Unearned fatigue

About 20 odd years ago there was the image of the (Swiss?) marathon runner at the very end of her tether slowly staggering towards the finish line at the Olympics. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but she made it. I feel a bit like that right now, but my finish line is Christmas.

I’m struggling at the moment. Struggling physically. It’s not any one of my minor ailments, just a general and deep seated fatigue. I could easily have taken a day off last week so bad was it. By Friday afternoon it was so extreme that I was bumping into things.

I’ve been bone tired before. Sometimes it’s the after effects of heavy labour, mostly in hot weather, but mostly I’ve felt like that when travelling. I walk everywhere when I travel. I reckon it’s the best way of discovering a place. I’m a good walker too and can go days of it without any ill-effect. It does add up though. If you’ve been away for a while and have made a pattern of walking far and long it gradually erodes your energy. That’s manageable, until you head off and for two, three, four days go out and do it again. I can walk up to 25 kilometres in day. Do that a few days in a row after a month or so of similar and one day you wake up heavy and slow and not wanting to do a thing.

The difference with that is that it’s an ‘earned’ fatigue. You’ve put in the hard work and this is the consequence. Whenever I’ve felt this on my travels I’ve taken that as a sign that I’m due for a soft day. I’ll head out for a treatment maybe, or do the quieter things I’d already planned. I’ll indulge myself laying by the pool or by the bar reading a book or chatting with the locals. Sure you’re tired, but fair enough. Next day you’re good again.

This is not like that. This is not earned. I reckon all the petty frustrations and philosophical conflicts, as well as the open disagreements, and not to mention the daily struggles to get ahead, have got to me. They’ve jammed me up and dragged me backwards. Look, I’m fine emotionally, a little frustrated, a little pissed off, a little over it, but I roll along and no-one would know and I would hardly feel it normally. That’s the thing though. These things have become a normal state of affairs, and the ultimate effect of that is now physical.

I had an extra quiet weekend hoping to recoup some energy. I can’t sleep in like I used to though. I’ve always been a champion sleeper, but in the last month have really struggled, which could be related to the change in weather. I seem incapable of getting some meaningful rest. Come this morning and back to work I feel the same cobwebs, though not nearly as bad as Friday.

Thank God for Christmas is all I can say. If it wasn’t looming I’d be really struggling – but then, perhaps it’s the sight of it that has given me the staggers. Who knows? The idea is that I make it to Christmas, take a few days off to hopefully refresh, and hopefully re-appraise. Something has to give.


The dreams that tell the tale

Had a series of dreams last night where I encountered women who looked at me with affection and sadness. I know none of these in real life, but in the dream it’s clear that at some time in the past I’d had a ‘thing’ with each of them, and for each of them when it ended they were left frustrated and unhappy. For me encountering them, I felt a mix of yearning and affection, sorrow and regret. I had loved these women, and in ways I did still, but it was only now I realised what I had lost.

I woke up with the dreams fresh in me. I lay there in the hour before 6am thinking about the dreams and then responding in my mind to one of the women in particular. She was the woman I had loved most, the woman who had loved me best too. She was there in front of me as I responded, having by now slipped back into a kind of waking dream.

“I loved you I told her, but there were so many things I wanted to do. So many places I wanted to go, things I wanted to try. I didn’t understand, except that I thought because I couldn’t promise 100% to you that I couldn’t commit. I was ever like that, with everyone, not knowing that things might end or time might pass. I was wrong, and now I know it. I’m sorry for what happened. I should have known better, and should never have let you go. I loved you, and will always love you”

As I’m telling her this she is looking at me with tears in her eyes. I am full of regret, and while I hope she will forgive me there is a part of me hoping she will give me another chance. Too late I have realised that she was the woman I truly loved, and the thought that I will be separated from her for the rest of my life is piteous.

There’s a lot of sense in dreams sometimes. They tell the story I’m afraid to admit to.

