To live is not enough


A few days ago, I searched out the obituary of a man I’d never heard of until the day previous. I’d read a piece he wrote that stirred and resonated with me – not a story, but a piece of nature writing that was familiar to me because I’d experienced similar in my own past. It was beautifully written, and by itself, that was enough to mark it out, but what really hit home was a point of view that I could share with all my heart. I believed as he did and, as he wrote, felt as he did, too. The piece of writing was called The Gift, by Richard K. Nelson. It contained pure grace.

As so often, when I come across something that takes my attention, I want to know more. Probably half a dozen times a day I’m tapping at a device or in my browser searching for more information on this or that. I discovered that Nelson was an eminent anthropologist and writer who had passed away just a couple of years before. I read about his life and recalling the piece I had read formed an impression of him – confirmed by the picture shown of him, a pleasant-looking guy with longish blonde hair, a red-tinged moustache, and a look in his eye as if to say, okay, take my photo then.

He was a man who had an evident passion for his work and believed in an almost metaphysical version of nature if the piece I read was any guide. He’d written about heading out in a canoe to an island with his dog. His family was back on the mainland in a secluded home. He was on the island to hunt for deer, which was their sustenance when winter came. The descriptive writing is rich, but it’s the mind and attitude that hooked me. I don’t want to simplify it, but it was the perspective of a man who felt himself a part of nature, and not above it. Too many are oblivious to it, or view nature and all its bounty as a right to be exploited (an attitude that is ruining our planet, and our mentality). He saw it as a gift and was careful to pay it the respect due to it – as he learnt from the Inuit.

Yes, he gets a deer. Then on the following day has an encounter that is lovely, and he’s sensitive enough to know how lovely and rare it was. I could feel it, too.

There’s a couple of things in this that I unpacked in my mind in the days that followed. I had a visceral reaction to it, to begin with. I could feel it in my stomach, like something that was meant to remind me. When I thought of it, I felt in a heightened state of grace. I could understand it. I could believe it. I was sure that his take on the nature around us was as true as a thing as I could conceive of. We are a part of nature, and it has wonders in it, if only we open ourselves to it. The other side of this, unfortunately, is that the rapacious way of the world as it is leaves me increasingly bruised. Maybe things should be a certain way, but they’re not, and I doubt they ever will be. In the meantime, what we have taken for granted slides away from us…

The other thing I felt was raw envy. That was how to live: to be in life, to feel it trembling around you like a gift, and to be passionately involved in what you believe in. His work had substance. It meant something. He’s gone now, but reading his obituary, it was clear his life was well-lived. That’s what you aim for.

But once more, I found myself examining the life I’m in now. I’ve always been restless and curious, and always keen to see what was around the corner. I had a lot of fun because of that and learned much, but I’m at a stage of my life that what I’ve done before feels inadequate to what I need now. What I need is to feel engaged and my work worthwhile. I want substance, I want meaning, I want to feel as if I’m achieving something worth doing. To live is not enough.

This is not new, and it’s far from the first time I’ve written about it. I feel as if that if I do nothing, the conveyor belt will carry me forward through dull comfort until one day it comes to an end. It may well be pleasant enough in its way, but that’s never been enough for me.

I had a project go-live last night. Most of it went fine, but I was on my computer last night and this morning and sending emails and messages because a few things were off. I was frustrated that it should be left to me to discover these things when the vendor should be doing QA before ticking it off. It occupied about 5% of my mind. It will get sorted. I’ve given directions, set deadlines, and etc. It’s what my life is now though, even when it all adds up to some supposedly great thing for business. Mayhap, but there’s no grace in it.

I was watching a program during the week set in Berlin in the fifties, and the thought occurred, why don’t you just take off to a place like that and make something happen? I like Berlin, but could equally be another place. Shake it up and see what comes of it. Maybe. I don’t know how practical it is – I have no money. And I don’t know in the end if a metaphysical problem can be resolved geographically. But at least it would be different.

I got told yesterday that I’m back FT starting next week, and that will make things easier financially. Stick around, and it will probably get better. I still have the issue of a two-speed perspective when it comes to working – not caring about it in the same way and ready to cut it some slack, until my ego intrudes and starts making demands, and that cycle again and again. But it’s just my ego – I can do that better, I should be doing that, why won’t you listen to me – while I don’t really care that much.

Like everyone who has a yen to look, I just need to find what’s right for me – what will fill and satisfy and give value to the days I have left. That’s all.

 

Edit: thinking about this, what I seem to be describing is a classic mid-life crisis. Because I’ve had so much shit go down I tend to ascribe so much that’s happened to that. It’s easy to blame irregularities on that, but maybe it’s time for me to let that go. Shit did happen. Residual shit exists. It’s legitimate to ask questions. There are things. But, maybe I should accept things for what they are rather than blame them on things I can’t change. I don’t resile from anything I wrote above – but maybe I should accept it for what it is and deal with it as it is, and not the shadow I imagine.

