like. It was a very unsavoury episode. But we had more than twenty years of being as close as a brother and sister can be. We were sympatico throughout, chemically connected.

I think it was stronger on her side than mine – I think had it been allowed she’d have chosen to take up with me. Even when married, it felt as if we had an easier, more natural relationship than she did with her husband.

People get stuck on things as if they’re written in stone. It’s very common. I’ve never wanted to be so inflexible, and never understood it because it was foreign to me. I suspect ultimately I will send her a message. I think it’s probably the right thing. And given I’ve set myself the task of being more open and receptive then this is a good test of that, and aligns with those principles. Better yes than no, almost always.

Three women

I’ve just returned for an early morning coffee at Captains of Industry, a pretty handy Melbourne style café not far from work. I had a coffee there with a long-term acquaintance, though she’s probably a friend now – we’ve travelled together, she always sends a bunch of choice invitations my way, and I’ve been to a few of her very good NYE party. I hadn’t seen her in 6 months so there was a bit to catch up on.

The thing is that we’re both of around the same age, come from similar backgrounds, and have generic experience in common – not to mention the times we’ve shared over the years. You come together and find so much of what we are experiencing now – and contemplating, and looking back on – resonates with each other. Ours is a cultural compatibility, and so the conversation was interesting and we’ll do it again.

Yesterday I had lunch with another friend. She’s the ex-wife of someone nominally my friend, though we’re not close. I always liked her more than him – he is a bit shallow, and has a chip on his shoulder about me – but when they split choices must be made. She basically sacrificed herself as her then husband had no real friends outside of us.

We’ve kept in touch with the odd message and email. I sent her an email a couple of weeks ago congratulating her on a promotion and suggesting that we should catch up. She was agreeable, and yesterday was the result.

We shared our stories and caught up on old times over a sandwich. I took the opportunity to tell her about the recent initiatives I’ve taken, and she was supportive. We ended up talking about relationships.

She’s now found herself another guy, and seems content with him, if not passionate. We discussed my prospects. I explained how for years I’d basically sequestered myself away from even the possibility of a relationship. There’d been an episode here and there, but nothing serious.

I explained how I’m not ready yet, but reckon within a couple of months I will be. I look forward to that.

I found as I spoke that something had been so long an abstract in my mind – and in my heart – began to manifest itself in a way I could feel. The thing is you want to be authentic and true, and you begin to feel it like a living thing. You look forward to a time when you can embody it, and in anticipation I began to feel more sensitive. It was a good feeling, and remains so – I can feel it now still. There’s a sense of vulnerability that goes with it to, which is fair enough because you’re taking a risk. You’re going all in.

I think I avoided being vulnerable before. It was not who I was, but it was an attitude that cost me. Now I find myself embracing it as if it is the truth.

Late in the day I caught up with Jeep, my old shop manager from the massage shop. We still keep in contact and catch up from time to time, and she always calls me whenever she needs a hand with something – like yesterday.

I adore Jeep, and am eternally grateful to her. And I admire her greatly. I’m always ready to help her, and love to see her. She’s going back to Thailand later this year and I’ll miss her.

So, over the space of 18 hours three different women from different times and aspects of my life. Good to be connected, good to touch base and remember.

Live true

I got a call about 8.30 yesterday morning from JV. He’s a man who likes his sleep, so I was surprised. He was in the car and on the way to his Landmark thing, which is why he was calling.

He told me about this a few weeks ago. He was a reluctant attendee, browbeaten by his wife and his brother and law to go along. He anticipated an intense weekend of little consequence.

We were having a beer at the time, and by inclination I was tempted to agree with him. Even now I’m an old school character who would prefer to deal with his problems personally. I know it’s an archaic attitude and pretty silly, and so I’m always ready to accept other points of view. They’re just not mine.

When it came to Landmark I imagined an intense, cultish bunch of enthusiasts indulging in groupthink and an innocuous brand of brainwashing – and I say that as someone who attended sessions many years ago, when it was called the Forum.

It’s funny what you remember. It’s 30 years ago for me, and by and large the impression is general, with a few memorable moments lodged in my mind.

Like JV I was a reluctant attendee. I was there because my relatively new girlfriend was gung-ho to try it. I was in love and tagged along to an information session, where I allowed myself to be persuaded to hand over my shekels and attend.

