As I feel


I’ve made a point in recent months of acting as I feel. If I’m positive about something I’ll show it. If I like you, you’ll know it. If I disagree with something I won’t bother to hide it (nor will I make a big deal of it in general). It’s all about being authentic and in the moment, and one of the benefits of it is that it doesn’t play into narratives and negates play-acting. I still have my secrets, I still retain my essential privacy, but I’m sufficiently transparent to leave no-one in any doubt about it.

This philosophy has been pretty well tested in dealing with A, at work. We’ve gone backwards and forwards. There’ll be times when I’m sitting on the edge of her desk and we’re talking easily and she’s beaming. Half an hour later the shutters are down again. Spontaneous interaction works better than structured, probably because she is taken by surprise. Sometimes you would think we hardly know each other, or never exchanged a fond word, but as if to mitigate against that an email will pop up from her more playful and girlish.

I’ve felt for a long time that fundamentally she likes me, but is wary of getting close to me. Perhaps that’s because of what happened over Christmas. Maybe she has something in her past that influences her behaviour. Or – and for some reason, I am beginning to believe this – she is inexperienced at these things and conflicted (I know she’s single and sensitive about it). Or maybe I’ve just got it all wrong and she just humours me occasionally.

Whatever, I’ve responded consistently throughout much as I’ve described. Fundamentally I like her, and that doesn’t go away. Sometimes I’m more sweet on her, and at other times frustrated. I’ve not lost patience, but when I don’t feel it, or when I’ve had enough for the moment, I back off a little. There’s nothing contrived in this, I’m still friendly when I see her, I just don’t try anything or go out of my way.

Things are – in general – a lot better than they were a couple of months ago, but this cycle keeps repeating. Last week I had run out of patience and had no real desire to interact with her. I was at the stage that if she walked in the room I’d be happier walking out because I don’t want to face that conflict. That didn’t happen, but it sums up my state of mind. She picks up on such things and the routine is that she will make an effort then. I’m a little cynical of that now because I know how it turns out. Last week I wondered if finally, this was it, I’d run out of patience. So be it if so, true to my feelings.

In the meantime, I’ve continued my normal life and, as I’ve reported previously, been feeling a lot better about it. I interact with a lot of people, some I like, some I don’t, some who are men, and some women. It doesn’t mean much more often than not, but I like to flirt if I’ve got a willing flirtee. There’s one woman I’ve probably flirted with since day one, but probably more so in recent times because I’ve had a lot more to with her.

She’s a smart, attractive, stylish woman. I remember when I first met her I thought I’d like to get to know her better. Still, there’s been no meaning in my flirtation, just a bit of fun. Then last week something happened that gave me an inkling that she was getting into it more than I thought. I know at least she likes me, how much I’m not sure.

Just the possibility of something cast me back into my own thoughts. She is quite different from A. She’s the sort of woman I think a lot of my friends could imagine me with, and perhaps I would have expected myself 10-15 years ago. She would fit in well. As I thought of her my mind gravitated to A.

How is A different? They’re both attractive women, though K is an overtly stylish, fashionable woman. They’re both very smart. That means a lot to me. I suspect that A might be more interesting – and by that, I mean more generally curious, with more stories to tell. She’s a great reader too, which counts for a lot too. Still, these are superficialities. There is an intangible – there always is. In this case, I wondered if that intangible was legitimate, or if it was, in fact, a bias.

I have a thing where I try to feel the future. Now that doesn’t always work so often times I’ll just immerse myself in possibilities and see how I feel. This morning I had just about the perfect conditions to do this.

I woke reluctantly at 7 with Rigby’s tummy growling. I got up and fed him and let him out and then went back to bed. For the next hour, I drifted between a pleasantly fuzzy half sleep and something deeper. In my vague mind, I tried to focus myself on K, but there wasn’t enough there. It’s much richer with A because I know her better and we have a history. What a dreamt about where the simple things that no longer happen. Once, I remember, she was sitting in the next partition to me at work. We talk all day without any of the self-consciousness that now infects the conversation. She told me about a book she was reading. It’s crap, she told me, but she can’t help reading it (there’s a metaphor for our relationship…).