From history


After dinner last night I was in the mood for a long movie I could immerse myself in. I scrolled through the films on my hard-drive searching for one that would resonate with me at that moment. It’s a peculiar chemistry. Sometimes, obviously, you feel like one sort of movie over another, according to mood and biorhythms – say a comedy over something too serious. Sometimes the opposite. Even so, they’re broad categories, and it takes something more to decide you (though there have been times nothing has spoken to me). I go on gut-feel, instinctive reaction. It’s like looking into a woman’s eyes and sensing possibility there, or more – and nothing at all.

Last night’s winner was Lincoln, the Spielberg movie on the president. I’d watched it before and enjoyed it well enough without it leaving too deep an impression. That was not long after it came out, and maybe it felt time to review it again. It suited my mood in any case, and the need to engage with something that might stir the mind. I wasn’t looking for distraction, I wanted to think. It was only much later did I realise how apt a choice it was given the BLM rallies in recent times. If that had any influence on my decision, then it was purely unconscious.

I had only a dim recollection of the movie. though I knew the general thrust of it. Watching it this time, I was struck by a couple of things I don’t remember feeling the first time around.

This time I found myself admiring Daniel Day-Lewis’ seamless performance. It may as well have been the true Abe Lincoln on-screen because there was nothing visible of the actor. I imagine that takes a powerful gift of humility and dedication. You see actors who always ‘play themselves’, and to some degree, that is true of most. Most actors have their idiosyncratic ways – gestures, tics, habits. Most of them absorb it into the performance, but some never transcend themself. The great actors are different. They become the character they portray. To do so must take imagination and the rare ability to subjugate oneself to the art.

To admire the performance of Daniel Day-Lewis was, in a way, parallel with admiration of the man he portrayed. Now, I don’t know how true a rendering of Lincoln we see on-screen to how he was in life, but there’s plenty of history and commentary that give us a fair idea of who he was. We know he was a monumental figure in American life. We know what he looked like, and we gather his folksy, wise ways. We know he was a man of fortitude and persistence. And we know that his death was mourned by thousands of Americans, unlike any president until Kennedy. Even many of his opponents mourned him.

In this movie, as portrayed by Day-Lewis, he is a man of great humanity. We know that to be true, I think, though it never stopped him from prosecuting the war against the south. What drove him to do that was his innate sense of justice. As cruel as the war was (and it was more terrible than most), it was necessary to bring justice to his country. We see that in the movie,He had a clear-sighted determination that most of his advisors and contemporaries lacked. He navigated his way through party politics and bigotry and ambition, knowing what must be.

Earlier I spoke of acting and how ego plays a part in it. I think Lincoln probably had a decent ego, but it was in balance within him. Most of the battles with ego occur inside us, striving to be ourselves or to prove it. Lincoln had no need to prove anything, and so his path is gentler, willing to be open and humble and ever-sensitive to others, but never veering from the course of action set himself. It feels as if he takes in people with his folksy manner and home-spun stories, but he is cleverer than any of them. Gradually they come to realise that. He was a great man and a wise leader, and you wonder what further difference he might have made had he survived the assassin’s bullet.

As always, when I see portrayals like this, I feel wistful. Oh, to have such leadership now. I can think of no-one in the world today, with the possible exception of Angela Merkel, who approaches greatness in any regard. Many have gone the opposite extreme – more terrible than we deserve.

Remembering Lincoln now given the tumult of BLM is timely. It was an education to watch and listen last night with knowledge of how it is now, and what’s been happening. What would Abe do about it? He would act with generosity, grace and wisdom – i.e. the opposite of what we’re getting.

These are times we can take lessons from a couple of great American presidents.

I was reading about FDR during the week, and how he came to power with the depression in full swing. The election that year was him against the incumbent, Herbert Hoover, who had presided since before the depression started. Hoover was of the austerity school of economic theory. He believed that private industry would drag America out of the depression, and steadfastly refused hand-outs or economic stimulus. Come the election the American people had enough of that and booted him out in a big win to Roosevelt.

FDR set about doing just about the opposite of Hoover. He’s famous now for the New Deal, which dragged America – and possibly the world – out of the great depression. What dd he do? He spent money by the barrel-load. To the millions unemployed and living in poverty, he gave hope, as well as the means to survive. He ploughed millions of dollars into great stimulus activities, the most notable being the Hoover Dam. In effect, he gave the economy a financial transfusion that got it up from its deathbed.

What’s less well know is that a few years later he reckoned the economy was safe, and at the Treasury’s insistence it was time to balance the books, and spending was cut. What resulted was something that came to be called the Roosevelt Recession in 1937-38. The reduction in government spending and investment led to a sharp economic downturn. It was only when Roosevelt defied treasury and launched into a new spending program that the economy began to recover. Money creates activity which makes more money.

