A complete individual


With Wimbledon on, there’s been a lot of talk in Oz about Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic, especially relative to the new darling of Australian tennis – and world number one – Ash Barty.

Like, everyone, I think Ash Barty is a breath of fresh air. She’s unpretentious and decent and upfront. She just gets the job done and with very little angst. In some ways, she’s an old fashioned Australian sporting type, and maybe even a throwback to previous eras in tennis when it was nowhere near as hyped as it is now, and the egos were much more reasonable. Now she’s hit number one she appears to have established a rich form line which may well carry her to the Wimbledon title, and beyond. The test will come against Serena Williams – just about her polar opposite – but I think she’s clever enough to win that.

Like just about everyone I deplore Bernard Tomic. I think he’s a disgraceful human being. Clearly, he has issues that lead him to behave as he does, but he has to be accountable for his actions. I can find no redeeming features. He’s lazy, arrogant, disrespectful and, worst of all doesn’t have a crack. He’s derisive of others and petulant to boot.

Last week he made the news by losing in the first round and being stripped of his prize money for basically tanking it. I think this penalty is the cumulative result of many tournaments and matches where his effort is cursory at best. I think it’s fair enough, but then if someone shot him out of a cannon, I’d think that was fair enough also. As you can probably tell, he’s held in general contempt. (I admit to some pity for him – he’s obviously playing up and there are reasons for it – but in the end, it’s up to him to be better).

Then there’s Kyrgios. The jury is much more mixed when it comes to him. There’s plenty who despise him. They see him as graceless and rude. They find his antics offensive. He’s also a wasted talent.

Then others think he’s great. For a start, he has in abundance that thing that Tomic lacks altogether – charisma and personal charm. He’s entertaining, even fun, and on top of that, a complete individual. He runs his own race and has no time for the conventional courtesies. He’s candid and straight-forward and, even if he is a wasted talent, completely free of pretension.

As you can tell probably from my commentary, I fall more so into the second camp. I find it a great pity that a man of such extreme talent – potentially the best in the world – so fritters it away. But then I acknowledge his point that it’s his life and his choice. He’s upfront with his shortcomings, that he hasn’t the concentration or dedication to achieve much more than what he does now – which amounts, generally, to several highly entertaining cameos and the occasional disappointing walkover.

He gets away with a lot because he is so utterly charming (though not everyone sees that). And because he is great to watch when on song. And because he’s so honest and transparent. Underneath I think he’s a genuinely nice guy who isn’t made for the circuit, and he’s definitely someone I’d like to share a beer with (my measuring stick). He has none of the contemptuous and cynical ill-grace of Tomic, and his sheer individuality is refreshing.

As an Aussie I wish he was winning one grand slam after another, but would he be as interesting an individual if he did? Ultimately it’s his right to deploy his talent as he chooses. We assume goals and a career on his behalf. That’s how we see things and have become conditioned to expect. He’s rejected that. I think he’s a pure soul, and while occasionally I may shake my head at his antics, I can’t help but like him. And I respect his right to choose his own road. He’s an individual, and for that, he should be applauded.

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An untainted heart


Google popped up with a memory this morning dating from 2013. On this day back then I was visiting Lords, in London. A few days later, I flew home, and I haven’t been abroad since.

I knew it had been a while, but to be confronted with the facts like that was disturbing. There was a string of about twenty years when if I wasn’t away every year then certainly I would be the year after. They weren’t just ordinary trips away either. There were a few long trips to Europe, a couple of extended breaks in Asia, another through North Africa, some working trips here and there, as well as the short holidays away to places like Bali and Fiji and New Zealand.

I’ve said it before, but this regular travel made up a part of my self-identity. I never felt more myself than when I was away. I’m someone who, in general, embraces change and difference. I’m naturally curious. I like to get beneath the skin of things and feel myself in it. There’s a restless inquisitiveness in all that, but also a desire for authentic experience. And I like to live by my wits – as a western tourist you’re a member of a privileged class, but I was always aware of that and sought to catch the same busses and trains the locals do, and eat the same food, go to the same bars. And I always did it off my own bat, bar once for a brief period, organising things myself and following the restless whim where it took me. Gee, I miss that.