Time for a detox

I figure I need a holiday pretty badly. I’m feeling it physically, but more than anything I think I need a mental detox.

I had to leave early yesterday to get a CT scan at Sandringham hospital. Visiting the doc last week about another matter I made mention of an annoying lingering cold I’d had for six months. It hardly bothered me except come bedtime when sometimes my sinus would feel blocked and I might labour to breathe smoothly. He examined me and said actually I had something else. I might need to see an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, and surgery might be required worst case scenario, but in the meantime let’s get a CT scan to see how bad it is.

I was taken aback. Good grief, I thought. All that for a little cold – except, of course, it’s not just a little cold.

The ‘other matter’ I was there for is a small patch of red on my calf recently appeared. It might be a melanoma, but suspect it isn’t – but we need to find out. He gave me a referral to a dermatologist, whose fees start at around $300 he told me. Think again, Doc, I thought. I can’t afford $300, or even half of that. I’m seeking a second opinion, but will need to pay something.

He also gave me a bunch of prescriptions I can’t afford to fill. Situation normal.

Before leaving he checked my blood pressure, and found it was high. My blood pressure has been historically stable and right in the sweet spot. It surprises me when it’s not. He asked a bunch of questions. How’s your diet? How much do you drink? Are you getting exercise? Are you stressed?

I’m on two meat free days a week, and my diet radically transformed from twenty years ago, and clearly better from even 4-5 years ago. I drink socially, but rarely to excess. I’m not about to run a marathon, but I keep reasonably active, and average about 9,000 paces a day – well above the average. That leaves stress.

I had to think about this. I’m not a stress carrier. I’ve endured some tough times and sometimes it can get to me, but mostly I manage to shrug it off. I’m very lucky to be of pretty phlegmatic disposition.

Fact is though I have a pretty stressful life. I remember a few years ago sitting down with a doctor and him asking me the same question and I shrugged my shoulders. He then gave me a stress test and found that when factoring in the life events I had to deal with then I was pretty much off the scale.

Some of those things have moderated since, but there’s still a bunch of tough stuff. Money is always tight, but exacerbated when I need to spend money I don’t have on medication, doctors etc. It worries me that I have to forgo these things because I can’t afford them, but what do you do? On top of that Christmas is coming, and ideally I’d like to buy presents for the kids. I’ll manage that, but it means making a sacrifice elsewhere.

Then there’s work, which is professionally frustrating, on top of everything else. I seem to be always fighting. There was the bitter struggle to get my salary properly reviewed, a struggle I lost. I get frustrated with the outmoded and professional practices. Then there’s the sense that I’m being excluded from some things, and not being told others. I had another example yesterday of how my plans have been subverted and re-branded by others.

Then I’m looking at Christmas alone, which is my choice, but a result of basically being without family – and without the love, affection and support you take for granted.

There’s probably another dozen things on top of that. So, am I stressed? Yeah, probably I am.

I’m trying to do things to make it easier, but without success so far. Ultimately I think I need a break.

I suspect many of my physical ailments are the result of mental exhaustion and stress. I haven’t had a decent break – as in time off – since I was unemployed; and I haven’t been on a holiday for years. I haven’t even been away anywhere. Thinking on it I’ve been driving myself hard even on my weekends. For the last two years I’ve been so intent on getting my book written that whenever I have the time I spend it on that.

Not sure how feasible it is – probably very little – but reckon I need time away to truly relax and unwind. A detox, like I said. Have some fun, sleep in, laugh a little, be frivolous, and so on.

I’m considering what I can do. I have leave up my sleeve, and a shitload of frequent flyer points – but then I was saving my leave to cash in because I need the dollars, and anyway though I can fly around the world I don’t have the cash to stop anywhere. To be honest, a shack by the beach would probably do me.

It may not be scientific, but if I got my mind right I reckon many of my present ailments would go away. If I think it, then probably there’s something in it.

