Wait your turn

I had a dream last night where I was on my way to work and stopped into a café advertising fresh made crumpets (I grab a home-made crumpet every Friday currently). I’m about to be served when a young couple who have come in after me start asking questions of the dude behind the counter. They go on a bit ditzy like while I grow impatient. I’m well brought up and don’t say anything, but try to give them the hint that they can wait until it’s their turn.

Then, out of the blue, the woman looks at me and says something along the lines “obviously you’ve got a problem with us. Why can’t you wait?”

I don’t say anything for a moment or two but just look at them wondering if I want to engage in a debate with them. I don’t. I let rip with a well-timed “get fucked”. They seemed spooked by my response and even I’m a tad surprised at how brutal it sounds. In a way though that was what I was after, crank it up an abrupt notch and kill any debate on the subject.

It works. I order my crumpet while they quietly slip away with their tails between their legs.

That’s the first version of the dream, but right after there comes the second.

This time all the same stuff happens the same right up to my reaction. In this version I take my time considering my response. “Okay Einstein,” I say finally, “you seem to know all about me and my problems. Not that it’s any of your business but my dog died yesterday and I’m fucking sad about it, so spare me your prognostications and presumptions, and fuck off.”

None of it is true of course, and though maybe I’m trying to guilt them a little what’s really riling me up is the entitled presumption that they can push in, that they know what’s going through my mind, and then they presume to lecture me about it.

In a way I’m over it. I’ve reached my limit. My patience with self-absorbed poseurs has reached its limit and this is the result.

I’m surprised by what this says about me. I can be a pretty blunt character, but it’s rare I get into confrontational situations like that, though I’ll certainly hold my ground. Generally I’m a genial, reasonable character – I defer to others out of good manners and am tolerant enough to give some leeway when some overstep.

I may be reading too much into it. Either scenario is possible in extreme circumstances, but the fact that I’m dreaming this makes me wonder if I’m holding unresolved anger inside?


Desperately seeking connection

Today is one of those days I’d rather be anywhere but work. Right now a lot of that is purely physical. I’m having one of those days when I feel generally dreadful. It’s days like this I think how run down I am, how burnt out in general. It marries up pretty well with that sort of narrative, until I consider all the days in between I’ve felt fine.

More likely is that I’m just crook. I can’t shake this cough, even though I’ve been taking antibiotics for two weeks straight. It’s not the big cough that it was, but it’s persistent – sometimes wet, sometimes dry, sometimes a tickle, and sometimes enough to inhibit my breathing. I’ve got the other tell-tale signs of a flare up – I’ve got a sore neck and the across my shoulders and my ears feel odd. And no energy, generally.

This is where it gets complex, though.

I worked from home Friday and got about 70% of a proposal written. All the hard stuff was done. Yesterday I discovered I had lost it, and no amount of searching could find it. There was an immediate dip in my outlook. I felt close to miserable. Sure, it was an inconvenience, but it wasn’t the end of the world – and certainly not worthy of such depression. It wasn’t the document though – I think – but rather the symbolism of it.

In those circumstances it’s a strange thing. It’s almost as if I’m split in two. There’s the me who feels listless and apathetic and unhappy, and the other – conscious – me that observes it. The conscious me asks questions and wonders at it, but can do nothing about it. He’s an observer, more or less, though he has the power to push through.

It’s this power I used through my dark times. I would feel utterly miserable and struggling to be hopeful and this other part of me would say, can’t stop now, keep going. And though I didn’t feel it I kept persisting regardless. That’s the great struggle – to hang in there. A lot depends on that, but I knew that if I didn’t hang in there then I was lost. The conscious me knew that even while the other me struggled to get out of bed. The secret is turning up. I did that, and one day it paid off.

So it is now, I’m at work despite these things. I still feel miserable, and it worries me how frail I am beneath it all. It takes fuck-all really to set me of, and that’s the problem.

I touched on this the other week, and I think it relates to that sense of being untethered. I thought about it more, and remember how watching the doco on Mojo how it went through my head. I think much of it comes down to a sense of connection, and belonging.

I have no family now, really, and belong to no-one or no thing. It’s peculiar for a man who asserts his independence so strongly that I could feel the lack so fundamentally. My answer to that is that when you have a choice you’re a rich man. You can choose to belong or be independent, but when the only option leaves you out in the cold then it can be demoralising.

I’ve adapted quite well to my circumstances, or so I think – but I wonder if this is another case of making do? I don’t have family, the connections with friends are sometimes strained by circumstances, and I work in a place I despise. Even the other stuff, the connection to culture and general society is much less than it was.

