Goodbye, Phillip Roth

I shouldn’t have been given his age, but I felt profoundly surprised last night hearing about the death of Phillip Roth.

Surprise, not shock. I’m very sorry he’s gone, but he was at the age when such things happen, and he probably had a few extra years over the average. It is to be expected. The surprise comes as he has appeared just as healthy and intellectually vibrant as ever in the interviews I’ve read with him recently. Of course, that means nothing.

As a keen reader I’m more than surprised. He gave up writing a few years ago, but even so his is a body of work very few writers can rival. I came relatively late to Roth, I’m not sure why. I remember reading Portnoy’s Complaint and Goodbye Columbus when I was still a relatively young reader – just out of my teens. I enjoyed them, but I probably didn’t pick up another book of his for over 20 years.

It was that second coming when I really began to immerse myself in his writings. I re-read those books, then started on the others. I liked some more than others, but across the board I enjoyed the writing, the intellect, and often times the scope of vision. He captured things that were real. As a bonus a lot of it was pretty edgy too, with a wicked sense of humour at work. A lot of that stuff became controversial, but I enjoyed it.

His death feels greater because I think – for me – he’s the last of an era. Writing has changed since he started up, and though there is much I can appreciate in more contemporary novels my literary heartland are the novels of this time, the works of Updike, Styron, Salter and Roth – all now gone. Perhaps it is because I grew up with them, they are both my influences and much of my inspiration.

I don’t know if there is a contemporary chronicler like Roth was. Sad to see him gone, but glad of his work.


Better times are coming

It’s been a rugged few years and through that time I’ve spent a lot of effort fending off organisations wanting to get money out of me. Being broke and homeless does little for your savings, and the small debts I entered that circumstance with became much greater as time went by. Many of said organisations were reasonable when I came to explain my situation. All of them have provisions for people such as I was then, but not all of them attend to them as honestly as they should.

It was very much a juggling act looking either to appease, rebut or inform the variety of collection agencies on my tail. At the peak of this I was getting a call every day, and often multiple calls through the day. I became inured to the calls, though they never stopped being annoying. There were occasions when I would bite back aggressively. That’s my nature, to be defiantly independent, but it was lent wings on occasion by some of the behaviours I had to put up with, which ranged from the rank incompetent to the personal and nasty. It never touched me, and in fact there were many times I would laugh in their face. I enjoyed taking them on, enjoyed ripping their prepared scripts into shreds and tearing holes in their arguments. It might seem a small thing, but it was one way of asserting my individuality in the face of monolithic indifference.

Throughout this period there were what I came to think as reasonable organisations, and I was happy to work with them towards a resolution. They were the organisations who recognised my situation and gave it due gravity. With those I was able to defer my debt to a later time by claiming a hardship provision.

There was one organisation particularly unreasonable. They had bought the debt from the primary creditor and despite evidence provided refused any consideration of hardship, or indeed financial reality. They were incessant and their practices dodgy. They would call up to 3-4 times a day, though mostly I wouldn’t answer. The debt which had been stabilised for years at a moderate level suddenly went up as they added fees and charges as well as interest. They listened to none of my arguments and in the end set a server on my tail. It was only by chance I discovered this – they went to the wrong address (a measure of their incompetence, as I had provided an updated address several times previously). As soon as I cottoned onto to this the seething anger became fury.

The modus operandi of many of these places is to bully and intimidate. They are nasty and unscrupulous. I’m sure in many instances it is effective. That’s not my caper, to be bullied, just the opposite. Enough was enough and so I contacted the ombudsman and with their assistance was able to hold off on the summons.

From there I went on the offensive, claiming unscrupulous behaviour of the collection agency in direct contravention of the law. Over a period of months we went backwards and forwards, leading ultimately to the transcripts of the chats being supplied to me. Much of it was redacted. When I demanded the full transcript they went quiet. In the meantime the ombudsman had asked me for what I considered a satisfactory settlement.

Fast forward a year and out of the blue an email is received by the ombudsman. They’re following up on the case and would be in touch. I was wary of this, uncertain of how it would play out and wondering if it would be better that sleeping dogs lie – but I let it go ahead. That was about a month ago.

Yesterday I got a call from the ombudsman. They had received a settlement offer from the company in my favour. They offered to waive all my debt (which had more than doubled), to stop all legal action, remove any reference to this from my credit record, and finally to provide me with a $4,000 cash settlement.

I was surprised. To say the least. And delighted. It’s up to me to accept it, which likely I will. I don’t want to exploit the situation, though it’s likely I could squeeze more out of them. I want to act with honour, and the dollars, welcome as they are, are secondary to the principle.

