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Tide is turning


Many years ago I lived in the Wentworth electorate. It’s a wealthy part of the world but is also very pretty. I lived in Watsons Bay, just about on the tip of South Head. Watsons Bay has a quaint appeal, a bit sleepier than the more glitzy suburbs of Vaucluse and Double Bay down the road on the 325 bus.

I loved living in Watsons Bay, so much so that most visits to Sydney now include a visit there to sit in the beer garden of the pub, or walk along Gibsons Beach, as so often I did back in the day.

Wentworth is in all the news today because yesterday, and for the first time, someone other than a Liberal MP was voted into federal parliament. This is a notable moment in Australian politics and marks – I hope – a turning point. Up till yesterday, Wentworth was the safest of blue ribbon Liberal seats, and it took a swing of historic proportions to upset that. Hopefully, it is a harbinger of things to come.

As I do with most notable elections I set myself to watch the developments last night from the comfort of my couch. By little after 7 it was all over – the pundits declared the seat for Kerryn Phelps, the Independent, and I switched over to watch the A-League.

The result last night was the bitter pay-off for the nasty and underhand shenanigans that led to Malcolm Turnbull, the prime minister and Wentworth incumbent, being deposed. He was a popular member in an electorate better educated than most, and more progressive than the usual Liberal seat. He embodied their small l liberal beliefs, and they were angry.

The whole thing is symptomatic of an utterly dysfunctional Liberal party. They trailed in the polls when Turnbull was in charge, but he was the more favoured leader. Many in the electorate had been disappointed by his performance but retained a belief that he shared similar values. He was the acceptable face of an increasingly toxic coalition. That small bonus became a negative once he was ousted and, after a farcical few days, the utter buffoon Morrison became PM.

Since Turnbull was ousted Labor have increased their lead in the polls. A safe seat has had an unnecessary by-election and been lost that would have been easily held otherwise, resulting now in a hung parliament. An urbane and intelligent leader has been replaced by a hectoring buffoon so generally incompetent that you have to question how he ever made it so far. (I can see him running the local newsagency, but that’s his limit.) Policy making is on the run, reactive to events and polls and primarily concerned with shoring up crumbling support – even so, it is so badly misjudged in intent and executed so poorly that it leads to contempt and ridicule.

This is the big takeaway out of this result. The people of Wentworth have protested. They’re unhappy with what happened with Malcolm, but they’re also sick and tired of a shambolic government that doesn’t represent their interests. Big issues for the electorate were climate change and the refugees on Nauru, issues the Liberal party is disdainful of.

This is why I think the worm may have turned, though it’s taken much longer than it should have. The government has been allowed to get away with general inaction on these topics till now. News Corp has had their back and much of the rest of the media has been pliable (they don’t break news any more, they report it only after it has finally broken). Lobbyists and other interested parties have been in the ears of government ministers and plying the party with donations. And, of course, the RWNJ wing of the party has been vocal and generally destructive in support of retrograde policies. More broadly, there seems to be a mistaken belief inside the party that their so-called ‘base’ is on board with their policies.

Let me break the news. Most Australians believe climate change is real and want some action. Many of us have for years called for asylum seekers to be treated more humanely. The base they allude to is no more than the raucous jeering of conservative ratbags on the fringe of the society, given a megaphone by Rupert Murdoch’s press. This is not Australia. This, certainly, is not Wentworth. This is now, and if they’re smart enough the libs will realise it – but they won’t, and even if they did the kamikazes on the right would sabotage it regardless. The Libs are dead.

I’ve been wary of saying that, but I feel as if the tide has turned. The overwhelming result yesterday is testament to the impatience of the Australian people. If this can happen in a safe Liberal seat, what lies in store across the land? This genie is now – finally – out of the bottle.