The point is I felt fond and affectionate and protective of her. I felt as if we were intertwined, as perhaps we are. It was a very pleasant hour.

There are very clear signs I can read in that, but I just don’t know how true they are. I have a habit of hoping for too long. I was halfway to letting it go as being too hard. But then you know you like her. And you think you know her in some intrinsic way – that’s the intangible. You recognise something you can’t put words to, but it’s true. I think both of us feel that.

Where that leaves me I’m unsure. I guess in the end my aim was true – be as I feel, and let’s see where my feelings lead.

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It’s not about me


Last night about 10,000 people gathered in a silent vigil at Princes Park. They were there because last week Eurydice Dixon was raped and murdered there in the small hours of the night. Last week hers was a name few knew; today hers is a name renowned across the country, with vigils in Sydney and Canberra simultaneously.

The death of Eurydice has outraged and caught the imagination as sometimes shocking events like this do. She was a young comedian walking home after a gig. By all accounts she was a lovely, quirky individual. She was set upon in the dark in the middle of a vacant oval where she was raped, no doubt crying out for help and mercy, unheard, and died there, alone, the victim of a male persecutor.

It’s a terrible story and no wonder it has resonated, but it has echoed much louder than that because what happened to her happens to other women too with a terrible regularity, here, across the country and throughout the world, and for as long as anyone can remember. The vigil last night was for Eurydice, and it was also for every one of those victims. Enough is enough.

It has sparked much comment and commentary, with good reason. Much of it addresses the reality that the perpetrators of these acts are always men. For all it’s controversial. For women they’re sick of walking the streets feeling threatened and unsafe. For many men they refuse to be lumped in with the evil predators guilty of these heinous acts, or be associated with the toxic masculinity that so often leads to it. And for some of us we must sorrowfully accept that even if we might not be guilty ourselves we are a part of a male culture that makes it possible.

Little of this is terribly new, what’s new perhaps is the defiant rejection that this can be allowed to go on. This is why people gather, to show solidarity and to demand action.

Once upon a time I think I was probably one of those men who would refuse to be tarred with the same brush. I would never do that, could never do it, why should I then be reviled as someone who might? I’m still someone incapable of such things, but I understand how little that means to a woman who has endured sexism and harassment daily, who lives with the threat of even worse. They don’t know me; I am one of the group that oppress and threaten them. Like racism, like so many isms, this can only ever be truly judged from the perspective of the oppressed and disadvantaged.

It’s a very sad state of affairs but, as I said, not terribly new. I recalled the other day a time about 25 years ago when I would often walk the streets long after dark. I had a lot going on inside and to simply walk in the dark by myself was a way to get my thoughts in order and soothe my busy mind. Occasionally I would come across someone else on the streets, and sometimes they were women.

I had an instinctive understanding of the situation – late at night, no-one else about, and a big, brooding bloke stalking the streets. For a woman it was potentially a dangerous combination, and though I didn’t like it I would cross the road or go another way to avoid her and ease her mind. I felt shabby doing it, and almost angry. It was like an admission of guilt I didn’t deserve – yet I did it anyway, knowing it was the right thing to do.

This is where we are today. I tweeted a reply to something the other day and it has been shared and commented on since. I wrote as a male, admitting that as such I represented a potential threat. I’m not that man I said, but – and this is the critical aspect many men overlook – it isn’t about me. Or any individual man. It’s about what we have come to represent as a collective and, more particularly, it’s about the fear that we have come to engender in so many women.

It seems petty to get my knickers in a twist about what some are saying about men. Some of it is pretty general, even offensive, but I get the gist of it. For too long we have got away with it and been allowed to get away with it. The perpetrators might get locked up, but the conditions that allow for such perpetrators to emerge go unchecked, and so it goes on. It is a cultural issue that all of us must take responsibility for, but particularly men. As long as we continue to deny and defend, as long as we condone by our silence and inaction, the responsibility for those very few who commit these crimes will be borne by all of us.

Why, as a woman, would you think any different? We must be respectful of the legitimate fear held by women. Those who gathered overnight are right: enough is enough, we must do something. As a man I think the best I can do is accept and admit to this, to call out those who transgress, and be a role model for all.