I don’t know if you can understand, but this feels like a vindication. I made reference last night on Facebook about how it pays off sometimes being a stubborn prick. I’m not sure I could have done anything different to what I did – it’s just not in my nature to submit. I’m proud nonetheless because I’ve held a faceless, arrogant organisation to account when many would have bowed down before it.

There is great symbolism in this for me. Those times were mighty tough, and seemed to go on forever. It would have been easy to give up. The important thing is that I didn’t. I’ve endured a lot, but I’m coming out of it, touch wood, and it actually feels like this might be a harbinger of better times, touch wood. When I chose to stand fast on that day it was still very hard and I had little and every day was a challenge. Looking back it was pretty bleak, as had been the years preceding it. I stood firm then though and held the line throughout and then the day came when that tenacity was rewarded in better times, with the promise of more to come. It has been a journey, from hardship to hope. I have survived. I am here. My belief in my self and a better future has paid off.

Nothing is certain. Nothing’s about to fall in my lap. I’ve survived the worst though, and my time is coming.

One down…

The first of my two projects went live yesterday. It was a bit frantic leading up to it, but in the end it went off without a hitch and right on time. Feedback has been positive and overall there’s a sense of relief that it’s done and we can move onto other things.

The other thing is another project which is fraught with technical complexity. My end of it is under control, but we’re dependent on others and that’s where the complexity and the potential difficulties lie. There’s still some uncertainty – we’re due to go live tomorrow, but that depends on something happening this afternoon (out of my hands).

From my point of view I want to get hands and eyes on before committing to switching it on – it’s a chatbot. I’ve seen it in test, played with it a bit there, but really want to get hands on the production version. There’s nothing more I can do but that. Everything is else is ready, and worst case scenario at this point is that we have a limited launch – which is fine.

Overall, considering the challenges, am feeling fine. I enjoy being in the thick of it and realise how much I’ve missed it.

As I’ve said before, it’s when I feel at my best. I’m organised, I consider every eventuality and plan for contingency, but come the moment what I’m best at is dealing with the random issues that need to be assessed and dealt with quickly and definitely. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve missed my vocation – I’m good at the thing a lot of people are poor at because the stress of the moment elevates me. I find clarity.

Anyway, that’s now. Doubtless there will be ongoing maintenance for both projects in the weeks ahead, but otherwise there’s no real projects upcoming, so – back to dull normality.

Doing my thing

It’s rare that I post anything on a Friday night. Generally, I’m either out having a beer after work, or else home looking forward to a night watching the footy or a good movie.

Tonight I’m home, but I’ve been so busy this week that I’m taking the opportunity to catch up a little. Besides, I have words in me.

I actually want to write about the girl. I’ve had little to do with her lately. I’m busy, she’s busy, the opportunity doesn’t come up, and I’m not going to force it. Up to today I don’t I had anything to do with her since last week. I hadn’t even set eyes on her in that time, and no big deal.

I both saw and communicated with her today. I had to pop upstairs to meet with someone and there she was. I was up there about 20 minutes and when I left I didn’t stop by her desk as I might normally. I was running between getting things done, but also very conscious of not doing things just for the sake of it. Possibly she expected me to stop by, I don’t know, but it wasn’t long before I figured I was the bad books.

How do I know that? I guess there’s a combination of things. You sense it in the body language. Then she’s non-responsive, and when she must respond it’s very curtly – none of the smiley faces, nothing personal, not my name when she addresses me, everything blunt and shorn of ornament.

Why then? I figure it’s for one of two reasons.

Either it’s because of my enigmatic Facebook post of about a week ago in which she possibly identifies herself (I had another person think it was them I referred to). We’re not Facebook friends so I don’t know how she would have seen it but through a mutual friend, but whatever. So maybe she’s upset at that.

More likely she’s unhappy I haven’t made a greater effort this week. You fall into patterns, and often when it’s men and women the men do the wooing and the women are coy. That’s been our pattern too, though my wooing has been more of a friendly nature. This week though it’s been missing – because I’ve been busy, like I said, and because I’m doing what I feel.

It’s important for me to be natural these days. I express it as I feel it. If I’m feeling fond of her I’ll show it. If I’m distracted by other things then I won’t pretend something that’s not in me. I want to be sincere – true. I feel no less for her in any empirical sense, I just haven’t felt the need to prove it.

On top of that, I’m in pretty good order these days. I feel on top of my game and when that happens I flow. I’m real easy with everyone, and everyone likes me because I’m fun to be with. She’s seen that, she even experienced it obliquely, and maybe when she sees that she wonders if she’s really that special to me. I’m not pining. I’m happy and bubbling, whether she’s a part of it or not.

