None of your business


Big news last Friday when two AFL executives were basically sacked after having affairs with female subordinates.

It’s not a good look, and given these men are married with children, is pretty shabby – but since when is that sufficient to fire someone?

I can’t support these men, but I feel some disquiet over what’s happened because it sets up the employer as moral arbiter. More pointedly, it’s interference in personal lives.

In both cases the affairs were consensual. No-one did anything against their will. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, older executive with younger, more junior colleague, but that’s all it is. It may be questionable, but it’s not illegal, and it’s only vaguely immoral when the parties have other partners – but then, it happens all the time. What if we lived in a society whereby adultery led to instant dismissal? We don’t thankfully, yet these men have lost their jobs (but only because the media got hold of it).

The only possible justification I can see is if it directly impacts on job performance, in which case the reason for dismissal is performance. Otherwise it might contravene a code of conduct the employees have signed up to – but then I don’t think such a thing should be in a code of conduct. It becomes more understandable if it is part of a pattern and a broader culture of entitlement and abuse – which may be the case here. It’s not something that should be encouraged, and yet I’d bet if these guys chose to challenge their dismissal then the law would be on their side.

One of the things I find disturbing about this is the general acceptance that this is just. Officially these managers chose to resign, but only after a hefty push. There seem only a few who have questioned the justice of this, or pointed out that really this is nobody’s business but those involved. It feels to me that convention and public morality intrudes more and more upon our private lives. There is a gap – a necessary gap – between our private and public/professional lives that should be maintained, even if we choose to get hot and bothered with someone we work with.

Speaking for myself I’ve had multiple affairs with women I’ve worked with. Who hasn’t? It’s hardly unusual. I understand if it is frowned upon, but no corporation has the right to dictate my personal relationships. This is what has happened now though, these men have lost their jobs, the women humiliated, and the PR fallout very ugly – and for the most part we seem ready to accept it as fair. Why?

 

Not fade away


I’ve got a heavy cold right now that makes me feel as if my head might pop at any moment. My nose is blocked, and I can feel the pressure behind my eyes and in my ears. I took the day off yesterday because I was sneezing all over the place, and because I had a new oven being installed. I spent the day quietly on the couch or in bed and in between working at the novel. Being crook is a nuisance, but I’m back at work today.

At the end of the night yesterday I was lying on the couch contemplating bed when instead I clicked on a movie to watch I’d recorded last week. Travelling North seems to me one of those forgotten movies. A zillion movies get made every year across the world and some will be remembered for decades to come, for the right reasons, or wrong, and most will fade into the past. A few, for reasons I can’t understand, get lost in the past. Travelling North is a worthy movie, but one of those lost movies. Who here has ever heard of it, let alone seen it?

It’s an Australian movie starring Leo McKern and Julia Blake and based on a David Williamson play. It has a solid cast and is well made and is clever. It’s not a movie that should be forgotten, which is one reason I recorded it. It came at me as a novelty. Oh yes, I thought, I remember that movie. I wonder how it plays now.

I probably wouldn’t have cared, except that I saw this movie at the cinema when it came out. I remember it very well. I went with a mate to see it at the Roseville Cinema in Sydney. For dinner before we went to a Black Stump restaurant. In retrospect it seems an unusual movie for us to have elected to watch, but we both enjoyed its modest pleasures. That was a while ago, I knew, but when I saw it was from 1987 I felt a mild flutter of wonder. I knew it was from about then, but I realised that was 30 fucking years ago. 30 years! How does that happen?

Back then when I saw it first the actual storyline would have had no direct relevance for me. It’s the story of a couple of retirement age driving up from Melbourne to a new home in the north of Queensland. They go from the hustle and bustle of the city to a laid-back lifestyle in a tropical setting. It’s a well-worn trail, with thousands of retirees making the trek from the southern states to the tropical climes to warm their bones with their working life done. I was not much more than a kid then and all of that was many years distant, if at all – and I doubt it ever crossed my mind.

That time is 30 years closer now. I’m still a way off and very much doubt that I would go north – it might be pretty, but I’d miss the conversation and the culture. Regardless, there will come a time in the next 20 years when I will need to consider what I’ll do. If not travelling north, then what?

