Monday morning

I had that dread feeling going into work this morning. It was superficial, I knew, but it was indicative of my current state of mind.

I spoke about it with Donna on Friday night. Each year we catch up for dinner to celebrate mum’s birthday. It was delayed this year, but once more, it was a fun night. I had a quiet pint by myself waiting for her at the Meyer’s Place Bar, then we walked around a while looking for somewhere suitable to eat. After a few false starts, we ended up at Tonka. It was a good choice.

We sat on the corner of the bar and grazed through a variety of modern Indian dishes. The place was lush and warm.

We always have candid conversations when we catch up. I have few people to discuss these things with now, and in me, she has someone she can trust and who will understand. We talked about everything, including mum, and also touched upon such prickly topics such as our health, about getting old, and our respective state of mind. At one point, I recited to her the recent mental challenges I’d faced, giving an interpretation of them. She listened without interruption, then told me she knew exactly what I meant because she’d experienced precisely the same.

It’s good to have someone I can talk to about such things. To be fair, I think she’s had a tougher time of it than me. I still reckon many of my issues are situational. They’re more easily triggered than ever before, but once I get them managed – as soon I will with my current challenges – then I fall back into a relative state of stability. Not happy, but not unhappy, either. I think Donna has been generally unhappy for a long time, with spikes in it according to the issues she’s dealing with – and they’ve been a few of them lately.

Friday night though was very pleasant.

To my surprise, I got an invitation to have dinner at the Cheeses Saturday night. It used to be that I’d be over there at least once a month, but it’d fallen away drastically this year, to the point that I wondered what it meant. I might have been over for a barbecue early in the year, but that was it. At a time I needed all the friends I could get, I felt this absence keenly. When I was invited, I couldn’t help but remind Cheeseboy of that a little. I thought you’d never ask, I said.

As ever, it was low-key but easy and good, and I was grateful to get out, though I confided nothing of my concerns.

The rest of the weekend was as normal. I did my shopping, got a haircut, stayed up to watch the Ashes, and I wrote. Then this morning I head off to work, and I know I don’t want to be there. I don’t feel 100% these days, I’ve got a cold, different niggles, just feel a little off in general physically. Nothing a decent holiday wouldn’t restore to me. But then there’s the new job too, and uncertainty around it, and a current lack of structure – things I know will pass, but which I feel keenly in the meantime.

Once I’m sitting at my desk, it’s not so bad. I know it will be fine and I’ll be fine, though I still need that holiday. I can’t though and need to hang on for a few months before I can do anything like that. In the meantime, news on Friday will have an impact on how the future shapes.

A week before I started in this job, one of my advocates, a digital marketing manager, left the business. He was instrumental in me gaining this position. Then his boss, the big boss, a guy I’ve worked closely with in guiding the chatbot, he called us into a meeting room Friday and announced he’d be leaving at the end of the month.

We’ve had our run-ins, but there’s a lot of mutual respect. He wanted me for this job, and I’d hitched myself to him in no small degree. There was the promise of more to come with him around. And now he’s going.

That’s life. My two biggest advocates are either gone or going, but it may also make for an opportunity. Speaking to him late on Friday I got the sense that there may be more to come – that, down the track, our fates might once more intersect.


Snakes and ladders

I had another test on Tuesday and used it as an excuse to take the day off. The plan was to be up early and getting the test done not long after nine. I woke at the usual time I would if I was going to work, but as I wasn’t going to work all I did was get up to feed Rigby. I couldn’t even have coffee since this was a fasting test.

I went back to bed with Rigby joining me. I didn’t read as I might normally but chose to catch up on my sleep. I was weary, I hadn’t slept well, just as I haven’t for a few weeks now. It turned out I slept for over two hours. The body takes what the body needs, and the body needed this. I don’t know if I could have slept as long if it was the weekend, but it’s different on a weekday. On the weekend you have things to do and the whole world outside is home as well as you. On a weekday if you’re sleeping in, you’ve already opted out of your commitments, and in the meantime, the world about you has evacuated to keep to their obligations. It’s a different mindset. You’re in a cosy cocoon. You have a leave pass from daily life, and the body relaxes into restful sleep.

That’s how it was for me. Rigby slept on the bed beside me or else curled up in the curve of my body. When I woke, I could have closed my eyes for another snooze, but it was getting on for ten by now.

I walked down the road to get my test, this time for liver function. I fully expect the results for this will be negative, just as it was for glucose/diabetes. I’ve got to tick that box, however. Afterwards, I walked down the road where I had a coffee and a slice to break my fast. I deserved it.