This should sound familiar to anyone following the economic discussions today in light of the pandemic, though it’s a conversation that has raged since the 1980s. This is what we face now.

In Australia, JobKeeper and other stimulus packages are like a mini-version of the New Deal, but already the government is threatening to turn it off. If history is any guide – and most economists – then we know what will happen if they do that. This is not something we can risk for ideological reasons, or because our leaders lose their nerve. Go hard and keep going until we’re through.

Craving movement


It’s interesting to chart the progress of working in isolation, especially now that most of the restrictions on us are easing. Regardless of any of that, I probably won’t make it back to the office until late August/September, and so the basic form and routine will change little.

In the early days, it was a bit of a novelty working from home, as it was for most people. It led to household experiments me as people looked to keep busy, and to explore the possibilities of being home fulltime. For a while, there were myriad social media tropes as every man, and his dog tried making their own bread or dabbled with other alternatives. Banana bread was a thing for a while. About this phase, a lot of us got into the habit of a nightly drink or two, and home-delivered alcohol sales went through the roof.

I never made my own bread – why bother if I could get a superior loaf at the local baker? I made some banana bread, though and made other cakes also given the opportunity. What I really got into was the ritual of cooking my evening meal.

I like to coo,k and I like to eat, but working in the office limits the time you have to do it as fully as you might like. I’d generally cook something up on the weekend that would be good for 3-4 meals over the next few weeks. I’d whip up lighter meals during the week, or get something out of the freezer. Much as I looked forward to a delicious meal, the keyword was convenience.

Suddenly, working from home, I had a lot more time on my hands. I used it to plan, prepare and cook up much more ambitious meals. I’d pore over my list of saved recipes figuring out what I’d cook next. I’d go out and shop for it, and generally make a start on the recipe during my lunch break. By the time I knocked off at the end of the day I’d pump up the Sonos playing Spotify, or maybe an audiobook, and I’d cook up a storm.

I ate very well. Too well, probably. The food was great, the recipes were bold, I’d make my notes and so on, but I’d be doing this 4-5 days a week, and I had to eat it all. The result was that I ate too much. At the same time, I was drinking too much. And in between, because of Easter and the rest of it, I’d have some chocolate or nibble on one of the cakes I made.

That was then. I twigged finally that I didn’t need this much food. I enjoyed cooking, but it was overkill for me. Over a period, I scaled back on my cooking. At the same time, I slowed my drinking (about once a week now, rather than every day). I cut the chocolate out altogether. Basically, I exhausted the phase and moved to the next. I’m sure it was the same for many others.

Another thing I noticed was that people became much more expansive on Facebook, particularly. It makes sense. We’re no longer able to see each other face to face and so other mediums take up the slack. There’s a fundamental need to connect and express. Facebook is an easy option because it’s right there. People who had been quiet for yonks started to pipe up online. We all began to comment on each other’s posts. There was a lot of banter, even mild and friendly abuse. I reconnected with people I’d had hardly seen or spoken to for years.

I did my bit in all this. I began to say more in general, most of it light-hearted. Then I started my sandwich of the day/week post in which I’d make a fancy sandwich, take a picture of it, and then add in my comments and description, much of it tongue in cheek. That inspired many to respond in the same manner. It was very good-natured and enjoyable. To a degree, that continues – I posted about the chicken katsu sandwich with tonkatsu and wasabi coleslaw just last Friday – but I sense it’s starting to trail off a bit now.

I sense that what was a pure need before has been diluted since as we’ve found other alternatives to posting things online – that is, we’re out and about more and meeting face to face.

And yet, it’s still quite foreign. This is where I’m at now. I’m doing more, but what is lacking in my life is the real spontaneity you get when you set out each day to go to work. The opportunity for chance encounters and unexpected conversations is greatly reduced, and I miss that. Everything is pretty predictable and routine. It’s rare still that something happens off-plan.

I miss women, and the pleasures of flirting, and moments of delight and wonder, and even possibility. When nothing is different, there’s no real hope because what you have is what you have. Hope is about what you don’t have and the yearning possibility of attaining it. Until the time returns when I have the opportunity for different things, hope will remain – more or less – absent, or at least, no more than generic. This is the picture, and here I am in it. Things need to start moving to make things happen…

 

Heeding the call


For the first time in months, I went out for dinner last Saturday night, this time to the Cheeses. Notwithstanding it was months since we’d done this, it was pretty typical. We had dinner – home-made pizzas (their kitchen – house – is completing renovation), a beer, a bottle of wine, then another, some cheese and some chocolate. We talked and shared stories and laughed and finally sat down to watch a movie together.

The movie we settled on was the latest version of Call of the Wild, this one starring Harrison Ford, and a CGI Buck.

