At the extremes

It’s been a rush the last five days, or so. Busy and productive myself, and things happening around me.

On the weekend I sent off book one to an agent for appraisal, etc, and will likely contact another this weekend for the same purpose.

Also on the weekend, I posed a question on Facebook, seeking feedback about an old idea of mine that had returned to the fore. There’s too much to go into here, but basically, it’s an idea that sprung out my experiences when homeless and being hounded by the ATO and various creditors. I needed help of different types, accounting and legal mainly, but didn’t have the resources to engage anyone and there seemed few other options. In the end, I got help from a local community centre but highlighted to me what a huge gap there is for help for the people who need it most. My idea was to create a platform to crowd-source help, drawing upon the collective wisdom and charity of the community.

At one stage I had a partner to develop an App, but he later pulled out for business reasons (he was a software developer). I’ve had an interest in the idea, but it seemed too hard to do. But then, watching the community response to the bushfire crisis, I was inspired to believe there’s a real appetite for support out there. And, by now, I had thought of another way of doing it – a much simpler way.

So I put it out there – wouldn’t it be good? And, what do you think? There was a pretty positive response, so I guess I’m moving onto stage two.

I also went to a bushfire charity event at Bad Shepherd on Saturday night, before ending up drinking cocktails at the Hawker bar.

Then, at work, it’s been full-on again, or still, but generally good. Very productive these days, and encouraged to use my creative side, which is excellent.

On Sunday there was a brief but very fierce supercell storm that hit Melbourne. I listened to the hail on the roof and it sounded like the roof was being hammered.

On Monday another storm developed late in the day and torrential rain fell. My train was stopped at Elsternwick on the way home and we had to wait for busses in the rain to take us the rest of the way. That stopped about a kilometre from where I lived. I walked in the rain with a raincoat on and my umbrella held in front of me like a shield. The rain was heavy and the wind made it near horizontal, which meant I could only protect a part of my body. From the waist down, I was sopping wet.

This is how it is now, everything is at the extremes.

Hazy days and little things

It’s a smoky, hazy morning again today, the horizons closed in and everything appearing as if through gauze. There in the sky was the moon, full and round, slightly tinted but with a glow as if a hole had been punched through the haze. All of it is odd, otherworldly, as if we have landed on a foreign planet.

I’m surprised the poor air hasn’t affected me more adversely. I’m someone prone to a chest infection without obvious cause. I have a permanent supply of antibiotics on hand to manage the cough when it rears up. It hasn’t reared up, though.

I’m thankful at that as well as surprised. There are many others not nearly so lucky, and there’ve even been deaths reported. We might get rain on Thursday, but until then we’re stuck with it.

I had a friend tell me yesterday that he’d been filled with an anger of ‘unknown origin’. I knew the feeling, and my explanation for it is the sense of helplessness in the face of one awful thing after another. It’s a form of frustration, and I don’t think it’s uncommon these days.

I’m out of sorts myself right now, though it’s different to what he describes. I feel deflated. These days it’s not uncommon, though I’ve been better in recent times. It takes so little to set it off. Yesterday it was the smallest incident, a little unpleasantness. Actually, not even that. A disappointment. But then it’s enough to let all the air out of me. Characteristically, I lose interest in things about me. I don’t want to engage.

That was yesterday, and I feel it still today. It will fade, or some counter-balancing thing will happen to bring me back to normal.

There’s no real reason to feel this way. I finished my book on Sunday, and I’m not searching for an agent and publisher to get it published. To be fair, there is an anti-climactic sense when you’ve wrapped it all up. You think, is that it? And – always – you think of all the ways it can be better (even if nothing definite comes to mind).

Then yesterday I caught up with two of my staff from when I had the massage shop. Jeep was visiting from Thailand, where she’d recently returned. With her was Pat. Both were great stalwarts when I had the shop and very decent people. I’m always very happy to see them.

Jeep bought me lunch, as she insists every time. She’s a person of great loyalty and proprietary. She’s in contact with me every month or so seeking help with her CV or a job application or dealing with a government department and, once, to assist in getting money out of someone who owed it to her. She’s very grateful, and so she buys me lunch when she can, and even called me her best friend yesterday – though not in the conventional sense.

