We had a department offsite yesterday. A lot of it was about team bonding and working better together, which was informed by some testing each of us was required to do leading into it.

I’ve done a million tests like this in the past. I must have done the Myers-Briggs half a dozen times alone, but there’s a wide variety of alternatives to it. This test was designed to figure out your team management profile – basically, what your work style and personality is, and how it interacts with other roles.

For the record, I was classified as a thruster, which I joked also happened to be my Tinder tag. You have secondary and related roles. Generally, all roles are related – represented on a wheel, the segments would be neighbours. That wasn’t the case for me, and I had a what they call a ‘split wheel’ profile.

My primary was Thruster-Organiser, which basically is analytical and driven and likes variety in their role. It’s probably the most upfront of all the roles. My secondary was on the opposite side of the wheel – Creator-Innovator. It is, as it suggests, a role that likes to find innovative solutions. My final related role was Assessor-Developer, which is a role that maps out and executes.

The test took me about ten minutes to complete, and I wondered how accurate it would be considering its comparative brevity. Reading the profile, however, I was surprised at how much I recognised in myself – and which others did, also. (For the record, I’m an INTJ for Myers-Briggs, though borderline I/E).

There were 39 people in attendance yesterday across the Digital Marketing team. We had to complete a variety of tests as teams to explore and understand the different working styles. It was interesting but surprisingly exhausting – though nice to out of the office for a change.

At the end of the day off we went to a nearby bar for drinks and casual discussion. I was finishing off my second beer when a woman approached me. She was one of the management team and experienced exactly the same thing late last year. Yesterday she was one of the observers, tasked to look in and watch the teams in operation.

I suspect she’d had a couple of chardy’s by the time she got to me. “You,” she said provocatively, “were my big surprise today.”

I possibly arched an eyebrow at that. I don’t really know the woman and our work doesn’t overlap. I knew as little about her as she did about me – except she’d had the opportunity to observe me in action earlier in the day.

She reminded me how she had been an observer for one of the team tasks I’d been involved with. “You were great,” she said, and while it was nice, I had an internal shrug of the shoulders. I recalled the activity she spoke of, which echoed most of the other activities I took part in. I was analytical and logical and, true to my proscribed role, tried to break the task down and organise it into rational parcels of work.

Because that’s how I see things, it means I’m often much more pro-active and decisive than many others, who have other attributes. My attributes are ideally suited to leading something like that, but others have attributes better suited to components of it. In the past, I’ve often found myself taking the lead to the point now that I restrain myself because I don’t think that’s the object of the exercise. I say my piece and try to guide and suggest, but I don’t take over – and every time think after how much more efficient it might have been had I done it all myself (another signpost in my profile – like to do things my way; I’ll figure things out alone and tell people after).

So she told me I was great as if it was news to her and I thought, great but, y’know, it’s not news to me – I’ve been great for twenty years.

I didn’t linger to carry on the conversation because I saw no point to it, but on the way home I thought about outside my boss no-one knows my background or what I’ve done in the past. Activities, like they set us today, were a piece of cake because they’re well within a set of capabilities that have been tested at the highest level over a long period of time. That’s who I really am, and if anyone knew then, no-one would be surprised.

There was a corollary to this. I was surprised to find in the course of the testing that I rated highest for creativity. I know I’m creative, but on the scale, it sits on I now I’m quite proficient on the other side of it (Practical).

But then I have all these ideas, and I want to make them happen. I used to be very democratic with my ideas because I had so many of them, and all I cared about was that they are given life. My perspective has changed in recent times because others have re-branded my ideas as their own. And because I don’t have the luxury anymore of being democratic with them. I need them to leverage other opportunities, and I don’t want to give them away.

My boss, I think, sees me and my ideas as a bit of a meal ticket. He’s great – a very decent human being and extremely efficient at his job. He just grinds through the work and we make a good team. He’s not creative like me, though. He’s looking for things to execute, and I have the ideas and the systematic thinking to back them. He tells me to parley my ideas, and I’ll be rewarded for them. I respond by telling I’ve had two years’ worth of ideas (and an operational chatbot to my design) and that I should be rewarded now so that I can deploy these ideas from a position of greater authority.