I seriously wonder what will happen to the Liberal party. About 18 months ago I raised the prospect of a complete fracture within the parliamentary party. I still think that is very possible, and potentially inevitable. The ideological schism between the conservatives and moderates is too great and too bitter to go on. I can see the conservative faction breaking off to become a traditional conservative party and aligning themselves generally with the likes of One Nation and Cory Bernardi. They’ll take their inspiration from Trump – and there’s a lot of Trump in recent Morrison edicts – and pursue their hardline agenda.

That will leave the moderate rump of the Liberal party remaining – that’s the party of Fraser, and Menzies before him, and Turnbull if he was still around. It’s the party I would flirt with voting for – economically conservative, socially liberal.

If that was to happen it would have a domino effect. The Labor party would have to re-position themselves, probably slightly more to the left than at present, which wouldn’t be a bad thing.

As you may gather, I’m greatly heartened by the signs. We still have another six months of this government, and anything can happen – but I feel in my heart as if we might just survive the general conservative, reactionary, Trumpian fervour that has engulfed so much of the world. Fingers crossed.

 

Shedding my skin


Once upon a time I just got the job done. I was very direct and efficient and drawn to achieve the best and most effective outcome. Some of that was reflective of a competitive nature, matched to a good brain I enjoyed giving a run. I was confident and ambitious and though challenged sometimes, never really doubted that I would find a way. And I did, every time. I was, as I was apt to think back then, full of good male juice.

Superficially the juice could be viewed as pure motivation and drive, but in actual fact there’s a lot of attitude in it too, and maybe a little swagger. Though it was effective in the office, I also carried a lot of it out into the street. There was a time I believed I could do anything, and every dream was bold. For many years I had more juice than just about anyone, and it was no secret. Outer H writ large.

That’s what I don’t have now. For a while now I’ve tried to act as if it was still there. In fact I probably believed it, not because I felt it, but because I was unfamiliar with a time when it wasn’t. I acted then from long standing behaviours and learned routines. The instincts remained, but they didn’t spark anymore. I think some of the frustration and abrasion I’ve experienced have been prompted by the absence of the thing I could so reliably count on before. In its absence, I’ve tried to force it, and act out a role that came naturally before. I’m all out of juice.

I don’t know if this is a temporary thing, but I know it’s a notable thing. I think I’m in the process of re-defining myself. It’s the clear that I’m not the man I was before and it’s probably not worth pretending I am. That poses the question I asked last week: who am I then? And who am I supposed to be? I don’t think that can be answered yet because I believe I’m in a state of transition. I’m in-between selves.

This is not terribly comfortable, but then it’s hard to imagine that it would be. I feel unmanned somehow, and without my familiar tools have nothing to fall back on but this, my mind. The old reflexes are gone. All that is necessary I think, but it’s not easy.

I don’t think this process will be either quick or certain. It will take a while and I expect some to-ing and fro-ing. I’ve got to hang in there through that and remain functional. I think I’ll manage, but I’ll have to deal with other people as well, including those who know only the old me.

If I were to hazard a guess I would suggest the next version of H will ultimately have many of the attributes of the previous H. I don’t know if you change so much as re-constitute. Same ingredients, different proportions. I reckon I’ll get a good measure of the old juice back, but directed differently. I hope – and I expect – that more of the inner H will be on show, and think it must be. I reckon some of the growing pains I’m experiencing relate to that very thing. I think it will be a gentler H that will emerge, less competitive, more willing to go with the flow. Bold dreams still, I hope, but in service of a more humble perspective.

Reconciliation


I’ve just returned from buying my morning coffee. Most people have their regular spots and I’m no different. There’s a place almost directly downstairs I go to around 9am every morning. Staff come and go there, but there’s a few who have been there all the way through. By now we’ve come friendly. They know me by name and we chat about the footy or what we’re doing on the weekend or movies we’ve seen while they go about making my latte. I’m almost hesitant to admit that they get the full outer H. I’m friendly and light-hearted, confident and glib. The words spill by my lips and I exude an attitude.

