Rainy days


It’s late at night again when I write this. This time I haven’t even tried to sleep; I know I’m not ready for it.

I’ve read, as I do most nights, and earlier took a call from a friend travelling in England. It’s quiet but for a soft hum. I hear it every night and have concluded it’s probably my tinnitus.

I had a bad day on Sunday. If I have a bad day, it generally will be a Sunday. It seems a day empty of meaning. It’s a lifeless day with quiet skies and silent streets.

As I did the week before, I woke with a dream in me that seemed significant. This time I was among family and friends when I did an injury. Though the injury was physical, I became convinced within the dream that what I had cruelly damaged was love. It felt like a parable I needed to understand.

It was the dream and the conversation the day before with my nephew and the dread of Sunday that combined to set me askew. I think we all know what it’s like when the blues come upon us. I was restless and shiftless. I couldn’t settle for any activity or positive thought. There was no satisfaction in anything.

Normally on a Sunday is set myself to write, but I knew that was a waste of time. I didn’t have the patience for it and all the words had gone out of me anyway.

Dark thoughts beset me. I wondered what the meaning of me was. I knew I had no purpose. I went along, surviving well enough, but not getting anywhere. I contributed nothing but, as so many are, was a mere consumer of life in its repetitious, meaningless cycle. I got my empty thrills from the streaming services and sport and the like, which amount to spiritual valium.

I went further, articulating the specific failures of my life. I felt neglected by my friends but recognised that it was my fault. I’d been blind and oblivious when I might have made it different years ago. My friends now are mostly married with children. Their life has taken them away from me. I exist on the edges of their awareness.

I might have made a difference to it 10-20 year’s ago, but I was riding high on lifestyle. I had a rota of friends I would meet up in sequence. I’d be out for drinks at least once a week, and often more, and frequently dinner also. I lived well. There were women, too, though few meant anything to me. I was busy, but I didn’t put anything away for a rainy day.

Circumstances intervened, to be fair, but I should have been better prepared.

I was a good catch back then. I was actually acclaimed as the most eligible bachelor at one place I worked, and took it as my due. Now, look at me. Older now, and getting older all the time, and recovering from cancer.

I need, for so many reasons, to find someone to love and care for, but am lost knowing how to go about it – how strange that seems. I look in the mirror and wonder why any woman would go for me. The last of my good looks are gone, and while there’s intelligence in my eyes, I look damaged.

It’s no easier when you consider that I’m not the fluent speaker I once was, and struggle to hear a conversation in a social environment. What have I got going for me still? Well, I’m still smart as a whip. I have some wit still, though struggle to express it. I’m tall? I don’t know. Once I would have thought an ease of manner, along with social poise and a certain worldliness set me apart. Now they’re irrelevant. Even my confident exterior is tarnished. I’m not a good catch anymore.

Add to that the undeniable bitterness I have towards my workplace, possibly misplaced, and the narrow horizons offered to me by a parlous financial situation – when once money was no object.

I have squandered much over the years, but the greatest waste has been of time and opportunity. I had a good time, but still…

And so it went. What it amounted to was a question about the very point of my existence – particularly if I’m only going to experience more of the same in the years to come.

Writing this tonight it all seems true, but my relationship to it has changed. I’ve backed off from the edge and realised I must do something to change the course of things. What’s done, can’t be undone, but the future is yet to be made.

I always knew there would be a reckoning. I figured it would come when I felt over my health travails, but I don’t think it can wait.

I’m not sure what the answers are. New friends don’t grow on trees, and it’s hard to find love when you rarely venture from the suburb. The job I can change. I guess it’s the same as always, I have to find a way. I’m grateful I have the fortitude and steadiness to act on it.

I have a new dog in a fortnight. That will make a difference. Next goal is to survive at work until mid-January, then, all bets are off. As for the rest of it? I’ll have to be creative. I want to tell a different story. There you go.

