To be


I had a woman during the week tell me I was a good man. When I answered that I try to be she said that I was good without having to try. It’s funny, but I can’t hope for a better compliment than that.

I had a bunch of women tell me the other week how handsome I was. Isn’t he handsome? Don’t you think? Yes, of course, very handsome. And recently I’ve been told repeatedly how charming I am – though I reckon there’s an equal number who mutter under their breath about my lack of charm. These compliments flirt with the ego, but they don’t speak to character. I can’t hope to more than being a good man, and it’s lovely to have someone tell you so.

For most of my life, I’ve been conscious of being this or that. I’ve strived to be a good man because I believed in it, but I also strived to charm (sometimes) because I wanted to – and so on, across the board. I’m very ‘conscious’, very self-aware, so this was natural to me.

I’ve had my tribulations in recent times and lately, it hit hard. It’s a lot better now as I have consciously dealt with it. For a man such as me, life often feels like a series of trials designed to test and potentially mould you. How you deal with these trials and what you learn from them feed into who you are, but it’s a constant feedback loop, ever adjusting, ever assessing. I think this blog attests to that very well.

I am what I am, I’ll always be a thoughtful, analytical type, I don’t know any other way. I process things. That’s what makes me good at my job because I get to the bottom of everything in a very rational way.

I hesitate to proclaim what I’ve learnt from this latest episode, but I have come to some provisional understanding – and the first may seem surprising.

I think part of my problem, and probably common to most people, is that I am striving to be something. That’s a complex thing wrapped up in identity and personal history, expectation and ego. I set myself and even when I go some way towards achieving whatever it is it’s never enough. I don’t think anything of this is surprising, except that the answer as I see it is simply to ‘be’.

That will be hard for me because my mind is always engaged and I’ve got a hand on the gearstick. I’m not about to disengage my mind, even if I could – but it means that I might be inclined to let things take their natural course rather than trying to intervene. I’m always searching for ‘ways’. I get stuck in one of these fugues like lately and I’m right on it trying to figure things out and make a difference. That’s fine – here I am, after all – but I might not be in this fugue in the first place if I was less consciously trying. I am a lot of things and many of them pretty good – why not let them take me where they will?

This means not making rules – won’t do this, can’t do that, and so on. If I just let it happen then I’ll find the way that is natural and right for me. Don’t worry, be happy.

This will take some adjusting to and I’m bound to get it wrong probably more often than not, but it’s no more than an adjunct to the philosophy I embraced earlier this year to open up and let go, to accept.

Part of all this is to accept who I am. I think some of the troubles I’ve had comes from the conflict between what I feel and what I want, but such are the complexities of human nature that sometimes they reverse. That leads to much confusion.

Let me give you an example. I feel a general reluctance to take on too much these days. That may pass, it may not, but it’s true for now. It rubs up sometimes against notions of self. To be honest, it embarrasses me sometimes, it feels unmanly even – but really, it’s only against the arbitrary standards I set myself before. At the same time, I still feel often that surge of adrenalin and competitive fervour. How do I reconcile these things? I don’t.

I’ve always been someone eager to take things on. I’ve always been bullish and aggressive. Over time that’s manifested itself in self-image so that I’ve strived to be that man, rather than just being that man. He’s still in me, but I don’t have to be him if it doesn’t feel right. There’ll be times when that assertive character will take it to the ring and it will feel perfectly right; and times when I’m happy to bystand. They don’t have to be incompatible. I don’t have to be one or the other. They can be simply different elements that abide in harmonious balance. This is what I have to get my head around. Everything is true, everything is right if I just be.

Advertisements

The friendship of women


After writing the last post I found myself randomly sampling posts from the past, going all the way back to 2006. What if I knew then how things would turn out, I wondered? Most of what I read was confident and thoughtful and sometimes a tad melancholy.

Something that occurred to me is that in the years since I’ve lost the collection of women I would circulate between, catching up on a regular and rotational basis. These weren’t women I had a physical relationship with, though in the past I may have. Rather, these were women with whom I’d found some common ground and mutually enjoyed our catch-ups.