I think there’ll be opportunities. I think the people I work with recognise what I’m capable of (and much more too, fellas), but I have to be strategic with my ideas now. I need the recognition for my creativity, and that needs to be parleyed into dollars and position sooner rather than later.

I’m not giving things away anymore. Time to thrust.

At the newsagents

I was early for an appointment this morning to get my hair cut and killed some time by popping into the local newsagent.

I used to love newsagents. I could spend a half-hour browsing very easily. It’s the magazines that draw me. I remember being a kid and away at some seaside village over the summer holidays and I’d pedal up to the local shops for a bit of diversion. I’d end up at the newsagents where I’d check out the magazines and might walk out with a cheap paperback as well.

I’d buy a magazine occasionally, though it was constrained by how much pocket money I had. I’d get the latest edition of Inside Footy in the winter months, or maybe it’s cricket equivalent come the summer. Or else I’d buy one of the automotive magazines, which were always popular with teenage boys.

That’d be a random purchase, depending on the cover or if inside there was something on the latest Porsche or some extravagant sportscar I’d dream about owning once I got out of school. Generally, it’d be Wheels I bought, though sometimes Motor magazine. I don’t reckon I’ve bought either one of them since I left school.

Back in those days, and for many years to come, newsagents were treasure troves of magazines and information. There was something on every subject and from every corner of the earth. For a literate, curious young man I was, I couldn’t get enough. McGills, a newsagent in Elizabeth Street, was probably the pinnacle of that for many years and a Melbourne institution. It closed a few years back.

All grown and with money in my pocket I’d buy a magazine or two every week. I’d subscribe to a few, generally overseas publications – Esquire for a while, the Atlantic for a bit, and Rolling Stone for years.

I’d buy all sorts of magazines – Men’s Health, GQ, Outside, The New Yorker occasionally, cooking magazines of every stripe regularly, The Bulletin while it was still around and The Monthly more recently, as well as various PC and technology magazines, and even something like Commentary occasionally – a conservative magazine I’d read for contrast, and for some of their writers, like Robert Kagan (whose dad is a writer worth reading).

If there was something that interested me I’d pick up a copy of Harpers or Wired or Fast Company or Travel + Leisure, and so on. The point being, there was a shitload of choice and I was fully immersed in it. There was delight opening up the letterbox to find a new magazine nestling there, or settling down on the couch with a cup of coffee to spend an hour or two to read intelligent, well-written articles of interest.

Here’s the thing: I felt a part of it. You have your own personal culture, and this was unmistakably a part of mine. I liked being informed, but then I felt informed, too. I walked about with information in my head gleaned from the glossy magazines on my coffee table. It was important to me because I was a part of this world, and these were the things that made this world tick. I felt relevant.

McGills has been closed for over five years now. I still read magazines, but a fraction of what I did before. Like everyone else, I get much of my information from the internet – though often from the same sources as before. I’ll read an Atlantic article online rather than in print, or something from Mother Jones, or Esquire, or The New Yorker, though not nearly as much. And I’ll gather information from a multitude of other sources, many more so than before – and it’s possible I’m better informed now than I ever was before (though mindful of the fake news).

It’s different, though. Do others feel that? It feels more…disposable. I read, and then I click on another screen. Because raw information has become so saturated, the value of it has diminished, not to mention the quality.

I don’t get a sense of being inside the information as I had before, though maybe that’s the times, and where I am in my life. I’m probably better informed than 95% of people, but I don’t feel it – and it doesn’t feel like it matters, either. It’s like collecting stamps, nice but irrelevant. It’s not a part of my culture anymore because information these days is like white noise, everywhere and unfiltered. And none of it feels special anymore, or exclusive.

I spent 7-8 minutes in the newsagent today, and it was enough. The selection these days is much less than it was before, but it was an exercise in trivial nostalgia. Newsagents aren’t what they were, but nor are the times. Still, I nearly bought a magazine – the latest edition of Dish. But I didn’t.