Unsnipped


On Saturday, I exchanged several messages with my younger nephew, trying to dissuade him from having a vasectomy. He’s 21, a good-looking kid who struggled through school and home and, consequently, with his confidence. I’ve always had a soft spot for him. I thought he was a lovely, sensitive kid who wasn’t given the love and support he needed. Because of that, perhaps, he’s often looked to me for advice and support. As his father died about 9 years ago, I may be something of a substitute paternal figure. I’m pretty proud of him, as he seems to have got his life in order – a job he enjoys, a doting girlfriend, and his self-esteem seems much improved. He has a sniff of belief, which makes all the difference.

He doesn’t want kids, though. Doesn’t like them, he reckons, and they stifle lifestyle and cost a fortune, or so his married mates tell him. Why not take them out of the equation altogether by getting snipped?

I was taken aback by the news. I didn’t try to dissuade him. He doesn’t want to be told what to do, which rarely works anyway (though I imagine my sister would be haranguing him violently – that’s her style). I wanted to persuade him otherwise, but it had to be his decision. And so, over the course of hours, I told him he’s likely to change his views on many things as he matures and that he didn’t want to do anything now that he might regret down the track. No-one’s forcing you to have kids, I told him. Just don’t have them – you don’t need the snip.

Why go through the pain and discomfort of surgery, let alone the expense? You can live your life without going that far and, using myself as an example, could travel to your heart’s content and adventure and fuck like a bunny, and it need not make a difference whether you’ve had the op or not. (On reflection, I realised, given how many different women I’ve had sex with, that I’ve done well to avoid fatherhood, let alone contracting something nasty – but then, mostly, I was careful, and if I wasn’t, they were.)

I think I convinced him to think about it a bit more. I dearly hope he doesn’t do it, and hopefully, he realises that he doesn’t have to. At one point, he asked if I ever regretted not having had children? It’s a question I dread, but I gave him the honest answer: every day. But then, I still haven’t ruled it out altogether; more fool me.

Dealing with it


Okay, so I decided to document the difficulties in returning to ‘regular’ work after cancer. You’ve endured some rough treatment and been off work for a while, but while there remains physical damage and recovery is ongoing, you’re on the way to healing. Judge for yourself if what follows is a grizzle. For me, I want to get it on record, if only to highlight what not to do.

The first challenge is how work handles it. It’s big news for you, but it’s a shock to them also. Initially, this was done well by work. They were sympathetic to the news and gave me plenty of space. HR was in contact to see what I needed and how they could help me. I was sent a care box and was told by one of the managers that they would handle the announcement within the broader team. That’s where the issue arose.

For reasons still unclear to me, the announcement was never made. Perhaps they were uncertain how to do it or if they should. If they were in a dilemma, they only had to ask me, but they never did. I was clear in my mind that I wanted it out of the way, and the best time to do it was when I wasn’t there. I know it’s awkward. It can be a shock. Best to get it done quickly and without fuss and now rather than later. It never happened.

Some people heard about it. Others I told at different times. Unfortunately, most are still unaware of what happened to me, which makes it hard.

Now I’m working again and encountering people in the office; I never know how much people know about my situation. I tense up a little bit with the uncertainty and when the question comes routinely – “how’ve you been?” – I think twice before answering. Then, if I’ve answered with the truth, I have to deal with the shock and discomfort I generally get in response. I don’t want to have to deal with it and shouldn’t have to.

I’m much more comfortable with the people who know I had cancer. I have no problems acknowledging it or even talking about it, and once it’s out in the open, I feel like it can be normalised. That’s not the case with people who don’t know, which is most. I’m more tentative with them, even stand-offish.

The fact is that someone only has to look at me to know something happened. Get it out of the way. Ask! It might be a little unsettling, but I won’t mind. I much prefer that it wasn’t overlooked or ignored.

Making it more difficult is the damage to my hearing and my speech. I miss most of what is said in noisy environments. It means that I disengage and, more importantly, miss things being said. I’m sure anyone hard of hearing knows what I mean. You nod along as if you’re getting it, straining to hear and watching the speaker’s lips as if that might help. Finally, there comes the point when it becomes too hard, and you tune out. I’m not being rude: I can’t understand you.

What’s even more difficult are the difficulties I have with speech. On balance, this isn’t nearly as severe as my hearing loss, but it’s tougher psychologically.