At work yesterday, I was a part of an exercise in setting SMART goals. At one point we had to note down the things we hoped to have achieved by this time next year. I could’ve written down a hundred things. What I did write related to my writing – getting two books submitted for publication by then. But I might easily have put down more practical goals, of which I have many. An outcome of achieving some of those would mean more money and the hope that I could get back to travelling sooner rather than later.

I’m aware that writing about these things might sound a little whiny. Believe me, in person, I’m anything but whiny. I give myself some grace here. This is my private space. And these things are real. These are the things that pass before my eyes, the thoughts that occur to me. And, you know, I like to understand, and the act of writing helps me do that. That’s why I write in general, I think, the desire to parse experience into some more meaningful. This is a record, and I want it to be true to my experience.

I’ll give another pretty innocuous example.

Last night I was in bed reading, and a poem by Rilke is in the text. I read the poem and appreciate it, but something is off in me. I’ve always read poetry, if not frequently, then at least regularly. Rilke is one of my favourite poets. I pause in my reading, wondering how things have changed. As I lay there, I realise that I was a different person when I read poetry before. I was never a dilettante, but I read from a position of comfort and security. Poetry was a pretty thing in my life full of pretty things. It was just as poignant to me then as it is now, I was sometimes moved and occasionally inspired. It would warm me. But then I would go off and live what was, generally, a pretty life – and that includes the easy travel.

I read these things differently now. Last night I began to articulate it to myself. Looking back, I was hardly innocent, but I was undamaged. I was worldly, but I had the easy expectation of things falling my way and the general belief that all I aspired to would, in due course, become mine. There’s a kind of innocence in that, really, and I’ve lost that completely and it changes the way I experience and see things. It’s a great loss.

This explains the general sense these many years. I am burdened when I wasn’t before. I’m healing, but I’m damaged. Where I was light previously and easy, I’m now hard. I wish so much it wasn’t the case. It feels tragic.

I’ve said occasionally that I still don’t feel like I’m living a ‘normal’ life. I don’t know if what I think is normal is long lost and unreasonable to expect now, though I tend to frame it in simple terms. I realise my life was privileged before, that what for me was normal was likely abnormal for most. I would like to return to that but have no expectations. I’m happy to expect the same as anyone else, that normal will do me.

I will get to that, I think, and perhaps beyond it. Unfortunately, in the time between – my lost years – the things I fully expected to attain, I know will never be now. I won’t be a father now, I may never become a husband.

In the end, it’s not about dollars or cents, but state of being. I want to be carefree again, to be part of the world without having to struggle, to be just another person. I’ll never reclaim my innocence, but I’d be happy to read poetry again with a heart untainted by loss.

Subjective truths


I read something yesterday which is self-evidently true, and yet is something we overlook – as we do so much that is otherwise clearly right.

Basically, the statement was that once you have the power to control understanding, then truth is whatever suits your cause. It makes of truth something malleable. If I have all the facts but only release a portion of them, then it’s that portion that becomes the truth. I shape the truth to my purposes, and as there is nothing to contradict, it becomes an accepted reality.

I guess this is the essence of much propaganda over the years, but it’s sharper now because there are fewer today who stand in opposition to today, and many more too indifferent to ever question.

This is why we need an independent media and a populace capable of critical thought, willing to ask questions. Without them, we live in the fraudulent reality of so many totalitarian states, and the Orwellian dystopia becomes real.

We’re not there yet, but even now in the so-called free world, liberty is being redefined as something narrower. Opposing views are being sidelined, abetted by a compliant, self-serving media. Opponents are ridiculed and shamed. Newspeak abounds, and you only need to log into Twitter to be confronted by groupthink – though at least there it’s democratic.

This is why Trump became president. This is how Brexit defied the odds. It’s why the coalition was re-elected here – fake facts are asserted as truth while real facts are said to be false. This is why Assange is being persecuted, and others like him, because he threatens the power of the establishment by revealing their lies.