This is based on a classic story by Jack London, and one of my favourites (another of his stories, To Build A Fire, is one of the best stories ever). It’s set in Alaska during the gold rush in the 19th century and basically is about a dog that gets abducted from his safe suburban home and taken to the Klondike to become a sled dog. It’s all about his trials and tribulations, about the bond between man and dog, and ultimately about Buck giving in to the ‘call of the wild’. It’s a beautiful, occasionally harsh, tragic, but heartwarming tale that anyone who loves dogs must love.

I’ve watched several versions of the story made into movies, and the best are those who keep it simple and let it speak for itself. I’m a fan of Harrison Ford and, though he’s older than the original protagonist in the story, he’s the right type. I found it an entertaining hour or so, but much diluted from the essence of the story. (Let me warn of spoilers ahead).

This is a Disneyfied version of the story, right down to Buck not even being a real dog. He’s CGI, and pretty good, but obviously so all the same. It makes him a bit cartoonish and robs the character of the spontaneity a real dog would bring. It’s now a family movie, which means some of the harsher elements have been taken down a notch or two, and even a basic part of the story changed.

There’s a vindictive and quite foolish character who is integral to the resolution of the movie. He doesn’t exist in the story, and when the main human character – here played by Harrison Ford – dies, it’s quite different. In the story there’s a clean and simple brutality to it – he’s murdered by Indians and Buck, discovering the body, wreaks his vengeance. In the movie there are no Indians – perhaps they’re the politically incorrect option – and instead, the deranged character fatally wounds Ford. Buck arrives in time to kill the murderer (indirectly – no blood, no violence) and in time to comfort his friend and master before he dies. It may as well be in soft focus.

Buck then goes out into the wilderness to fulfil his destiny.

The movie is a long way from the direct and uncompromising language of the original story. I understand what they’ve done and why they’ve done it, but as a purist who loves the story, it seems pretty lame. It’s counter to the essence of the story also – that this is a harsh and deadly environment that only the tough can endure. Even for them, it can be brutal, but that’s the simple truth. In the end, it’s an environment in which Buck finds meaning because it awakens in him his primal self, and he ‘returns’ to the wild in which once he came from.

It’s a noble message and reading the story it’s uplifting. You’ve been devasted by the parting of man and master – they had a great bond – but the payoff is that Buck returns to nature, that great and wild thing we’ve civilised out of our life.

Walking home from the Cheeses afterwards it reminded me of a quote from Seneca:

Show me that the good life doesn’t consist in its length, but in its use, and that it is possible—no, entirely too common—for a person who has had a long life to have lived too little.

Basically, it’s not how long you live, but how you live while you’ve got it. I guess we can all choose to live our life according to our desires, but for me, it’s always been a simple question. From very young, I was aware that just to be alive was a rare gift, and that one day it would end. The trick, as I figured it, was to live as well as possible in the time I had.

I was the adventurous type, and so for me that meant an enquiring life – travelling and reading and asking questions and trying things out and never backing off. From my current perspective, it feels that I’ve led an interesting life that at times has been challenging, and at times deeply rewarding. I don’t regret much, though I sometimes wonder how things might have been different. The life I have is a result of trying things, of plunging in and testing things out. It’s how I wanted to live and though there are notable gaps, I think I’ve lived a full life.

Most people are more cautious and conservative than me, and each to their own. I get impatient and restless. Others don’t. What seem to me lives that are happy but dull are perfectly adequate to the people who own them. Sometimes I find it hard to comprehend, but sometimes I’m envious too of such simplicity.

I wonder how much they have asked of themselves, or what their expectations of life were. Did they dream once, or never? Did they quest and give it up one day because it was too hard? Or not sensible? Or was it ever thus? We’re all different, but until we test ourselves, we don’t really know what’s inside us. So I reckon.

So it was with Buck. His life was set. He was happy and pampered. Then he was taken from comfort and thrust into the wilds of Alaska. There he found his strength and used it. There he found true companionship on the brutal edge of existence. And there he found the wild calling to that part of him deep inside and hidden from everyday view. In the end, he responded to the call to be himself truly, and to be amongst his type.

If that’s not a metaphor for human lif,e I don’t know what it is. For most of the time and for many of us, we’re happy and pampered and living in relative comfort, and that’s where it stops. Hopefully, the time comes when we hear that call, and respond to it. And maybe that explains something of what we’re seeing in the States at the moment. The moment has come to step out of the comfort zone and make a stand. It’s a worthy cause, and it’s good for our soul.

On-hold


It’s another crisp, blue-skied morning. Today is my rostered day off, and without meetings to attend, I was out the door by 9.30 for my morning walk. On the way, I stopped for a takeaway coffee and a loaf of sourdough. I continued on for my walk, over the railway line, and this time walking down towards the beach at Sandringham before turning around to head back towards home. That’s when I bumped into Mrs Cheese out walking the dog.