The rest of the day was a whole lot of nothing, a bit of this and that, though pleasant enough. I managed to change my ISP – doubling my speed for just an extra $6 monthly. That was great until I found out the router I had – and now owned – had been locked by the old ISP, which meant I had to go out and buy a new one. I walked Rigby, I did some cooking, I wrote a paragraph, and generally I felt poorly.

I’ve had a couple of health niggles lately, as most had, and not nearly bad as many. I didn’t feel a hundred per cent and, despite the extra sleep, felt weary still. The weariness may well be a symptom of my state of mind, which has sharply declined in recent weeks. I’ve gone into that. What it boils down to is that there’s nothing in the centre of my life where there should be something warm and safe. Then, late in the day, I got an email that slammed me hard.

It was from the ATO. For background, I incurred a substantial tax debt about seven years ago, around the time all the shit was going down in my life. The shit continued for another few years, but that was near the start of it. Somebody from the ATO suggested I could appeal the debt on the grounds of hardship – I’d been ripped off a hundred grand, I was unemployed and without fixed abode, had sold off my assets to survive, on top of which my mum had not long died, and half the family was threatening legal action. So, I appealed, and that dragged out for maybe three years and included an appearance at VCAT as the ATO resisted. In the end, they conceded a little. I’d dug in my heels, not that I had much choice. As I told them, they may as well bill me for a million dollars as for the amount I owed (initially $31K, now near $50k with interest), as I was just as likely to pay that.

For the last 3-4 years, they’d let me alone, but there was always the possibility – as they had told me – of them returning to haunt me once I got on my feet. I submitted my tax return a few weeks ago, and the calculation showed that I would get a return of just over a grand, consistent with the government tax cut. I figure that amount – $1K – triggered a response. The email told me that my tax return was delayed because they were investigating my tax debt – the inference being, at the least, that they may claim my return and apply it against the debt. The worst-case scenario is that they take the opportunity to reactivate their claim against me and set in motion garnishing my wages.

When you’re in the state of mind, I was anything vaguely negative hits you hard. You break a glass by accident, and it sets you off. This was more than broken glass, and my first reaction was to wonder: what’s the point? I felt as if no matter what I do, there was always something to drag me back. I’ve strived to get ahead, to drag myself out of the hole I was in; I’ve fought with every ounce of strength until I ached with it, and my mind was weary with the struggle. Finally, I had managed lift myself to the next level, somewhere I could breathe a little easier – and then, on cue, just a week or so later, the ATO come calling. It’s like a game of snakes and ladders.

I’ll manage. I always do. Lot of it these days is playing a role, some of it instinct, and a fair bit of it mere habit. I don’t inhabit myself right now as I did before, but I know the tropes, I know the lines, I can pretend, and I can force myself forwards. It now appears I may need to fight again. I’m over fighting, but the alternative is not an option.

Right now I’m in a better space I was on Tuesday, but still a long way short of my best. It’s Friday, I’ve had my crumpet, it’s the last day in this job, and on Monday I begin in my new role. As they say, I’ll be taking it one week at a time from here.

Not that there’s anything wrong with it

Just after 9am yesterday I caught up with Cheeseboy for a coffee (or two) and a pastry at a French cafe we catch up at every few weeks. It had been raining, and there was still a light drizzle when I left home. It was cold and the sky grey. Normally the outdoor tables are full, but yesterday when I got there everyone was inside warm and dry.

After a couple of minutes, Cheeseboy arrived with his dog, Bailey, and after ordering, we sat outside. The tables were arranged along the curb, and the chairs nearest the road were wet with rain, while those on the shop side had been sheltered under the overhanging eaves and had remained dry. As there was no-one else about, we sat at adjoining tables on the dry seats.

Within twenty minutes one of the other tables was taken by lycra-clad cyclists, who are everywhere early every weekend morning. In another five minutes, a larger group of people turned up wanting to sit outside. There wasn’t room for them all in the current configuration, and one of them turned to Cheeseboy and asked: “Are you guys together?”

Cheeseboy feigned outrage at that. “That’s a bit personal, isn’t it? I don’t even know you and your asking if we’re together!”

He went on in the same vein while the questioner appeared flummoxed. I began to laugh, and some of the man’s friends started to smile. I chipped in with a “we’re just good friends” line, and Cheeseboy was continuing. “What if I got offended by that? I don’t mind, but it’s none of your business.”

By now the questioner had the inkling that we were having a lend of him, but still came out with a plaintive “I just want somewhere to sit.”