My hearing won’t get any better, but my speech probably will, and it’s probably not nearly as bad as I fear it is. It’s just, for some reason, how you speak and how you sound is tied up much more in your sense of self and self-esteem. Most of the time, I’m understandable, but there are occasions when my tongue feels thick in my mouth, or my mouth is full of marbles (actually, swelling). It’s a real struggle to articulate at those times, and my speech comes out thick and unwieldy. I’m embarrassed by it.

It means I don’t open my mouth to speak nearly as much as I used to, except with friends. The most significant difference, I find, is that I don’t risk spontaneous utterances. Someone says something which, previously, you’d respond to with a one-liner or a quick reply, but you now remain silent. When I am talking, I find myself casting ahead, reviewing the things I want to say and searching for a simpler way to say them. I was an articulate, well-spoken man. Now I avoid difficult words and words with multiple syllables. There’s no way I could read this post I’ve just written.

In combination, this makes me someone I don’t want to be. If people understood my circumstances, I’d feel much less self-conscious. That’s the original sin.

The other thing that aggrieved me was how I was treated when I was at my sickest and off work. I heard from no one but my direct manager, and I had to contact him half the time. No-one wished me well or checked in on me just to say we’re thinking of you. No-one wished me luck before my critical surgery or when I started chemo and radiotherapy. There were no cards, flowers or fruit when I was in hospital, and maybe I’m old-fashioned expecting it – I just think it’s a box that should be ticked.

I felt forgotten. Abandoned. Cancer is an arduous and lonely business. I needed all the support I could get. I got practically nothing.

When I spoke to my manager – perhaps 5 times over the period (though he did visit once) – it felt like it was a chore for him. I always had the sense he was doing something else and not really listening. Maybe he was – he was flat-out filling in for me – but I would have welcomed even that little bit of honesty.

Then he started to ask when I was coming back to work. It became tedious. I’ll come back when I can, I’d answer. Then he’d ask the next time again. It felt all about that. When could I help them out? It was from a sense of duty, and even guilt, that I returned to work in February – prematurely, I think.

Even then, now that I was speaking to him more often, he was always asking me when I would increase my hours. I got angry with it. I’d tell him once, twice, three times, I will when I can, but it never seemed to get through to him. All the while, I thought all he cared about was work. My health, my well-being, was not a factor.

I know it paints a poor picture of my manager, but in his defence, he was very much under the pump and not getting the support he should have. On top of that, he’s not very good at these things. I sometimes wonder if he has a bit of a savant about him. Sometimes he’s so clueless that it’s almost funny. He retains a naivety that many years of working in the rough and tumble of the corporate world haven’t managed to change. It’s endearing in a way, and I find myself not taking it as personally as I might otherwise.

But then he suggested I should look for another job internally. That was stupid and unbelievably naive. Of course, it pissed me off. I was astounded. Maybe he meant well, but I think really, he figured if I got a job somewhere else, he could replace me with someone full-time. This was at the height of him nagging me about increasing my hours. I don’t think our relationship has been the same since.

I have other issues with work, but they’re not a part of this. Getting sick, as I did, is pretty hard work. You’ve got your hands full just staying alive and getting from one day to the next. You can’t have too much support. But, you get through – what else are you going to do? And it’s thanks to the doctors and nurses, the incredible professionalism of the surgeons and medical science. And it’s thanks to your friends. Sadly, it’s no thanks to others.

I’m willing to move on from it. I’m not someone who harbours grievances. It’s not for me to judge. Karma will look after that. Unfortunately, I’m reminded of it every day at work. I don’t think that’s going to change.

Too hard


I had an odd conversation with my boss a few weeks ago. It was in a relaxed moment when we discussed the changes in the office and the potential ramifications. I asked him the hypothetical: What would you choose if you had the option of doing any job?

I expected him to tell me that he desired something in a quiet corner where he would go about his technical work without interruption. He is a reserved person by nature, happiest; it’s always seemed to me when he has a technical issue to resolve. Naturally, I had my answer also prepared – complete autonomy and in a role that utilised my creativity; in a business sense, business improvement generally, innovation, BPR, strategy and architecture. All very staid.