Drifting to and fro


I was in a so-so mood heading into work this morning, but tending towards the glum side, though for no good reason. I was in a little before eight, and felt an immediate lift as soon as I opened my email.

An announcement had come through overnight advising that A, who had been acting in her training role, had been made permanent because – as it was made clear in the email – she is a star. I know all this, and it surprised me not one bit, but I felt a wave of happiness for her. I know how hard she works, how committed and capable she is, and this seem the most just of just rewards. And I fondly imagined her gratification at this and it gave me pleasure. (What does that mean?)

I hadn’t intended contacting her today. We’re going through another of those familiar phases when we’re out of step with each other and I had opted to step away from the dance for a bit. Sometimes I wonder if she’s just as full of doubt as I am which is why she acts as she does, perhaps mirroring me, as I mirror her. That I cannot see, affection blinds you. I wonder sometimes if it is a figment of my hopeful imagination, but then she’ll get all girly, she’ll sign the whiteboard behind my desk with her name and a smiley face, she’ll beam at me. I don’t know, and when I don’t know I drift off.

So I had decided it was time to drift off for a while, particularly with other things happening. But then reading the email this morning I knew I had to respond to it, if only as a courtesy. So I sent her an email lauding her and telling her to lap it up because she’d earned. And she responded with a friendly but nondescript email, all of one line and a smiley face.

Oh well, I’ll be pleased for her regardless.

After the fire


I read a quote this morning which immediately stuck with me:

Adversity is the state in which man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.

It seems very true, and apropos of much I have thought about in the last 48 hours.

Adversity strips you back to the basics. When times are good and easy it becomes customary to adorn yourself with accoutrements of good living and success. You become immersed in that persona, your true self buried beneath layers of extraneous and ultimately irrelevant luxuries. That’s not to say you can’t be an authentic person still, but it’s nearly impossible to be your basic self. When strife comes all that falls away, either because you can no longer afford to carry it, and because ultimately it is secondary to the person you are. Adversity, should you survive it, simplifies it.

What happens then when you survive and surpass the adversity? Hopefully, you’re left with a truer sense of self and a better perspective on what truly counts. I think that’s true of me, but it also has unexpected, even unintended consequences. This is what I’ve been pondering.

I took the decision earlier this year to open myself up. I chose to let go of the shame and the dark secrets that haunted me. That process is incomplete, but is making good progress. One of my hopes was from that I would become more approachable. For many years – even before my slice of adversity – I could be charming, but also seen as generally enigmatic by many, and intimidating to some. That never worried me too much, and to be honest doesn’t concern me too much now in principle. It’s what it means that I wonder at.

Since I made that decision I’ve succeeded in broadening the group of friendly people around me. I can still be a grouch, but I’m also often light-hearted, witty, generous. I hope and expect that most people within that enclave see me as kind-hearted and true.

Beyond that darkness still reigns. I’m still enigmatic at best, occasionally intimidating, and sometimes arrogant.

There are two sides of this. The first is that I don’t know it does me much favours. The second is that I’m not sure if I care if it favours me or not.

Having survived my hardships I find myself looking back at the time before with a different perspective. By and large, life was pretty good, even happy, and in general I was a success. I took pride in being my own man and doing my own thing. I sought experience over promotion, though ultimately experience served promotion. I travelled broadly, read widely, and considered myself an urbane intellect. I was supremely confident.

Then it comes tumbling down. Rome burns. Slowly I inch my way back over an extended period until I have some semblance of a normal life, though it’s been a torturous process – and it’s but a fraction of what I had before. What I have is a mindset.

I like the man I was before. I think he was a sincere character. He meant well. All the same, looking back I realise what I see are the delusions of the man of comfort. I convinced myself that I was leading an unconventional life, and so doing that made my life worthy. If only it were that simple! And only if it were true!

I’ve come out of that with few illusions. I’m subject to the same conceits as most people, but then I deal with them more harshly than most. I feel no need for admirers having survived what I have. I believe the true essence is being authentic to yourself. I miss some of the fripperies, and still have an indulgent, sensual streak, but I see them now for what they are, pure adornment.