We stopped to talk for 6-7 minutes. I hadn’t seen her since the lockdown began, and I was surprised to find how much I welcomed the chance to have a meaningful conversation again with someone face to face. Thinking about it there has been bugger all I’ve done that with over the last few months – her hubby, on our weekly walks, and a couple of times when I’ve run into acquaintances around the shops. She invited me over for dinner tomorrow night, so even better.

Being Friday, I’m left to do my own thing, and it means I try and achieve something on the day. One by one, I’ve been going through the rooms of my house, sorting them out – cleaning, tidying, sorting, and throwing things out. I’ve done the kitchen and bedroom, the lounge and bathroom. The study was the first room I started on but, like a lot of homes I reckon, the study is my junk room and has twice as much to work on. I’ve done about half – the other half comes today.

Otherwise, I aim to do some writing this afternoon. And right now I’m trying to chase up the rent relief that hadn’t come through yet – probably a futile quest as I was disconnected when I got down to fourth in queue, and now can’t even get onto the queue (the phone rings out).

I was thinking the other day that while I’m enjoying working from home, there’s a sense of not really going anywhere. That’s true in a literal sense, and it makes it real in a metaphorical sense also because there are no reference points to suggest movement. I can decry the soulless experience of the commuter catching the same train to and from work every day, but at least there is a sense of something happening because you transition from one location to another. Add to that the people you come into contact with and the chance encounters along the way, and you tend to overlook that nothing’s really happening. You’re so busy doing that it’s not a thing – not until you stop to think about it.

Right now, all I’m doing is working at my desk at home, going for my walks, shopping, cooking, etc., and catching up with Cheeseboy each week. That’ll change soon when the restaurants and cafes open proper, but that’s how it’s been for the last few months. I quite enjoy the base elements, but I miss the social aspects we’ve been denied. It’s a phony, slightly unreal period (did I say slightly?), and there’s a sense of being between things. Life is on hold.

I’ve experienced this before, and I hated it. Looking back, I still feel bitter at the wasted years when I was either unemployed or homeless and all the things that were denied to me then. It was worse then because I experienced it alone. Everyone else was living their life, but all I could do was look on. That was 5-6 years of my life, and it came at a time when I was set to change things up – so the narrative I tell myself goes. I was ready to settle down, fall in love, etc., but that’s probably a tale I understand in retrospect. Regardless, once I hit the iceberg, none of that was an option, not even ordinary life. I don’t think I’ve returned yet to anything like normal as I knew it, and probably won’t now.

It’s easier now, but while we’ll soon come out of lockdown a lot of things will have changed. It’s going to be a while until international travel is in full swing again. Back in the day, back ‘before’, an overseas trip every year was one way of convincing myself that there were movement and progression in my life. I was lucky like that, and the absence of that has bit hard in recent years. I haven’t been away since 2013. Except for a few days down Wye River, I haven’t had a holiday since then.

I can cop things being on hold if I know it’ll pass. I’ve endured it before. And this will pass, and there’ll probably come a time we look back with bemusement. It just reminds me though, that it’s high time I got back to living more fully. Time passes, and the trick is to make it meaningful. That’s the challenge.

 

Old sport


One of the features of life in lockdown has been all the old sport they’re playing on TV. In the absence of live sport, it’s the next best thing, even if you know the result. As an exercise in nostalgia, it’s pretty good too.

I’ve been getting into it, more or less, watching footy matches from the nineties and old cricket highlights and bits and pieces of the NBA from days gone by. There’s been the Bulls doco obviously, which is compelling, and this week we’ve been treated to a ‘week with Warnie’, where he’s interviewed in the studio telling his stories amid highlights and the many great moments sprinkled through his career.

I have strong memories of most of this stuff. Much of the stuff I’m watching now I’d have watched when it was live the first time around. Many of the footy matches I was actually sitting in the crowd somewhere cheering the team along and saying my piece, not knowing how the game would end up. Same for some of the cricket matches. There are no surprises, but you find yourself recalling moments that had slipped your mind. And sometimes, in the years since, the events are still fresh, but the sequence has become muddled. Watching it all again puts it right.

For me, though, there’s a funny thing going on in the background. I can remember watching when it was fresh and unfolding. There were some snippets from a 1994 test match against England being shown last night, and I had the abrupt recollection of standing in front of the TV watching it with my brother-in-law (dead six years now) on a sunny summer’s day in Melbourne while we were being called away from it by our family to have lunch. I remember the conversation we had about Glenn McGrath.

And what I’m watching is from nearly 30 years ago and in the old square TV format before widescreen broadcasting started. Looking at it it feels dated, like the sort of highlights I would watch growing up of sport played before I was even born. I was there, sort of, but now it’s of the deep past, and it doesn’t reconcile. Really? Really? And yet it was, it is, those days are long gone even if the memories linger.

