A matter of conviction

One of my character flaws is that I like to control things – or, at least, be in a situation where things are controlled. It’s not hard and fast, and it applies much less to social situations than professionally. And the truth of it is that some things are best enjoyed without control by letting go – but those are rare.

I’ll feel uncomfortable sometimes when situations are confused and unmanaged. It’ll frustrate me, and if no-one steps in to take control, I’ll often do so myself. Note, it doesn’t have to be me managing things – I’m very happy for someone else to take the lead, just as long as some order is restored. In my experience, most are unwilling or uninterested in taking that part – and into that vacuum, I’ll step.

It’s one reason I find myself taking the lead in things so often, or directing the conversation. It seems convenient, as oftentimes, others are happy to fall into line once a direction has been set. I admit, there are elements of a control freak in me.

It’s much less obvious in a social setting. When everyone’s talking at once trying to decide what we’re going to do or where we’re going to go, I’ll often jump in to hush their baying voices and break the deadlock. I’ll seek consensus by leading the discussion. Generally, I’m the one who’ll go and speak to an official or organise things formally. In actual fact, it pisses me off sometimes that it’s always me, and often I’ll encourage others to do that instead. But, people fall into roles, and mine is as the organiser, for want of a better word.

On Thursday night, at the restaurant, I became frustrated by JV because I thought he was being wishy-washy. It was such a trivial thing – waiting to be led to our table – but it was the lack of decisive action that riled me. It was unreasonable and unusual, and I knew it even as I urged him, repeatedly, to do something, but it didn’t stop me from doing it.

It was a small thing and soon forgotten, but afterwards, it seemed significant. This is the sort of thing that happens when I’m under stress – it’s behaviour that is symptomatic of something deeper. In this case, I was unwell and had been feeling it for a while. I was tired, and I had other issues I was dealing with, and continue to. Basically, I’d have preferred to be home, but that’s no excuse. It’s not how I want to be.

As I do, I seek patterns. In the time since I’ve paired this moment with our tour of the vineyards on Wednesday.

Wednesday was benign, but it was also indicative. I noticed throughout the day how every winemaker was mainly addressing themselves to me. I thought that was because I was the most curious: because my gaze didn’t shift from them as they spoke and I listened to them with intent. I asked questions of them, genuinely interested. I was a good audience.

But then I realised that this was happening even as we walked in the door. I was the one that they went to first as if my presence was greater than the others. I thought, intent communicates itself. If you have a purpose, people observe it, even if they don’t consciously understand it. I was the one that entered their space boldly, and so to me, they turned.

These are probably related attributes. It’s possible to be one without the other, but I’d suggest there’s generally a high correlation between the two, as they are different aspects of the same thing.

What did I make of this? I wondered how much of this was instinctive behaviour, and the answer must be ‘most of it’. That’s important to note because I’ve been feeling very vulnerable for a while, but it appears that it’s not evident to others. In my mind, I see myself as much frailer and uncertain than ever before. It embarrasses me sometimes. Occasionally I feel a kind of shame. I feel diminished, and as if I’m a lesser man.

It tells me that how I see myself and how the world sees me are two different things. It tells me that no matter how I see myself, many of my ‘old’ behaviours persist. What then, is the truth? Is there a truth? Is it one single thing? It comes back to the question that has dogged me for a while now: who am I?

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it’s always been important that I’m strong and masculine. It’s as if that’s the persona I found suited me best as I was developing and adopted it as my own. What are the attributes of that? Calm, decisive, brave, resilient, honest, steadfast, generous, determined, perhaps a little stubborn, and with some fierceness thrown in there. They’re not a bad set of qualities to aspire to, but the point is – I needed to be that man, and any variation from it was a blow to my psyche.

That’s where I’ve found myself in recent times. For many years I think I embodied many of those virtues, though my perspective is biased. The important thing is, I believed I did. In more recent times, that belief has waned. And I guess that is at the core of my recent problems – the loss of belief, and with that, a sense of identity. I’ve lost conviction.

