Karmic balancing

Last day of the year. There was a time when I’d formally review the year past, before going on to set my goals for the year to come. It’s not so formal these days, but I adhere to the basic concept still. It seems a natural thing to do. I know people decry the making of resolutions and whatnot. They make the reasonable point that it shouldn’t take the end of the year to make plans, it should be a normal part of life. And resolutions are a cliché besides.

That’s fair in principle, but few people live up to the principle. What we should or shouldn’t do rarely matches what we actually do, and there’s plenty of reasons for that.

The older you get the quicker life slips by. It takes a lot of mental effort just to maintain. Routines and schedules blur and confound. Deadlines rush at you. It’s easy to slip into a kind of torpor where life runs on autopilot. There’s not the space or the occasion to stop to look around and re-evaluate. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m saying how it is so often. And thus life proceeds apace, until it ends.

The Christmas/New Year period acts as a kind of break in that routine. There’s plenty of traditions and rituals around Christmas, but much of it is about returning to family and the values learnt in the formative years of your life. Nostalgia and sentimentality take over from the practicalities of making a living. And this time of year there’s the time and space to actually sit down and contemplate such things. I think it’s natural to reflect on what was and, from the leisure of your Christmas break, to ask yourself what it is you want different to what you’ve had before? The division of one year to the next is the perfect time for that.

I’ve been more aware of this than most people, I think. I won’t necessarily claim to be a planner, but I’m definitely a thinker. I’m cynical enough to doubt resolutions as such which, in any case, tend to be spurious and swiftly forgotten. For me, this time of year is about looking back at the direction I’ve taken and to re-align myself for the year ahead. And I’ll set myself KPIs to guide me on that journey.

It seems to me not much changed in a practical sense this year past. I’m in the same home, I have the same job, I’m earning practically the same, and I remain largely unfettered. I wiped out a big chunk of debt and got my car repaired (to the tune of $7K), but in so doing incurred another, consolidated, debt. Still, the pressure is less than it was and I can see my way clear eventually.

The big thing that happened this year was in my self. I don’t know how you measure these things. Am I happier now than 12 months ago? Certainly, at this moment I am, but happiness is like the tides, and anyway I’ve never thought it much of an indicator. I may be an oddball, but there are more important things to me: what would I rather, a dull but happy life, or a challenging but interesting life? That’s a no-brainer for me. I crave experience and knowledge. I want to understand, knowing that is a chimera. Truth and authenticity are the things I want, things that are real and meaningful. Enlightenment perhaps.

This year I have become more enlightened. It’s well expressed here repeatedly in the last 12 months so I won’t go on about it now. I feel a more honest man now than a year ago and have relinquished a lot that was holding me back. Still, a long way to go, but good signs.

The only other thing worth noting is my writing has continued strongly. Certainly, I am better at it now than I was then, and expect given another year the improvement will have continued.

I also have a working car now – that’s a big thing. And after many years I finally renewed my MCC membership, though it has relapsed again.

So, next year.

My goals are simple. I want to continue on the path I’m on psychologically, though it takes courage and the way forward is not always clear. That’s not something I can review every 12 months. It needs constant attention.

As I did last year I’ll strive to improve my lot – a better job, more money. It’s wearying being constantly under pressure, and infuriating that I’m not properly rewarded for my work. And I want some nice things for a change – more of a social life, a holiday, the odd trinket, not to mention the formerly ‘normal’ things I’ve learned to go without. In practical terms, it means – most likely – finding another job. I’ll get onto that. More simply:

  • I want to be properly rewarded for my effort.

I’ve set myself little KPIs to ensure I live better:

  • I plan to go out for one cooked breakfast/brunch a month.

Considering I would do this every weekend for many years this is hardly extravagant.

  • And every three months I plan to take myself off for a massage.

That’s good for body and soul.

So we come to friendship. People change, they live different lives, they go off in different directions, that’s life. I’ve been out of step with a lot of my friends for a while simply because they are now family men, and I am not. We worked around that pretty well, but then other events intruded.

You live life at different speeds. That 15 months I was homeless life was superficially slow, but in terms of experience, it was sped up. I came out of that with issues unsurprisingly, but by all reports, I was fundamentally unchanged. The biggest reported change has been this year past when suddenly I began opening up. The point of all this is that I’ve moved on while others – comfortable, happy, content – have remained the same. Somewhere in that your friendship changes.

It’s taken me a while to acknowledge that. It’s a bit sad, really – I wish I could be as close as I used to be to some. I think my new openness makes some uncomfortable (others have embraced it) not knowing how they should respond to it, or how it makes them feel.

The bottom line is that while those friendships will continue they won’t be what they were before. I realise I need to make new friends – friends more aligned with the open person I want to be, without the baggage of preconceived notions. So:

  • I want to widen the circle of close friends, with more women particularly.

This is easier said than done. It’s not easy making new friends. But then this other plan may help.

I’ve always been a believer in karma. I’ve always been socially engaged. Since I suffered my ‘misfortunes’ I’ve been more alert to the deficiencies in the system. And I want to give something back.

Perhaps volunteer work will fix the need – and it’s a way to meet people besides. An acquaintance studying social work wants to use me as a case study and has suggested getting me along to a St Kilda homeless shelter. The idea appeals to me.

  • Check out volunteering options.

Then there’s my health. I’m reasonably fit, but there are more things I can do. Unfortunately, I’ve been constrained financially, especially when it comes to dental work. I’m in good health generally, hardly get sick, but there are nagging issues:

  • Dental – I need a crown and probably another filling.
  • Sinus – must get sorted this issue that every night sees me with a blocked nose.
  • Psoriasis – small patch on my right, but a nuisance.
  • Knee – could it be my patella? Slipped at the airport a couple of months back and hasn’t been right since.