I used to think the pendulum would swing back. I was more optimistic then. A part of me is bitter these days. I’ve lost faith with much of what is termed the common man. Like many, I used to think he was a fundamentally decent and reasonable person, but I have my doubts now. We have become more selfish and insular, less curious and compassionate. We don’t quest as much, or risk. We are dulled by lifestyle and easy gratification that yet has made us envious of others.

This is the cycle that concerns me. I don’t know how we change it unless with the shock that comes from having gone too far. Inside, most people remain decent, but we’re more easily bought off now, more willingly gullible, more ready to believe the worst.

Not so smug now


Given what’s happened this week – raids on the ABC HQ in Sydney by the AFP, another raid on a News Ltd editor in Canberra – it’s apt that I wrote about Julian Assange just last week because this is all of a piece. What we have are governments – the establishment – seeking to control the narrative. They claim, as they always do, that it’s in the national interest, but really it’s about censorship. It’s about seeking, or preserving political and personal advantage, about protecting shoddy dealings and hiding away corruption and incompetence. Above all, it’s about intimidation, which is what these raids were all about. The message is loud and clear: if you’re a whistle-blower we’re going to get you, and if you’re a journalist then you’re in their targets too. It’s a national disgrace.

I can’t express how angry this makes me feel. Why am I so angry? Well, I’m upset, naturally, at the hit to our democracy and threat to free speech. I’m very afraid of where this is leading, and where it may lead. Mostly I’m furious because over the last ten years or so many of our civil liberties have been steadily eroded by governments justifying it with weasel words about terrorism and threats to national security. Here and there voices have been raised in objection, but too few, and quickly drowned out. I’ve been one of those voices, protective of my civil liberties and fearful that what starts as a few seemingly minor restrictions to our rights become a movement, and combined lead us to a state of intimidation. That’s the lesson of history, not paranoia, but our politic and our media had declined to such a state that no serious opposition was ever raised. Now we have raids on our national broadcaster by our federal police. The media as a collective are screaming blue murder now, but excepting a few instances, and a few journalists, the irony is that the laws they now suffer from went unexamined when they had the chance. And that’s why I’m bloody angry. I just hope it’s not too late.

I have become powerfully cynical these days. That’s what becomes of disappointed idealism. The election broke my heart. My better self seeks to forgive, but I can’t help but despise the selfish and the dumb who voted in this government. I don’t know what would happen if I cornered one of those dozy cunts, but it wouldn’t be pretty. Soon enough they’ll recognise the error of their ways as the economy tanks, as they find they’re not entitled to franking credits, and as Morrison, Dutton and his cronies continue on in their corrupt, undemocratic and self-serving ways – but what good is that? Remorse won’t cut it. Their sloppy indifference has condemned us all, and for that, I can’t forgive them.

For me, this is somewhat existential. I’ve always been a proud Australian. Generally, I like Australians, as most of the world does, but I’ve come to question what we really have to be proud of? This is a big blow to my belief systems, but probably a necessary corrective. How I resolve that going forward, I don’t know, but I’m sure I will.

In the meantime, it’s this lax scrutiny which has led us to a place where our democracy is in danger. We’re not alone in this. As we see with Assange, whistle-blowers and those who seek to expose the truth are at threat all over the world. This must be resisted. Once, it was the totalitarian states guilty of this, and we would sneer at them from our smug democracies. Now our democracies are adopting the tricks of the police states we despised. Sadly – and I never thought I’d say this – Australia has now become one of the leading offenders. It’ll get worse unless we do something about it now.

Places of the spirit


Of course, there are things that run through my head all the time. Often I think I must write about that, but mostly I never get around to it. Until there’s such an application that taps directly into my mind that will be the case.

Today I want to specifically reference the fire that has consumed Notre Dame, in Paris. I feel for the French, and the Parisians particularly, for whom this must feel like a blow to the soul. It feels an unreal event, an affront to nature, something that could never happen and should never happen.

