True or false?

I’ve been reading the memoirs of Philip Caputo, the noted foreign and war correspondent, and author. It’s a great read. He’s had a fascinating life and he writes easily, and with great insight.

It’s one of those books that makes me wistful. If I had my time again I might have tried for a career like that. I’d have been good at it, I think. I’m a good observer, resourceful and intelligent, and largely unflappable. I’ve travelled all over the world and it’s been a humble please immersing myself in a variety of cultures, meeting with the locals and learning their stories. I’m a good listener, and I can also string words together okay.

I remember about 15 years ago returning from an abortive trip when I cast around searching for meaning. A job came up, recommended to me by someone – it was for a cadetship at the ABC with a view towards becoming one of their foreign correspondents. My ideal job pretty much. I didn’t go through with it because I was too long in the tooth and too late to reinvent myself at that stage. Fifteen years later it seems a feeble argument.

I can relate well to what Caputo writes because I understand that inbred wanderlust, which is a mix of restlessness and curiosity.

I’m very big on living a full and worthwhile life. Doesn’t make sense otherwise. If this is it then I want to make it count.

I guess what makes things count is different for everyone. For me it’s experience and knowledge. I want to experience things directly, which means putting myself in situations where I can feel and wonder and learn. To that end I’ve travelled, not enough, and taken risks, not all of which have paid off, and been bold with my career choices, which have put me in challenging spots.

In all of that is great learning. I devour information. I read all the time, books, fiction and non-fiction, magazines, newspapers, online. I want to know. But there’s a kind of knowledge that comes with doing. Call it active knowledge, as opposed to the passive kind received by watching TV and reading a book.

It’s in your travels and ventures that you learn so much, about external things, about yourself, and about the size and scale of the world about you. It’s a wonderful thing and I can never get enough.

I think it’s very true when they say your character is your destiny. The man you are defines where you go; and where you go comes to define the man you become.

It’s one of the things I find most difficult about my current existence. There’s limited scope for any of that. I remain the man I am though. I continue to wonder and strive, and believe it must change back one day.

It’s also one of the things that most bewilders me about my workplace. I feel surrounded by people with no conception of the life I believe in. I feel great surprise how this can be. Do they not know? Have they never been exposed? But then I tell myself that I’m judging from the outside, and anyway, everyone has different hopes. What counts for them is different to what counts for me – but still I can’t understand.

There is a thing we do in my team at work whereby each Friday one member must put together 20 questions about themselves and to send out to the rest for a true or false assessment.

It was my turn a couple of weeks ago. I knew that I didn’t want to put out the kind of lame-arse questions that some of the others did: my favourite colour is blue? True or false? Who really gives a fuck?

I knew leading up to it that this quiz had to represent me to the world. I wanted to let them know that there was more to me than the guy sitting in the corner doing his job. I had lived. I had ventured. I have lived boldly, have tried things, been brave. I have a past, a history, and a story more c0mplex that the job suggests. In other words I wanted to shrug off the blandness of my role to reveal the man within.

It’s was an ambitious aim, particularly when ultimately it must come down to 20 diverse and relatively anodyne proposals. The answers in themselves only reveal a fraction; it’s the questions that tell the tale.

Anyway here it is, the answers included. How many would you get right? The best was a modest 11.

  1. My mother was a jazz singer who hung out with the Bee Gees, and my father a cyclist selected for the Olympics.

This is true. My mum wasn’t a big deal, but she appeared on TV and had a demo cut – and knew the Bee Gees before they were anything. I grew up with her singing around the house.

My dad was selected as a sprint cyclist for the 1960 Olympics, but broke his arm at the velodrome before heading off. That was that.

  1. I’ve been known to memorise and recite long strings of numbers.

Also true. I once memorised Pi to 155 decimal places for a challenge. Easier than you’d think.

  1. I’m right handed generally, except that I’m a lefty playing tennis, golf and footy.

False. I can kick a footy and hit a ball left-handed, but I’m right hand dominant.

  1. I once worked in a massage parlour.

Actually true, though strictly in a hands off basis. No funny business.

  1. I don’t have all my original parts. I have a prosthetic something.

Though a bit worn, I’m pretty intact. I haven’t even broken a bone, though I’ve copped a few stitches along the way.

  1. I appeared briefly in two episodes of Neighbours when I was in my early twenties.

Not me. I haven’t even watched an episode of it.

  1. I’ve worked in KL, Hong Kong, New York and Delhi.

Yes, and Hanoi and Singapore as well.

  1. I play the Bongo drums.

No. I learned once, but that’s about it.

  1. The first book I read was The Shaggy Dog when I was 3 ½ years old.

True. I grew up with mum telling this story.

  1. I set fire to my old primary school on Mother’s Day when I was 16 years old.

Yes actually, but inadvertently, and without too much damage. Don’t tell anyone – Peter Woody and I got away with it.

  1. I almost became a chef, except I like food too much.

This is true too. I was poised to make that career choice when I realised that I liked cooking and food too much to make a job of it.

  1. I was a boy scout. I was good with knots.

Not likely, though I am good with knots.

  1. I can speak Dutch and Mandarin.

As Hannah tells me, knowing a few words doesn’t equal speaking it.

  1. I’m allergic to seafood.

Sadly true.

  1. I was a victim of stalking.

Yes, believe it or not, though, more comical than sinister. It was my boss’ wife.

  1. In 2006 I ran and finished in the Melbourne marathon, which is one of my proudest achievements.

Get out of here. I ran a 10K about 8 years ago just to prove I could, but in general terms I don’t run unless someone’s chasing me, and then probably not anyway.

  1. I can trace my lineage back to the Vikings when they came to Ireland.

Nope. I have Irish heritage, that’s about all I know.

  1. I was captain of the school debating team.

We didn’t even have a debating team, though I’ve always been very argumentative.

  1. I’ve conned my way into the Birdcage at Flemington, business class seating, and sundry AFL events.

True. One of the joys of life is sneaking into places you’re meant to be.

  1. I have a third nipple.

No. Just the standard two. To those you answered true – what were you thinking?

Afterwards my quiz caused much comment and conjecture, and a few laughs too. One guy was fascinated by my working abroad. I was glad of that. I wanted him – still under 30 – to believe that such things are easily possible. Get out of this place, do more, be more.

As for the answers, I’m amazed how many people believe I once might have been in the cast of Neighbours. This is a recurring theme, which is why I included it. I’m a recurring pick, though have no idea why, nor what it says about me.

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