I can look back fondly at how things were through the lens of Mojo, but it only accentuates how things have changed. It was my time then; it no longer is. I’m out of step and generally disaffected with so much that is now normal. I don’t belong anywhere.

Looking at it like that it seems that’s the most urgent need in my life – to reconnect, to feel as if I belong somewhere. It’s that absence that means I have nothing to fall back on, hence the merest scratch is deeply felt.

I wonder too, if it has some impact upon my health. There may be good medical reasons for how I feel today, but maybe there’s psychological cause also.

Faux summer days

It feels like summer, not because it’s especially warm – it’d be about 16 degrees outside – but the sky is blue and the sun shining and, as I sit here, I can hear one neighbour going about his mowing while another has the whipper-snipper out. Sure signs. All I need now is the waft of some barbecue aromas (and maybe the cricket on in the background), and I’ve got pure summer cliche, just like so many others in the past. Some things never change.

In reality, this is the dead time before summer. It’s not winter and, despite all signs, not summer either. I think they call this spring. It’s a bit of everything and I don’t mind that, especially as the days grow longer, and you can see things coming into bud. You get a bit of a skip in your step this time of year because winter is over. Finally, enough is enough, though enough is just right too – I like winter, but steady, boy.

For someone who views the calendar through a sporting lens, then this is a bit of a dead time. Footy’s over, cricket hasn’t begun proper. The A-League re-commenced last night, but it’ll take me a while to get back into that. Likewise the NBL, which I’ll keep an eye on without ever getting too excited. There’s motorsport, but, nah; and the horse racing season heats up now – I’ll get into that in a couple of weeks.

It’s a convenient opportunity for me to catch up on things then without distraction. I did a solid shift working from home yesterday, but still managed to take down a few boxes to the local Salvos. There’s a bit more of that sort of stuff to do, as well as the well-timed spring cleaning I rarely get to in any season of any year. And there’s my writing.

A couple of weeks ago I exclaimed to some close confidantes that I’d be finishing my book that weekend. But then I got crook and by then had lost the plot anyway. I did some more work on it last weekend. This weekend I’m a chance to finish, but don’t hold your breath.

I’ve got plenty of time now without distraction and if it’s not this weekend then almost certainly it’ll be next weekend. That’ll be a moment, though it’s only a first draft and I already know so many things about it I want to change. That’s why it’s a first draft.

Once it’s done, I’ll stick it in the bottom drawer and take from there the MS I prepared earlier – the first book, ripe for a final re-write and polish. That’s how it goes.

In the meantime, might fire up the barbie.

Bare bums and golf balls

Listening to someone tell you about their dreams is a bit like being stuck with someone who has a stamp collection they can’t help sharing with you, or a proud parent describing their child’s school sporting carnival. Or maybe being stuck someone bent on describing every aspect of the Marvel universe to you. Eye-rolling tedium. That’s your warning: I’m about to describe a dream I had last night. Look away now.

Let me get the sequence right. It started, I think, with me visiting my friend Donna. For some reason or another, I was staying there on her spare bed. She had a visitor, a plump blonde woman who totally ignored me.

Scene switches. Now it’s just the blonde woman and me. She’s talking to me over her shoulder as she goes from room to room. I’m following, and as she goes through a door, I reach out and pull her skirt from her hips. Revealed is a pale, well-rounded arse waggling slightly as she walks. She keeps talking.

In the next scene, I’m in bed. I feel like I’m at Donna’s and she’s out for the night. Then someone returns, and it’s not Donna but a woman who strongly resembles Emma Stone.

She’s fun and alluring. Vibrant. She snuggles up beside me outside the covers and murmurs to me, a laugh in her voice. It feels like something more than platonic, but not as if we’re together either. Maybe that’s what’s coming.

We get to talk about some of my recent experiences. I tell her I’m either with women I’m drawn to but am uninterested in, or women I find interesting but am not drawn to. All I’m after is the combination, but lying there with the woman I feel warm and wonder if I’ve found her after all.

Then the final scene comes, and I’m in this happy state, but I discover a lump the size of a golf ball in my right groin. I don’t have much time to think of it, but it’s so vivid that when I wake I check my groin, there’s no lump there.

Romance and tragedy

When I was a kid, one of my favourite movies was Dr Zhivago. In retrospect, it seems a strange choice for a kid when more often boys that age go for action movies. It’s a sweeping, historical romance, gorgeous to look at and lusciously framed. It also deals with an epoch-making era – the Russian revolution – that is confronting and brutal.