I guess one solution is that I could become that person again, or at least, convince myself that I was. I could go on my way blithely then, as I did for years before. I have no issue at all in becoming that person – I think he’s fundamentally a sound character, but it’s not as easy as wishing it. The important thing here is not how other people see me, but how I see myself.

The healthier solution is to remove the meaning from it. Be that man, by all means, but remove the soul-deep need to be him. In a way, this is what I’ve been trying to do for the last couple of years – to remove myself from moral need.

We’re talking about the ego, which places unreasonable expectations on us. As soon as we feel the need to be something, or be seen as something, then our ego has us in its sway. It’s human nature that we are subject to its claims. Such is vanity. But are we fully ourself if a tyrant within us demands all for itself? I see it in others sometimes, am embarrassed for them, and wonder what others see in me.

I don’t know how to do this – how to separate myself from my ego. I’m sure it can’t be done completely – the ego has a role – but I’m guessing that recognising the need for change is a good start.

This is an ongoing challenge, but if I’m to find peace, something that must be overcome. I won’t always be well behaved, but if I’m to find my way I feel sure humility is a key to it.

New year, but…

I guess the news here is that Covid is back in Victoria. Not a great surprise, even after 61 days being free from it. It came from Sydney, where the outbreak has been awfully mismanaged – though unmanaged might be a better descriptor. It was almost inevitable, especially at this time of year, that the virus would make it’s way over the border and infect us once again.

There’s a lot of cranky Victorians today. Most of their anger is directed at Gladys, who has failed to mandate mask-wearing in Sydney as the outbreak continued to spread. Her communication has been unclear and wishy-washy, and often at odds with itself. Watching from this side of the border, Melburnians have been wringing their hands and exhorting them to make mask-wearing compulsory, and tighten restrictions – even lockdown. (They haven’t because of brand management, I suspect, and because Gladys is too weak to stand up to the PM – I feel sure that NSW is following his directives.)

Too late for that now, though had the NSW government acted with more certitude sooner I suspect this would all be over by now. As it is, it’s out in the community and spreading across the nation. Borders are closing again, naturally, and restrictions tightening.

So far, there are eight reported cases of community infection in Victoria. The source is a returned traveller from Sydney, and it caught hold in a Thai restaurant only a few kilometres from where I live – and about eighty metres from where I had dinner last night, in Black Rock.

All this had an impact on New Years eve plans. I wasn’t planning a big one anyway, but after the news yesterday there was no way I was going to attend a crowded bar or pub, as was the plan for later in the night. As it was, we had a good dinner, returned to someones home for a drink, and I left a little after 11 – I was in bed with the light off at 11.35. So much for the new year.

I’m hardly upset by that. I don’t feel obliged to celebrate just because of the date. Today will be an easy day.

It’s common to reflect at the start of a new year, and there’s more to reflect on now than most years. I have no resolutions but for general intentions. My biggest priority is to get myself healthy, physically and mentally.

Physically, it’s a worry. There are two issues. Firstly, sleep. I used to an Olympic standard sleeper, but it’s gone way off over the last 6-9 months. I hoped this break would help, but it hasn’t. I stay longer in bed, but I sleep no better, and oftentimes, my sleep is diabolical. It leaves me weary all the time and generally lethargic. I don’t know what to do.

More concerning is my digestion or metabolism or whatever it is. I reported a while back at how bloated I was feeling – well, nothing has improved. If anything, it’s got worse. It’s a very uncomfortable feeling, as most of you will know. It’s got so bad that every time I eat it ratchets up as if I’ve just consumed a big three course meal.

Imagine that – the feeling you have after a big Christmas dinner perhaps, unbuttoning your pants to ease the strain and finding a good seat to vegetate in undisturbed while your meal is digested. That’s okay, you’ve earned that, and it’s only a few days a year you get to feel it – except, for me, I feel it every time I eat now. It’s as if my stomach has reduced to the size of a walnut and everything fills me up.