Above all, I don’t want to delude myself that I am more than what I am. I want to be in myself, and in these moments.

I find myself unwilling to commit to the bill of sale presented to me. It’s like I’ve become more aware of the precious self inside and refuse to compromise it – I have one life, my life. Having experienced such hardship much that passes for misfortune appears trivial. Given I have limited time remaining to me, and hence, limited opportunities, I want to make them count, and to be sincerely true throughout. I refuse categorically to allow myself to be stamped by conventional expectation, and that informs behaviour. If I seem impatient it’s because I don’t want to waste time, and if I’m outspoken it’s because I refuse to be silenced just because that’s how people behave. Life is a vital thing – don’t muddle through it!

There was always time before, so I would tell myself. I was content in being a quirky character. Now I realise that time shrinks and there’s no excuse to put things off. I have an urgency now that I only ever applied selectively before. I see life in its pure essence, feel it pushing me forward, urging me to live it now, be myself now. That’s one reason I’m now writing the books that I might never have if not for my troubles.

Whether my life ends up being conventional or unconventional or something between doesn’t really matter as long as what I choose to do and be is true to my self. Ultimately the only arbiter is myself, and I’m glad of that.

With that said I realise I have a way to go. I could be softer. I could be less judgemental. Being honest doesn’t always make for a gentle personality – though I believe I am essentially both kind and gentle. I can be true to my principles, but in a more user-friendly way – and no-one would benefit from it more than me.

That’s the next stage for me, and in my mind I see my next relationship as being central to that. I have someone in mind, but it could be someone else. I realise the person I am drawn to appeals to me because I think she has the qualities to counter-act some of my excesses. Well, for other reasons to. And when I think about that I wonder what it is she sees in me that resonates so in her? It’s such a cliché, but really the best relationships are based on complementary characters, not identical, like two pieces of a jigsaw that fit together perfectly. I need what she can give me; hopefully, I can give her what she needs in return.

Much of this I considered as I sat having a coffee in a cafe in Hampton. I looked out over the street watching people walk their dogs and my mind ticking over. At the end of it as I began the walk home with my groceries hoisted on my shoulder I wondered if I was more complex than most people, or just more aware of my complexities? That led to the obvious question: does self-awareness lead to greater complexity? I might easily have asked if self-awareness simplifies things. It probably does some things, but overall I expect the scales are tilted the other way.

Self-knowledge means looking beyond the surface and beholding the depth and detail beneath. I think it is inherent that with that comes understanding, but so to complexity. Either way, I wouldn’t want to be any different.

But maybe


For some reason about every six weeks, I need a monster sleep. Often times I’ll sleep for ten hours straight on those occasions as if the body has been crying out for rest denied. The rest of the time I run pretty much to a standard routine without feeling any ill effects. I switch off the light around 11.30 and am out of bed a little before 7.

Yesterday was an easy day, more or less. After laying in bed late to read I got up, walked Rigby down by the beach, before returning to make a minestrone while watching the Sixers beat the Heat in the play-offs. I watched some of the Anzac Day coverage from France, including a wonderful speech from the French Prime Minister, before settling down to watch the footy with Cheeseboy and JV. In the evening I had a bowl of the minestrone, groused about the footy, and watched some cursory TV while feeling my energy seep from my body. It was a little after 9 and I felt like nodding off.

I didn’t fight it too much. I was in a funny mood, neither one thing or another, an old Sports song running through my head, Don’t Throw Stones, and no real desire to remain conscious. I went to bed, read for a while, then switched the light off. It was about 10.

I woke a little before 6, dozed for a while, then decided not to pretend. I got up and fed Rigby and made myself a coffee. Back in bed, I turned on the lamp. It was still dark outside and the light made the shadows in the room deeper. I read for about 40 minutes I guess, enjoying the novelty of it as well s a new book, but a part of my mind was turned in on itself.

Something felt different. I was different, or at least my perceptions were, but something about me seemed changed to. In myself, I felt quieter. The force in me that often expresses itself outwardly in how I walk or talk, or in my eyes, was instead internalised. I wondered what it was. Is something about to change?