It appealed to me for different reasons, I think. The leading characters, and the actors playing them, were very alluring. Both Zhivago and Lara are great characters, but the actors playing them, Omar Sharif and Julie Christie, had their own charisma. Sharif was on a golden run. Before this he had appeared in another David Lean classic, Lawrence of Arabia. He had a beautiful, sensitive face, with the deep brown and expressive eyes of a devoted pet. And around this time I was in love with Julie Christie. I can’t hear the phrase ‘cornflower blue’ without thinking of her eyes.

It’s hard to get into a movie if you don’t get the characters, and that’s particularly true when you’re an impressionable kid. You want to like and identify with the protagonists, even if only at an aspirational level. Lara was someone I could love, and Zhivago was a man worthy of her.

I studied the Russian Revolution at school in year 11. Mr Wolfers was my teacher. I don’t know if I’d watched the movie by the time I went to history class, but I remember being fascinated by the story of the Russian revolution. It was a tale full of drama and vivid characters, it had intrigue worthy of a spy movie and brutality enough to impress a kid learning about the world. It was a tragedy in many ways, combined with realpolitik, and against a backdrop of the First World War.

I was a smart kid, though it didn’t always show. I wouldn’t only accept what I was being told. I’d think about it and wonder – I had a colourful imagination as well as a sensitive nature. One day I had to write an essay about the causes of the Russian Revolution. There were many, and it’s a story rich in incident and drama, but I sheeted home the blame to the Tsar. It’s hard to dispute, but it wasn’t the simplistic answer my teacher was looking for. Without the missteps and misjudgements and general stupidity of the Tsar, the monarchy would have survived a while longer, if not forever. But then without the war, he would have survived too, even with scandals such as Rasputin. But not forever I think, for the times were changing and the seeds of discord had been sown and nurtured by an oblivious regime. Even so, had the Kerensky government been better founded it might never have turned out as it did, and the world today a far different place…

It’s a fascinating era of conjecture and what-ifs without clear precedence. My answer, in the end, said much about me – I disapproved of the Tsar, not just because of his ineptitude and ignorance (he wasn’t an evil person, just very stupid), but because of the system. I doubt I would ever have been a Bolshevik, but having studied the period, I couldn’t abide by a society so lacking fundamental democracy.

The Tsar was near to God, but at the other extreme were the serfs, ‘souls’ effectively owned in a patriarchal society that even when benevolent was fundamentally wrong. Ultimately the lives of the ordinary people were disposable and irrelevant and had been for generations.  Needless and foolish massacres had fomented resentment for decades, and the waste of life in the war against Germany was the culmination of bitter experience. I was 16 when I wrote that essay, and a good part of my outlook was forming.

Dr Zhivago was a thrilling explication of those times. You could watch it as an adventure. As a kid that was probably the temptation, but I saw more than that. It was a terrible adventure. Human life became cheap, and the structures that held society together were destroyed. It was a nihilistic, anarchic period of history in which human individuality was subsumed in the gears of history. This I learnt watching this: that individuality was a precious thing. This is a romantic movie in many ways, but it’s also the tale of human tragedy.

I watched the movie again on the weekend. It’d probably been twenty years since I watched it last. I was curious to see if I would respond in the same way. So often, these days, I find myself disappointed in revisiting old books or movies and discovering that whatever had made them special to me once was no longer special. The difference is me. I’ve moved on. Whether that’s for the better or not, I don’t know, but I feel the loss. Thankfully I found Dr Zhivago just as enjoyable as ever.

What I remembered watching this was what a great film-maker David Lean was. It’s so clean to look at that you could imagine it happening just like that. The vividness of his storytelling reminds you that’s more than just entertainment – this is how things were. If these characters are fictional, then it’s also true that the events depicted were true to type, and characters like these lived and died and were swept under the wheels of time. As an adult, certainly, it hits you. It draws you in, and you find yourself thankful that you didn’t have to live through such a time.

I remember in my early twenties I read the book by Boris Pasternak. It’s an excellent book. I would read the book and relate it back to the movie, which was quite faithful to it. In particular, the young man I was, I was drawn to the relative tranquillity of Yuryatin, where for a while Zhivago the poet lived in a kind of idyll separate from the conflict consuming Russia. It’s beautiful writing. As a young man, maybe half a dozen years after leaving Mr Wolfers class, and full of hope and ideas I was drawn to the poetry of it myself. Amid despair here was the sensitive life lived with hope. Simple, good things, and hope. That’s all you needed in a pristine world. You could believe in that as a romantic, as someone bent on pure ideals. It was but an interlude, though, and the brute world has the last say. There is no pristine world.