Ultimately the solution is a change in circumstances – a different job perhaps, certainly a better salary, some financial security, and perhaps someone to share it with it, as well as to lean on. Working on it.

A good day to be Australian

When I think about it, it’s been a crappy few years in Australia, and in fact for much of the world. There’s been little to celebrate, and much otherwise to fear, decry or sadden.

Yesterday was one of the better days in recent Australian history. Yesterday the heart soared, and it felt good to be an Aussie again.

There were two big moments yesterday, both of which might have soured, but this time came out just the right way.

Last night the Socceroos played Honduras in Sydney for the right to compete in the World Cup in Russia next year. It was a big event, a big crowd, and a lot riding on it.

Even before last night’s game the Socceroos had created history. No team had ever played so many matches to qualify for the World Cup. No team had ever travelled so far – the equivalent of six times around the world, they say. It had been long and arduous, and more recently, controversial and testy. Last night was it, one way or another.

Coming into the match playing on our home ground gave us the advantage, but at half-time the score was nil all and we were getting nervous. In the second half the game broke open, and Mile Jedinak, the skip, scored three times – twice from the penalty spot, and another from a deflected free kick.

That was it. There was a great outpouring of relief and happiness on the ground, in the stands, and in lounge rooms all over Australia. Sitting in my lounge room I exchanged SMS with friends who had been watching in their home, and engaged in social media. On Twitter I wrote I want to be Mile Jedinak when I grow up – such a great leader and commanding presence, we had lost our way without him, and came good with him back.

I feel sorry for the Hondurans. They fought passionately, but they were always a class below.

Earlier in the day something else had happened which should have a more enduring impact upon the nation.

The much criticised plebiscite on Same Sex Marriage turned out to be a resounding success, with more than 80% of Australians having their say. It was always thought that the Yes vote would win, but as always in moments like this, as indeed in World Cup qualifiers, you’re never sure of the result until the whistle blows. Yesterday the whistle blew on the plebiscite and the results announced: a little over 61% of Australians said “Yes’ to same sex marriage.

This was a great and emotional moment. At work a crowd had congregated in the staff dining area to watch the results announced on TV. I think every one of them hoped for the Yes result – I’ve yet to meet anyone who professes anything else. With it announced the news spread, there were high fives in the office and cheering. Around the country there were much greater celebrations.

This was a result I was very committed to, but it doesn’t affect me. For hundreds of thousands of other Australians the result of this plebiscite had a direct on their life and destiny. All going well this should pass into law sometime before Christmas, and those Australians can go off and married their loved one, just like the rest of us. It is a great moment of inclusiveness, and an acknowledgement that we are all equal, and with the rights now to enshrine it.

I felt so proud and happy. I believed that Australia would vote that way. It’s a victory for compassion, decency, and that great Australian dictum, a fair go for all. I am at times critical of our society, but I’ve always thought that Australians are natural democrats – it’s why we are renowned for being egalitarian. We’ll judge you on your merits, not on your title, wealth, or if you happen to be heterosexual or gay.

A final observation on this – anyone who witnessed Penny Wong break down at the announcement and wasn’t moved is a mug. She is a woman I admire greatly, very smart, a little fierce, a decent human being. She also happens to be gay. She rode this politically, but it was also very personal. Her tears gave expression to the relief and pure justice of this moment.

Office shenanigans

After a couple of very industrious weeks I get into work and it feels very much like a Monday. I feel washed out and unmotivated. I’m sure I’ll fire up, but it might take a few cups of coffee before I properly rouse.

It’s been a very cool start to the month, but it’s warmed up the last few days to become very pleasant. I was in shorts yesterday and last night ventured over to the Cheeses for a few cold beers, a barbecued meal, and a bottle of red watching the soccer. The problem is getting home my place has no meaningful insulation. If it’s 25 outside it’s 25 inside. Unfortunately it takes longer to cool down than it does to heat up, and so it was a warmish night.