My boss shocked me by saying he’d elect to do something repetitive that didn’t involve too much thought. I queried him, not understanding, and he clarified: in a factory perhaps, doing process work.

A senior IT manager said he would prefer to work in a factory? I was bewildered – yet, it made some sense, also. I know he likes the safe and predictable. We’re so different in many ways. He doesn’t like surprises and wants to be left alone (well, me too). He’s conservative and reactive and won’t rock the boat. For all that, he’s in a role where a lot is being asked of him all the time. He can hardly do his things without being asked to do others (not that it stops him from clumsily interfering in my work). He’s at real risk of burning out, not that anyone cares. A stint on the production line must seem like paradise in comparison.

We spoke again yesterday, as we do every Friday. Things are tricky at the moment. All the work I was doing has come to naught because of blundering decisions by the CIO. I’m pissed off by that, professionally and personally, but what’s more important is what it means for my future. It means I can’t execute my core function in any meaningful way until about April next year. I’m not the only one aware of that, raising questions about my future. I have about 2-3 hours of work a day now. The rest is fluff.

By comparison, my manager is flat-put, but there’s nothing I or anyone else can do to help out. The problem is twofold. He’s been in the business so long that he knows how everything works, which is okay, except there’s no backup to him and no systems or process to mitigate or manage the risk.

IT process was neglected for years, and much of the focus was on projects rather than on getting the basics right. The result is that knowledge is thin on the ground, and there aren’t processes to alleviate that. Governance is poor generally, and there are products and applications without ownership, which means no one is accountable. In the absence of all that, they come to my manager.

He’s struggling under the weight of it. Push back, I tell him, but he won’t. He explains if he doesn’t do it, who will? My answer is that’s no excuse for poor or missing processes. If he said enough is enough, someone might finally twig that it’s time to fix it. He acknowledges it’s a poor state of affairs. He knows it’s pretty shoddy all round. But he’s a good company man and won’t make waves. He’ll carry on quietly martyring himself, and nothing will ever change.

All of this is antithetical to me. For a start, I’m a process-driven character. I believe in structure and ownership, policies, procedures and accountability. In an organisation of our size, there shouldn’t be grey areas. On top of that, I’m not someone who will accept an unsatisfactory status quo. Blind ignorance or obedience is pathetic, and apathy is worse. Is it too hard? Fuck that. I understand that my manager feels overwhelmed by it all. What can he do, after all? He agrees it’s terrible and should never have been allowed to happen – but what can we do now?

Start. That’s what you can do today. And I know it’s not his job, but at least he can raise his voice. So, it’s a fucking big job. That’s the way it is. Every day you do nothing, the job gets bigger. Make a call. Make a decision. Make a plan. Do something, even if it starts small. You can’t wave it off as too hard. That’s not how life works. Nothing changes unless you make it change.

That it’s got to this state of affairs is the fault of the aforementioned CIO and his predecessors. It’s probably symptomatic of a wider malaise. I understand, in a way. It’s hard work, and none of it is sexy. Projects bring you acclaim (if they work) and are more interesting to work on, but you have to do the small and essential things also.

We got to this stage in the conversation yesterday. I’ve practically disengaged from the company so sour I am with how they’ve treated me and how things get done (or not done) – but still, I roused myself, by reflex, it seems, unable to stomach such timid acquiescence. As John Kennedy once said: do something! Do!

I make him uncomfortable, I think. The differences that once made us complement the other now divide us. He may agree with me in some distant manner, but it goes against his nature. I feel somewhat brutish talking to him these days, even though much of what I say is reasonable. The problem is it goes against the canon.

This makes me uncomfortable, ultimately. I don’t want to be the rebel, the radical, the stirrer. In a well-run organisation, I would be listened to and understood, though, in a well-run organisation, I wouldn’t need to say these things. Ideally, I want to engage and contribute. I’m not a passive bystander. I want to be part of the success, and I believe I have a lot to offer. Ideally, I place no limits on what I can give.