Of course by the time the course finally came around she and I had split. It made for an interesting weekend as studiously we avoided each other. Still, at one point she was one of the people waving their hand and asked to share her story. I was sufficiently roused by what she said that suddenly I felt the need to share too – though what I would share I didn’t know. Thankfully I wasn’t called upon.

That’s one of my memories of the weekend, the frequent strange and often disturbing life experiences people had to share. I was amazed to think that so many had experienced such tribulation in their life. It left me with an abiding consideration, that there are mysteries in all of us, and everyone has a story.

I felt like a minnow in comparison. I felt as if my story was of a relatively well-adjusted young man, but I was probably wrong. Certainly though, I’d not had my family killed in a murder suicide, I’d not had my kids die in a car accident, I’d not even been harassed and mistreated as a child.

There was one story particularly that lodged in my memory, but for all the wrong reasons. Amid the stories of tragedy and woe there was one young guy who stood up when called upon. He was olive skinned with dark curly hair and sensuous lips – I can still picture him. He related to us how as a teenager in Tel Aviv, where he came from, he would sneak into the zoo and – there’s no other way to put it – commit acts of bestiality with the animals there.

There had been many confronting stories told on that day, but this one was somehow different, and you could feel it in the room. I know I looked upon him with fascinated wonder. It’s not something you could imagine; and certainly not something you could imagine someone owning up to.

There were a lot of converts that weekend, and a lot that seemed to benefit from it. I wasn’t really one of them. By disposition I’m a non-joiner. For whatever reason I’d rather walk the other way, or at least be out of step, and it has ever been so. I don’t get carried away, and my first response to pretty well everything is rational. There’s a bunch of checkpoints things need to get through before I’ll even think about getting excited. My Achilles heel is perhaps when I tip over into infatuation, if not love, when nothing is rational any more.

And so back then I watched on like a scientist, rather than really getting involved. Sometimes it dragged for me, but at other times it was fascinating. I understood the point of it and didn’t disagree, but the fervour with which it was greeted with was entirely foreign to me. I did learn some things, but mostly by watching other people.

One of the observations I made that was stuck with me since was the hierarchy of personalities. We were separated into groups at one point for exercises. There were ten of us, and what I came to understand is that if you take ten random people there will be one person who will try to assume leadership, another – the born lackey – who will support him, seven who are happy to go with the flow and take instruction, because it’s easier. And there will be one who questions, one who rebels, one who suggests other ways but makes no demands of others (“who made you boss Ted?”). That was me of course, in my now customary role, unconcerned if anyone bothered to follow me or not, but determined to go my own way. I learned that this person becomes very quickly unpopular with the self-proclaimed leader and his lackey, who see him as a trouble maker; and that often – because he makes no demands – the undecided seven begin to drift to him.

That was my experience 30 years ago, but I knew as soon as I heard JV’s voice that his experience was different. There was a lift in his voice, a little extra animation. He’s a lovely guy JV, but he’s a retiring type, even a little passive. Back in the day when he used to hang with me and Whisky he’d be often caught in the middle as we went at each other hammer and tongs. He’s managed a respectable career – he’s a smart dude – but the one thing he would benefit from is a bit more energy, a bit more intent. Though he’s in a senior role, he is one who has gone with the flow.

Just hearing a little extra life in his voice was enough to tell me that something was different. Against expectations he had found himself roused by the message of the day, so much so that he had rung his father the night before and for the first time thanked him for everything he had done for him. It was something he had wanted to do for years, but never committed to. The call was a great success, liberating for JV and heart-warming for his father.

Landmark is something that JV can benefit from because potentially it brings him outside of himself, after all these years. I don’t want to use such a term, but okay, it’s his chance to self-actualise.

He asked if it was something I would be interested in doing. I can’t afford it, but anyway the answer was no. I told him though that I had embarked on my own mini project since the beginning of the year. My memory of the Forum is that attempts to bring out the dark stories and memories that dictate our outlook and behaviour. It’s about bringing those things to the surface and authentically owning them. Ultimately, it’s about shedding the convenient narrative that makes life easier – though less authentic – to live.

That’s basically what I hope to achieve, I told him, and explained how I had set out to share my story as the year went on. I am, however, gratified to think that what I have set myself to do seems validated by experience. The aim is to live true.

Blowing the whistle

I did something this morning which may well get me into trouble, but is the right thing to do.

As I reported the other day, I’ve been at odds with certain sections and individuals in the business regarding what I believe to be unethical practices. Basically they are misrepresenting figures during the sales process to seal the deal. Formerly it could be argued it was the result of incompetence, but once I had exposed the flaws to then go on with it can only be wilful dishonesty.