Right now my manager is on annual leave, which frees me up a bit. We get on well, and banter quite a lot, but I’m glad to have the place to myself. When she’s here my perspective is almost entirely filtered through her. Things I plan to do are interpreted by her and explained to her manager. Her manager responds and shares other news and I get it through her. It’s rare I get the direct interaction, which is frustrating.

In this situation Chinese whispers plays a part. Whatever I intend is always abbreviated in the telling, and often skewed, deliberately or otherwise. I’d love the opportunity to sit down and explain what I’m doing and what I plan, and give some context to it. None of it is accidental, all of it has purpose, and in theory it fits into a strategy. None of that is shared, and by and large no-one has any idea of what I’m but for what they see.

Leaving the office the other day I bumped into the manager of the Business Intelligence team. We used to sit close by and formed an appreciation of each other. He’s a smart man, and shares some of my opinions about the best way forward. Though by comparison I’m a lowly peasant, as has been made abundantly clear, he always takes the time to share his initiatives with me, often seeking my perspective.

What do you think of so-and-so? He asked me, referring to the new big manager. Seems alright I said, though I haven’t had much to do with him. Why’s that? He asked. Because I have to go through my manager, I told him. He asked about that, wrinkling his brow. That’s a pity, he said at the end of it.

I don’t know if I’m paranoid, but sometimes I feel that there is a deliberate ploy to keep me from the key power-brokers. I wonder why that is. I’m excluded from meetings everyone else believes I should be part of, and hear of important things by chance, when in my role I should have been consulted from the get go. And any opportunity to expose me further is quickly closed off.

Sometimes I think that my manager wants to keep me for herself. Sometimes, less charitably, I wonder if she hopes to take credit for things I do. I’m not a big one for getting clapped on the back, but I believe credit should go where it’s due. There certainly appear some instances of this. Whatever the reason I’m effectively kept in a box and well away from anyone I might influence or impress.

By now I have established a sort of network through the business. In general I know which people to go to, and have well and truly sussed out who’s savvy and who isn’t. By the same token I think I’ve earned the respect of those people myself. They’re not necessarily the people who make decisions, but they’re the people who’ll get things done. Once more though I feel as if my contact with these people, which is generally informal, but formalised in some instances, is frowned upon. It’s like I’ve strayed from the path they’ve set for me.

This has been moderately frustrating to me throughout, and I’ve made representations occasionally to correct it. I’m listened to, sometimes I even get agreement, but nothing ever changes.

There is wrinkle to this situation which may have ramifications down the track.

My manager and her manager, who is new, are very different characters. She’s a jolly type, very capable, sometimes quite direct, but very pragmatic to. I’ve had limited interactions with her manager, but he appears a very precise type, fastidious in appearance and with great energy and resolution. He clearly knows his stuff, and is now in a situation where he wants to make his stamp. He’s certainly more dynamic than his predecessor.

I sensed very early on that they were not sympatico. Observing from the outside there appears a basic mismatch of energies. I work close to my manager and she has made the odd comment suggesting she was unconvinced by him. He’s not nearly as blatant as that, but observing some of his reactions and the look in his eye I thought he was just as unconvinced. Then, on Friday, I heard something more substantive.

I may be a cynic, but I don’t think situations such as this are sustainable. If there isn’t complete trust something will break down. It either needs to be mended, or a decision must be made lest there be ongoing dysfunction.

This impacts upon my role. If something happens to my manager then my position could become precarious. It may also result in a more productive re-structure (logically my role should be reporting to him anyway).

In the meantime I’ve been drafted onto another project to implement a KMS. That will be interesting, and probably secures my tenure to completion (mid-Jan supposedly, but I can’t see how they can get it done by then). This project, as is another I’m a part of, is part of a corporate initiative which I had been proposed to join as a full time member, with pay rise. Nothing has happened with that, but it looks like I’ll be doing the work anyway – just not getting the reward for it.