I churn and brew. It makes sleep even more difficult, and everything else problematic. Basically, it means that I’m eating less – averaging one meal a day, with perhaps nibbles in between. It mitigates the frequency but doesn’t fix the problem. And, perversely, I’ve ballooned.

I’ve wondered if it was particular foods that did it, but there seems no pattern. I stuck to proteins, and had the problem, then went off them, and it continued. It might seem frivolous, but it takes the edge off every activity I do. I’m short of energy and the will to do anything much. Altogether, I feel worn down.

I’ll get on top of it, but I’m just not sure how. I made some poached eggs for breakfast, and my intention now is to fast until tomorrow. It’s a shot in the dark, but my doctor is away, so it’s all I’ve got right now.

In the meantime, it’s 2021. I’ll make other plans, whenever…

Just thinking aloud

Yesterday, we visited the Morningtn Peninsula wineries. It was a lovely day.

The weather was ideal for it – clear blue skies and warm enough to wear short sleeves, but not warm enough to get hot. It was by way of a day trip as none of us – JV and Donna and me – are having a holiday away this year. And the wineries are always good value.

It’s a little know fact that whenever I imagine myself shifting out of the city – which is more and more often – it’s down to this part of the world, particularly Red Hill. It’s always seemed ideal too – distant enough from the city to make a difference, but close enough for a commute; there are good food and coffee, not to mention great wine; and it’s a particularly beautiful part of the world – rolling hills thick with tall gums and gullies with picturesque ponds nestling in them, interspersed vineyards and vines climbing slopes, and orchards of cherries and strawberries and other fruits. Through all this, the road winds mysteriously.

It seemed a lot of Melbourne had the same idea as us. I think we were first up and about, but soon thick crowds were dogging our footsteps. We started at Hickinbotham, where I bought a couple of bottles of Tempranillo (served delightfully chilled, as I’ve never tasted it before). It was a rustic landscape. A couple of dogs greeted us happily as we walked up, and the tasting was in what appeared a converted barn, with a restaurant at the front of it.

From there we went to Polperro. This is the vineyard where the Cheeses married 15 years ago (almost to the day). It was called something different then, but I remember the day very well. We sat out on the lawn yesterday with a platter of cheese and a glass of wine each, looking out over the vines and a shallow valley with a pond in it. It was charming, and the moment near perfect. I sat, I reckon, just about where I stood 15 years as best man the day of the wedding.

We were about an hour there and then, against the others protest, stopped at Paringa Estate. They make one of the best Pinot’s in Australia, and I wanted to sample it again. Their other wine is similarly exceptional, and I walked out with a bottle pinot noir and JV with a Viognier.

Lunch was well overdue, and everywhere we’d visited had been booked out, and when we got to Montalto were told they had no capacity for 90 minutes. We went next door to Tuck’s, and had a meal of deep fried chicken with a cider, overlooking all the green. Then home.

I wanted to size things up while I was down there. Everything is on the table currently, and a big one is a possibility of relocating. With work from home, it’s become much more feasible to live out of town. I spoke to others about it. We live like this maybe five days a year. It would be different living here, I said, but still, the average daily satisfaction than it is living the burbs. And, living in all that tranquillity, visits back to the city would take on a different, more exciting, character.

I think both could see my point. If we free ourselves up from old habits and routines, old ways of thinking, then what becomes possible?

All I can say now is that it was one of the best days of recent times for me, and I felt privileged to have access to such serene beauty. We really are fortunate.

Magic and wonder

I read this morning that the author and naturalist, Barry Lopez, had died.

I’ve read a lot of his stuff over the years. He was a luminescent writer with a keen eye and an open heart. He’s known for his writing on the natural world, but he also wrote more conventional stories. In either case, his prose was sensitive and drew you close inside the essence of the tale.

I think this happens when you have an extreme sensitivity to the world about you – not as something you travel through, but exist within. As a naturalist, he was drawn to detail and understanding context, and the result of that was naturally spiritual.

