Through the eyes of others


So, I was pondering the sense of futility that seems everpresent these days. What is the value of what I do? What is the point of this existence? But then, on Thursday night, we had a work function after work when we went to the same bar I went to a few weeks ago with JV. Drinks were laid on, and tapas and the atmosphere was convivial. I had 3-4 drinks and spoke to different people, but more most of the evening was in conversation with my new manager.

I’ve mentioned before what a lovely bloke he is. He’s a cracker. He’s a couple of years short of 60, originally a Malaysian Chinese who’s been living here for about thirty years, and about a foot shorter than me. We’ve always got on quite well, but now our relationship has changed. I find him a straightforward and decent person to work with. Judging by our conversation on Thursday he’s quietly fascinated by me, and quite chuffed to have me on board.

When he interviewed me first, he hadn’t seen my CV, but obviously, he’s caught up with it since. He began to ask me about aspects of it, commenting on what interesting experience I’d had, and how strange it was that I had experienced both senior positions, and junior – I’d confessed to him how I’d started out there working on the phones.

It was not the time or place to give him the full story, so I skimmed over it, but it was enough to intrigue him more. As an individual, I’m very different from him. He’s always been the modest, hard-working family man, whereas he sees me as quite the adventurer – and approves of it. At the same time, he’s obviously excited to have me join the team. He realises that for the price of a middle-ranking role he’s got an experienced, and competent senior candidate. I’ve opened his eyes to possibilities, and suddenly he sees opportunities ahead.

It was almost endearing to see how enthusiastic he had become. He was like a kid believing in Santa Claus again. He’s encouraged me to do my thing from the word go, and the results are fascinating to him – almost as if he’s been made to think another way, and it’s revitalised him. To be blunt, I think he sees me as a bit of a meal ticket, though not nearly mercenary as that. He’s happy to ride in my wake and, as I’m always am when given my head, I’m happy to forge ahead. It so happens, as he is very conscious off, that with the senior Digital Manager leaving things are in flux, and the chance to stake out new territory is there.

I went home that night on the train reflecting on that. It was flattering to be seen in such a light. I knew I was capable of what he hoped from me, but it seemed particularly ironic considering what I had felt just the night before. I struggle to find meaning for myself, but here I am with my manager finding meaning in me.

Then yesterday. When I interviewed for the role I ultimately had to knock back, there was a woman involved. I hardly knew her then, but am now working close to her, though we work in different areas. She’s a lovely lady, kind, and obviously very smart, and takes every opportunity to be friendly to me. Yesterday we happened to be in the kitchen together at the same time. I don’t know how it started – perhaps she asked me how the job was going. Anyway, she said she thought it was a really good fit for me and that I’d be good at it – she’s like that. But then she said, “you’ve got a very interesting CV”. She said it positively. I was surprised and murmured something about having sought variety. “Variety is good,” she said.

So, in the space of 24 hours, I’ve had two different people basically validate my professional self, and express even how interesting that self is. It made me think about what I want. Did I want for me what my manager hopes what I can enable? The answer always is yes – I always want more, because more is interesting, and because it is better than less, and because what I never want is the dull, old status quo. But do I really want those roles? My ego does maybe, and probably my bank manager. I don’t need it, though.

What I want, I realised, is the room to be myself. I’ve been denied that, here, and in years leading up to this, but in the years before that was the source of satisfaction. I could feel myself, could be myself, without constraint, so much so that I took it for granted. My step-sister always said she’d never met anyone as comfortable in their skin as I was – but I felt that too, without knowing it.

My life was comfortable then. I’d achieved a level that made things simpler, but while there was comfort in that, the joy of it was not in the achievement, but in the freedom to achieve. I was given space, and I took it. Maybe the secret then is the doing, not the being. And maybe, judging by what others see in me, there’s another journey in me.

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The epoch of the mass-man


I’m reading a book at the moment called Diary of a Man in Despair. It’s by a German author who recorded his thoughts through the rise of the Nazis and the second world war. His name was Friedrich Reck, and ultimately they caught up with him, and he died at Dachau.

It’s a fascinating, entertaining read. Reck was a highly educated man with distinct opinions and a voice all his own. He’s haughty and derisive, he has a patrician air but is not above the occasional gossipy aside. His attitude drips with a delicious, acid disdain. He deplored the Nazis, as much for their uncouth manners as their politics. He was a proud German who saw decline all about him, and predicted disaster, and was right.

Throughout the book, he launches into scathing dissertations on the state of the world about him, like a grumpy old man, but he knew what he spoke of and describes it in coruscating detail. Reading, I could imagine him in his far ago hunched over his diary inscribing his bitter words. It was the end of everything, he knew, and he wanted to record it.

There are many memorable sections in the book, but there was one the other day that resonated with me. It could be said that I’m a bit of a grump too, and I’ve not been short of a bitter word or two in this blog. I can sympathise. But then I read this section, and I realised how little changes. What appeared true to him back then I could endorse equally today – and have, more or less, but in my own words.

He writes of ‘Mass-man’, who:

“…buys the products of technology in complete mindlessness, without involving himself, or even taking an interest in the intellectual work that made these things possible…

I do not believe this ‘New-Adam’ has the faintest idea of how completely dependent his existence is on the products of technology. I have an idea that at a beginning of the end of world he will want to know how the government proposes to hold next Sunday’s German-Sweden football match on schedule. His fate appears to me certain and unavoidable. The coming Second World War will be the beginning of the end: the end of an epoch in which rationalism was dominant, and the legacy of which – assuming the planet is still capable of regeneration – will be ‘X’, a new mode of life based on the nonrational.”