I think most people have inner and outer versions of themselves, and sometimes more than that simple duality. I know myself I become a slightly different person according to who I’m with. It’s one of my tells when I like someone – in my eyes at least I feel as if my best self emerges, which is a lot of different things that are hard to list, but safe to say he combines the best aspects of both the inner and outer H.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having alternate versions of yourself. Or at least, let me suggest that it is so normal that perhaps it is necessary. It might be different if our society was different but, even so, I think it’s good to keep some aspects confidential, and shared only with those closest to you. And so in this respect let me make the point that I’m not looking to transform myself (and also, make clear that the outer H is a very decent man). Rather my aim is to reconcile the two parts.

It’s an apt reminder today when I feel it a little more than I have the previous couple of days. It seems to me that I have an abiding sadness in me that goes deeper than I can clearly discern. It’s like there are huge, dark caverns within me that I can only see a little a time by the light of a torch. I can accept this by and large, and it doesn’t impact upon my ability to function or do my job. Previously though, I would tough it out. I would almost beat it into submission, all the while putting on a brave face for the world.

Today I want to accept what I feel. I’m not going to pretend otherwise. I won’t go around mopey and miserable, but I’m not going to try and gild the lily either.

It seems to me this is some way towards reconciling myself. I can be sad and still confident. I can joke and also be serious. And I can be both engaging and authentic. Of course I have to manage this in reality. Today is a test of that.

Letting it go


Back at work and as energetic and curious as ever. I sit at my desk tired of the view and feeling stale in general, but muscle memory is such that I remain proactive and enterprising.

One thing I’ve done is a bit of a clean-out. Generally, my desk is a bit of a mess, indicative of the variety of things I’m working on over a period. Today I sorted it all out, either filing the bits and pieces away, disposing of them, or handing them off to someone else. The handing off is the most significant gesture.

Some of the things I gave away I’d put a lot of intellectual energy into. I’m someone who will research widely and get disparate perspectives on whatever is at hand. I’ll make notes, I’ll highlight things, I’ll ponder, analyse and discuss, and ultimately I’ll resolve an approach and solution. Through that period I’ll collect a lot of collateral material. What that means is that by the time I come to deploy I have a lot of supporting material, evidence and basic IP to back it up.

I can be protective of these things. This is my smarts. This is the product of my very thorough endeavours. I’m probably more protective of these things than I ever was before because so many times now I’ve seen my proposals re-branded and re-issued under the auspices of some other person or function. I’m not precious about these things, but it’s frustrating when I can’t get these things up and disappointing when they get up only when they figure they’re worthwhile – which is a lag of about 10-12 months by my reckoning.

This morning I gave away a lot of that stuff. I know it’s not going to get done in my name because I’m no longer involved in those areas, but I don’t want to see it wasted. There’s some good stuff there, and a lot of logical conclusions that are hard to refute when they get presented finally. The guy I gave it to was grateful and did the right thing by asking if I need to be involved in the socialisation of it all. I’ve basically given him a free hit but told him no, it’s all yours, use it.

I’m happy to get involved in the deployment if and when, because that’s my skillset, not his, because end of day no-one knows it better than me, and because I want to see these things done. This is part of the process of letting things go, nonetheless.

Otherwise, it appears that most people have guessed that my break last week was for mental health reasons. I find myself curiously indifferent to that. I’d have preferred to control that message myself, and I’m a little miffed that they were so careless with what is personal information, but, meh. When people ask I just shrug my shoulders and tell them I spat the dummy at work and took the rest of the week off. They laugh or nod their head in understanding and it becomes a bit of a shared joke.

Anti-competitive


The Saturday before last I went to a 60th birthday party in Canterbury. I caught a couple of trains there knowing I would be drinking, and took an Uber home. I was not particularly in a party mood, but it was not something I could miss.

As it turned out the weather was perfect for it. There were about 70 people there fully catered with a proper bar set-up in the corner – including some top-notch red wine – and waitresses passing through the crowd offering tasty morsels.