Who can say? A lot can happen in 20 years, and I hope it does. I’ve changed in the 30 years since I saw the film. Back then everything was ahead of me. Right now a lot of it is behind me. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve lived an interesting life, and occasionally a big life. My desire is for that to continue, though it’s harder now. I still want to feel that vibrant urgency, still want to be relevant – I don’t think I can live without that.

That’s my problem with retirement. I accept that I’ve a harsh perspective on it, but that’s because I’ve observed it so much. I’ve watched retired husbands – long careers behind them, but past – trail after their wives in the supermarket. Just recently there’s been a bunch of press on retirement and aged care homes, and none of it good. But I’ve also listened in as retired couples have lauded the facilities and activities of their retirement villages. They make it sound like landlocked cruise ships with lawn bowls and cards and group activities, and so on. Perhaps that’s as it should be – but it’s not for me, and I can’t imagine a time when it will be.

If you ask me I’ll tell you I want to stay independent to the end. I want my own home and space, want to make my own decisions and live life as I choose too. The Leo McKern character in the movie is a retired civil engineer and ex-communist. He’s done things and has become a curmudgeonly old man. Well, excuse me, I think that’s exactly as it should be. Live on your terms, and fuck convention.

There will be plenty who object to my suppositions and to each his own. What it feels like to me is that to settle into a retirement home of any sort is to accept the fact of eventual death and to wait for it in comfort. I don’t accept it, and I won’t wait for it.

For me, right now, it’s simple. I’m happy to live simply. Have my home, a vegie garden, a dog, and hopefully a partner to share it with. That’s to start with. But you need more than that if you are not to become one of those lost husbands dogging their spouses heels in the supermarket because they have nothing better to do. You need something for yourself.

I know this because I have always needed that. I’ve been strident because I wanted to feel life and engage with it. It has become my nature and it won’t change just because I might retire one day. You need to do, or at least attempt to do. All your life you have contributed to society, if only modestly – why should that change now? So okay you tell me, because you’ve retired, because those days are gone, because now it’s time to rest and enjoy. Enjoy what though? The ethereal pleasures of playing bridge and going to the theatre?

I believe that you must put in as much – if not more – than what you take out. A life living as a valued member of the community builds that balance up, from which you withdraw as necessary. At retirement the deposits cease unless you make an effort otherwise. You begin to draw from that account and what fun it is to start with – but then it pales, doesn’t it? For the active mind I’m sure, it would. To take without putting back becomes a superficial existence. What meaning acquired over lifetime of rich experience evaporates in the artificial sunshine of retirement.

I want to keep putting in until the day I die. For me it means in that little house with the vegie garden I must do something more. For me that will be writing, but probably something else to. And if I could I would live like that starting tomorrow.

I can’t disengage. I can’t put things at arm’s length. This is what you have to remember. When you die you don’t come back. This is it. Why waste it? Why become irrelevant? Live all the way through I reckon.

What the people don’t want


It’s tempting to suggest the unlikely rise of Jeremy Corbyn is due to the political difference he represents. His gentler political philosophies are certainly widely appealing (unlike some of his more hard-line policies). After years of austere neo-liberalism being rammed down their throats Corbyn’s emphasis on traditional labour values and focus on the small, the under-privileged, the voiceless came as a welcome relief, and that’s very real. People are sick and tired of being overlooked in favour of big business and the top end of town, and to find in Corbyn someone who sincerely and authentically spoke for them was a breath of fresh air – and it’s a truth that would apply equally here in Oz, where much the same complaints – and resentments – exist.

While the folksy Jeremy Corbyn was genuinely appealing, it was more about what he wasn’t than what he was that led him to the verge of an unlikely victory. What he wasn’t – or at least, appeared not to be – was a member of the political machine. Scorned by his own party and rejected by much of the mainstream media he epitomised an authentic political character. In the world of 2017 there’s an instinctive appeal in that.

My view is this recent run of surprising election results is less to do with voting for something than it is about voting against something. What is being rejected are incumbent orthodoxies and stale vested interests. Corbyn’s success was less an endorsement of his politics and much more a rejection of political orthodoxy (and neo-liberalism) as embodied in the fumbling Theresa May.