When you realise that everything has a life and purpose, that the world around us and we within it co-exist within layers of dependencies, then you begin to see a depth of meaning that eludes most of us, most of the time.

I was always found his writing illuminating, and often enlarging. He had a way of showing the wonder in enchanting things. He was one of those writers I would occasionally set aside midway through just to contemplate what I’d just read – to feel it full in me and abundant, to capture some of the truth of it and hold it in me for a while. And that was true for his stories as well as his naturalism.

He was 75, which seems relatively young, but I envy how he saw things, and the delight it must have filled him with.

By chance I’m reading a book by another naturalist right now, Richard Nelson.

He shares with Lopez a lovely lyrical gift of seeing and describing that is almost spiritual. It seems to me to be truly close to the natural world is a humbling and spiritual experience, and it’s there in their words. There’s a weight of meaning that is the very opposite of superficial. In all cases, a forgotten virtue – respect – is essential.

Reading this book, I’m reminded of the years I would go camping with my step-father and hunt for game. Mostly, we’d be far from civilisation. We’d stop in places where we were the interlopers and surrounding us raw nature. I would feel it every time I heard the call of an animal in the night, or see their tracks in the morning, or see the great gusts of cockies fly through the air before settling to cackle at us. The nocturnal thump and scrape, the movement in the bush felt as much as seen. And the owls in the trees looking on, hooting at their desire, and the wedge-tailed eagles majestic high in the blue sky as they circled and swooped.

We visited some out of the way places – out past Narrabri in the hills, the back of Bourke in red soil country, in scratchy brush and drought lands and places green and rugged. Just being there felt eye-opening, because it was a life very foreign to what I knew and understood in the city. I was a sensitive kid, and I felt these things, sitting in the fork of a tree overlooking it, or later by the fire with the scent of wood smoke in the air and deep night beyond the circle of light. Often it felt wondrous and bigger than anything I had ever understood.

There’s a morality to that world you can touch when you’re awake to it. You fit into it. That’s very present in the words of Lopez and Nelson, and most naturalists I’ve read. There’s an innate humility when you realise that life is all around you. I wonder if part of my problem is that I’m feeling an increasing disconnect from that sense of morality.

We live in an age of rampant hubris, and when our arrogance has become so extreme that we are destroying the environment we are part of and killing our future. This is what happens when you feel you are above all life and the environment is there to serve you. This happens when there is no balance or perception, when life is consumption, without magic or wonder.

Seasonal variations

It’s not yet 8am on Sunday, but I’m up and about feeling restless. With a bit of luck, I’ll find my way back to bed after this.

It’s a couple of days after Christmas and, before me, a couple of weeks of vacation time. This morning I made a couple of decisions I’ve been stewing on.

I was expecting to travel down the coast to Wye River to spend time with friends. I’ve opted out of that, basically because I can’t really face it. I’m not really in a social mood and troubled enough that the thought of being among people for a few days is too much to contemplate. The trip away might be beneficial in other ways, but the effort at pretence becomes a burden when you’re in this place.

I also had an invite to an NYE dinner party I’d have been happy to attend – the food is guaranteed to be top-notch, and the company (all strangers to me, but one) sounds interesting (I can put on a show for a few hours). I’m not going though. It sounds corny, but I feel a responsibility to JV, who is by himself. We’ll likely have a lame NYE together, but I can’t abandon him.

I was at his home for Christmas dinner. If you recall, I was ambivalent about being there. I was right to be, as it turned out.

I got there, we exchanged presents and had a drink. While JV prepared the dinner he’d so carefully planned, his daughter went upstairs to play. About 45 minutes later, we could hear loud, theatrical sobs audible over the sound of music playing. JV went to investigate and returned shrugging his shoulders. He suggested his daughter was unhappy she wasn’t getting the attention she thrived on.

After another 45 minutes, we heard the same sobbing. He went to check on her again and returned grim-faced. She’s going home, he told me. She’d called her mum already, asking to be picked up because she felt ‘unsafe’.