I knew very few people there, and all but a few were older than me. It was a convivial crowd, however, couples mainly and longstanding friends, all of them well-educated and mostly well to do. The people I knew – other than the birthday boy – were people who had known mum and admired her. That was my connection, and also my entree.

I had an okay night. I had a few drinks, danced a little, I even got hit on by an attractive 60-year-old (she’d have been a knock-out at 20). I’d gone there up in the air about my own circumstances, but as I waded in and conversed with different people something of my normal self surfaced.

I found myself speaking intelligently and making valuable contributions to the conversation. That shouldn’t have surprised me, but such was my state of mind I was more inclined to be reserved. It was people who drew me out and interesting conversations. Then, about the time the woman made her interest known (culminating in a caress of my arse while I chatted to her husband next to me) my native competitiveness emerged.

I’d been in a quandary, feeling down, but confused also. By habit as much as nature I’m competitive, and like a bubble rising in me it emerged to the surface. There’s something powerful when it takes over, especially when you know you have the capability to achieve what your competitive self urges. I’ve spent much of my life dancing to that tune and once more on that Saturday night I was drawn to it. For a few minutes I told myself to set aside all my doubts and just do it – just be it. Be yourself 1000%, ride that wave.

It’s a mighty powerful sensation, like drugs. And for so many years I did just that. I backed myself to the hilt and went hard. It worked very well for me for a long time – it turbocharged my professional career if nothing else. But after a few minutes I told myself no, we’re not going to do it that way this time.

You see that’s a reflex. It’s innate, but it’s largely unconsidered. Throw a ball at me and I’ll catch it. Put me in this predicament and I’ll rise to it. Except, this time I don’t want to rise to it. Rising to it all these years has meant I’ve never stopped to consider what I’ve lost along the way or what it means in real life. I’ve just done it, instinctively, without stopping to weigh up what I was doing.

That’s one of the things that has led me to the position I’m in today. It’s caught up with me because all the things I’ve overlooked have been important to my soul. I want to proceed consciously from here on in, not simply from reflex or instinct or habit. It feels a bit like cheating otherwise. Anyway, I believe pretty strongly that even if I chose to do it as I use to it would soon putter out because I don’t have the same resolve as I had before. Things need to be mended first.

I’m back to work proper tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how it goes. I had to pop in on Friday for a couple of hours and it was fine. I expect it will be again, more or less, and equally that it won’t take much to upset things once more.

The plan from here on in is to keep it simple. I think humility is a big part of it – accepting things for now, including myself, instead of trying to master them. Work with what’s there, and within me, and not pushing it too much.

Part of that is accepting all that I’ve lost and the pain that I just shoved aside. It’s mine, it’s true, and I have to face up to it and own it. I can’t do anything about it now, but it’s unwise to ignore it. At the same time, I have to work to integrate the different sides of H into one, coherent self. That will take some work, but will be easier with friends. Ultimately I need to let go of what might be and even what should be, and live with what is. It doesn’t mean I don’t strive, it means I live in the moment, from one to the next. Life evolves, and so do we, and I expect what those moments present to me and the opportunities that come my way will evolve also.

I don’t know if it makes any difference, but the girl returns tomorrow from three weeks holiday. I realise I take comfort just by knowing she is in the same building as me. I think her absence added to the general dissipation I experienced. Hopefully, her return will bring changes all round.

Inner and outer H


I had a dream last night in which three women featured – Sally Rugg, a social commentator I’ve got a bit of a crush on; the girl from work I haven’t commented on for a while; and another, invented woman. Cheeseboy was also in the dream, complete with family. Then there was me, at my charismatic, larger-than-life best at the beginning of the dream, down by the beach, flirting with the girls, before toning it down later on. The first two girls interchange throughout, then are replaced by the invented woman for the last third of the dream. I’m keen on her until Cheeseboy takes me aside and tells me they had used her to babysit the kids and found her unsatisfactory. By now I’ve come down off my high and am almost apologetic about it. The last scene sees me drive away and leave the seaside behind – except I’m in the guise of Walter White. The end.