Generally, we would meet for a drink and sometimes for dinner. They would tell me about their life and I would tell them of mine. The conversation was different from those with my mates, softer, more sensitive, occasionally flirtatious, and with a platonic intimacy.

For many years I was lucky enough to have three, four, even five of these women at the end of a phone. Today there is probably only one, Donna, and even with her, it’s not what it used to be.

I’m sad to think it’s changed, but I’m not surprised. Some women found permanent blokes and drifted away. Another I had a stupid falling out over a misunderstanding on her part, which I was too proud to correct. Others were anchored in certain times and places. By far the biggest reason is that I’ve not been nearly as social as I was before, and not in a position to replenish as others went. I’ve been living in a hole for years, and I’m not out of it yet.

I’ve lost something more than just good company. I like women, but it’s not all because I’m a lustful man. I like women for their perspective and their sensitivity and for their genuine affection. I like to open up to them like I can’t but one of my male friends. Oh, I like being masculine and witty and interesting too, like myself reflected in their eyes and flattered by it – but that’s a transient thing. I miss the connection not of shared interests but rather of shared humanity.

I think that’s something. Forget being man and woman, we were two human beings yarning about the journey. I needed that and I miss it now.

Life would be easier now if I still had those relationships. I could pick up the phone or catch up for coffee and have an authentic conversation with them knowing they wouldn’t judge me. In a way, they were like shock absorbers for me. I could tell them things I wouldn’t tell others and they would interpret them for me, and I would do the same for them as a man. In between, we would have a great time and laugh aplenty while drinking wine or cocktails and sharing – most often – a gourmet meal.

I need more female friends. It feels harder these days, and not just because of the constraints I live within. Times have changed, it’s not as seamless as it used to be. Still, I set myself – more female friends.

This is what I choose


It went pretty much as I expected yesterday, and while I had a moment of bitter reflection I soon got past it. I’d conditioned myself to the outcome and was ready to move on from it.

Moving on, in this case, means to disengage myself from the process. I understand realpolitik, and I can respect it in aspects, but it doesn’t mean I want to be a part of it. For me, engagement means I’m all in or I’m out. I’m at the stage of my life, certainly, when I can’t be halfway engaged. I think this is more pronounced in this stage of my development, but I think it was ever so in some shape or another. I’ve always been contemptuous of dilettantes, who I’ve considered too clever for their own good. It’s not a way I want to be.

Still, I have to exist in this world. These are facts of life. Bold leadership is hard to find, anywhere, and the sort of compromise that caters to the lowest common denominator rules the day. Pure ideals and the courage to be true to them is an anachronism. I can either move with the times or be true to myself.

I think for me to be a part of that would be a compromise of my nature. That may make me an anachronism too, but I’d rather live believing in something true and noble than stoop to emulate those simply more ‘pragmatic’. I think this is one of the problems we see in society today – too many have compromised on their principles in order to be heard. Too few stand for anything these days, and this has become the new normal. It’s the narrative of our times, a spiral that has made our discourse both more confrontational and less incisive and gives power to mediocrity.

I can either be part of that or step aside from it. It goes against the grain to step aside because I always believe I can make a difference, and there is shame in refusing the fight. In this case though I feel to remain a part of it is to be complicit, and to validate its methods.

Instead, I will stay true to what I believe and closely attend to what I do. It makes for a smaller me, but then I have been craving that, haven’t I?

What many don’t understand is that I don’t work for them, or their brand; I work for myself in service of an objective. I will always do my best because anything less is a betrayal of myself. I think that confronts some and confuses others. Some, I fear, feel disrespected by it.

I accept I’m a purist, and I understand it puts me out of step. I’ve always quite liked that, though much of that was ego. Now, I just don’t want to be in step with a way I deplore. This is the choice of every person, to go their own way, to think and act for themselves, to be a true individual.

When you care


I’m sitting in the dark in the quiet, the glow of the screen the only light. I’m meant to be doing my weekly ironing, but… I have other things in me tonight, a mix of them that leave me with a peculiar edge.