I first walked into Notre Dame about 21 years ago. I’ve been to many cathedrals in my time, but this has always been my favourite. I’m a history buff and knowing that so many momentous events had happened right here was a thrill in itself. There was a deeper, darker connection than that though. I remember standing beneath the high roof surrounded by the immense stone columns and peering at the beautiful stained glass windows and feeling humbled by the meaning of it all. It felt a great spiritual moment.

Places like Notre Dame are living reminders of the wonder and mystery of our existence. We live in the moment so much these days, but Notre Dame had stood for almost a millennia. It teemed with life and history. With luck, it might have gone on for another millennium, or more. I guess that’s true for many such buildings and there are dozens of others who have left me just as impressed – but not so spiritually engaged. Notre Dame felt like a living place to me, not just of history but of humanity as well. I think of only one other place off the top of the head I felt so moved, the Pantheon in Rome.

Notre Dame has not been completely destroyed they say, though the spire has fallen and no doubt the wondrous stained glass is gone – as well as the old, middle-aged wooden structure. It will be rebuilt, as it must, but will it be the same place?

Update: it appears that while the roof and spire have gone and much structural damage otherwise, the bulk of the stonework has been saved – in fact, photos from inside are almost eerie with the area around the altar a pile of blackened ruins tumbled from the roof, while most of the nave seems untouched. Most importantly – and almost miraculously – the famous, magnificent rose stained glass appears undamaged.

Old photos


What I have done in the last few days: I fixed a faulty clothes dryer; I dealt with a creditor after having referred them to the ombudsman; I’ve begun my ‘spring’ cleaning in the house, as well as in the garage; I had a blood test and sorted out my medical appointments; and, naturally, I did some writing. On top of all that I started scanning some old, pre-digital photos into the system. All and all it has been a satisfying week so far.

Digitising the prints yesterday was an interesting experience. I started with pics taken in the early nineties. I didn’t scan every print – there are too many of them – just those I thought worthwhile or, as Marie Kondo would have it, gave me joy. There were a lot of memories, naturally, and familiar, much-loved faces now departed.

I remembered that time so well but there was a disjoint. It was all so real, yet these people were gone and that time lost to me. It was real, I remembered it, but it felt unreal also. I looked in my face, surprised to find myself so handsome. This is me, I thought, that was me. And now here I am today.

There was a sense of how time slips by, how it changes. I posted something to Facebook about how one day its sunshine, next day rain, and it seemed true. Looking back it feels innocent and even looking at how I was then – open, smiling, a fine figure of a man – I was surprised at the difference, though really I ought not to be. What you realise is that it was all ahead of you then and now it’s mostly all behind you.

I caught up with a friend in Prahran last night to catch a comedy show. I caught the train in sitting by the window quietly brooding and listening to old songs from about the time the photos were taken. I had a refreshed sense of self. You walk around oblivious most of the time, ignorant of anything but the moment and the self you represent at that time. But I had perspective yesterday. That was then, this is now. That was who I was, this is who I am. And what I had knowledge of was of all that has happened since.

I was in love when these photos were taken, though it had gone bad. Not that you can see that in my face. I look like a nice guy. But then there was a journey after that and most of it was fine and if not fine then it was interesting and me throughout, the one constant, but changing in ways I never understood.

I got off the train and stood waiting for a tram. This felt familiar, as did the locale. I’d lived a few hundred metres up one way, over Dandenong road, for a year. And the other way, in South Yarra, I’d lived in my own apartment for about seven years in total. I lived there when the photos were taken, and this street, Chapel Street, the shops and bars and restaurants, I’d paraded by them for years on end, stopping now and then, going in here and there, indulging in this and that, part of the streetscape myself.

Now I got on the tram. I was the same man near 30 years on, the same holiday beard now as I did then, hardened now, more cynical perhaps, less forgiving, certainly less open.

How things might have been different. What if I’d made up with the girl I loved and married her as we had spoken of? What then? But we didn’t, she went on to die of her own hand, and here I am today.