I often think dreams draw together the things in your mind, along with the sub-conscious related things, and presents them in a stylised, allegorical fashion. You can’t take them literally, but there may be some metaphorical truth hidden away in them. This dream I won’t try to interpret, though it feels to me I know what it means.

There’s an outer H, and an inner H. The outer H varies of course according to audience and circumstance, but he has some consistent attributes. In my reflective (inner H) moments I’m sometimes bemused by this outer H. In many ways he seems independent of the inner H, and often times independent of my state of mind. Outer H isn’t false, but he is a distorted version of the true H. He comes naturally, easily, but he is a projection.

Outer H makes his appearance most commonly at work and plays to his peers, and those beneath him – a harder-edged H presents to those higher in the chain, which explains why most of those junior to me think I’m a great bloke, and many senior to me think I’m a hard-arse.

Like I said, outer H isn’t false – everything about him is true in itself – but he is incomplete. Sometimes I think in dealing with others we shift the biases to present a more affable or acceptable face. In my case, it’s mostly to hide away my vulnerabilities, and so to many, the outer H seems a cool and attractive man, funny and confident and laid-back – and, above all, in control. It comes easily because I am those things and I simply switch my energy into those areas and am smart enough to carry it off. It’s not a conscious thing. At this stage of my life, it’s pretty automatic. What’s left out of that persona is the authentic truth.

I’d like to say the inner H is represented in these pages, but that’s not entirely correct. The outer H creeps in quite often, like an official censor making sure only the ‘official’ truth makes it to air. Thankfully he gets overruled often enough that the true H gets a run.

The inner H is much more reflective and thoughtful. He is compassionate and sometimes terribly sensitive. He feels deeply, but he’s also imaginative and creative, even whimsical sometimes. He hasn’t the hard edge of the outer H. He’s not as easy or fluent in many ways, but he’s more honest. And he’s the one who gets haunted. He doubts.

I quite like the outer H, maybe because I’m comfortable with him. He’s low risk. And maybe – and this is revealing – he reflects what I want to be. He’s the guy at the start of the dream, the guy men admire and girls fall for. He’s witty and smart and commanding. But he’s superficial, too. He’s glib, he’s ‘too cool for school’ as one woman from my past once accused me of, he’s not real, and he’s not deep. He’s an Alpha.

Inner H is real and deep, but he’s not easy. Everything is felt. He’s the wellspring of my writing. He’s the curious mind who just has to understand things. He’s the one overwhelmed by tenderness on occasion. He’s passionate about truth and justice. I like him too because he is a decent and interesting man, but I’m scared of being him out in the world.

Few people get to see the inner H – though I’ve craved the opportunity to share him with someone I could trust. Most of the world knows only variations on the outer H.

This is a big part of my problem (and it’s revealing how this permeates my creative writing) – the split between inner and outer. It’s a divide in my soul I have propagated myself out of fear and ego. It’s a conflict that has taken on volcanic proportions in recent times. For most of my adult life, it was under control until I chose to become open and honest with the world earlier this year, and the hairline fractures became fissures. I exposed myself to this, but it was the right thing to do.

I’m more vulnerable now and more fragile because I’ve attempted to add something to the outer H that by nature he rejects. Humility, sensitivity, vulnerability, don’t belong in the outer H. He’s about skating across surfaces and avoiding commitment. I’m probably doing him – and me – and injustice, because he’s a decent, caring, sincere bloke, just at arm’s length.

This is why it’s hard, because I’m trying to be better and it’s dizzying and confusing. I get offended too easily, my mind gets turned around, everything feels personal. I’m in a state of existential flux – but it must go on until the end.

Somewhere in all this is the true H. He is both inner and outer H but in harmonic balance. That’s the endpoint I need to get to, but hard work from here – but at least I know.