With Christmas coming up I’m not awfully fussed just now. I’m doing a bunch of things I enjoy, and despite constraints blazing my own path. It’s gone well beyond the point where I much care about toeing the corporate line. As a result I’ve raised informally and become involved in a serious proposal to implement a major initiative to automate many of the current manual processes. As always it’s very much the tail wagging the dog in this place, but I’m learning the political game and have partnered with the Finance manager to champion this (surely my manager would disapprove, but she doesn’t know can’t hurt her).

On top of that I got cornered by some guys looking to implement a continuous improvement framework in the business seeking my counsel and experience. I’ve been happy to share, and they’ve hung off every word. Some of it might be controversially blunt, but it’s practical and correct. Theory is fine, but if you don’t create pathways nothing will ever change.

Art vrs artist

On Friday night I sat down to watch American Beauty again. It’s a really good movie, but I was curious to see how I would respond to it in light of the sexual harassment accusations levelled at its star, Kevin Spacey.

It’s always an interesting question, even if a little cliche these days: can you separate the art from the artist?

By inclination, I prefer to view – or respond – to art purely. The reason for that is that so much of our response to art is personal and individual. That’s not to belittle the inspiration for the art, it’s just recognition that once it leaves the artists hands we are free to respond to the art as our nature dictates. That’s unique to every one of us because we have different eyes and ears, each of us brings different histories and perspectives to the encounter, we appreciate it differently. Art by its nature is subjective.

By itself, that’s a purist take on something which is not nearly as simple as that. While our responses are our own, some art does not lend itself so easily to a personal interpretation, and in reality, there are occasions when knowledge of the artist must inform our reaction to his art.

Take, for a broad example, a painting by that well-known, would-be artist, Adolf Hitler. If you look at it purely as art it’s mediocre. He seems an accomplished draftsman, but there’s no inspiration or insight. But then who looks at a Hitler painting for its artistry? That piece of ‘art’ is no more than novelty. In fact it is the artist who gives meaning to the art, and the result is banal, if not disturbing.

But then you have someone like Wagner, a well-known anti-semite, but who was the composer of dozens of much loved operatic tunes. I’m not a particular fan of Wagner, but I can’t help but be roused occasionally when I hear something of his in passing, and it never occurs to me in listening that he wasn’t a particularly nice man.

These are, as I say, very broad examples to demonstrate very broad principles. What they do is illustrate the point that there is no clear-cut, unambiguous answer to this question. Our reaction to this question is as individual as our reaction to the art itself. As such, I can only speak for myself.

I love artists, and some artists more than others. I’ll binge on particular artists, which is recognition that there is something in that artist that resonates with me as a consumer of his art. There is a connect of sorts, of which the art is the interface. I cannot deny the primacy of the artist, but equally I know that when I engage with a piece of art it is an intimate thing, just me and it in the same room, the same headspace as such, the artist elsewhere, tapping his foot perhaps anticipating my reaction. I am unaware of that. I am unaware of him. It’s just me and the art, and the worlds the art opens up in me when it’s truly great.

It only ever becomes a thing when I walk out of that room. I become conscious. I may stop to analyse what I was so busy feeling. I might wonder and question. My mind will go to the artist. I’ll reflect on them, their personality, their history, I’ll wonder what they were trying to say, and will ponder their life’s work. (I can get very caught up – I’m on Wikipedia at the drop of a hat). That’s the time when I might reflect upon my reflection, but it’s after the fact. The experience, more or less, is untouched.

What it can do is raise interesting questions. There are a lot of dubious characters who have created great art. The question to me is not if I should support that art, but rather how can the mind that conceived of such greatness also be capable of such wickedness? It’s not a moral question, but a scientific one. Is it because, or in spite of? What occurred in their life to make it so? What does it mean?