It’s the same when I watch old footy and listen to the commentators I grew up listening to, now all gone. I was there for a lot of it, and it never felt old or dated then, but it is now. And that’s the realisation, I guess, obvious as it is, nothing stays as it was.

If I go back to my brother-in-law, he was there beside me, there he was and he commented, and I responded and it was all authentic in those moments – except now it’s all these years ago now, and he’s not even around anymore and what was true in those moments was only true then – it no longer is.

What fills the stomach


When I last wrote, I was striving to get back into the groove of writing, concerned that – for the moment anyway – that the knack had deserted me. I set myself to knuckle down. In the couple of days since then, I’ve done just that.

At first, it was hard. I had a piece of writing which was the basis of what I wanted, but it was flat reading. I feel as if I took a hammer to that and rather than smashing it into pieces and doing it again, I cracked it instead and through the cracks, I was able to inject some life and light. It took me a full day to do that. At the end of it, I wasn’t convinced, but I was a lot happier than before. I shared it with a friend who regularly reads for me. He’s supportive, but always honest in his appraisals. This time he came back to me and said it was great. I don’t recall feeling as relieved as I did then reading his feedback. It was a form of validation, and since then, the writing has been going strong. I feel as if I’ve got a clear idea where the story is going, and how to write it.

I’m happy with this development, but it’s thrown into a relief a sense, or feeling, that’s been creeping up on me for the last ten days or so. Like a lot of these things do, it started in the stomach. I was turning up each day and putting in my shift. I was busy and productive, and in-between times I did the other things I’ve come to enjoy so much – walking the dog, cooking, attending to small domestic duties. But while I was enjoying large parts of the WFH experience, I was starting to believe – or feel, really, it wasn’t intellectual – that while work may occasionally deceive, it couldn’t fulfil me.

This comes as no great surprise. It’s been an underlying theme for the last 18 months or so. What’s different this time is that it comes on the back of a hectic period when I was called upon to do my best. For a while, it was invigorating. It reminded me of old times, indeed, of old H. But then I found afterwards that I took only small satisfaction from it. I was being applauded and feted, and couldn’t care less. I got called a superstar. I did an interview for the company newsletter, and though it was a story I wanted to tell, I shrank from the attention. Not because I was shy or bashful, but because it seemed such an inconsequential thing.

I’m one of those old school characters who generally will shrug off attention like this as ‘just doing my job’. Sometimes you go beyond that and fair enough, and plenty of times in the past I’ve felt chuffed at what I’ve achieved and my ego inflates correspondingly. It feels a personal thing often, though – you didn’t do it for the attention or the claps on the back, you didn’t even do it for the opportunities it might afford you, you did it because it was there and either you beat it or it beat you. That’s not something you ever wanted to explain, but you would feel it and let it carry you along until the next challenge. Except, this time, it paled very quickly.

I accept now that I’m never going to have the same drive or passion as I did before. It’s just work. It’s pride that keeps me going, that and the prospect of a better job and more money. I’m not in it though, and never will be again.

I’m in other things. My writing, for one. And maybe a way of living and thinking. This lockdown has highlighted that for me, and others too, I think. I wonder how we’ll manage going back to work and reckon a lot of us will struggle.

I was in a Zoom party on Friday night and someone said they hope the lockdown goes on a bit longer because they don’t want to go back to work yet. Someone else agreed. I said nothing but thought the same. We all miss the social aspects lockdown has kept us from, but we’ve discovered other things in their place. We’ve found working from home is quite effective, and that in staying close to home and family we’ve re-discovered the small things that make life rich in its entirety.

This is a net positive if we can make it stick. At the same time, I wonder how many have re-appraised their relationship to the job. For me, it’s a re-alignment I think I must finally accept. I’ve been stubbornly believing if just this or that changed, then I’d be back to where I was before. I know that’s not the case, now. Perhaps I should just let it go, though my ego, pricked, struggles with that sometimes. But yes, I should let it go. At the same time, I must get closer to what does matter to me.

The funny thing is, when I get out of this, I want to live big. It seems counter to what I’ve just been saying, but I mean it in a basic sense. If I were to express it simply, I want to laugh more. I want to share quality time with my friends and, I want to travel again, but with this perspective. I want to go large on the things that bring joy. And I have to contrive a way to do more of what really makes me content – the small life I’ve been living: cooking, writing, reading, thinking.

 

When the war is over


I miss things. I miss having a drink at a pub or bar or going out for dinner. I miss the footy. I miss the random conversations and interactions. I miss women. I miss being spontaneous and doing things on a whim. I miss the CBD, though not completely, and the hustle and activity of it. I miss my friends.

There’s a lot of things I don’t miss. I don’t miss the morning train or the feeling of being on a programmed routine. I don’t miss the dull meetings (though I now have frustrating online meetings instead). I don’t miss the general rush. I don’t miss dressing up for work, or the ironing that goes with it. I don’t miss the meaningless expense. I don’t miss the crush.