There’s some wariness in me. I fear tomorrow I will once more be on one side of a confrontation. I don’t resile from these things, but wish they weren’t necessary. I sit there wondering, are they necessary? Why not just give way? Wouldn’t that be easier?

It would be, but to what end? I don’t know if I could give way. It’s not in me. But let’s say I could, what then? I don’t know if you can understand this, but that would represent almost the worst thing I could contemplate – to go on day after day contrary to my desire and nature and rational consideration. I know people do it, but for the man I have become that feels like a living death.

People do that. Many do it easily, and lots besides rarely hold such deep-seated convictions in the first place. I do, and always have. I remember when I was barely out of my teens thinking about principles. It was something in my head, a value I held onto that I justified by rational argument: if I’m not this then what am I? It was in my head but it was also much deeper in the middle of me, something I was instinctively.

I wrote the other night in Facebook how much easier it is when you care less, which is true enough, but when you care less it also means less. I don’t care overmuch about what people make of me – that’s too much hard work. I care about what I stand for though, and for principles of honesty and decency and democracy. I care about the things I do because, among other things, there is meaning in that and purpose. Without that isn’t life a pale thing? We are our beliefs, they’re the spice of our character. Without that what are we?

I’m glad to be that way, but in all honesty don’t know any other. The value you take from things comes from the effort you put into them. The challenge I set myself is to do things with integrity. I’m not perfect, I’m deeply flawed, I fail sometimes, I don’t wish to set myself up as a paragon – I’m not by any stretch – nor do I demand it from others. We dance to our own tune. This is my tune though and it means regardless of other things I’m committed to the job at hand and giving it my best and being true to its meaning. I’m a man who puts his hand up. I believe in things. I want to make things better. I put my heart into what I do because what else is there? I’m hard at it and single-minded sometimes because there’s only one way, and that’s the right way.

Of course, you say – there’s your right way, and there’s mine. I’m not pushing ideologies though, that’s every mans own business and if I take you up on that then that’s something completely different. I’m not going to tell you what to think, or how to live your life, and if you choose to do your thing differently to mine then that’s your business. There are some things less ambiguous. If it’s meant to be fair then it should be fair. If it’s supposed to be democratic then it ought to be democratic. And always we should be decent and honest. I won’t accept any back-sliding there and so that leads, sometimes, to disagreement.

It seems to me this stubbornness leads me to regular conflict. I’ve been called a warrior again and again, and I understand why. I don’t crave these confrontations though. I’d rather we agreed, I’d rather that we all understood the same thing. I understand how self-interest works, I can even respect it in a way because in a way it’s honest. I’ll oppose it still when it crosses the line, but what I really can’t abide is the craven submission to it by some because it becomes simpler. I can’t abide these moral bullies getting their own way to the detriment of some higher principle because those who could stop it, don’t – and because it’s easier to compromise than it is to stand for something.

I could be talking about anything these days – certainly it sums up much of our parliament.

So this is something of what I face tomorrow. I dread it, but I won’t back down. I suspect I’ll be defeated, but a point will be made.

So all of this in me now, but at the same time, there’s a fantastic sense of poignancy in me. I cherish the fact that I’m capable of feeling so delicate and sensitive. I tremble with feeling unrelated to anything I’ve written above. If I am a warrior then I am also a man riven by deep feeling. It feels like a flaw, a crack in me, a vulnerability if you like, but because I’m cracked in such a way I have a direct sense of the mystery about me. It’s like my skin has been peeled back and upon the raw flesh I feel life, stinging and oppressive in a way, but true and pure and real as well.

I can say none of this to anyone, which is a pity. Something like this is made to be shared. I feel wonders. I feel illuminated. I feel something more than the man contained in this body. Sometimes I preen, I’m a man full of vanity and it delights when I can make a girl smile with my clever words or impress with my smarts. I realise though what I want is to be loved for what I have inside me, this delicate thing I can’t begin to understand, no matter how many words.

The fight justifies itself.