I think one of the things you understand is that there are few, true absolutes. Creating great art does not make a man great. Doing something wicked does not necessarily mean the man is wicked. There is a world in between, complex and rich and often contradictory, as human nature is. We don’t run on straight lines. We’re not programmed, nor are we even rational much of the time. We are mysteries, and contained in that mystery is both greatness and frailty. (I’m not a believer in ‘evil’, as I think it much to simplistic, two-dimensional an excuse to explain away things we don’t understand and are fearful of facing. I think what we think of as evil is human frailty, much corrupted, to the point sometimes that very little human remains.)

It’s one of the things that troubles me through this epidemic of sexual-harassment accusations. I’m shocked and horrified to realise that these practices were so widespread, angry that there wasn’t someone brave enough to do anything about it, and sad that there wasn’t somewhere for these victims to go where they could have felt safe. This has been allowed, enabled even, because no-one wanted to deal with it, and because those in power were happy to believe it was normal. In the moral outrage these allegations have provoked some of the loudest voices are those organisations that for years likely knew and turned a blind eye. They blow with the prevailing morality, and are hypocrites.

At the same time, I’m troubled because, as I write this, of the litany of accusations announced day after day none as yet have been proved in a court of law. I’m not saying they’re wrong. I’m certain that the majority of accusations are true, and that ultimately the courts will mete out some long-delayed justice. Equally, I’m sure some are fabrications or exaggerations. Regardless, trial by media is rampant, and everyone accused is seen as guilty until proven innocent. I understand the anger and outrage fuelled by years of oppression, but this is not how a lawful society works. There are whole destinies threatened.

In the media hysteria attending these accusations the alleged villains are being painted in lurid, shocking terms. It’s how the media works, and more and more it’s how society reacts, in purely binary terms. It’s crude and unsophisticated, and most importantly, it’s false. A man like Weinstein, for years using his power to prey on those more vulnerable (allegedly), is easily portrayed as a monster. Kevin Spacey (who has lost his job and been written out of another movie on the strength of the accusations brought against him) is painted as a deviant of some sort (because his alleged victims are male?).

If these accusations are found to be true then I hope that the alleged perpetrators are punished in accordance with their crime. No more, no less. We take on these things as if they are absolute values, when they are not. Nor is art. A man may do terrible things and still create sublime art, and that’s the way of human nature. One does not pre-suppose, or negate, the other. Nor are they such polar opposites as we tend to view them in the bi-polar world we have become.

Ultimately it comes down to individual choice whether your appreciation of art is tainted by knowledge of the artist, and that will be more difficult with some artists and fields of art. It’s not easy, but nor should it be absolute.

For me, having watched American Beauty again Friday, I still think it’s a great movie, and indisputably a great performance. And I still like Lester Burnham.

Different strokes

As I walked to work this morning I encountered a man, I think, talking to his bike. He had propped it against a bike rack and stepped back to check its alignment. He was in his mid-forties, bearded, and seen better days. Coming close you could sense a mild case of derangement. He muttered to himself, or to the bike, I couldn’t tell, dissatisfied that it wasn’t quite aligned right. He would glance from the bike to somewhere on the other side of Elizabeth Street, like a surveyor making minute corrections. As I watched he would step forward and make some subtle adjustment to make sure the bike matched the mysterious alignment he sought, but stepping back he shook his head again muttering, still not satisfied. I wondered what it would take to make him satisfied, but by then I had walked by.

There are people like that sprinkled throughout the big city these days, so much that they are no more than a passing curiosity. A few moments before, walking through the Bourke St Mall, a coloured man sitting on the steps of the old GPO was playing an odd tune on a whistle, before breaking into a rich and boisterous laugh as he finished. Before him we wage slaves dressed in our suits and fine clothes crossed backwards and forwards barely giving him a second look. As I passed him an unmarked police car travelling down the mall gave a whoop of its siren as crossed into Elizabeth street, and our man gave a loud cheer of encouragement.

There are different lives all over. I’m sitting in a cubicle eighteen floors up with the glow of a monitor in my face and a fresh bought latte by my right hand. My day is tapping is tapping at this keyboard and going to meetings.