Why I don’t write

Well, yes, I’m still here, but I haven’t written much lately, in case you haven’t noticed.

I’ve been pretty busy with work, dashing from here to there and my mind going at a million miles an hour most of the time. When you’re like that there’s not much room for anything else. It doesn’t even to occur to you until after the event, by which time you couldn’t be fucked, anyway.

That’s pretty accurate in general. I’m fine, but I’ve lost a bit of interest in keeping this up. In terms of fucks, I’ve got none to give with regard to this.

I find that curious. Nothing’s happened. It’s not as if I’ve suddenly realised I don’t want to do it anymore. I’ve hardly thought of it, but that’s the point, really – it’s just drifted away from me.

Now that I’m taking the time to actually add to it again (I haven’t given up on it altogether), I wonder why it’s got to this stage.

There have been times past when keeping a blog like this seems awfully self-indulgent. Sometimes I’m writing something, and I ask myself who really wants to read such navel-gazing and trivia? It’s a good question. The answer, in the past, is who cares? You read you don’t read, your call. I don’t write for an audience. Whether one person or a thousand read my words is a matter of indifference to me. I write for myself, though – I admit – there are times I feel a tad embarrassed thinking others might be reading this.

My stated motivation for keeping a blog previously is that I wanted to keep a record. I’m alive, here’s the proof. These are the times I live in, these are my thoughts and observations, this is what I feel and think and wonder at. I’m conscious that one day I’ll likely to be gone, and while this might not outlive me and my time, perhaps mine will be one of the thousands of voices archived somewhere in time.

The other real benefit of writing here is the therapeutic value it gives me. They say it’s good to write things out, and that’s my experience too. It doesn’t apply to everything, but there are occasions that you’re so full of stuff that it’s a relief to get it out of you.
The act of translating it into words and to structure it in a meaningful way imposes a discipline on the experience. It forces you to think about it objectively and puts some space between what you feel and what you think.

Often I find understanding come to me as I write – and just as often after I’ve written it out and behold it. Often I find myself revealing and explaining things I didn’t realise I knew. I achieve a kind of retrospective wisdom, though it’s only ever temporary.
The one thing I truly value in a personal sense is being able to go back in my life and observe what was happening at a particular time. Quite regularly I’ll find myself clicking on a random date in the past and reading my thoughts of the day. Sometimes I’m surprised, but more often it comes back to me. There’s a richness in the recollection. I was there.

Now that I write that I think it’s hard to give up this blog – especially as I’ve committed so much to it. I feel for the majority of people who have no such record of their life. Life just flies by, but much of mine has been preserved in amber.

Maybe I’ll keep going. Life is all ebbs and flows. Doubtless, it will flow again sometime soon.

Steam-rolled by history

History moves pretty fast these days. I reckon that’s been the case for much of the last 150 years, but never as quick as it is now. I don’t know if we yet realise it, but I think maybe we’re living through watershed days. Things may never be the same again.

A month into 2020 and it’s like the news has been on fast-forward. Here in Australia, that’s been very much the case. I’ve said my piece on the bushfire crisis, but beyond that, there’s been systemic corruption revealed, and now the coronavirus. The coronavirus is something the whole world has to deal with, and I suspect it’s worse than being reported. China’s a secretive society and had they been able to keep this on the lowdown then they would have. The scale of the infection meant that they couldn’t, leading to a ripple effect across the world.

I just making a joke the other day how handy it might have been to invest in shares of companies making protective face masks. It’s their golden era right now. Until recently you’d see the odd person in the street wearing a mask, generally Asian, but that was it. I never really thought about them much, but then the smoke from the bushfires began choking the cities and they seemed a good idea. Now, with the coronavirus, they may well become a necessary protective measure. You see a lot more people in masks these days.