Likewise when Trump got up what he represented was the anti-system, and by voting for him swathes of the American public were voting against the established political class of which Hilary Clinton was a leading member. For years they’d heard the same old slogans and formulas repeated ad nauseam, and to little effect. They were weary of pollsters and slick political machines and above all class of the perpetual, and bitter about the flawed system that spawned them.

Corbyn and Trump have very little in common. Their politics are polar opposites. Their styles couldn’t be more different. What they share is an outsider’s status. Trump came from business, outspoken, boastful and larger than life. He gave voice to many of the electorate made cynical by party machinations. He was over the top, perhaps unpleasant, but he might actually make a difference because he was different.

Corbyn came from the unfashionable socialist wing of the Labour party. Guys like him are bit like political duffers, they’re idealistic to a fault and speak in unrealistic riddles. They’re cardigan wearers that lend a bit of street cred to the Labour movement, but in an era of slick new-Labour, never meant to rule. Except by an extraordinary series of events he managed to get himself elected to Labour party leadership. Somehow he managed to retain his leadership in the face of challenges and criticism. Altogether he is an unlikely character and, like Trump, represents the anti-political establishment.

I write this from Australia where this phenomenon is yet to bite deeply, but there is a lesson there for anyone who cares to heed it.

There has certainly been a drift towards the minor parties on the edge in Australia, and for the same reasons as above – voters are jaded about mainstream politics. The independent parties have waxed and waned in popularity, but are well established now and seem to be accepted as a necessary evil by both Liberal and Labor.

The Libs are the incumbents, but barely competent. Labor leads in the polls, but only because the Libs are so riven and ineffective. In Bill Shorten Labor have an uninspiring and mediocre leader who is more concerned about plying political tricks than he is in advocating for the genuine benefit of Australians. He would rather exploit a tricky political angle for political advantage than he is in allowing for bipartisan reform. It’s all about the polls, all about winning.

This is what politics has become, but it’s now a stale formula. People see through that now. They’ve heard it all before and though they may have fallen for it the first half dozen times they’re now awake to it. This is the new political reality: the electorate is angry, and they’re through with being treated like fools. The shonky backroom deals and cynical compromises have been exposed.

I seriously doubt that Shorten and polling minions are oblivious to this. They live in a bubble, and there is an inherent arrogance that has them believe they know better – which is one of the central things the people have rejected.

Stop playing games. Speak to truth. Show what you believe in. Expose your values. Be vulnerable. Risk something. This is what people want now.

I don’t know that Shorten has that in him, but it’s what the electorate are clamouring for. Shorten is of the machine. He is created by it and has the mentality of it. It was a mistake when the party powerbrokers rejected the vote of the members and installed Shorten ahead of Albanese. Albo is tough and smart, but he’s earthy too, and real. He’s an old fashioned Labor idealist too – he believes in things (and was mentored by one of my all-time favourite politicians, Tom Uren – a great man).

Labor is ahead in the polls now, but no guarantee he will be when the next election comes. Albo would be ahead of Shorten if leader, and has the credibility and authenticity to carry it to election day. One sure thing, when that day comes there will be more surprises unless someone – Turnbull or Shorten – is prepared to make a difference.

To resist, or not to resist


A couple of nights ago, on his way home from work, one of the guys here was set upon by two muggers. There was no physical violence, it was all threat, but the threat was real and confronting. Both of the muggers wielded axes.

Their victim is a pleasant, gentle soul, much more a lover than a fighter and so he handed over his wallet and hurried home. With a young family he packed up and spent the night at his in-laws. Understandably shaken he didn’t come into work yesterday. I caught up with him this morning to venture my concern. He’s okay, though the encounter is undeniably disturbing, and has the potential to be disturbing for quite some town.

Crimes like this seem to be more common, though it may be we are more aware of them, or they are reported on more often. The general view is that these are the times we live in. Law and order, always a hot potato, is a big ticket item right now. I don’t agree with everything being said, or even much of it, but I understand the rhetoric.

On hearing of this encounter I was initially shocked. You know these things happen, but there is a distant between you and these events. Then it happens to someone you know and it becomes far more real.

After the initial shock I wondered how I would react if faced with the same situation. I know the sensible thing is to do what he did and be compliant and passive, handing over my valuables and walking away. That is, if you like, the rational, sensible approach. I pride myself on being rational at least, and in conversations around law and order would rather take a calm and unemotional approach to it. It’s easy to be outraged, but it only distorts the truth. The solution comes not from emotion, but reason.