Romance and tragedy in a nutshell. That’s this story.

In between

I had a meeting this morning with my direct manager. These are pretty casual affairs. We meet offsite at a café downstairs, and the conversation tends to be pretty candid, which is how I like it.

There’s a bit happening at the moment and a fair bit of uncertainty with it. People have left, and their replacements have only recently started. There’s been a state of flux these last 4-6 weeks, and a few have been jockeying for position having spotted an opportunity in the uncertainty.

I’ve not really involved with this – it’s not my style – but I’ve been wary and increasingly concerned that others are trying to encroach on my territory. I’m not easy to push around and I’ve held my ground, but the outcome of all this will influence my plans going forward.

I’m waiting for the dust to settle, also waiting to be engaged with – as promised, but as yet not eventuated. In the meantime, I applied for an opportunistic job over the weekend. On top of that, one of the guys recently departed has been in contact and wants to catch up regarding potential roles at his new employer.

You know me, I’m always figuring things out – things outside me, and things inside too.

By my reckoning my situation has two distinct elements. Almost by accident, I’ve invested a lot of time and brainpower over the last 12 months in the AI space. I’ve enjoyed it and, with respect to my career, have identified it as an opportunity that I wish to take adntage of.

In the beginning there were three of us involved, and I was at the pointy end of it. The other two have gone and I’m left as by far and away the most knowledgeable and experienced person in this area – I practically designed the platform here.

This is what’s under threat, though. Others seemingly have identified the same opportunity, though till now they’ve been uninvolved, and are trying to muscle in.

When I took this job on I sought assurances that I could keep doing it. I had a form of ownership, but the people who gave me the thumbs up have gone now. It weakens my position, but I’m not about to meekly rollover.

The secondary element is something I actually managed to articulate quite well to my manager today.

I’ve got an awful lot of experience in senior roles and in delivering serious projects of all kinds. I consider myself knowledgeable and smart and curious besides. I like to know and understand things and keep myself informed. All of this means that I sit here watching on while others talk about or do things that I’ve done before. I’m surprised how poorly informed many people are, and often, how poorly or incompletely things are executed. Mostly I let it go, but at times I’ll chip in with my 2c worth.

The problem is there’s hardly anyone here who knows my background. The people you’d think might be interested have never bothered to inquire. That means when I speak up, it comes across as opinion only when actually it’s based on knowledge and experience. It’s frustrating, but mostly I let it ride.

What’s tougher is when things happen that are in my area or directly impact upon me that are poorly conceived or executed. I hate sloppiness of any sort, and it makes me sick to the stomach to see it. I can hack it if I look away, but when I have to confront it I just can’t rest until it’s made right.

The kicker is that I don’t want to take responsibility for these things. As I explained to my manager, I’ve taken a step back from that sort of responsibility. I don’t want to live it. I want to walk away from the job at the end of the day and be myself. I’m full-on when I’m doing it, but when I’m out of there I know it’s only a job, chill. But then, nor can I watch the car heading for a crash without looking to prevent it.

This sums up my predicament. I’m in conflict with myself, determined to step away but unable to stay uninvolved. I dunno is if it’s a sustainable position long term. Effectively it’s a battle between an ascetic desire to keep it personal and private on the one hand, and my ego and perfectionism on the other.

What this means if I choose to step away from this place is anyone’s guess. I figure I’m going to have to make a decision. But that’s why I’m also targeting AI as a transportable skill that means that one day – perhaps – I can be a visiting consultant.

Thoughts from the outside

I wrote this during the week to a Labor shadow minister. It’s been on my mind for a while, and I just had to say it. I got a polite response to it, but expect that’s where it will stop.

Anyway, here it is, just for the record:

Hello xxx,

As it was for many, as I’m sure it was for you, the election defeat in May came as a devastating blow to me. An optimist by nature, I became bitter and angry afterwards. For a while I gave up hope and vowed to care no more. I cursed the voters I felt had sold us down the river for the illusory promise of trinkets. I was an angry man.

I am an optimist though, and it’s not easy to stop caring, let alone look away. The point is, I understand the angst and soul-searching after the election result, and discussion about where Labor is at and where it should position itself is natural. I’ve heard your comments on this subject, which is why I’m addressing this to you. I can’t give up hope, and as a proud Australian I feel compelled to share my perspective with you.