Now it’s at the point where I feel I must step away. It’s not in me to be an unthinking drone – but if no one listens or cares, what’s the point? Circumstances have contrived to put me in this situation. I tried to overcome my distrust and had the door closed in my face without even the courtesy of an explanation. I’m disenfranchised, and I don’t know how that can change.

And if my manager gets hit by a truck next week? The company’s fucked. That’s not my problem, but I’ll send flowers.

Giddy up


It’s a lovely sunny day, and I’ve just returned from a visit to BBQs Galore to pick up some fixings for the coming barbecue season – firelighters, briquets, a rub and some metal skewers. Nothing speaks of summer more than that. As a bonus – for me – it’s also a great sign of getting back to normality.

I didn’t have a barbecue all last season because my ability to eat was compromised, as were my taste buds. I still have some challenges, though not nearly as many as before. As for my taste?

For a while, everything tasted awful. I reckon it wasn’t until February/March that my tastebuds recovered to something like before. It’s not the same, unfortunately, but it’s not far off. Things like chocolate taste different, and generally, I miss out on the rich flavours. I’ve been making favourite dishes all through winter, and they’ve tasted different to me – not as good.

For a while, I wondered if it was my cooking, but I accept now that it’s my ability to taste. I used to wonder at people who weren’t into food. How could that be? I would wonder. Food is one of the great pleasures of life. I understand better now. I don’t get the same pleasure from food as I did before, but it’s still pretty good. I realise that people taste things differently – it is, in fact, subjective.

Still, I reckon a nice char-grilled steak will get me salivating once I get the barbie fired up, which may be as soon as this weekend. Life can’t be too bad when you’re cooking good food over a flame, and the sun is shining.

The shadow


Before going to work yesterday, I popped into St Vincent’s for a blood and urine test I was meant to have done about a month ago. I forgot to mention: they now want to check for diabetes after some elevated blood sugar levels. I didn’t get the test sooner because I was on holiday and then without a car, and because I doubt the diagnosis – though what would I know?

One thing it highlights is how there’s always something. I was at the Alfred hospital the week before last to consult with a thrombosis specialist. It gets a bit tedious.

One thing that is definite is the cataract. I’m glad I re-scheduled surgery because it’s clearly getting worse. It’s surprising how noticeable the decline is. If I wasn’t having surgery for it I’d be worried. As it is, it’s a bit spooky.

Things are fuzzy at distance, but the real deterioration has been in my reading in the last fortnight. Unless it’s in large print, I can’t read a book now, and I’m even having some troubles reading a screen when the print is small, despite the backlight.

There is some discomfort with that and I’ve taken to painkillers again occasionally, though if I take them too regularly I get weary by late afternoon.

These are small things in relative terms. My eyesight will soon be better than it has been for years, and in general terms my health is improving. I had problems with my hip earlier in the year but it’s improved so much I’d almost forgotten I had an issue. I get some occasional stiffness now, but not the pain, nor the limp. I still have no feeling through the area.

For the most part, I’m on top of things mentally also. There are times I feel as if I’m living under a shadow, which is the result of having survived a killer disease. It’s a curious thing, but unwelcome when I feel it. It’s not always there, but it’s always in the background.

The reality is that all your life things can change very quickly, but you don’t really have an awareness of it. Accidents happen, people get sick, but you’re young and strong and invincible. Those things happen to other people.

Then you get sick and for a while you’re not sure if you’ll survive. I certainly had my doubts, though I never thought I would die – just that I might. It doesn’t happen though. By some miracle of medical science and voodoo you survive, though it’s hard won. It leaves scars, both physical and mental.

I no longer have the blithe belief that I’ll go on forever. Death has entered my consciousness. I have an awareness of the end of things I never had before. I go on each day with it there in the background. It was always there before, but having come so close to it you can’t escape it’s orbit now.

I’m aware that I’ll get old and decline. Visiting hospital you see a lot of sick people and it terrifies you. You also see a lot of old codgers – the old fellas who speak too loud and seem slightly out of it. The world has passed them by, though they’re still a participant. That might be even more terrifying.

What makes it more piquant for me is that I’ve survived something I know might very easily return. The ice feels firm beneath my feet for now, but I know that I might also plunge through the surface at any moment.