So it goes


I’m posting something here I wrote for Facebook, but never published.

I’ve got into the habit of being quite candid on Facebook, which is quite different from being candid here. On Facebook, they know my name, and the people I’m connected to know me, either intimately or more distantly.  Once upon a time, I was someone who would never post anything personal on Facebook, but that was who I was as a man. I’ve tried to change that because I’ve tried to change myself in key ways. One of the best ways to do that, I thought, was to expose myself in ways that made me uncomfortable. In time it gets easier, but it feels good too.

This time I’m not posting it because it raises speculation about others I’d rather not discuss. Personally, I’m happy to speak about these things all day and all night, but when there are other people involved it’s unfair to post things that people will read who also know the other.

To be fair, it’s a bit long-winded for Facebook anyhow:

So I’m sitting here on a Sunday morning thinking as I have been lately, and as always I do. I’m listening to Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye and Etta James and munching on a bolognese roll for an impromptu brunch and wondering, among other things, if I’m in love. The answer seems immaterial somehow. It’s just a word, a state of being that arrives sometimes and departs often.
“If I were but a simpler man,” I think, which is a bit like a grandfather clock wishing to become digital: it won’t happen because it can’t. And like all of this it just is, a moment in time, which brings me to Vonnegut because I watched Slaughterhouse 5 again recently, the book of which I read, when I was young, left me pondering for weeks.
It seems to me as I get older that my view of things becomes simpler, even if I do not. In the book, we learn that every moment, past, present and future, have always existed, and always will. Elsewhere he said we are what we pretend to be, so must be careful what we pretend. He also said in a quote most now know, that we should enjoy the little things because one day we’ll look back and realise they were the big things.
It’s good to be mindful, this, here, this moment. This is what I know and feel. This is how I yearn and this is what I wonder. This is what I cherish. What happens next I don’t know. I can only be me and true to whatever that means, and honest, which is harder yet. Nothing counts until you put it on the line.
Time soon to let some secrets go which may make more sense of these words, but not yet. Till then, let me leave you with another Vonnegut quote which is eloquent in its brevity:

What I write about


Generally, when I come to post something to this blog I have a range of things that have crossed my mind I might choose to expand upon in writing. Sometimes what I post will be more spontaneous, though less often. Something will have triggered, either in the personal realm or more broadly current affairs which makes for a response I want to put on the record. Generally, there’s no shortage of anything to write about, because something’s always happening.

There is a range of things I could write about today, for example. At some point, I want to share something about my recent writing. Or I could comment on the recently announced merger of Fairfax with Nine – a shocking development for so-called media diversity. There’s always something I could write about the variety of women in my orbit (or I’m in theirs – one of many things I’m never sure about). Then I could post something about work, but really that will just make me feel more sour. Or Mad Men, my favourite show just about I recently began watching again from episode one. Then there’s the weekend, the Tour de France, the engagement committee stuff, even a memory from when I was about 13 years old and got appendicitis while on a school camp, and so on. Realistically, I couldn’t be bothered about writing any of that – instead, I’m writing about how I couldn’t be bothered.

One thing I’m trying to do lately is live in the moment. The past has gone, I can do nothing about it, and the future is unknown. What I have is now. It’s a perspective that seems to be framing my outlook on adding to this blog. I’ve no doubt that I’ll end up writing about some of the things I referred to above (though I’m certain that some will go without), but right now all I want to write about is right now.

That’s a lost perspective, really. We write about things – things that generally exist within a timeframe, and often within a theoretical viewpoint. The here and now is something that just passes by. We leap from one thing to the next, but the bits in between are transient and disposable.

But here I am now, sitting at my familiar desk at work writing this at 3.34pm. Over my right shoulder is the window which from my 18th floor looks over the east of the CBD. There’s the usual hum of conversation and the tap of fingers on keyboards, and a slightly raised voice in the middle distance – the English guy, the guy who makes his own beer.