It sounds sort of bleak but I didn’t feel that. I felt robust and full. I’ve made my way, I have my style, this is who I am – this is who I became. But at the same time were highlighted things that I otherwise overlook as just being normal. I had looked at my handsome face and wondered why I wasn’t more aware of it then – but I always did okay, as the saying goes. And I have ever since, more or less, but in a certain way that felt stark to me standing on the tram.

I’ve always been sexually driven, so I thought, but I wondered how I was then. And I was then too, but I was also romantic and impossibly tender. I was a good man. Since I’ve been with I don’t know how many women, hundreds, and a part of me has been closed off and even if I have charmed often in that period or seductive and interesting I’ve been the man women would happily fuck but not necessarily settle down with (with exceptions). And I recalled a woman telling me how I intimidated her – not in any harmful or nasty way, just my surety, my lack of doubt, my invulnerability.

Later, after a few drinks and a show, I sat there and there was another woman I wanted to fuck, no different to any other time. It’s fine to feel virile but is there always a point to it? You could argue that sex is a nihilistic act. It’s a moment in time in which you bury yourself in another. Then it’s over. That seemed the point sometimes but, even so, the urge returns all by itself.

I didn’t fuck the woman last night. There was no chance of that, just a passing whim.

I still have a lot to offer. I’m still presentable. I’d like to be more how I was then, regardless of how formidable I’ve become since. I don’t know if that’s even possible or, if it is, how I do it.

On the road


I’m officially on leave from work as of last Friday night. There was no sense of anticipation last week. I was busy, there were things I had to tidy up and hand over, but I was disappointed not to feel that gentle rush knowing I was about to be three weeks away from work.

I still don’t feel it really. Perhaps that’s because it’s unlikely I’ll be doing anything much. I had various plans, all speculative and contingent on available funds. Unsurprisingly, the funds aren’t available and so it’s three weeks at home – which, at least, is better than three weeks at work.

I went out for red wine and cheese with Cheeseboy Friday night hoping to force upon myself some sense of being off the leash. It was a cool, drizzly night and though the wine was good and the cheese plentiful I felt more weary than joyous. The most I can look forward to is the potential visit of an old friend, but let’s see if that eventuates.

Now it’s Monday morning and rather than sitting at my desk at work I’m sitting at my desk at home. I am at liberty. Among other things I hope this time away from work will allow me to clear my head and replenish some a weary body. I still don’t feel that uplift, but I sense my mind is slowly turning to a different perspective. My focus is shifting from the practicalities of the working man – making sure my shirts are ironed and my myki topped up, mindful of the clock and of the ongoing projects at work that occupy the mind, as well as the many petty frustrations. None of that is relevant at this moment and so I have turned off that part of my mind.

Last night I read some poetry and then thought a bit about it. I will read poetry now and then and almost always feel drawn into it. It’s a welcome sensation as if in that time I am exposed to a subterranean world of depth and meaning. It exists outside of me, in the world, if only we knew how to find it; and within me also. I sense it finally, this well of deep, curious feeling and with it a trembling, inquisitive, sensitivity. It’s a fine feeling as if now you can pick up frequencies unheard before, and let into a world of true wonder.

This time I am aware of my awareness. Because I have time before me my mind has space to indulge in the meaning of this: not just the poetry itself, but the meaning of myself in this poetry.

I woke this morning wondering, as I have many times before, about the contrasting attributes of my soul. I was always a creative, imaginative kid, but made my way in the relatively ruthless world of business. I thrived there because there were elements in me that came alive in the challenge. I was competitive without meaning to be, and ambitious because it was always so much better to do than not do. I was smart and so made my way up the ladder and a good communicator; but I was also hard and unyielding. I took pleasure in my success in much the same way a warrior celebrates his conquests. There’s little poetry in that though – yet there is poetry in me.

It’s hard to judge yourself in these things, but if I was to characterise my defining attributes I would say they are intelligence and determination, independence of mind and spirit, and defiance – which sits on the defensive side of belligerence. By and large, these attributes served me well (if we are to overlook the elephant in the room). I went further than I would have otherwise because I willed it, because I wouldn’t back down because I always wanted to be better. All of this made me formidable – though less so now.