Eventually, of course, Cheeseboy gave up his seat and came to sit with me, but this is a fine example of Cheeseboy’s playfulness. It’s one of the things that make him such fun company. He’s had a charmed life, and it shows, and I think he knows it. Yesterday we were just a couple of middle-aged Hampton dudes sharing a coffee and taking the piss as if we had not a problem in the world.

Free days

I woke this morning after a good nights sleep with the rain falling in a gentle, steady hush. That was a couple of hours ago, and it’s rained for most of that time since. Today is a free day, a public holiday with nothing I must do or anything I must be. Together it made for an easy peace of mind as went about my holiday rituals – coffee in bed with a book and an iPad, the dog close by, nestled into the curve of my body as I sat up on my side, or leaning against my back behind me.

As always Rigby is alert to everything even with his eyes closed. He knows the routines and the little tells he reacts to immediately – the picking up of my glasses from the bedside table, the snap shut of a book when I have finished reading, the book being replaced on the pile beside the bed – and he is up immediately, standing on the bedclothes with his head turned to me, before leaping down to the floor and turning my way expectantly. It’s the dregs of the coffee he’s after, the dregs he drinks every time cleaning out the coffee mug, just as he has for many years since. Both of us are creatures of familiar routine.

It feels fine to be free of obligation, and I wish there were more days like this. Though there is nothing I must do, I know what I will do. I’ll read a little, write for a while, and towards late afternoon I will cook. With the food in the oven or on the stove top slowly cooking I’ll fire up a hot bath and laze there reading my bath book while Rigby attends me bath side, licking the soap from my skin as he’s so inclined. I’ll wash my hair and shave my face in anticipation of the working week. For a few moments I’ll reflect on this and that: some of my best thinking comes in the bath.

Then it will get dark. I’ll eat my dinner with the TV on and by then I’ll be resigned to the fact that I must work tomorrow. Depending on how the day has been – particularly, how the writing has gone – I’ll feel either satisfied or searching for more. In either case, my mind may be busy with thoughts and conjectures. I’ll wonder at things, at words and probably at life itself, then possibly the latest footy scores. With work ahead, I’ll be aware of the things I intend to do. I start refreshed, as I do every week, as if this week I can change things, that the frustrations I’m victim of will clear, as if all I need do is keep going, persist, stay true and strong. Bending to the situation is not a consideration, and never has been. I’ll succeed on my terms, or fail, but it’s not obstinacy that informs that but irrepressible optimism.

Yesterday was a different day. We had arranged to drive down Red Hill way and attend the annual Winter Wine thingy. We’ve done this before, though for many years. I caught a train with JV to Frankston were we were picked by Donna on the way through, a couple of her friends with her. We spent the afternoon going from one winery to the next, though fewer than I hoped for. Navigation let us down once or twice, and a late, extended lunch at T’Gallant meant that by the time we left most of the openings had closed. I missed out on Manton’s Creek and Aringa Estate and one or two others I wanted to attend, but never mind.

I got home near 8pm last night, glad to be home and with Rigby again.

Away from work

This makes the fifth day in a row that I’m home, but the first official sick day.

I organised to have Friday off because I had an appointment across town. That appointment got cancelled, but by that time the idea of having the day off was so welcome that I didn’t change it. Chances are I would have taken a sick day anyway as by the time I got home on Thursday I was feeling pretty crook.

The last couple of weeks the trains on my line have been cancelled because of work being done up the line at South Yarra. In replacement, buses have been running to the nearest parallel line. It worked okay, but inevitably it was adding between 30-40 minutes of extra travel each way. Each morning I would do that in some of the frostiest, wettest weather we’ve had for ages. When the trains weren’t cancelled or delayed, I’d get onto a crowded train within 5-6 minutes and luckily find a seat. It was much the same going home, except the routes and timetable seemed much more capricious.

I haven’t felt the full bottle for a few weeks but been well enough to go on with. It was dark and frigid when I boarded the bus to come home on Thursday night. I was aching and feverish, and a persistent cough had developed. I had little energy and wanted only to be warm and rest. Something was coming on.

I slept for about 9 hours that night and woke Friday feeling better. I had a quiet, pleasant day being lazy. It was just what I needed.

I felt okay on Saturday, too. We had a long-standing lunching arranged in Richmond. Unbeknownst to me, the trainless timetable had changed for the weekend, and rather than the buses going to the nearest available train stop they instead zig-zagged through the suburbs until finally arriving at Caulfield. From there I caught the train to Richmond, walked up to Bridge road, then caught a train to the venue, the Bouzy Rouge. I was about 45 minutes late.