For my part, I’m happy to support her – and any of them – in any way I can. It was a tough time, but they were titans. I owe them a lot.

It was lovely seeing them. We had a lot of laughs, and Jeep has made me promise to look her up if I get to Bangkok. I think we’re friends for life.

There is much to grateful for, if only you remember.

The good fake

My summer break is just about over. On Monday I’m back at work. I’m not looking forward to it, but the break was better than it might have been.

I hoped to go away. Planned to go away. But then unforeseen circumstances prevented it and that was a blow. For the first week of my holidays, I struggled a little. Christmas is a conflicted period for me, on top of which I’ve been wrestling with a few existential challenges.

But in other ways, the break was productive and better than being in the office. Because I didn’t go away, it meant I could do some writing instead and raced through the final edit of my manuscript. Give me another week off I’d have it finished and ready to send it off to the publisher. As it is, I reckon I’ll have it finished by the end of the month.

I was intent on getting some proper rest, body and mind. The first week that seemed a bust. I’m still not sleeping as well as I can, but I’ve had some lazy days and feeling a bit more energetic than I have been. I still figure I’ll need another break sooner than later, and ideally a proper holiday (March?), but I can get by for a while.

Around the house, I did some spring cleaning, digitised a lot of old photos, and pruned my wardrobe. I kept a pretty low profile generally.

I found no real answer to the questions I posed after Christmas, and I suspect there is no real answer. As before, I just have to make the best of it. I guess that’s disappointing in a way. It’d be nice if there was a solution to every problem. An answer to every question. Doesn’t matter how earnest or enquiring you are, life doesn’t always work that way.

What that means is that I go to work and adopt a persona, as I have for so long. Most people probably do in some way, though mine is in place to shield my frailties. The persona isn’t fake, it just isn’t all true. You take some elements of yourself, and you project them while hiding away the parts of yourself more vulnerable. It makes for a warped presentation of yourself, but most people can’t tell the difference.

I’ve wanted to be more authentic than that but found it’s hard to live with the weight of sorrow that entails in my circumstances. I accept that now. I accept all that weighs on me and troubles me, and I’m no longer willing to let them affect me as they have. I don’t want to be a victim. Nor do I want to bite my tongue. In that way, at least, I want to be real.

With that decided I intend on returning to work with my most bold self to the fore. If I have to ‘fake’ it, then let’s go for broke.

Easing the weary

One of my aims this holiday period is to recharge my batteries. There have been times this year I’ve felt very weary, both in mind and body. It’s no real surprise I feel fatigued. I haven’t had a real break for years. The best I’ve done is a week here or there when I don’t stray from home. And, besides everything else, there’s been the ongoing struggle, which is wearing in itself.

I’ve had a pretty lazy time since Christmas. I had to do things leading into it – people to see, things to do, a book to write. For the last few days, I’ve taken it down a notch. Yesterday I watched the cricket all day sitting on the couch. I managed to scan a whole heap of old photos to my Google albums while doing that. I’ve been reading in-between times, and going to bed early, and eating more sensibly. It’s all good, except I feel crap.

The fact is I’m sleeping poorly. The quality of my sleep is down, and I seem incapable of sleeping in – no matter that I have all the time in the world. To make things worse, I’m waking up aching and sore. My right shoulder is a knot of tender muscle, and my hip is so twisted that I can barely walk straight. I think the verdict is I need a new bed. One day. In the meantime, maybe a massage.

It’s pretty normal at this time of year to reflect on where you’ve been and to look ahead to where you want to get to. That’s me, too. I’ve got a bunch of headline aspirations, but it’s all subject to my state of mind.

The thing is, it’s hard to get too adventurous when you’re feeling crap, and it’s time I did something about it. Time isn’t an issue – I’ve got about seven weeks of annual leave clocked up – but money is. The reason I’ve got so much leave is that I didn’t want to waste it doing nothing, so I never took it. One day, I would think, when I have money again, I can take a proper holiday.

There’s merit in the idea, except I may never get to go on holiday again at this rate. At the same time, there’s a serious discount on the benefit when all you do on your time off is lounge around the house. Particularly when it’s this house.

This is the conundrum. I’ve soldiered on and got a lot done just by hanging in there, but I don’t think I can take it much further until body and mind are refreshed. But how?