I like how this whole thing has opened up conversation, even if we do it remotely now. I like how each morning now I wake up and can spend a civilised hour catching up on the news and reading instead of getting ready and travelling to work. I like being close to Rigby, and he likes it too.

Unlike a lot, I’m thriving in this period of isolation. It’s a long way from ideal, and I pointed out what I’m missing, but when it all ends, there’ll be things I’ll be sad to leave behind. If some are struggling now, I think many others have gained a new appreciation of what they can do. As I keep saying, when we go back, it’ll be different, if only for the fact that we’ll know the difference.

I could handle working from home much more regularly once we return. For me, the ideal split would be two days in the office and three at home each week. You need to get to the office sometimes. You need the face to face occasionally, and to do things with others. And it’s good to get out, to mix it with society. You need the hustle, need to go out and get coffee or maybe a drink after work. You need the vibe around you – just not every day.

What I’ve found in this period is that I work very effectively from home. I sort of knew that before when I did consulting, but it was never as full-on as this. I’m much more productive, and it’s a lot easier because I’m already home.

One of the things I’ve loved about this is that I’m eating properly. Real meals, and not the snacks I’d pick up working. I have time to plan and prepare ambitious meals, whereas before it was always a rush at the end of the day to get something ready. I love food, I love cooking, and so this is a real win – even if it means now that I’m eating too much. I love easing into the day as I do, and it feels healthy for a rounded mind. I’m not always on the go – I have time to slow and even pause. I’ve complained of weariness, and with good cause, but it occurred to me earlier today that I feel generally more healthy. Everything seems to be functioning as it should do.

Ideally, the cafes would be open. That’s a great way to break up a day working from home – stepping to get a late breakfast or working on wi-fi from a cafe for an hour or so. And then, at the end of a productive day, popping up the road to a wine bar. That will come, but for now, I make do with a glass of wine or G&T once 5 o’clock ticks over (12 mins away).

I think there’s an acceptance that work will be different after this for the likes of me. This has been an effective POC – we’ve done the hard work, we’ve set-up the systems, we’ve adjusted to the reality. From here, once life returns to some semblance of what used to be called normal, then it will be a doddle. I hope so, anyway.

And I mentioned, I love how so many minds have been opened by this situation. I used to lament the tedious and predictable conversation of days past, but the constraints that kept conversation dull have been busted wide open. We’ve been made to consider many unlikely possibilities, and the future remains unclear – but, here in Oz, at least, I think there’s some positivity about that as much as there is curiosity.

There’s a lot more, of course, and I suspect much will slide back into familiar routines when this is all over. But hopefully, we learn something too, and even grow a little.

 

 

Anzac Day in iso


Yesterday was Anzac Day, one of the biggest, most feted days on the Australian calendar. It’s the day we commemorate the memory, and pay tribute to the Diggers who have fought for us over the years. Every year there’s a dawn service all over Australia, in the big cities such as the Shine of Remembrance in Melbourne, and in the little towns and hamlets dotted across our vast expanse. There’re similar services in other parts of the world, in London, in the battlefields of France, and at the place where it all began, Gallipoli (where I attended in 2004).

For a hundred years veterans have marched the streets with their comrades of war, cheered on by crowds grateful for their sacrifice. Many of them are old and frail, wearing their best suits with medals splashed across their breast telling the story of long ago campaigns and feats of courage. Afterwards, many of them will adjourn for a beer and a catch-up, or a round of two-up somewhere, or will even head off to places like the MCG, where another great contest will unfold.

Every year that happens, until this year.

This year the lockdown means we couldn’t congregate and remember. There were dawn services in the cities which no-one could attend, and the streets were empty of marchers. The old diggers didn’t meet up, and there wasn’t even a game of footy to go to.

In its place came what might become a new tradition. We were asked as a community to be out of our bed by sunrise and at the end of our driveway with a lit candle in our hands. To those who were able, it was encouraged they should get out their instrument and play the Last Post as the first rays of sunshine came over the horizon at 6.03am.

I was there. I set the alarm and was up in time and with Rigby stood at the end of the driveway, not knowing what to expect. What happened was slightly eerie, but very moving. Up and down the street, you could see flickering candlelight. To my great surprise, the poignant notes of the Last Post wafted in the air to me, first from one direction, then another. It was cool and solemn.

Across the road from me on the diagonal was a family, parents with children under ten – it was hard to discern in the dim light. I felt so touched to see them. I imagined, as I do, the conversation of the night before and the children excited knowing they would wake to this. I felt so proud of them, the parents telling the story of the occasion and imparting the importance of it, and the kids wide-eyed with wonder. Now they stood with candle in their hand with maturity beyond their years.