He wrote that in 1937. Eighty years on the technology has become omnipotent and dominates our life, though clearly, the strains of its insidious influence were plain even then. The ‘mass-man’ he writes of here is pretty much the same as what we see now, and perhaps it has ever been so. The only difference I can see is that he speaks of the end of rationalism, whereas as far as I can see, it’s been long dead in this modern era. But then he goes on to say:

“…the masses sensing they are doomed…will, no doubt, strike out against everything that is not masslike, but is, simply, ‘different’…”

Substitute mob for mass and this is the state of affairs in much of the western world. The mob – the degenerate mass-man – voted in Trump and in favour of Brexit. The low rent appeal of it swayed the election here, and it has adherents in every nation. It takes aim at everything different and not sanctioned by the mob – refugees and muslims, different coloured foreigners and clever elites, and whomsoever they are directed at to despise.

The problem is, we live in an age of intellectual torpor. Our critical faculties have withered. Too much easy living, too many low-bars, has made us soft. Great herds of consumers get carried away on social media over febrile linguistics, on inconsequentialities while the great things elude them. Outrage is the lingua franca of our times. The educated mind that once led curiously on is a rare thing these days, existing only in intellectual ghettoes, under siege from the commonplace politics of populist leaders who see danger in independent minds and urge their followers to the same. In the face of such hostile opposition, intellectual rigour has fallen away. The questions that should be asked are asked rarely, or not at all, lies are accepted as truth, and too much that once would have left us shocked has now been accepted as normal.

It all sounds very Orwellian – and me an awful grump. I find it hard settling in a society where the lowest common denominator rules, and sometimes I wonder how I found my way here, high and dry. Those of us who think similarly have been disenfranchised. We are part of the problem, not the solution – but the solution makes for greed and prejudice and a nation of drones.

Gloomy as I sound, I’m always hopeful that it will change. I’ve always believed that, but more and more I feel as Reck did, retiring to my ‘estate’ as he did, though mine is made up of books and old movies and music and good wine, and the occasional rant, like this. He knew his time was over. Though I know the pendulum will swing, I wonder if my time is done too. I suspect I may not be around when it corrects, when the educated mind is valued again, and independent thought encouraged. Of course, we might all be burnt to a crisp by then…

Singing along to Elton John


Since the election, I’ve become quite cynical. That’s what comes of being so drastically disappointed. The worst part of it is how I’ve come to see my fellow Australians. I meet people, and I wonder. There’s a fair bit of the side-eye going on, wondering if this person or that was one of the cunts who voted for the cunts. I can’t get over the fact that so many people did. I’m sure I’d be shocked to discover some of those who did, and it’s probably better than I don’t – but it leaves me free to speculate.

Last night I went out for dinner and drinks with JV. His wife’s away and he wanted to make a night of it. We had a beer at a bar before heading to an Italian restaurant for some wood-fired pizza. We were in a quandary after that: where to next? There was a possibility we’d adjourn back to his home or mine for a bottle of wine while watching the footy, but it was too early for that. We ended up going to another bar a few metres away, where the pianist who’d performed at his wedding had a show. Turned out to be a great decision.

It was the most fun I’ve had for a long time. It was an intimate upstairs bar full to the gills. Most of the crowd there were women, maybe 60%, and the rest mainly middle-aged couples. We were probably the demographic outliers amongst that lot, but it didn’t stop us from enjoying the show. We found ourselves a handy spot to listen and watch-on while we hopped into one drink after another, spirits for the night.

The pianist was great. He was a slick musician, and he was also a great showman. He worked the crowd firing it up and engaging in different parts of it, all the while taking requests and singing a bunch of old classics everyone knew. Naturally, everyone sang along too. There was a great and happy vibe there, and I was caught up in it too, sipping on my drink and watching the antics of the hyped-up audience and singing along loud.

At one point, I found myself thinking how good music is connecting people. It’s its own language. In a way, it was surprising to find everyone as attuned to the music as I was, and the knowledge that they knew the words as well as I did, and that these songs had been as much a part of their life as they had mine was a simple, but profound realisation. We shared this. We were a community. In that room, last night, singing along together, we were all happy and all a part of something together.

As I thought that I realised that among the crowd would be some, I have come to describe as cunts because of their political beliefs. And though that was a simple realisation also, it was shocking in a way too. How can someone vote for those cunts and still happily sing along so joyfully with the rest of us?

I would guess if there were a survey of the room most would’ve voted the same, or similar, to what I did. We were smack bang in the middle of the CBD after all, and the crowd was probably more ‘latte-sipping’ than most given the venue and the show. But, naturally, there would’ve been a few there who passionately voted for the others. What did I make of that?

You might think that the realisation sharing a sing-along with them might have mellowed my beliefs some. But no. There are some things you can’t excuse away just because you belong to the same club. These are awful times we live in, and I’m disinclined to glad-hand those who aid and abet the people who wilfully do awful things. Just because you sing along to Rocketman with me doesn’t mean we’re brothers.

That’s not to say I didn’t learn anything from it, though, more truly, it wasn’t anything I learned so much as was reminded of. Half the people who voted for the others did so I reckon from ignorance and apathy, and a few more out of greed. There are few true fascists between them. And even they take pleasure in the same things as the rest of us (and probably a few other things besides). People don’t wear horns. Sometimes you can guess at these things, but they’re no signs that give it away 100%, and the friendliest, most affable people you can meet can, sometimes, in their spare time, be the greatest bigots. You can have 90% in common with someone, but that 10% difference is telling.

Did I learn anything? Maybe I can’t be on my guard all the time and that there’s no point going around giving people the side-eye because I’m not going to know, and it’s done anyway. That doesn’t mean I forgive the cunts. This is our life. It’s too big to forgive.

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.

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.