I was shocked and angry. We were about to serve up the dinner JV had crafted with so much effort. As his daughter is intolerant of many foods, it had been put together to cater for her – now it was just the two of us eating it, and pretty miserable it was, too.

His daughter has been over-indulged forever, particularly by her mother. Because she has special dietary requirements, she tends to be picky with everything, and a tendency to feel special due to it. I’m reluctant to condemn an eight-year-old child – kids will be kids, and they’ll grow out of many childish foibles. The problem is that she’s now an only child growing up with her parents separated and well aware of the power that gives her. Ever since I’ve known her, she’s been the same – a bright but entitled brat. JV is well aware that she has to change.

I felt so sorry for him – his first Christmas as a single father and putting his heart and soul into making it right – only to have it ruined very cynically by a child who felt she wasn’t being indulged enough.

I left early feeling flat. It was enough for me to remind myself that I can’t have another Christmas like this. It was a weary acceptance without any heat to it. I felt sad for JV; me, I can take it.

Yesterday was a lovely lazy day sitting on the couch, watching the Boxing Day Test. Towards the evening I felt melancholy again, but I recognise it as the seasonal variant, as it was on Wednesday. Christmas is hard for many people. I wouldn’t say it’s hard for me, though it was one year. More often, I’ll have moments when it comes to the surface, and I’ll be pervaded by sorrow.

There’s no mystery to it. I have a lot of memories, and many of them lovely, but all those times have passed, and I’m reminded of the people I loved who have gone, and the happy occasions I’m no longer part of. It’s a part of my problem, perhaps, that I’m able to swallow it up generally and rationalise it in my mind. It’s how I’ve endured for so long and kept going one step after another, but I’ve come to believe that it’s unhealthy in the long-run. I carry it with me like a stone, and sometimes I feel it. I need to dispose of it and move on.

I don’t expect any revelations over the next fortnight, but I hope to come to some understanding within myself. I’ll busy myself with day trips and reading and writing, knowing that I must return to the grindstone soon. All I want, really, is an idea of what I really feel, and what I really want.

A Christmas bone

It’s Christmas morning, and so far I’ve had a coffee in bed and read for an hour, exchanged a message with a friend, replied to a work email, and had a shower. We went for a walk then, Rigby and I, much as we would on a Saturday morning – only it’s Friday now, and Christmas as well, and Cheeseboy and Bailey weren’t there waiting for us.

Still, I stopped at the cafe, which is our usual meeting point. It was open for the morning, and as I have for weeks on end went to order a coffee – which they well and truly know by now. After exchanging a Merry Christmas, they convinced me to buy an almond croissant also. A few minutes later, one of the staff we’ve come to know well, a French woman, came out to us with the coffee. “Made with love,” she said.

We’re home now, and will be until later in the afternoon. I’m happy to keep to myself. I have strong memories of Christmas past, and I think it was the memory of that which cast a shadow on Wednesday. It’s become a Christmas ritual of my own, the melancholy recalling happier days, and loved ones now past. I’m back on the straight and narrow now.

While I was out, I exchanged friendly nods with passers-by and Christmas greetings. Going out and coming back I observed a kid of about 10-12 zipping around the block on his (presumably new) motorised skateboard. I remember that feeling myself, though it’s many years past now. One year I got a bike, and as soon as we’d finished unwrapping presents I was out on the road with it, showing it off to friends and getting a load of the exciting stuff Santa had left them.

Later today, I’m off to JV’s for a Christmas dinner. He wants me there, so I’m happy to attend, though I feel a bit funny about it.

Initially, his parents – from Sydney – were due to be there also and I was happy to attend. I have great affection for his dad and was happy to join their small party. They never made it, and now it’s just me with JV and his young daughter. I feel like I shouldn’t be there – I’m not family – but recognise how forlorn it would be just the two of them acting it up for Christmas – this is his first Christmas as a father and single man. I’ll be there then, getting in the festive spirit, or acting it out, anyway.