That explains why basically I have been threatened after I persisted with my representations.

Forget the morality for a moment, there are strong business reasons to correct this. It may result in a small dip in sales, but it eliminates the risk of legal action, and the customers we have will be much happier and more likely to recommend us or extend their custom. And it should result in reduced handling times.

Regardless of that, it’s the right thing to do, and I must confess I was pretty surprised at how blasé about some people are – almost as if the rights and wrongs of it are irrelevant.

I went home Wednesday seething about the whole situation, and knowing I couldn’t let it go. My integrity wouldn’t allow that. And of course, once they threatened me I had no other option but to defy them.

This morning I had a quiet conversation with the Manager of our division. We get on well and he’s a good guy. I’d spoken to him about this at the outset, but in the conversations he was circumvented by my manager and sales. I updated him on the situation and outlined my reservations, from a legal, operational and moral perspective. I’m happy to agree that he agreed entirely, and he’ll be taking it to his manager, one of the directors.

I believe that as an organisation they have been happy to turn a blind eye to such conduct. I don’t know if they can do that now once it has been put to them formally.

Potentially this will make me very unpopular. I’m basically a whistle-blower. I’ve gone above my manager and likely to have put her in a tricky spot. She won’t thank me for that. On top of that the ethics of the sales team will be called into question, and potentially they’ll be faced with a humiliating back down. I may end up unofficially banned.

That’s assuming something is done about it. I don’t expect to do any particular kudos – I’m only doing my job. If something does happen then I’ll ride the backlash – and, who knows, I may even enjoy it. I’m funny like that.

Going against the flow

I had quite a typical conversation with my direct manager this morning. She has, from time to time, looked to modify what she perceives as my overly insistent ways. We have very different philosophies on this, mine being tread softly, smile, but be ready with a cosh. Hers is tread softly, smile, and go with the flow. Basically I figure my job – continuous improvement – is antithetical to going with the flow. I’m here to find a better way, and that will necessitate changing the flow.

In any case she thinks I go too hard sometimes, but as it’s almost impossible to get anything done in this place I figure I have no choice but to be persistent (which comes naturally), and often to the point.

The sacred cow in this organisation is Sales. They wield an unhealthy clout, getting the lion’s share of resources and influence. I get that they bring in the dollars, but having acquired customers we also need to manage them – seemingly a very distant second consideration in this organisation. More to the point some of the practices in Sales are unethical, counter-productive, and create a lot of extra re-work for the area I’m attached to, Ops.

I identified a serious issue a little while ago with potentially serious consequences. I advised the necessary people, including Sales, who are responsible for the function. When I received no response I sent another email and tried to call. When they went unanswered I went upstairs to speak to the manager responsible. The first two or three occasions he wasn’t at his desk. The fourth occasion he was there on his phone. Rather than risking losing him again I hung around, chatting to one or two others while I waited for him to get off the phone. When finally I got off the phone I was unsurprised to know he had hardly read my emails and knew little about it.

Last week I got feedback about this. Apparently he was upset at what he perceived as badgering him. I was amused more than upset. As I told my manager, if he answers my emails, my phone calls, then there’s no need to badger him – even if that could be legitimately construed as such. I told her that if I don’t keep at things then nothing ever happens. And I told her that I want them to know I’m on their tail. I’m not here about to be shaken off.

More than anything I felt contempt. What a trivial thing to complain about, especially when if they had done their job properly then there would have been no need for it. Even so, if they want to complain then I come from the old school that says you do it face to face, you don’t weasel with it dobbing someone in behind their back. What a softcock thing to do, I thought. As always in such circumstances, I smelt blood.

The problem is I’m told to backpedal. Can’t upset sales. They’ll blackban you if you keep this up. Really? I thought. How fucking ridiculous. That’s how fucked this place is, not only that that could happen, but that people could go along with it. Unfortunately my manager – who used to work in Sales – is the Neville Chamberlain of this joint, but there’s a cabinet of other appeasers. There are those out of step with that, but we’re all the newer people who have come in from other places.

Bottom line, I made my point sufficiently that Sales ultimately decided to do something about my concerns, but not until next financial year. Apparently they have to figure out what the sales impact will be if they provide accurate figures – says it all really.

As for the guy that complained – I’ll reckon I’ll give him a cheesy grin next time I see him, but he’ll know I’m onto him.