And though all of this is true enough so is much that seems the obverse of that. I remain the creative, imaginative soul I was as a child. I am just as sensitive as I always was. I have a searching and restless mind. I am moved, mightily at times, by all manner of things, from a piece of music or poetry to the great and terrible events of our times. Despite everything I am romantic and have ever been the idealist.

This is what twitched at me this morning having read poetry last night, but it’s a recurring twitch. One of the things I seek to do in this time is to re-align myself in the hope that I will find a lifestyle more rewarding to me, both morally and financially. For me, mostly, that’s been about seeking a better angle in my career. I can still do it all, I just need to find a way back in. But then it occurs to me – should I have followed a different path? Can I still? And that’s the path in which I can be entirely my gentler self, the creative, sensitive man inside this crusty exterior.

Again, this is a question oft asked. There was a time when I could afford to answer yes – but not now, I think.

I have observed of life, as well as of myself, that little is all one thing or another. Life, and people, are much more complex than that. It’s silly to draw conclusions based only on what is visible, and it’s clear that contradiction is a law of nature.

As a thoughtful person, I find this fascinating and I’m glad of it too – it makes the world a more interesting place. Still, it’s not something I’ve ever really been able to reconcile in myself – as if reconciliation was possible. I search for a meaning or logic to it knowing there is no meaning or logic. That dissonance plays on my mind and I can’t let it go.

It’s one of the things that made me write, I think, the attempt to investigate and understand – and order – these things in the written word. These conversations go on in my head and if I parlay them into a fictional world that reflects the world I know then perhaps something of consequence can be made of it. And, you know, I find a lot of my understanding comes from putting it down on paper. It’s not quite automatic writing but often I find understanding in the act of writing, in drawing up as if from a deep well a sense not free to me otherwise.

One of the things I’ve discovered in my writing are my themes. I used to think redemption was my theme. To a degree it is, and I’m fascinated by stories that pivot on that. It’s a classic theme. But then, I’ve come to realise, my real theme is identity – self-identity. It shouldn’t be a surprise having read this journal but it’s surprising how long you can be oblivious of a thing. In my case that quest for enlightenment will often overlap with redemption – aren’t we all searching for that in some form?

I’m reading a book about Homer at the moment and I realised halfway through that the protagonist of the novel I’m working on now would fit easily into a Homeric tale – but I think that’s probably true of many. Homer’s tales touch upon so many classic tropes, much as Shakespeare does, that much of modern literature could be said to share.

In this case imagine an Achilles who has survived the battle and lived to middle age, to a time when he questions what he was and what he did while at the same time mourning for the vitality he has lost in the years between. Achilles was always a complex character, a ruthless warrior and sensitive spirit, but he was also an instinctive beast who cut a swathe with his unquestioned might. He was said to be invincible until the moment the arrow struck him in the one place he was vulnerable, his heel.

But what if he had survived all that, the battles on the plains before Troy and then the sacking of that city? What then would there have been for him? And after that? Where does it all go – ultimately, what does it mean?

I think all of us come to an age when we look back at what we have done and wonder at it. For so many years we just did it. Like Achilles, we go into battle because the battle is there. But then reflection grows on us, and some wisdom if we’re lucky. The battle slows, or has past.

For many, for most, it is enough to be husband or wife, and parent. There is meaning in that. We subvert something of ourselves for the greater meaning of the family unit.

That’s not been an option for me but, even so, I don’t know if my independence would be so easily satisfied. And if Achilles had become husband and father, would that have been enough? Only if he can reconcile the sensitive spirit he is with the ruthless warrior he was. That’s the journey he must take, pitfalls along the way and doubt and uncharacteristic confusion because instinct no longer counts. He must come to this a different way, where might is irrelevant. That’s the quest, the road to enlightenment and redemption if he can find it.

That’s the story I’m writing pretty much, but it’s my story too. I’m searching for that road, but at least I know it exists.