In the last few days, the Australian government have announced plans to quarantine the country from the threat of infection. Without all the facts, it’s hard to know what to think of it. I think some of the measures announced are necessary but delivered in the typical hamfisted style. It’s good to evacuate Australians from the epicentre in Wuhan, but then to announce evacuees would be charged for the privilege (since rescinded), and that they would be deposited on Christmas Island is deplorable. Now they’re banning non-citizens and non-residents from flying into Australia from China. Maybe this is necessary, but I don’t know if they’ve thought it through adequately. Seems to be a lot of loopholes, and I’m not sure the thousands of Chinese students due to return for study have been taken into consideration. It’s true, I’m a sceptic when it comes to this government – seems everything they do is rushed in conception and then sloppily executed.

For all that, I’m wary of the coronavirus. It’s my guess that the number of infected (and dead) has been under-reported by the Chinese government, and the rate of infection, and death from infection, quite possibly downplayed. It’s a very 21st-century condition, like SARS and the bird flu, evolved from animals and originating in China. In a country so heavily populated these conditions are more likely to erupt and to spread much quicker. It highlights that we can’t take chances anymore because viruses continue to evolve, and in a country like China where co-mingling of livestock in markets with people is commonplace then this will continue to happen. It seems the Chinese authorities have now woken up to that.

As I write this, Brexit is now official. I was watching the news as thousands of motley types gathered at midnight in London like it was new years eve, waiting for the clock to tick over and to be free of the EU. You have to wonder what they really think will happen now. I’m less optimistic than them. I think it’s a ruinous thing they’ve done to themselves, but that’s democracy. I met a Pom over Christmas who was all in favour of it. He seemed intelligent enough, an engineer who was impatient for the people’s vote to be enacted. I didn’t bother to debate the merits of the case because I didn’t want to get caught up in an argument. It’s his country. This, though, is history being made.

Speaking of history, cross the Atlantic and you have well-warranted impeachment proceedings against Trump go nowhere because democracy has failed. Like it is everywhere, there are few politicians of any ilk who put the interests of the people, and abstractions like justice, before their narrow political interests. To put it bluntly, most are in it for themselves. Trump epitomises that, and that’s why he was impeached – and he survives because the American congress is like that to. It’s stacked with Republicans more concerned with their own political future than they are of what’s right and wrong. America’s gone to the dogs.

American’s have the chance later in the year to put that right in the federal election. It’s interesting to watch how the Democratic primaries will play out after months and months of campaigning and jostling for position. If I was to vote I’d probably cast it for Elizabeth Warren, with Amy Klobuchar second – two women. I certainly wouldn’t back Biden, who I think is a nice bloke, but archaic as well as being old, and not quite having the right stuff. Ditto Buttigieg, who irritates me more than I can explain. He feels a bit plastic to me. He mouths platitudes and voices well-rounded phrases, none of which amount to much. I suspect he’s an opportunist without any firm beliefs unwilling to commit himself until he knows which way the winds blowing. Then there’s Bernie.

According to a lot of the polls, Bernie Sanders is the frontrunner. I like him, but I feel as if I’ve gone off him a bit lately. Maybe it’s his supporters, some of whom are pretty feral and fanatical – a very bad look. And I think he took a bit of the gloss off going after some of the other candidates, especially Warren. I think it undermines his persona of integrity. I believe in a lot of what he believes in, but think he should have been the candidate last time around. I wonder if he’s too old now and if he might not be a little too radical an option.

Needless to say, any of them are better than Trump. History indeed!

How do you fill the years?

During the week I bought a book of Robert Hughes essays at a much-reduced price.

I’ve been a fan of Robert Hughes since around the mid-eighties, first in print, then on screen. His voice in either medium was unchanged. Read his writings, and you can hear his voice in your ear. It’s the authoritative voice of a man confident in his, sometimes controversial, opinions. Educated, intelligent, bullish, and very literate, Hughes was about a muscular a critic as you’ll come across, and maybe that pushed him forward in the rank of critics. Read his stuff though, and it’s marked with insight and conjecture that makes you stop and wonder – the best sort of critic, in other words. Almost without question, he was the best communicator/writer of all of them. That voice, again, resonant, sometimes magisterial, occasionally abrasive, he wrote with lovely, rounded phraseology that stuck in the mind. It was clear to understand and memorable and sometimes almost biblical in its succinct description.