It’s a precarious sense of being. It separates you. You feel it. It is like a shadow and you want nothing more than to be free of it – to be carefree again and live with purpose. It’s like a kind of sour wisdom, a belated loss of innocence. It’s what marks me out as different from most people now – not that I came close to death, but rather I have the knowledge that death may mark me again at any moment. It’s there, lurking.

I want to be free of that. To my way of thinking the best way of doing that is to return to some semblance of normal life. It won’t go away, but perhaps I’ll lose sight of it in everyday routine. That’s the aim.

I’d like to say that I know nothing has really changed – but it has. There’s a hard edge of reality in the knowledge. I survived, but the odds that I’ll get sick again are pretty good.

But I’m pretty good, too. I know I’ve been fortunate and I feel grateful. I read some interesting stats the other day. About 40% of people will get cancer at some stage. I was both lucky and unlucky I got it relatively young – I probably wouldn’t survive if it came when I was older. I was strong enough to endure treatment and overcome it.

About 1 in every 6 deaths is related to cancer. Mine was a rare form of cancer, and generally fatal. It belongs in a category of cancers that afflicted 130,000 people worldwide in 2020, of which 80,000 died.

Here I am today. I plan to live for another 30 years. It could be I turn out to be one of the lucky ones. Here’s hoping.

Acknowledging


I was in the office today. Each time I visit I tour the floors searching for familiar faces. There’s not many around. A lot of people have come and gone over the last few years and at any given time the office is probably not more than 30% full now that we’re hot-desking.

There are always a few I stop to have a chat with. Today it was the manager of one of the affiliate organisations. He’s a top bloke. We used to sit nearby each other before he got promoted to this role. We’d talk footy and business process and what we did on the weekend.

He called me into his office when he saw me today. “Come to see where the cool kids hang out?” He said.

“Yeah, where are they? I answered.

He’s a keen Swans supporter and we chatted about what a disappointing grand final performance and about work and returning to the office, and so on, and then – with a gesture towards his own face – he asked very sincerely how I’d been.

Surgery, and cancer in general, has left scars, and my face slightly misshapen. He’s the very first person to say anything about it. I was relieved and grateful at his honest concern and curiosity, and I told him the story: I was okay, but I’d had cancer. I was back working, but it was pretty hairy for a while.

I didn’t go on, but I left him glad that he had acknowledged something that was pretty obvious. I wish more people did.

It contrasts with the usual confusion. Only few people know I had cancer, and when they ask how I’ve been I never quite know how to answer. I can’t tell them I’ve been tickety-boo. That wouldn’t be accurate. But then, it’s always awkward when I tell them the truth. Well actually… Sometimes I answer enigmatically. I’ve been worse, I tell them – which is true enough.

I had that situation riding in a lift last week. When asked, I took a deep breath and gave them the gist. They were shocked, predictably, but as the lift doors opened one turned and said “that’s okay, I’ve got HIV.”

We both got a laugh out of that. He’s another good bloke.

Caught in the rip


Yesterday was a bum day. It’s okay to have a day like that occasionally, but you wouldn’t want to do it too often. My excuse is that I was feeling off, but the malaise was so general that I spent much of the day in bed.

One thing I did was to look up the person I’d dreamt about. A few years back, I’d searched for him online when I had a pang of guilt but couldn’t find him. I couldn’t find him yesterday either, but I found his wife, who was a good friend also, and always a lot of fun.

To my surprise, I found she still worked at the same company where I met them in the late nineties. I’ve had maybe 15 jobs since then and worked interstate and overseas.

I debated whether I should contact her or not. It’s been a long time, and contact may be unwelcome – though I suspect she, and they, would love to hear from me. They were loyal and genuine friends. I wondered what I would say and felt horror imagining how I would explain everything that’s happened since I last saw them. It feels like a fail. It’s certainly been eventful.

I didn’t contact her then but suspect I will – and maybe, I must. I’ve had a long-held policy of doing the brave thing. If it’s hard, do it anyway or because it’s hard. Don’t let fear stop you. On reflection, it appears a bit blind and likely to lead to all sorts of problems. And I thought that yesterday – look what being brave has done to me. But then, I wondered if I had been brave enough – if I had quietly failed on that front also.