I still have another week off and it may be I ease into to it better than I’ve done thus far. Otherwise, I’m actually thinking about going back to work early, just so I don’t waste the days.

I’ll worry about all the other things I want to get done when I feel better. All I have right now to make myself better are good habits and attitude. To that extent, I’m further refining my diet – more veggies – and cutting down on the booze. And get some regular exercise in the mix. These are things I can do – and so it’s salad for the next few days (once the Christmas leftovers are gone!).

It’s Christmas Day

I woke the usual time this morning, and it took me a few moments to realise it was Christmas Day. It seemed much as usual. It was quiet outside and the light pale. There were two messages on my phone. One was from a friend overseas, and the other from one of my nephews and I responded to both. Then I did just as I would on any normal day. I fed Rigby and let him out. I made a flat white for myself. And I went back to bed to catch up with the news and social media on my iPad, and then to read.

It’s funny how your mind plays upon you at such times. This a perfectly acceptable and pleasant way to spend a morning. The problem is that it’s Christmas morning and even as I read I could recall the dozens of years when I would be with up with my family bright and early as the kids (including me, as a kid) would tear into their presents. We’d look on, Christmas carols on in the background, a festive cheer in our heart, and a glass of bubbles in our hands. I knew something similar to that was happening all over Australia at that moment, and soon much of the world.

It’s not what I had that that weighed on me, it was what I didn’t have.

To be fair, it’s half by choice. This year, as others, I’ve had invitations to share Christmas celebrations. As most years, I’ve politely declined. Christmas is a time of rituals and family. You might not see some of your family from one Christmas to the next, but on that day you pick up just were you left it. You know how it works because you’ve done it so often with these people. You slip into your part, knowing it backwards, because this is who you are in your family. You know by rote the traditions, the schedule, even much of the conversation. It’s comfortable and easy and a day where you can just relax and be grateful.

I can’t just insert myself into in a situation like that – no matter how welcoming my hosts are – because while I may not be a stranger to them, I’m a stranger to their rituals. Whether I’m there or not makes no difference to their experience of it, regardless of their affection. I’m welcomed, but redundant. And for me, I’m looking in on something that I once had myself and the reminder of it only grates. There’s no way that the Christmas celebrations of others can nourish me in the same way that our own celebrations once did, and looking upon it the absence grows keener. It’s easier for me to do nothing than it is to pretend otherwise.

I hope that doesn’t sound churlish. I’m grateful to those who think of me at this time of year. And it probably sounds sadder than it should. I’m aware of what I’m missing, and it gives me a hollow feeling. I can hear the kids next door now. But it’s only what I’m missing that ails me, not what I have.

It’s a gentle feeling, more a sense of waste than it is of loss. I know it could be many times worse, and know there are many thousands who have nothing on this day. And I know that there are firefighters out there giving up their Christmas with family to fight fires on behalf of all of us.

I’m up now and the few, modern rituals I have are being played out. Once I was dressed, I took Rigby for his walk. On Christmas morning I normally take him down the beach, but the railway crossing has been blocked off. We walked the other way, looping back up to the main road. Yesterday, it was chaos. There were traffic jams coming out the supermarket carpark. Today the streets were empty. It was quiet. The odd car went by, a single pedestrian, and all the shops bar one were closed.

I’ve since had a piece of egg-nog and white chocolate cheesecake for breakfast while I opened my present (from my nephews and niece). I gave Rigby his Christmas bone. I might open a bottle of bubbles in a moment. As usual, I’ll use the occasion to cook up a feast. After that, unlike previous years, I plan to work – to write. Then it will be Boxing Day, and catching up with the woman who invited me to be with her today.

Unfortunately, my plans to go down Wye River later in the week have been aborted as my dog-minder had to fly out abruptly to visit her sick father. Instead I’ll get my rest and read plenty and write, and may even go onto work for a day. I have no interest in NYE at this stage – I would’ve been away for that – but I’m sure I’ll rouse myself to some effort. My main priority is to recharge my batteries, and maybe even finish the final draft of my first novel. You never know though, anything could happen.

Merry Christmas to you all. I hope your heart is full to bursting.