There’s a part of me that feels like teasing her, and effectively I am in some ways. When it’s like this I don’t how it plays out, but I don’t really change my ways. I send her the same bright email as always (or sometimes merely the briskly efficient, but all in character) knowing that she’s just as likely to want to punish me for my inattention. I smile when I receive the curt response. By now I know it, and I feel like teasing it out, sending her another bright response just because. I don’t – that would be forcing it. I let it go.

It’s important I maintain contact with her. She may bat away my hand today but next week may take it. I’ll keep doing it for as long as it feels real. I’m not offended by her anymore, but at the same time there’s only so much I can or will do. Or should. This is me if she can recognise it – I’m tender and affectionate and I’m true. Above all, I aim to be completely authentic. In the end, she must make that decision – I’ve made mine. Her decision may be ultimately no, or just as likely I’ll fade away before she makes a call. That’s life. I’m here, I’m cool, I can only be true to myself.

I still don’t know what will happen but remain convinced she is intimately aware of me. I hope so. She looked particularly delectable today.

Till such a time I’m just doing my thing.

Too busy to post

I haven’t posted much lately because I’ve been full-on with work. As it happens I’m neck deep in a couple of projects which are due to go-live next week. I’m pretty much the lead on most so I’m busy ticking things off or sorting out problems or organising for things to be done and asking questions and generally racing one particular set of circumstances and another very different set of circumstances.
It’s challenging, not the least because you’re multi-tasking all the time and need to keep separate and organised in your mind the specifics of the different projects, including where you’re at and what needs to come next.
I find it invigorating. That’s what I work for. One of the reasons, anyway. I love being tested. I challenge myself to keep on top and not just manage it, but deliver a superior outcome.
So, I’ll write more when I have time, but expect it to be full on for another week.

The play-offs

Like millions all over the planet I’ve been following the NBA finals series with rapt attention. By and large it’s been a pretty good series to watch with some great contents and fantastic moments – come on down LBJ.

There are a lot of NBA fans in Oz, but greater interest than ever this year with the emergence and star power of Simmons. He’s going to be big name for a lot of years, one of the greats potentially, especially if he can get his jump shot going – and I’m sure he will. He’s earned a lot of comparisons with Magic Johnson. Totally different personalities, but otherwise a lot of similarities – both of a size they could play as a permanent forward, both with great athleticism, both great passers of the ball with a touch of wizardry, both smart with the ball in hand, and both superior defenders. Long way to go, but a great start for Simmons.

Unfortunately for his Aussie fans he’s out of it now, as are the Phillies. That came as a bit of a surprise. Simmons more or less bombed against the Celtics, who ended up winning the series 4-1.

They’re my two favourite teams – the Celtics and the Sixers, but I probably lean towards the Celtics. With Hayward out and Irving more recently I didn’t expect them to beat the Sixers so convincingly. What they have is a great coach though in Brad Stevens. He put a team on the floor and a game plan that blunted the Sixers strengths, on top of which players like Terry Rozier really stepped up. Throw in Tatum (another star in the making), and Horford making some big plays and they did it easy.

With Hayward and Irving back next year they’ll be really formidable and just about favourites going in. This year they have to get by the Cavs first.

The Cavs are pretty much a one man team – but what a man! LeBron James has been the best player in the league for many years, but some of his performances in the play-off have been out of this world. He has single-handedly carried a pretty ordinary team into the semis, and pulled off some unbelievable clutch baskets to win games that looked lost.

The Cavs are taking on the Celtics and trail 0-1. A lot are touting the Cavs, but even with LBJ I reckon the Celtics will progress. These play-offs, minus key players, has really steeled them. They’ve got better as they’ve gone along and have a roster in which someone like Brown or Morris or Smart, or even Baynes, will step-up to get the job done. They’re playing with belief, and a lot of that is down to Brad Stevens, their coach.

One of the questions arising out of the series has been suggestions that perhaps LeBron is now ahead of Jordan as the GOAT. I love LBJ, both as a player and as an individual. He is immense. I grew up watching Jordan though, when the league was a bit tougher I think, and he was next level then and has been ever since. No-one has ever been more athletic than Jordan, no-one more competitive – though James rivals him. He’s one of the greatest offensive players ever, if not the greatest, and he was fantastic on the defensive end to. Great as LBJ is, I’m pretty comfortable believing Jordan is still GOAT.