I suspect that if I was in a similar situation all of that would be forgotten. I’m well known, even notorious, for being stubborn (surprisingly so). Much of that comes from a rational place. If something is true and worthy then I will stand up for it, but undeniably there is an aspect of ego to it.

I fear if faced by a couple of axe wielding muggers that I would dig my heels in. As soon as someone tries to compel me to anything is the moment I resist. On top of that I can taste the disdain I would feel for these men. They feel the need to threaten me with axes? How weak. I would find it hard to hide my utter contempt for then. I could not stomach the possibility of them prevailing. Quite irrationally I would fancy my chances with them. Even considering the distortions of an inflamed ego I would reckon I could outsmart them. I would like to think of myself as a lover, but I’m very certainly a fighter.

What then? Who knows.

This guy was mugged in Lalor; it’s very unlikely I would ever get approached in the civilised streets of Bayside, let alone threatened. I suspect also that they wouldn’t try it on with me. I have a bit of size and confidence on my side, not to mention attitude. I don’t swagger, but people pick their mark and I reckon they would assess me as too problematic. Even so.

I don’t want to be mugged, and I seriously don’t know how I would react. Part of me is glad of my obstinacy. I believe in it as something just when faced with injustice. You can’t give way to these things. But I’m smarter than that too. Sitting here at my desk while it’s still but a hypothetical I hope I would be humble enough to give way. Quite aside from the danger of resisting there’s the peril – and ultimate weakness – of letting my ego prevail. To be a true man I need to let that go. The ego is not about being rational, and is entirely selfish. I need to be better than what my ego demands, and that’s true in all aspects of life – but much easier saying than doing.

 

Strive mightily


An aphorism popped up on my phone before. Two things prevent us from happiness, it read; living in the past and observing others.

Things like this pop up quite regularly, and for the most part I glance at them and promptly forget. This one held my interest though. Was it true? I wondered. Did I believe it?

It probably is true, objectively speaking. We’re always being urged to live in the moment, and this is but a more specific variation of it. What gain is there to dwell in the past? And isn’t close observation an invitation to unwelcome thoughts?

If life is but to experienced then I would consider it sage advice. That’s not how I see life though, and is antithetical to my home-wrought beliefs.

Firstly, there is some common sense regarding the first part of the comment. You can’t live in the past. It’s done and dusted, and whatever happened then can’t be changed now. You have to live in the here and now, because that’s all you’ve got.

Still, you would hope to learn from history. What happened before informs who you are now and to disregard that is to be no different from an instinctual beast. In an ideal world there is wisdom to be found in experience and new learnings. It may be ‘done’, but it remains true.

The past for me has always been significant. The very fact I keep a journal like this attests to a need to record and preserve. My life may not amount to much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s all I have. One day I’ll be dust too, and whether there remains a record of me or not I do not know – but at least I am putting down a trail.

You live a rich life that is full of things, romance and drama, controversy and contemplation, adventure and struggle. That’s if you’re lucky. Once it has happened it’s gone, it’s true, but that’s no reason to disown it. For me to describe and consider the events of my life is an attempt in two – to make some broader sense of it, and to keep it close to me. If I don’t I fear it will be drift off and be lost.

That’s why every so often I’ll put down some long forgotten memory that has come back to me. It’s a missing piece of the puzzle I put into its rightful place by recording it. There is great wonder in that also. How am I that person? How am I this one? This past is my identity, even if I can’t make sense of it.

There are other things I record too, a contextual history if you like. In more recent times there are recurring themes such as my mother. Once more wonder plays a part. She was there so long, and now she is gone: how can that be so? There is sentimentality, but also inquiry. I play with the edges of these things, like scars that have not quite healed. I look at myself, what I feel and think, how I react, in all of it seeking an oblique view of the familiar.

I don’t want to lose that either. It’s mine.

And what about observing? Well, I can understand how life might be simpler with your eyes and ears shut, but what’s the point? That would be hell for me. There was a book, I can’t remember which, where the protagonist declared he was an eye. I can understand that. To see, to hear, to query and wonder at are to me the elements of an intelligent life. Life enters through dumb receptacles, but if we’re lucky we can filter and analyse and truly feel what those dumb receptacles experience. For me that is life.