Before I started writing this post I had asked my direct manager a question which she bristled at. It was a reasonable question but sometimes she takes umbrage at these things as if I’m having a go at her. In this case, I was asking something on my offsider’s account. He’s on secondment to his role and is a champion at it, but is becoming impatient because though he’s been promised for a while there seems no action on formalising his role. And that’s the question I asked: what’s happening with his role?

I’m sure she knows she should have done something before now – certainly that’s what she promised, though promises are cheap these days. So she tried to shut down the conversation and drop the heavy hint I should not go on with it, but I have a policy that I do not take hints – tell it to my face, straight out. So I didn’t drop it and she became antsier, but eventually answered: it will happen, but not yet.

In a moment I’ll get up from my seat. I’ll do a circuit of the floor. One or two might call me over. Generally, it will be something to do with work, but it might be something else too: how was your weekend? The Bombers are looking good. And so on. I might stop at one or two desks myself. I might catch the eye of the pretty one, she might smile, I might pause, though I have no intention of anything happening. And I’ll think of A., who I caught glimpse of earlier but didn’t speak to. I’ll stop by one of the guys I manage. What’s happening? I’ll ask him. Anything to report? Eventually, I’ll end up at my desk.

This is today. I caught up with a friend for coffee early on at Kirks. At lunch, I wandered down to a bookshop that’s been opened up in an old cinema (Hylands). Just now as I was typing this I asked my offsider, just back from lunch, what the new spicy chicken nuggets from McDonald’s are like. Tonight I’m having coconut curry. And so on. Tomorrow something similar will happen.

Frailty and power


I went out for dinner last night with Donna. It happened to be the date of my mum’s birthday, and it’s become a tradition that we catch up on that date to celebrate.

We didn’t dwell on it. I don’t think we mentioned mum once except towards the end to mark the occasion. I wasn’t maudlin or sad. I’m glad to remember and I think it’s a fine thing, but I’m past the point I dwell on it for too long.

But then this morning as I’m heading to work on the train I’m listening to an audiobook and there’s a scene where there’s someone who had gone away many years ago returns to the town he grew up in and reunites with the friends and family and the woman he loved. He’d gone off, had adventures, made a name for himself, and to some he’d become a hero. But then he is undone meeting these people he once cared so much about, all of whom had missed and wondered what had become of him. Their affection for him was undiminished and he is embraced, forgiven for his absence and loved for his essential qualities, buried deep within his hardened exterior. He had gone away, become tough through experience, then returned, and in his return he connected not only with his loved ones, but with his sensitive self, so long neglected.

I listened and felt incredibly moved. I could understand completely, as if it reflected my life – though it doesn’t, not directly. Then, as he is held by his adoptive mother I found myself gazing out the window of the train with tears in my eyes. I felt as he did at that moment, though in a different context.

I have not gone away from my mother, she went away from me, and she won’t be coming back. I remembered that feeling as he is comforted by his mother, the strong man made frail by love and I missed that and envied it and realised that it was something I could never experience again.

I have lived without it. He went away, I stayed, but both of us became hardened in the interval. Love was not something we encountered and we took its absence for granted. He didn’t know what he had forsworn until he was wrapped in its arms again. I forget too what I no longer have, but am reminded – unsatisfactorily – when I witness the experience of others.

As I said, I’m not about to get my mother back and that’s a fact of life. That’s not to say I can’t experience variations of that, and I earnestly hope, expect, and plan to do so. Like a lot of things, that’s just the situation now.

I have these moments but the truth of it is that I’m an incredibly resilient character these days. I get knocked off course sometimes or experience a wobble, but it doesn’t take long before I right myself again and some innate quality is reasserted.

That was at 8 o’clock this morning. By 10am I was sitting in a fancy office high in a tower at the bottom end of Collins street being interviewed for a job. I blitzed it, though it’s only the first of a few. I found myself inflating to my persona, confident and articulate and in control, tall and stylish and direct. It felt my element, as if I knew the moves before they were made, aware of the impression I was making. It’s all performance, though largely unconscious. I left knowing I’d killed the interview and thinking how odd it was that so recently I had been touched by frailty – and now was a master of the universe.

Mum would be proud.