I tipped Houston to win the whole thing before the play-offs begun, but I reckon the Warriors might get them first. I watched Steph Curry practice his 3 point shooting the other day and I reckon 15-20 shots in a row went swoosh. He’s not great defensively, but he’s as big an offensive threat in the league. He’s now back from an injury lay-off just in time to take on the Rockets. Add in Kevin Durant and they’re scary.

Against them is James Harden, scary in himself, but I wonder if the team has the hard-edged play-off experience to get past the Warriors. Harden fired big time in game one, at home, and they still lost.

I’m tipping a Warriors-Celtics final, and can’t see the Warriors losing that. Next year though…

The next stage

As I do every Saturday morning, I walked up to Hampton Street to do my weekly shopping. I visit the supermarket, the greengrocer, the baker, sometimes I pop into the newsagents and browse the magazines I never buy, or I catch up with Cheeseboy for a coffee. Regardless of what I do, it’s all pretty standard.

This morning was no different, except a random thought came to me. I live in a very civilised part of the world, perhaps even privileged in some ways. There’s always been a strong sense of a Hampton village, and the local community is friendly and warm, the sort of place strangers nod to you or wish you a good morning passing by in the street. I felt that close about me again as I crossed the railway line heading towards a cafe by it, and I recalled how in my bleak days I would sometimes make the trip to Hampton just to walk through these streets and feel a part of this community.

I yearned then for one of the many things I didn’t have – a sense of belonging. I’d lived in Hampton before and had strong roots in the suburb, but then by circumstance, it had been denied to me. It came to represent something warm and embracing to me, something I had to get back to, to prove a point, and to be part of the community and belong.

I made it back, and I’m grateful for that, but this morning I remembered those fleeting visits when I felt like an intruder, though I knew it so well. Thank God I had made it, I thought, but the memory brought back to the sense of those dark and despairing times.

It seems an apt recollection at this time as I feel poised on the cusp of something more. I have made changes this year, well documented, and the changes have been beneficial to me. I feel lighter, freer, more open. I am happier than I’ve been for years. It’s far from an end, but what I expected to be a steady change now appears to be a change executed in stages – and I have come to the next stage.

Something happened at work yesterday which crystallises in my mind what this change is. It was quite innocuous really. I’ve been working hard and pushing on a project for a while now and seeking a go-live date to work towards. I emailed the ops manager yesterday advising him of our status and recommending a go-live date Monday week if feasible. He gave his agreement. I then advised my manager of this, at which she went red-faced, exclaimed loudly and stormed off. Later she returned to apologise.

I believe she was upset that her manager had consented to something she believed was her decision was to make.

I thought about this as I headed home. I didn’t feel right. I’d been the unwitting instrument of her displeasure, but I didn’t feel entirely innocent. I should have been more aware of her feelings, and I wondered if in fact I was and did this anyway to sting her – my complaints about her are well known. I couldn’t answer that question – if there was intent then it was sub-conscious, but still, I should have been more aware. As I am always saying, two wrongs don’t make a right – and no matter my discontent with her I shouldn’t let that play a part in my actions.

On Thursday I had posted something on Facebook which summed up the philosophy I have adopted since the start of this year:

No point in trying to be something you’re not. No value in trying to impress others. No reason to act anything other than truly. It may be enough, it may not be, but it’s real. Reason enough.

After what happened yesterday I posted this last night:

Tonight’s learning is that though I mean no ill there are times I should stop to consider how others might feel about things which seem to be clear to me. That’s a fault of mine. I go confidently forward forgetting others are not so sure or strong, or see it differently to how I do. It’s a lesson in humility and perspective. Even if I am right

I post these to Facebook because it’s easy to keep these things personal and close, but by publishing them I expose myself – it’s a part of the process.

This has been a reminder that there’s still a fair way to go and I have to keep at it, but I feel at the same time that I’ve reached another level. I have opened myself up. Next is to become truly humble. I’ll need help with that.

PS – I’ve just posted this to Facebook, related to that event a few weeks back, and very apropos:

A little while ago I went out of my way to help with something. I was glad to do it and it was the right thing to do, and the outcome very satisfying. Then afterwards in the glow of a successful event, I was ignored, receiving neither thanks or acknowledgement or even a good night. I was surprised at how much it affected me, thick-skinned as I am. I felt hurt.
Over time it faded and I realise for all of us the reason we do or don’t do things are subject to a complex range of reasons. I have no control over what others choose to do, and I shouldn’t expect – and certainly not seek – something that must be given freely. Ultimately I do what I do for my own reasons, and they should be sufficient in themselves. This is what I have control over, myself, and what I do is what I believe in, without regard to fear or favour.