Other than a friend in Sydney, I haven’t contacted anyone today. After the mad headlong rush first thing Christmas morning, I expect that I’ll start getting messages through on my phone and Facebook. I’ll respond with good cheer, and in fact, as I write this, I have Christmas carols playing in the background.

I have things to do before then. I’m bringing a dish and must make it first. I might make some egg nog, just for the hell of it. And I have yet to give Rigby his gift – a delicious big bone to chew on. What more could you ask for on Christmas Day?

Steeped in melancholy

I went to the city late yesterday to do some last-minute shopping and catch up for dinner with a friend. I sat in a pub with a beer in my hand, waiting for her before we had dinner at a Korean barbecue joint.

She offered to drive me home afterwards, and when I refused, she insisted. I sat in the passenger seat watching Melbourne pass by my window, and it struck me how long I’ve been looking out upon this town. I think it was the changes I observed that brought it to mind – old buildings demolished and built in their place, historic facades kept while the innards were gutted, and so on. Among it all, there was still much familiar.

As I looked out on the passing parade, the thought occurred to me: we’ve grown old together. You become a part of the city as much as the city becomes a part of you, and it seemed reassuring. What seemed strange was how much remained vivid to me. When I was young, I looked at older people and pretty well figured their memories must be in sepia, so vast the gap in time seemed.

The game is not so vast from my vantage now, and so much fresh in me – as if I might have stepped from that moment to this without interruption. But, it’s not as simple as that.

Looking out the passenger side window, I spotted an apartment building that looked familiar. Was it this, or one very similar, I wondered? It didn’t matter, it was in the area – and what I remembered was sharing a bathtub with a brunette about 2am on a weeknight, her name escapes me. She dropped me off in the city for work early the next morning, the one and only night I spent with her. I never saw her again.

Driving on, we passed through East St Kilda, close by the poky little flat in Crimea Street of the woman I first fell in love with. I spent the weekend there in 1988, close on after a work party the first time we got together. It was a wondrous, romantic weekend we spent most of in bed together, first in our underwear, and then without it. (Coincidentally, it was where I first discovered it was practically impossible to fuck in a bath). I remembered waiting for the tram late on Sunday that would take me home, and being filled with possibility. It was the first time my heart ever caught.

We drove through areas near where I’d lived at one time or another, and by places I’d shared moments drinking or eating, laughing or loving.

I wonder why I made no reference to this as we drove, but it never occurred to me. It’s rare for me to travel through such parts as a passenger, but as a passenger, you have a different perspective. I looked out upon it as if it was a theme park of my own memory. Why did I choose not to share any of it – until now? I don’t know.

I was in a receptive mood. For reasons unknown, I was struck hard by a bout of melancholia from mid-afternoon yesterday. It’s an internalised state that sensitises you to memory and nostalgia. You see in a different way; you feel more deeply.

Though the memories seemed so detailed, I struggled to understand how I’d travelled from those times to this. In keeping with my state of mind, I felt aware of everything I had lost along the journey. I’m not one for regret, but once or twice, I wondered if I had done something different how things might have turned out? And, momentarily, I yearned to be back in those times so that I could look out with those eyes and feel with that heart and have hope unfettered by reality.

In the end, it’s episodes like that which steel my resolve. It’s nice to have memories, but much more important to make new ones.

Cleaning things up

Yesterday, I applied for the job I referred to last week. For some reason, I’d felt a reluctance to do so. Some of that was general apathy – it’s such a pain in the arse, and you have to contrive a persona they want to employ – and I’m over any sort of contrivance these days. I did it though, letting it happen naturally, being open and honest and letting a little of the alpha self shine through, though without overt contrivance.

My gut feel is that I’m over-cooked for the role, which would be ironic.

In a lot of ways, it’s a strange time to apply for another job. Just last week, I submitted a proposal for what would be a huge piece of work which would, in many ways, be transformational for the business. Ultimately, I would expect the proposal to be accepted and that I would be running it, owning it too in the long run, and that my case for a promotion and pay rise would be unassailable. And if that’s not enough, I would find the work fascinating.