I want to get on top of these things. Seeing a doc on Wednesday to get started.

There’s my writing too. By this time next year, I expect to have completed the revision of my first book and have submitted it to publishers, and I’ll be working on the final draft of the book I’m currently halfway through writing.

There’s nothing there about romantic relationships. I want that, but it’s not something you can legislate. If I put myself in the right places and measure up to being the man I want to be then it might happen. That’s all I can promise.

If there is one last thing it’s something I don’t have direct control over. I believe you’re master of your own destiny, but I also feel as if I’ve been dealt some tough cards in recent years. I’m putting it out to the world: deal me a good hand this year. I’m due. I’m in karmic credit I reckon and ready to cash in.

Happy new year to you!


Being a woman’s man

I’ve never aspired to be a man’s man, though I’m sure there are many who see me like that. I can play the role well enough, and a lot of it comes easy. At work I mix easily enough with the blokes, stopping to chat about the footy or cricket and portraying some classic Aussie persona both laconic and sardonic. I can settle over a beer or ten and happily chew the fat about classic male subjects such as sport and work reminiscing about times shared in the past. That I have a confident, strong aura, and perceived to be independent of mind, means that I portray a masculine authority that papers over a lot of the cracks.

I’ve never really been terribly interested in it though. Sure, it can be fun and the conversation of passing interest, but generally its superficial too. This is one of the pities of masculinity, that we rarely engage in the deep and meaningful with each other, and when we do it’s generally awkward and uncomfortable. It’s sad to think that as men that intimacy man to man has been bred out of us. Even when we choose to we’re generally poor at it. It’s easier to skate across the surface with a ready laugh and a glass of beer. Of all my male friends I think there’s only one I have a truly candid relationship with, and I barely even see him.

I wish this was different, particularly given the challenges of recent years. I can’t say I’m particularly good at this either with other men, but it’s a different story with women.

I was at a party last Saturday at which there were a bunch of people I knew quite well but hadn’t seen for a while. It became familiar very quickly and easy and all the rest of it. I ended up sitting between two women, which suited me fine as I was a bit weary of the blokey carry-on at the other end of the table.

What resulted was a series of very authentic and open conversations. There are probably a variety of reasons why this happened. Everyone knows of my struggles and I think that makes it easier for others to be vulnerable with me. I’m a good listener, too, and trust comes into it as well. I think a lot of this plays to my natural self. I’m reflective by nature and I think women particularly see me as thoughtful and sensitive. This is not something new.

In a lot of ways, I think I’m more naturally a woman’s man, as opposed to a ladies man (though I’ve been accused of that). I’m interested in those things. I’m curious about what moves and motivates people. Cause and effect are fascinating to conjecture. And I care too, really. I understand that each person has a life, it has weight and complexity and, to them at least, is precious. You can’t help but respect that.

I’m wary of generalisations, but generally, women have a closer, more intimate relationship with their deeper self, and are much less wary or self-conscious of it than men. I think many women wish more men were as sensitive and as open as they are. That’s where I play well. I am interested, I am sensitive as well as curious, and I’m respectful of their feelings. Both women the other night gravitated to me, and at the end of it expressed the hope of catching up again soon.

This is why I miss all the female friends I used to have. It’s a different conversation and a different way of being. As I get older I realise that more and more I become a woman’s man – because it’s more real.

The pain I’m meant to feel?

Sour today. Back at work after a day home yesterday. The wind and the branches of a mulberry tree out back had ripped off a bunch of roof tiles a few weeks back, leaving a hole. I worked from home while someone walked on the roof in the hot weather. It was hot still last night. Even with air-con, it made for disturbed sleep, and then I dreamed, it felt, all night long. The dreams were not bad dreams but they were dreams I would rather have not had.

All of this leaves me feeling a bit pinched today (not helped by the disgraceful behaviour of federal parliament yesterday). It’s another hot day today and I have no real appetite for anything.

I was flat-out yesterday preparing this submission and that doesn’t help either. It was a productive day but by the end of it, my brains were leaking from my ears. I can’t really face much more of it today, though there’s still more to do. Somehow I can’t be bothered doing much else either – but then you have days like this, especially when you’ve not slept well.

You know me though, I’m always searching for causes and effects. I reckon all this started a little after lunch yesterday when I pulled from my letterbox the first Christmas card of the season. It was from my aunt, and once more she invited me to share Christmas lunch with them. I wish she wouldn’t.

I appreciate the gesture but it places me in an awkward position. Even if everything were good I’d think twice about going. They live about 90 minutes away, and though I’m fond of them all I’m close to none of them really. It’s their do and as far as I’m concerned Christmas day is not a day to be a hanger-on.

On top of that, however, I can’t really go because my sister and father will be there and I don’t want to see them – and don’t want to make it awkward for my aunt and her family. They know nothing of this. I’m not about to gossip to them, mainly because it would be unfair. And so, instead, I run the risk of seeming aloof.

So I got the card yesterday, read the message, and all this ran through me. I worked on through the afternoon, I stopped to watch the cricket sometimes, I made dinner – but all this had started I reckon.

It informed my dreams in the end. That’s how it works in my opinion. Not always like that, but often, the things you’ve put aside or lingering at the back of your mind return to you interpreted through dreams. There’s something pure about the process. It synthesises the real dope, stripping the extraneous white noise. It gets to the real cause, and then creatively portrays it in much the same way as when I sit down to write – though perhaps more psychedelically at times. Dreams are magical realism.

What I’m left with is the sour residue. Back in the day I’d shrug it off and get back to things. That was a strength. Funny thing is that if I wasn’t running from it then I was just about sweeping it under the carpet. These days I figure I’m meant to be running to it. I think I’m meant to feel this pain.

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.

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.