One of the things I did yesterday was to add song ratings to iTunes for about the fifth time (on a second iMac). Many memories were evoked doing that, as is always the case. I remembered the songs and the times that they belonged to. It ran in parallel with memories of my friends.

I recalled a seminal moment when the man I dreamt about took me aside some time in 1998 (at a guess). He told me how much he and others liked and respected me – but he also said that I came across as invulnerable, making it hard for people to get inside me. I was so independent, or so it seemed, that I was in no need of sympathy.

It stuck with me. I recognised the truth in what he said and was grateful to him for telling me. A few years before, I had come out of a relationship that had near broke me. I remember being shaken by gusts of sorrow and tears. The grief I understood; what I hated was that I seemingly had no control over it. Once I had recovered somewhat, I set about making myself immune from such upsets ever again.

It didn’t quite work, but I’ve been tougher in general since – and obviously, it showed. For some reason, I think it’s only in recent times that I’ve become so hard, but it started long ago. By now, it goes all the way to the bone – and I regret it.

Life is complex, and more so for some than others. Consciousness is not a curse, but it has two edges on it. It would be nice if it could be turned off occasionally, or turned down at least. The function on Saturday brought that to mind. Proles, I thought. Bread and circuses. How easy it is to be pleasantly diverted, and how desirable at times, and perhaps necessary. But then, what sort of life is it if that’s all there is?

I reckon our consciousness is layered, and for some, they never venture far from the surface. A friend of mine calls them surface dwellers. We all know what she means when she says that.

The problem occurs when you go too deep. Enlightening it may be, but problematic also. There’s a price attached.

I thought about my cancer. The top layer is me putting on a brave face and spinning it positively to the world at large. The layer beneath, I doubt and question. I feel the pain and wonder when it will cease or what will become of me. It’s something I share with few. As you go through the layers, you delve deeper into the psyche. Underneath it, all is a truth we should abide if we are to achieve any wisdom. A tide runs in us, and it’s no good going against it. That’s the wisdom – understanding the currents that go through us and letting them take us. It’s hard, and not everyone makes it that far.

On Saturday afternoon, when I was at the party, I got a call from a friend. She was meant to join us but was downstairs wanting me to come. She was in a bad way. We sat in her car holding hands as she wept and explained that she couldn’t face the crowd. This was not a new thing. We spoke then and later and yesterday as well. She didn’t come up to join us. At my urging, she’s doing something about a situation that’s not sustainable.

For too long, I suspect, she’s swum against the current, and it’s caught her out finally. Caught in a mental rip, she’s struggling to get clear of it. This is true for many of us. For me, too, I suspect, though I have the advantage of self-awareness – not that it makes it clearer necessarily, just easier to stay afloat.

Time passes


Restless in spirit today, if not in body. I feel slightly off – physically, I mean, a tightness in my head and around my eye. It’s so quiet otherwise, like in the aftermath of some fantastic event. It feels as if time has paused, or slowed at the very least. It will come in a rush tomorrow.

All of this has combined to make me feel a trifle discombobulated. I’m not sure what to do, or what I want to do, though there are plenty of things to be done. At the top of the list, normally, would be to sit at my desk and write. It’s something I look forward to, even if I wasn’t impelled to do it. But not today. I don’t think I could. My head’s a mess.

I woke this morning having slept well, but with many dreams. The dreams were interesting: thought provoking. I remember little now, but that a friend I haven’t seen for many years featured prominently. The question it provoked is why I let him slide from my life. I thought there was significance to the memory – as if in my past there were things worth revisiting and, perhaps, reclaiming.

Yesterday was a big day in Melbourne: grand final day. I reluctantly attended a function in South Yarra. I knew hardly anyone, and half the people I met had no interest in the game. That’s not unusual. The event is a great excuse to party.

The other half were mostly vocal Geelong supporters. They won the day handsomely, so they had plenty to crow about, and crow they did. I was with a Swans supporting friend who had a harder time of it. He was gracious about it in his self- effacing way.