It was the same everywhere it seems. The occasion struck a chord, and much of the community responded, including most of my friends on Facebook, it seems. It was a lovely gesture. Standing there yesterday I felt so pleased to be part of it. It was an expression of solidarity and common cause. While we’re there for the Anzacs, what draws us together is the sense of belonging that we all need.

In the past, I joined the march wearing my grandfather’s medals. That was an experience like no other. I was proud to be there with my nephew, proud to represent my grandfather, proud to be part of such a noble movement. And I was astonished at how it felt and to have people applaud as I went by. I felt as if I was part of something momentous, and I had a share in it.

Many times over the years I’ve written of Anzac Day. It’s an important day in my life also. Often I would make my way to the MCG in the aftermath of march and settle in to watch a game of footy with 90,000 others. It was always such a chilling occasion. The crowd would silence. The Last Post would be played once more. The commands of the soldiers attending would ring out in the packed stadium. Then, at the appointed moment, a roar would engulf the place.

There was none of that yesterday, but in times like these, you try to make up for what you don’t have. After a long walk with Cheeseboy in the morning, and jobs around the house, late in the afternoon I settled down to watch a replay of one of the greatest Anzac Day matches of all – the famous 2009 match when Zaharakis kicked the winning goal in the dying seconds of the game.

Times are different now, but yesterday was a good Anzac Day.

Iso dreams


I’m generally a good dreamer. I hear from others how they dream irregularly and have a poor recollection of them. I seem to dream often, and though the dreams fade, they stay with me for a while.

Usually, I reckon, I would probably wake-up every second or third day with dreams lingering in my memory. I’ve noticed something a bit different since I’ve been living in iso, and I wonder if it’s been the same for others? I dream every night now, all through it and not just for a bit. The dreams are vivid and deep running. And – it seems to me – they’re about the people in my life. It’s almost as if in the absence of people around me, my mind is drawn to those who have meant something to me.

Last night I dreamt about Whisky. Whisky and I were great friends once. For many years we were closely linked. As I have, he has a great appreciation for fine food and wine, and with a good appetite for it, and we spent many occasions indulging those interests together. Like me, he was pretty restless, travelling often and far, and on occasion, we travelled together. To be blunt, we were also out and about a bit, social and inquisitive. We even unknowingly dated the same women on occasion.

We were tight for a long time and he was an intimate friend. He had a beautiful, warm personality, and at his best was quite playful. Of all my friends he’s by far the most sensitive. Many times we shared our deeper feelings, our private thoughts, even our fears. That’s unusual in most masculine relationships but was comfortable with him. And it was good for me.

Unfortunately, it came to an end a few years ago because the other side of that – sometimes – was an overweening ego. We were both strong personalities and characters, neither inclined to back down. That led to some fraught moments along the way, but nothing serious. But, though he could be charming, there were times he could be arrogant and inconsiderate and even cruel. For most of our relationship that was well and truly balanced out by the good stuff, but a few years back, it seemed to take over. That coincided with a time when I was struggling, and one day I made a decision that I’d had enough.

He was greatly shocked, I think, and for while we had nothing to do with each other for a while. Then, slowly, we began to re-connect. We’re not back to where we were and I doubt we’ll ever get there again. He’s on the other side of the country now and, I think, is showing the scars of a contested and independent life. In many ways he’s become quite frail, it seems, and is very conscious of it. I hate to say it, but he seems sad.

I dreamt of him last night, and it was all about our entangled lives. I can’t explain to you the narrative. I don’t know if there was one. What came out of it were things I understood already.

There were similarities between us, including self-belief and ambition, but one of the big differences was that I was self-aware. Self-awareness gives you a little bit of a buffer. It grounds you because no matter how you chafe and strive for you know the truth of yourself – or some of it, at least. I was always the steadier of us. Whisky was inclined to extremes, to highs and lows, and that was a part of his charm, but also a part of his downfall. When I hit strife, it wasn’t fun, but I took the blows because that’s my nature. Whisky, as smart as he is, never had those reserves.

It was sad remembering. I wish it was different and that he was closer. He doesn’t know it, but I care for him and wish I could do more for him. I still love him. I want him to believe in the future again, and when I realise that I know that I still do myself. I’ll persist and survive, that’s what I do. I wish I could share that gift with him.

It’s a funny time, we know that. I was speaking to another friend the other night, and she feels like she must take this time to change her life to how she wants it. That’s a fair call, but she feels the pressure to step-up and make a difference. Quiet, uneventful times like this lead naturally to reflection. We need more of that, and if it can lead to personal improvement, then great. You can’t force it, though. Let it happen. I told her not to overthink it (funny from me). Know what you want, and become.

I spoke to another friend. He’s been working from home the last month. His home life was rocky even before all this, but it came to a head last week. The combined stress of living in close proximity lead to his wife asking him to move out. No surprise, it’s been on the cards for ages and may be a good thing now that it’s finally happened. But it took being locked up 24/7 for it to happen. I wonder how many homes the same thing is happening?