The Sports song was in my head still as I prepared myself for another day of work. I took a distant view of it in keeping with my low-key mood. In fact, everything seemed distant. I was all small movements, with none of the brash outwardness I sometimes portray.

Sitting opposite me on the train to work was a woman in her mid-twenties, a fit looking intellectual wearing skin-tight leggings. I sensed her awareness of me, which made me aware of her. She reminded me of a girl I’d had sex with, and all of a sudden all I could see was her naked body. There was nothing lascivious in it, it was a function merely of memory. I looked away from her, out the window, becoming reflective.

I’m in my early fifties now, but I look like a well turned out forty year old. I tend to base my behaviour on how I look rather how old I am: and if you can get away with it, why not? There’s a lot of things in that. No-one wants to get old. No matter how self-possessed it’s the rare person who doesn’t take some lead from their personal appearance. And of course, it’s vanity.

I’ve always been vain. You could say it was bred into me. My mother was always stylish, and my father immaculate – and his father, my grandfather, was a devotee of Henty Buck. It was not only all around me, the value of personal appearance was always drilled into me, and above all, the beauty of style. I believed in it and as a good looking boy was happy to exploit it.

I’ve always been aware of it, but somewhere along the line, it meshed neatly with my ego. For many years I rode that wave until it crashed. I’ve reformed some. I’m still vain, and I’ve still got an ego, but they’re quieter than they used to be. I can’t deny myself, but I want to be the master of my ego and not the other way around. All this I pondered as I peered out the window and train quickly filled. I felt quiet myself, humble, just me.

You try and find the right answer – at least I always do. There isn’t always a right answer though. I know that even as I search for it. I like to have something definite to navigate by or act upon, though it’s rare that it’s possible. Even on the train I searched for that. Was it time I accepted my age and just be it? But then, why? Why if in mind and body you feel timeless? Should I feel flattered to have a young woman aware of me? Was it wrong of me to see in my mind’s eye naked bodies? But then – why must I have a position on these things? Can I not be?

In the background of all this is work, and the girl there. I’ll write about it separately, but I had more cause on Tuesday to feel abject disappointment with work. It left me off-kilter as I went for a glass of Albarino on Tuesday night, wondering how such things can be. As for the girl, more and more it feels that this is my personal journey. I make no representations of her. I won’t chase her, or bend myself to be something I’m not to attract her. I am me, myself, as if that is the point of it. I read something the other day, if the door doesn’t open then its not the right door. I’m happy with that. I hope it opens, but if it doesn’t, so be it. In the meantime what I feel is good and true, and maybe what I need. I can be thankful of that, and by extension, her, because she is the cause of it.

Everything is quiet in me. It feels safe, but a little strange. There is no single answer, no easy explanation of right and wrong. Everything is true because its real. Whether something is about to happen or not I don’t know, but maybe.

In the absence of strategy


In the news the last few days has been reports about how China wants to build a base in Vanuatu. It’s caused consternation and controversy and the Australian government has spoken out about it for the obvious reason that a base so close to our mainland – and so far from China – poses a potential threat. And it won’t be an isolated incident.

I rolled my eyes when I read the news. I was totally unsurprised, but experienced a sinking feeling. For me it’s another example of the Australian government’s short-sighted incompetence. This situation could never have developed had we not dropped the ball so badly.

Foreign aid and foreign assistance has been steadily dropping for a few years now, particularly to the Pacific islands. This follows on from the decision a few years back to stop radio and television broadcasts into the region and through Asia. Many a time on my travels I’d flick the dial and come across a familiar accent broadcasting familiar news and views. No longer. This was very popular, not just with expats, but with locals too. All this has been ditched, along with the cuts in aid, for economic reasons.

What price a few million dollars of extra expenditure? Well, now we know. Into that vacuum the Chinese with their expansionary policies have rushed. Once upon a time we exported culture and influence, which was the intangible benefit of our investment. Once we stop making that investment our influence has retracted, and the previous beneficiaries now look elsewhere. Enter the Chinese.

It would be nice to say that none of this could be foreseen, but you have to presume there are some very highly paid people in government departments who would have warned about this. God knows there were voices in the media who did that. Unfortunately the government – and I’ll point the finger at Morrison (and Abbott to a large extent) – chose to ignore those warnings.