Sitting there I felt a little outside of things and it seemed in many ways a contrived and artificial occasion. It probably is. There were probably Romans in their togas partying hard after a big day at the Colosseum a couple of millennia ago, and it’s been happening ever since.

Tomorrow is a workday again, after four days off. It’s been pleasant, and I managed to get things done, though not in the way of writing. I’ve been cleaning out the garage – sorting things out, throwing out some, repacking others. I’ve invested in tubs to make it more orderly, and can admit to a secret passion for storage items.

It’s dull now, very much a Sunday. Tomorrow is work, though I’ll be here still. Then more time passes.

Just a man


I went into the office yesterday and was surprised how few people were there. I traversed three floors and reckon I saw no more than 40-50 people. It’s a holiday today so that we can properly mourn the queen’s death, and with tomorrow being another public holiday, we have a four-day weekend. That may explain why there were so few people.

I sat by the window and set up at my hot desk. I went downstairs for coffee as I would before. At lunch, I caught up with a friend and had to queue to get into a busy Malaysian restaurant. In the afternoon, I attended a couple of meetings. By 4 pm, I was headed home.

I was in a benevolent mood. For weeks, months even, I’ve been exasperated and frustrated and sometimes even angry, but yesterday I let it go. Much of what I felt had been personified in my boss. We’d always got on well, but my absence from the job had exposed to view his feet of clay.

Meeting with him yesterday, I chose to see him as the man he is. I put aside my objections and frustration. I accepted him as a flawed individual, as most of us are. I let go of the disappointing realisation that he was not the man I thought he was. I had imposed that upon myself but judged him for it.

We’ll never again be the close colleagues we were before, but we don’t have to be. I don’t see a long future in my current role, and I had decided to roll with the punches rather than stand and fight back, which, as ever, was my instinct.

Objectively, I think I have legitimate cause for complaint – but complaining does me no good. And, up close to the man again, I saw the tiredness in him. He’s not quite up to all that is being asked of him, which is a lot. That’s the fault of his managers, who expect too much of him and take his effort for granted, and his fault for allowing it. It’s human nature also that he has felt vaguely threatened by the likes of me – a sharper intellect and much harder edge. He’s fought a rearguard action understanding, I think, where he fell short and looking to shore up his position. I can’t blame him for that. At the end of the day, he’s just a man.

I plan to reach out to him further. I want to share a drink with him and some of my disappointment without judgement. It must be tricky managing someone like me, smart and opinionated and full of energy. In that regard, I tend to be a purist, casting judgement on those less worthy.

I sometimes think of us as the tortoise and the hare, though I’m less inclined to rest on my laurels than the hare. He’s the loyal company man, and I’m the individualist seeking perfection. He’s humble; I’m aggressive. He plods along steadily achieving, whereas I’m given to imagination and inspiration. He’s incremental; I believe in the quantum. He’ll go around when I seek to push through. And so on. Once, it made us a good team.

I sometimes wish that I wasn’t so hard-edged and could blend in more readily. I don’t know how that happens, though, or how it can be. I can’t imagine being different and often find myself wondering at the passive nature of others. How is it that we’re different? And, what does it feel like to be like that? On balance, I’d rather be the way I am. We only have one life.

This is my nature, but having survived cancer, it has a different shading now. My inhibitions have loosened. I feel the urge to be the rock star, notwithstanding my physical limitations. Having come close to death, and with it lurking still in the background, there seems little value or point in holding back. I feel it infuse me with a kind of reckless passion that I’m incapable of expressing adequately. If I’m to do something, then I want to do it all the way – but what is it I choose to do?

I wish people understood. I wish I could explain it. It’s that inadequacy that has me accepting the situation with my boss now rather than fighting it. We’re imperfect beings, and I should remember that more often.

I feel as if I’ve painted a grim picture of myself. Perhaps that’s accurate, but I think there is much more to me. I may inhabit an alpha personality sometimes, particularly at work, but many people know me very differently. I believe they see me as kind and generous, thoughtful, gentle and compassionate. I hope that’s true of me.