I met him once, in about 1998. It was around the time of the push to become a republic, and he was one expatriate Aussie who felt strongly about it. He gave a talk at the Arts Centre about why we should become a republic, and afterwards, I met him briefly for a shake of the hand and a brief conversation. I admired him. I may even have seen in him some sort of model.

He’s been dead a few years now. In my mind, I always associated him with another Aussie ex-pat, Clive James. They actually knew each other at uni in Sydney in the sixties. James is another gone, though much more recently. There’s a third I roughly lump into this group of celebrated Aussie ex-pats, and he’s still around – Barry Humphries.

The funny thing is, whenever I think of these guys I find myself thinking of my father. Doubtless, that’s because they’re all of around the same age – born around the beginning of WW2.

I had lunch again with dad this week. We’ve caught up about four times now after being absent from each other for years. Each time I see him I find myself surprised at how frail he’s become.

He’s still of active mind and will, but he moves slowly with the aid of a cane. On his forearm, there were two small medical-grade adhesives. When I asked what they were from – I was thinking skin cancers – he told me they were from biopsies, the purpose of which he professed not to know. He’s not someone likely to allow any treatment without knowing everything about it and so I concluded that he didn’t want to tell me.

I have a lifetime of memories to choose between when I think about dad, but the first memory that always comes to mind is prosaic. I picture him in a pair of shorts and bare-chested busy bustling around the yard and garden doing things. He’s tanned and healthy-looking with an unthinking physicality. It’s an old memory – specifically, it comes from the time he lived in Sydney, and no more than ten years ago. He was active then, he moved with an intent that his body no longer possesses (though, as ever, he has intent of mind).

I look at him now and I feel sad at how things change, though he appears to have accepted it. It spooks me a little too, wondering at how I’d cope at being slowed down so much – is this what I can expect, too?

It’s funny how your mind works. On the news the other week was a report about some notable who had died at the age of 78. I thought to myself, that’s a fair innings. But then I realised that dad is 78 – and my view on that was completely different: much too soon.

Dad may go on to live another dozen years or more, but it comes for everyone – Hughes, James, one day Humphries, and one day my own father – and millions more.

I wonder – how do you fill the years? Ideally, with passion and curiosity. I think that’s true of the men I refer too. They made their mark. They explored the things that fascinated them and shared the journey with us. That’s a good way to live and to leave behind when you’re gone.

Legacies are personal, I guess, and the important thing really is not what you leave behind, but how you lived. I wonder what dad thinks about that, if at all. He’s always been a man driven, a man of incisive opinion and dauntless ambition. He chose what was important to him and lived by that, but I wonder how it stacks up now in the waning years? Ultimately, we become our own judges, and that’s the most important judgement.

Hughes and James shared their discoveries with us, but the discoveries were their own. The sharing was a part of it, but it was the finding and knowing and understanding that filled them, I bet. They set their marks – this is what I’m interested in, this is what I want to follow, and they made it work.

For someone like me this has meaning, but I reckon for many it’s inconsequential. They live by other things, very different, and there’s no gainsaying that, except I know I’m not of that type. Nor is my father, I think.

What moves me is curiosity and wonder and the urge to create something meaningful from that. If there is to be an endpoint then the time to achieve that is running out, though it’s not about achieving. It’s about living. That’s how I want to live, with those things at the forefront.

Funny how I can never make anyone understand that.

In the street

It’s a steamy, uncomfortable morning. After a couple of days over 40 degrees, it’s cooler but no more pleasant. There’s thick, low cloud keeping the heat in. It’s around 30 degrees now and tipped to go higher before the rain comes later. Already there are one or two heavy drops. It’ll come as a relief, not just because of the cooler weather. My car is begrimed in red dust blown in from the country far to the north. It needs a wash, and rain is the closest thing to it it’s going to get.

I was out walking earlier on my regular Saturday morning round of the shops. I stop at the supermarket, sometimes the greengrocer, and at one of the bakeries. Sometimes I’ll stop for a coffee on the way back.