Now there is a mad scramble to undo the damage but seriously, I don’t know how that can be achieved.

This is what infuriates me so much, the blind short-termism and the total lack of an actual strategy.

Had there been a proper strategy appropriately championed by the minister, and with a PM a bit brighter than Abbott, then Australia would be continuing to influence and embrace the region – China could never have got a foothold.

Unfortunately this sort of thinking – or unthinking – is not uncommon. The government is rife with it, with energy policy being another prime example. It also happens in the corporate world. I fight an uphill battle every day trying to suggest that the initiatives we take on should be a part of a broader strategy. There is a bigger picture we should be adding to.

In my experience in my present job is that it’s all pretty random. To a large degree that’s structural, with no capacity for a guiding principle. It’s also people, a form of ignorance combined with opportunism leading to misdirected effort. The result is that a bit happens here, a bit there, nothing in concert, with wasted and unnecessarily duplicated efforts, and occasionally contradictory elements.

If it’s a bigger picture then some are working on a landscape, others a portrait, and some an abstract. There is no coherence, sense or overarching purpose. That sums up our government pretty well, too.

Returning to life


Just a small point highlighted by the last two posts.

I reckon about a year ago that my experiences had left me hardened to point almost of being callous. It wasn’t that I felt things less, but they were overlaid by a hard shell that left me blunt and sometimes angry, and that had me impervious to the effects of personal emotion. I would still be moved by tragedy and by triumph – I’ve always been someone affected to the point of tears by such things – but when it came to my life I was almost ruthlessly impassive. I felt like a hard bastard, and had for some time. Having survived homelessness everything else seemed trivial, even small.

It was not a circumstance I was happy with. I felt distant from myself. Being distant from myself I also felt distant to much of society, even still. I wanted to be the sensitive man I’d always been. I was sad thinking I might have lost it. I didn’t want to be tough, or calloused, or indifferent. I wanted to feel. I wanted to be part of things. I wanted to feel the torrent of life surge about me, pushing and pulling and taking me it’s capricious way because to feel, and to feel deeply, is life.

I might be sad at this moment, but sad is better than feeling nothing. I’m grateful that some of that life has returned to me. Being homeless was to live in a wasteland. Coming out of that was to return to a barren landscape. Now that landscape shows signs of re-growth and in time, I hope and expect, it will be a lush playground.

Perhaps it needed only time to return to this state, but I credit a couple of things for it. I think first is actually finding myself interested in someone else after years of forced abstinence. Even when things were good I never fell easily but fell hard when it happened. In this case, it caught me by surprise. I found myself flirting with someone flirting with me. That wasn’t unusual – what was unusual is that from the flirtation came real affection, and the beginnings of hope I only ever realised after the fact.

That’s been no fairy-tale and it’s not anywhere near where I want it to be, and it may never be so – but I feel it, I’m alive to the possibility, can feel those tendrils of desire and hope and pure tenderness spread through me like an elixir. Even in despair – which I am yet to experience this time – there is life, much preferred to casual indifference (though sometimes in the midst of it you may think differently).

The second thing is the choice I made to open myself up. In retrospect, I can see the choice was made easier because of what I felt for the girl. The depression I experienced over Christmas was enough for me to know that I should change things, but it was the utter mortification knowing that it had undone everything with the girl who forced me into action. I couldn’t live with the shame and guilt and tragedy of it.

I have said before opening up as I have is one of the most important things I’ve done in my whole life. It has been hard at times and perhaps difficult for others occasionally to absorb, but it has been largely positive. As I open myself to the world, the world opens itself to me.

I wish I could share it with her. It’s been one of the great frustrations that the one person I really want to share it with I cannot. Perhaps she did eavesdrop the other night and heard at least a part of my story. It would put a different spin on much she might have considered settled fact. It would be something for her to think about, and I can’t imagine it leaving her indifferent.

Regardless of what she knows or doesn’t, what I ever tell her or how it turns out, I owe her more than she can know. Meeting her, and feeling for her, set me on the path to reclaiming myself. I’d like to tell her that someday, but don’t know if I ever will.