Finally, there is the false premise at the heart of the aphorism. Am I wrong in thinking that most people believe the ultimate aim of life is happiness? I’m not one of those people. I’m not against happiness. If it’s going around I’ll greedily accept it. It’s a secondary consideration though. It’s not the aim in itself, but hopefully the outcome of more important things.

What are those things? There are words that describe the sense of what I’m talking about – curiosity, knowledge, romance, wonder, and so on – but they are not the thing. What is it then? It’s to strive mightily, I think. For what? Knowledge, feeling, understanding…

My aphorism then is almost the opposite of that which led to this entry. Live beyond this moment. Life may be linear, but our experience is not limited to that plane. My advice is to never cease to wonder. Ask why and how, and don’t be afraid of asking for more. And if you can, choose to feel deeply, the sorrow as well as the joy.

Power and beauty


I had an invitation to visit a racing stables yesterday in Glenhuntly. I have a friend who has had an interest in racehorses for 10-12 years (including Caulfield Cup winner Elvstrom), and he’s been trying to drag me in for most of that time too. I’m not in a position to do anything like that, but I took up the invitation to attend yesterday to catch up with him and his family, and out of curiosity. It was an unexpectedly satisfying experience.

It was a lovely day and a brunch of sorts was put on, before the trainer stood to talk up the racehorses in his stable as they were paraded by for us. Later we had a full tour of the stables, which was interesting enough in itself, but the bonus was that we could get up close and personal with the horses. They seemed just as curious to see us as we were to see them. They watched on with interest as we gathered, offering there head for a nuzzle or gently nibbling at my jacket sleeve.

They are magnificent beasts, but up close you really appreciate the grace and beauty of these animals. I doubt there’s any such thing as an ugly horse, but these are the true thoroughbreds. There was a dignity to their bearing, as if they understood their privileged status. Their coats were shiny, like satin, and every one of them powerfully muscled. To be in their presence was to understand their coiled potential. At rest they were like athletes between events, with an edgy languor. Trackside you get but a general impression of their athleticism, but to be there stroking their flanks, to observe their powerful hindquarters and the definition of their muscles is to understand that they are made to gallop, built for speed. To run fast is their raison d’etre, and to anything else would be a betrayal of their purpose.

I was profoundly moved. I felt a kind of Nietzschean sense of order and reason. But then as they were paraded around I was moved by their pure grace. I’ve always loved animals, but as I get older that feeling becomes deeper, and feels more meaningful. I know that animals are not as innocent as we make them out to be. I spoke to the trainer earlier and he had mentioned how someone had said if only horses could talk, but, shaking his head, he said they were enough trouble with talking too. They were like people, he said, they had their own characters and personalities.

Still, I am drawn to something unspoilt in them. Uncorrupted. We use and exploit them; we use and exploit each other. Animals are true to their souls. That is different things for different beasts. I am regularly moved by the unashamed devotion of Rigby, and it is true of most dogs. They give without expectation of receiving. They give because it is their nature, because they take pleasure from it.

For these horses it seemed to me they well understood the whimsical possibilities of the power and grace god has granted them with. They remained individual, and equally capable of returning devotion. Like all of us perhaps, they yearn for affection. Unlike many of us, they yearn for it without shame. More and more I think, animals are the best of us.

Which is not to say there is not much good in us too, and more admirable in its way because so often it comes in spite of resistance. I met with my friend and his wife, met his kids, all of them good people. Then towards the end one of the stable staff came up to me, “remember me,” she said.

I had watched her without recognition as she had paraded one of the horses. Now as she spoke to me I knew her. There was a café on the corner from my massage shop where I would get a coffee every morning, and often every afternoon. They got to know me and I grew friendly with a couple particularly. One was this woman – barely a girl then, bright, attractive, and generous natured. We shared a joke most days and a bit of gossip. She followed me on Instagram. I sensed she came from a privileged background, but was very down to earth. Now she was working at a stables.

We spoke for about 10 minutes. I was glad to see her again. She told me how this was her dream, about how she was out of bed by 3.15am 6, and sometimes 7 days a week. For me it capped off a fascinating morning, and it felt as if I had closed a loop. It’s good to meet with good people again, especially as I’d never the chance to say goodbye before.