Staggering to the line

I’ve had busier Christmas seasons, but this one has been pretty busy all the same. Had the big (and boring) corporate Christmas party at the Hyatt, and a more intimate team event at Captain Baxter down by the beach on a fine, sunny day. Our smaller team had drinks at the Arbory one night, and we’re doing lunch again today.

There’s been Sinterklaas, always decadent, as well as a pleasant day having lunch at the Portsea Pub. On Wednesday night there were drinks with Cheeseboy, and tonight Donna and I are catching up for our traditional Christmas dinner (and JV looks like tagging along).

On Sunday I’m catching up with the kids, and tomorrow probably with JV again. I’ve probably missed something in there, but the upshot of all that is that I’m pretty buggered.

There’s a combination of things that lead to that. Work has been full-on, though getting a lot done. Then there’s been the social stuff, which is not just the late nights, but the indulgence. There’s been a lot of cocktails over the period, a lot of beer and wine, and a lot more food than I’d usually consume. I’d kept it pretty tidy up to about a week ago, but right now I feel overstuffed and weary and wishing I didn’t have to go out to lunch (to a pub of all things, so heavy pub fare on the menu – chicken parma, steak, a burger, etc.).

What doesn’t help is the weather. It doesn’t take much for my home to heat up and even on moderate days, I’ll often have the aircon on to cool my bedroom. Then on Wednesday,  we had a 41 degree day; today it’s 44 degrees.

It used to be that December was the most temperate of the summer months. You’d get the odd day in the thirties, but that’d be it. I barely rarely remember a forty degree day in December, and now we’ve had two.

Weather is a big subject everywhere these days, but particularly Australia. I was listening to people early in the month complaining about the mild weather, and I was thinking, just wait, you’ll be complaining about the heat soon enough. Be careful what you wish for.

The funny thing is that it’s either very hot or quite mild this December. I don’t know if we’ve had a temperature between 26 and 39. That’s quite a gap, even if very Melbourne.

Days like today, I think about all the critters out there who don’t have the benefit of air-conditioning. Rigby’s inside today in the aircon, but there are many who aren’t. I left a bucket full of water in the backyard for the birds and creatures to get a drink and keep cool. Me, I’ll just stay within the air-conditioned confines all day – until I have to venture out later to meet the guys.

I’m busy tying up loose ends and clearing the decks as much as possible before going on leave. Busy, but productive. I hope to head off at about 4pm.

Famous last words: not planning a big one.

On the other foot

Yesterday I experienced something which a lot of women probably have to deal with all time.

I left work early to go to a specialists appointment at Cabrini hospital. The receptionist was an extroverted, middle-aged woman who appeared quite taken with me. My vanity deals with that very well, but the result of it was unwanted attention.

I’m an easy-going, friendly character. If someone speaks to me, then I’ll speak back. I’m happy to engage in conversation as appropriate, and God knows have many times flirted with an alluring someone. To my knowledge I’ve never persisted past the point, it was welcome.

I won’t say it was unwelcome yesterday, I’d have just rathered it didn’t happen. It was pretty innocent, and though it made me a little uncomfortable, there was no sinister intent. As far as she was concerned, she was having some playful fun with someone she obviously found attractive. I played along, mostly from good manners, but I’m in a hospital waiting room and not in the mood to be witty and charming. Basically, I want to be left alone.

Most of it was pretty innocuous. She’d keep talking to me, a suggestive smile on her face. When she wasn’t talking to me, then she’d be in conversation with her offsider, obviously intended to be overheard, and sometimes making comments concerning me.

For example, she asked her offsider if she thought much could be told about a person’s personality by the socks they wear? She gave me a cheeky smile as she said this, her eyes shifting to my daringly striped socks. I gave her a friendly, closed mouth smile, but chose not to contribute to the discussion. There was a lot like that.

When I think about it, it feels sorta strange. I’ve had many conversations like that, but generally only when there’s an understanding already in place. Give and take. While I wanted to keep to myself, responding to her conversation wasn’t really a problem. What felt uncomfortable was being alluded to like that as the third person. That, and the raw, unashamed interest she had in me.

I expect women experience this all the time, and to a much greater order of magnitude than this. I’ve heard this before, but I didn’t really know it. Sounds funny, I felt kind of objectified – who’d ever think I’d have a problem with that?