The problem is the now. There’s been a lot of talk, but not a lot of action and I’ve grown weary of it. It’s coming, they tell me, but then it’s been coming for months. It’s soured my relationship with the biz. Actions have consequences and, in this case, it’s inaction.

None of that is terminal. If they came to me tomorrow and said here’s a bag of well-earned cash for you, then I’d take it. And I’m pretty sure if I got myself right, I’d look upon things in a more positive light. But still – I feel the urge to start fresh.

There’s a lot to be sorted through. I hope in this break I can clear my head a little and maybe freshen up my perspective. I keep writing about how I’ve changed and have to adapt to the change – and then I wonder, if I healed the places that ache, might I not return at least partway to the man I was before?

I think it’s likely that permanent change has occurred in parts of me. On reflection, I’m not unhappy with that. I ask myself if I want to return to how I was, knowing that it was easier then because I had little doubt. And the answer is that I’m glad to feel doubt, or at least, to acknowledge it. And I’m happy for the insight it has provided me with. I have no real desire to become a hard-driving alpha again, though whether that’s symptom or cause I don’t know. But I miss the feeling of the wind in my hair. I miss being out in front. And I hate the doubt when it cripples me.

Maybe I should note that a lot of this appears internalised. I’m sure some of it leaks out and is visible, but then when people don’t know how I was before they don’t know any different. I feel it, though when I don’t want to engage.

To others, my friends, they see little difference. I think they hardly notice the differences, though I do – I’m not as happy as I was before, and so feel inhibited often, and much less free-flowing. And yet, for Christmas, Donna bought me a pair of personalised socks that claimed I was charismatic and strong because that was “so you” – when I feel neither these days.

It seems to me the important thing is to get that healing done, and sooner rather than later. Presumably, I’ll have a better idea of what I want and what I feel then. I’ll have a balanced perspective and perhaps – hopefully – will feel in control of my destiny.

I’ve done something about that now. I got a referral from my doctor to see a shrink. Because of Covid, I believe we can now get up to 20 subsidised sessions – though I surely hope I don’t need that many. I’ll make an appointment later today to see someone in the new year.

I’m the meantime I’ll continue to chill and unwind. Next week I have a few days away with no mobile reception. I’ll be with friends and will live simply. When I return, I hope to have flushed out many of the toxins collected in me over the year. Perhaps I’ll see things differently then. That’s my hope.

Free days

So, I’m on leave now, and suddenly everything is the nearest it’s been to fine for a long time.

Last week was a real struggle. I don’t know if it was the realisation that there were only a few days to go, or if it was the things happening that made it so. Probably a bit of both. I was busy all week. On Friday I went to the office for meetings and to head off to a Christmas function, and I was late leaving because there were still things to sort out. And at the function, which I attended from a sense of duty, I was still unsettled.

But that night I caught up with JV and Donna for our Christmas dinner. I was tired, but it was good to relax. We had a lovely meal and the customary lively conversation. We exchanged modest gifts, and each of us looked ahead, to Christmas immediately before us, and the new year beyond that.

For a bit of fun, we touched upon Seinfeld and had a session airing our grievances. It was intended to be a bit of a laugh, but it unearthed some interesting things.

JV was the first in the firing line. With a smile, I accused him of being ‘too nice’. It’s true enough, he’s a lovely guy, but it’s hardly a vice – except that sometimes it means he lets others get away with things they shouldn’t. And that’s what it boiled down to as the discussion progressed.

Next, it was Donna, and it was no surprise that JV mentioned her serial unpunctuality. To my surprise, tears came to her eyes, and I thought we’d misjudged the moment. She was okay, though. She smiled through it, and I know it’s something she’s been working to improve. She’s had a hard year.