On the way there I walked by a series of red flowering gums in the nature strip. They’re in full bloom now, and glorious to behold. The blossoms are a fiery red and are abundant amid lush green foliage. This year the trees are alive with lorikeets nesting and gathering and feeding. The sound of them as you walk by is joyous and, looking up, you’ll see one dangling upside down, it’s beak in a blossom, and another creeping along a branch, and others, seemingly in conversation. I don’t remember it ever being so busy with birds. In past years I never noticed them at all; this year I can’t help but notice. I wonder if this population is surge is due to the fires, or perhaps to the drought?

Later, walking down the street, I came to a T-intersection with the road connecting coming from the sea. Abruptly my nostrils were assailed with the heavy, odoriferous smell of brine. What is this? I wondered. What does this signify? Why does this happen some days and the rest of the time not at all? I had no answers. I bought my bread and returned home.

Sexual fragments

So, more memories, and these of a very particular nature. I can safely say these are incidents I hadn’t thought of for years or even remembered. Why they come to me now, joined, as it seems, and given they are all to do with sex, is a curious question I have no answer to.

I don’t normally write about these things. That is, I don’t usually make reference to or describe the occasions when I have sex. At most, there might be a subtle allusion, but I can’t remember a time I ever wrote in detail about these things. There are several reasons for that.

I don’t think it’s quite fair to write about sex with another person when they’re not part of the conversation. It’s a bit tacky and has a bit too much of the kind of locker room talk I hate. I’ve heard many a boast over the years – who hasn’t? – and the best thing I can say of it is the rare occasions when it’s related with wit. I can’t think of anyone much who I’ve respected who’s ever told such a tale.

The other very good reason is that so often after the fact it feels banal, even depressing. There’ve been occasions I’ve regretted sex afterwards, though not often. It’s made me uneasy sometimes, and sometimes it’s made me question the nature of desire that has us flinging ourselves at each other – or coming to a more convenient arrangement. These stories reflect that.

There was a woman, years ago, would have been in her early thirties and living around Newport. I can’t remember how we met, but I can recall one night I went to visit her at home. There was a small get together in progress, and when everyone else left, I stayed.

We had sex and slept, and had sex again upon waking. She had a cute little boy, and I remember talking to him over breakfast.

About two weeks later, she calls me on a weeknight. I’m home after a day of work and weary and, I remember, planning to have a hot bath. She asks me to come over. She wants to have sex. As I hesitate, she becomes more desperate until she’s virtually begging me to come. It’s a hard conversation, and I feel guilty as I tell her I can’t. I never see or hear from her again after that.

On another occasion, I get talking to a woman at a bar. She’s there with friends, I’m with my friends. There’s nothing special going on, but I give her my phone number.

In the week after I get a call from her with an unusual request. She wants to have sex. That’s fine, but this is purely clinical. She’s not a virgin, but she’s naïve about sex and wants to do it again to feel it. I agree – what red-blooded male is going to refuse that?

She comes by the next night. I can’t even remember if we had a drink first, or a conversation. I supposed we must have. What I remember is her lying on the end of my bed as I removed her clothes from her, until she lies there naked. We fuck. That’s the idea. I feel disconnected from it, though. It’s my body, but I’m not in it.

I reflect on it afterwards and I realise I can’t have sex so coldly. That’s one reason I’m so against fuck buddies – I don’t want to have sex by schedule or appointment. I want it spontaneous and natural. I want it to spring from inside me – if not my heart then at least my gonads. I don’t want it thrust upon me (so to speak).

I never see or hear from her again, either.

There’s another incident I remember, much of the same type. I knew but had forgotten how promiscuous I had been once. I had a lot of sex, and most of it came easily, and I was pretty direct, which worked for me at the time. I had a way with words then and an attitude which made it seem a simple thing to do. I had a very unpretentious view of sex, which has survived to this day, pretty much along the lines that if it feels good, do it. And why not? Consenting adults, and all that.

Why I remember these things now is anyone’s guess.