I’m a discerning, independent voter. My allegiances don’t hold with any particular party, though my inclinations – liberal and progressive – tend me towards the left. Back in the day, I was a devotee of Paul Keating, which probably brands me as a type. I believed in many of the things he espoused quite naturally – an open-minded, more adventurous society, progressive and confident. At the same time, he delivered economic reform that set us up for the future. He had what few do these days – a view of the big picture and a vision of how things could be better.

The reality is that I don’t remember the last time I didn’t vote for Labor, though sometimes for want of a better option.

It may surprise you to hear that when I cast my vote back in May, I did so feeling more hopeful than I had for many years. Indeed, while the prospect of ridding ourselves of the diabolical Liberal governments we’ve suffered was very alluring, I was also very definitely voting for something, and for the first time in ages.

I consider myself a well informed person. I’m a committed Australian, and I believe there is something better in us if only we can tap it. By nature, I’ll read deeply and seek different points of view. I’ll come to my opinions independently. And independently, I came to the realisation that the policies Labor took into the election were sensible at the very least, and potentially nation-changing. Dare I say it, Keating-esque in ways.

In the wash-up of the election, it appears that Labor is suffering an identity crisis, and the defeat is blamed in large part upon those very same policies. In retrospect, they’re considered too bold. I disagree.

Not every voter is going to be as discerning as I am, and that’s a fact of life. Unfortunately, much of the electorate is swayed by base considerations and broad stroke commentary and advertising, but that’s what you have to deal with.

Looking from my perspective as a voter, the election was lost for several reasons:

  • Policies were so poorly communicated that most didn’t understand (e.g. the implications of franking credits), let alone did they take root in the public mind. These were worthy policies, but they needed to be sold better. The electorate needs to understand what it means for them. These were good stories, but outside Kristina Keneally, no-one seemed able to tell the story.
  • The flood of negative advertising in the last fortnight, particularly from the Palmer camp. This might have been nullified if the fear-mongering had been met with more precise communication.
  • I’m not a fan of negative advertising, but for the life of me I cannot understand why when the Libs continually brand themselves the better economic managers that it isn’t countered with facts – like how the Liberal government has actually doubled the deficit (contrary to the vibe they give), or how they’re bigger taxers than Labor (again, contrary to the vibe).
  • And, sad but true, the Australian public never warmed to Bill Shorten.

They say we get the politicians we deserve, and perhaps that’s true. I’ve been around for a while and never has our polity become so dispiriting. I’m typical of most Australians, disenchanted with the politicking and self-serving nature of the government and opposition, and sceptical it might ever improve. Politics in Australia and much of the world have trust and credibility issues.

I can’t do much about the government but hope they get voted out. Very clearly they govern on principles of self-interest and political advantage rather than – as once it was – for the good of the country. They’re a terrible government full of terrible people, prepared to sacrifice the future for their political advantage now. I’m old school perhaps, but they appear without either ethics or honour and beyond redemption.

I’m writing to you now because the Labor party has the opportunity to differentiate themselves from what we have now, if only to define yourselves as the party that represents the best interests of the nation.

It confounds me why Labor should seek to become more centrist when the centre has moved so far to the right. It smacks of populist pragmatism when most of us would be thrilled to have an alternative based on core-values and integrity. There’s more talent in your party than there is the Libs, what’s lacking is belief. That can only come from the inside, not from opinion polls and focus groups.

What I’m saying is to stay true to your principles, and that means being consistent. If the policies you took to the election were good, then stay with them. You won’t be rewarded by ditching them now because the electorate will see that as inconstant, and as if you never really believed in them – or anything.

Stand for something. Be something. Stay true, and the trust that has been eroded from Australian politics might start returning to the party that believes in something. These are momentous times that call for brave and committed leadership. Stand for that.

By now you’ve probably got me pegged as a pure idealist, great in theory, no good in practice. I’d counter with the assertion that no party has practised this in years. And that the Australian electorate has become so cynical in recent times that they may actually respond to something authentic. That’s the pub test really – are you fair dinkum?

(To that end one of your best assets is Albo, but only as the irascible, earthy Albo, and not Albo lite doing the numbers in his head.)

Of course, I don’t believe this email will make any difference – but it’s the spirit that urges me to write it that is the spirit you should be engaging with. Let’s all be better together.

On a final note, I’ve despised the Greens for many years, ever since the ETS. The way it stands, I may vote for them next time, especially if Labor becomes Lib-lite, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one. It needn’t come to that, especially since I reckon this government will be exposed soon for the mediocre and corrupt rabble they are.

Never before have the stakes been so high. It’s no time to play it safe. Be brave. Stand for something other than mediocrity and compromise. The people want something better. We want to believe in something, too. We’re aching for it.