After that, I invited them to come at me. I wanted the pleasure of taking me down to distract them, but I was wary of what might come out of it. In my own mind, there were traits I thought worthy of criticism, but they struggled to come up with anything. Finally, JV said I need to open myself up more to women. His major contention was that I don’t really give them a chance and was quick to judge – my mum used to say the same thing.

I replied, with a typically deflective grin, that I was at the age where I’m quick to judge everything. But he was right, and I conceded the point. I think openness is the critical factor here.

On Sunday, the kids – my two nephews and niece – came over for lunch, along with their golden retriever, Grace. It was not something I was looking forward too. As has often been the case lately, I felt off physically. I longed for a quiet day. But then they came, and we had a fine time.

The dogs frolicked together – Rigby was particularly excited, and we set off up the road to have lunch at a nearby cafe. It was a lovely sunny day, and people were out and about and the vibe hopeful and happy.

I’m out for lunch today catching up with someone I haven’t seen since well before Covid. It’s a rainy day, but we’ll be sitting indoors in the Royal Saxon, in Richmond.

Tomorrow night, I have dinner with another friend. On Christmas Eve, JV will visit, and the following day I’ll be joining him for Christmas dinner.

The rest of the time, I’m catching up and doing little things. I got a new MacBook Air delivered last week and am having fun setting that up. I made a curry yesterday. For the first time in over a month, I did some writing. I called to catch up with my aunt and uncle and to give the annual apology for missing Christmas day with them. And I’m taking time to read.

One thing I hope for through this period is to replenish my physical stocks. I’m actually heading to a physiotherapist this morning. I have to heal my mentality too, which might be the bigger challenge. I don’t know if I’ll figure anything out, but I hope to come out of this with a general idea of the direction I should be taking.

It’s only been a few days, but I feel much better.

Living in parallel

The big news yesterday was the the death of David Cornwall, aka John Le Carre.

He was 89, which is pretty ripe as old age goes, and had been writing up till the end. There’s always a tinge of sadness, nonetheless.

For me, some of the sadness is purely selfish. We might get some posthumous publication out of him, but he aint writing anymore. That’s sad because I reckon he was one of the very best novelists writing in the English language – never mind limiting it to spy novels. He was a gifted observer of human foibles and acute when describing them. As far as prose goes, his is some of the more intelligent you’ll come across.

He’s one of those authors that I feel like I’ve known all my life. You know how books evoke memories, and particular periods in your life, well he was one of those writers I feel as if I’ve lived in parallel to, on the other side of the world.

If I close my eyes, I can see places long lost to me, places where I read his books or spoke of them – and of course, all the memories of those places and periods are there also for me. I cottoned onto Le Carre early, and then there was a big gap before I returned to him about 20 years ago.

I had an Aunt, who was a great reader. For every birthday and Christmas, I could count on getting at least a book from her, beautifully wrapped in gold or silver foil with a ribbon around it. She cultivated my reading, and I was happy to have it cultivated.

She lived in Sydney, and I would stay with her most of the time I visited there, and I actually lived with her in her Watson’s Bay apartment for a while in the eighties (what a vivid memory that is). She had several bookcases full of books, and there was Le Carre.

I read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Honourable Schoolboy in hardback while I was there. In the adjoining years, I also read The Spy That Came In From The Cold, and A Murder of Quality.

It was years until I read any of his books after that, though I was an avid watcher of the various TV series and movies made from his books.

I don’t know what brought me back to him. It’d never been a deliberate decision not to read him, more so that he had moved out of my reading orbit. Then he returned.

Over the last 15 years, I reckon I’ve read a dozen of his books, maybe more. There are no duds, though some are better than others. If nothing else, I always enjoy the quality of writing.

Not surprisingly, he was also an astute commentator of current affairs. He was clever and erudite and his politics – no coincidence – were at the liberal end of the spectrum. Like for many of us, the rise of Trump and Brexit was horrifying to him. He wrote well about that, seeing in it something revealing of the human condition – but then all his writing was about that really.

Funny how people die. That’s another one – and my aunt passed on nearly 20 years ago. Times go on. Sad to see him go, but it had to happen.