I used to live nearby, and I’d been to the Bouzy Rouge several times, most memorably with mum on one occasion before she got sick. It’s an opulent place right up my mum’s alley, with a Spanish menu that combined the traditional with the modern. We had a fine old time sharing tapas before tucking into main meals and dessert. We had a few beers, a couple of bottles of Rioja, before finishing with a sweet and sticky PX. We laughed often and loudly, and though I would cough occasionally, I was doing okay.

We walked back along Bridge Road, stopping at the Mt View where we had a cleansing ale on the rooftop and taunted the losing Collingwood supporters, feral one and all.

I caught the train back with Cheeseboy determined to get home differently to how I left it. At Moorabbin, we got out of the train and walked about 30 minutes to his home. As we went along, I began to slowly fade. Arthritis in my toe started to flare, and my dodgy knee began to ache. Not happy was I.

I rested for about 15 minutes before walking the final 15 minutes home. I arrived there done in. I lay on the couch, feeling both mildly intoxicated and increasingly unwell – a bad combo. Later I figured by the GPS I’d covered about 15 km by foot.

I slept long again, but the next day I woke up feeling poorly, as I did for the rest of the day. I realised the jaunt the previous day had been a mistake. I had been recovering perhaps, though not recovered. My reserves were low and the strenuous efforts of the day before had wholly depleted me, allowing for the infection to steal a march.

The aches and pains had gone, but in its place was a deep-seated cough that worried at me every ten minutes or so. Occasionally I would be wracked and bent by them. My chest felt heavy and congested. It felt bad as if I was on the verge of something serious. I took it easy all day. I needed antibiotics.

I had an appointment with a dermatologist yesterday and ended up having a biopsy done on a rash on my leg. I was feeling better than the day before and, to my surprise, my chest infection seemed better. I had a lazy day again but planned to go to work today – stupid, I know, but sick days make me guilty.

I slept longer than I intended – something that never happens. I got up and felt distant from myself and without strength. I went back to bed, hoping that it would pass. Ten minutes later I got up again, but I was no better. I went to bed again and called work.

Lazy day again today. It’s still cold out, but for the first time in days, it’s not raining.

This week

I love a social life, but I also crave ‘me’ time. I love to be out among the bright lights eating and drinking well, talking, laughing, flirting, but I also cherish the quiet moments when I can curl up with a good book, a good movie, or listening to tunes whipping up some culinary feast. There are days I’m happy to see no-one, do nothing, and many days I barely walk out the door. I love the fizz and pop of a night out on the town, but in my heart H is a solo beast who plays at being one of the pack.

Last week was a social week. I was out for dinner and drinks twice and had a great old time basking in the balmy evenings and downing pisco sours. Another night a friend visited me and we ended up at a wine bar. And on another occasion, I drove an hour to get to the other side of town to have lunch with cousins and my aunt and uncle in the salubrious Eltham Hotel.

This week I look forward to being sedate. It’s the last week before I go back to work. I’ve achieved a lot this break but there are still things on my list. I’ll tidy them up and once they’re done what I’ve got left is a week of reading and writing.

It’s a warm, sunny day. I’ve just come from coffee up the road and posting a card to my nephew for his birthday (due to arrive before it for a change). I’ll give Rigby a walk later but otherwise, I’m home for the day.

These are the things I must do: update this blog; scan a few more pics; call up the doc about an ultrasound I had yesterday (suspect there’s a problem with my toe); call up the local salvos about donating some stuff; pickle or preserve something; and take my old massage shop manager to the doc tomorrow. Jobs something in there as well (have a live opportunity with NBN but don’t have the telco experience).

I have mixed in this last week of my leave. In some ways, it will be harder than ever returning to work. It could have gone either way, but in this case my absence has solidified my feelings about the office being unprofessional and slapdash. I wish it wasn’t so. I’m disappointed nothing more substantial has popped up in these weeks. There’s not a lot about. If I’m patient something will eventuate, however.

Have I resolved anything in myself? You have to understand I live an intensely interior life, especially when I’m writing. My real life refracts my writing experience, and vice versa. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to write. That’s especially true of this book, which has a dense psychological perspective. I want to get it right, though I know it instinctively. Once I write it out I often find that instinctive knowledge becomes conscious knowledge. The act of writing drags up things from deep within me I sense more than know. When it hits the light it becomes true in a way and I can look upon the written word and understand it for myself (sometimes I think there’s a form of automatic writing at work). I reflect upon it as an individual. It informs my perspective and potentially my behaviours.

What I’m saying is that while I’ve given little direct thought to my situation it is thrown into relief by what I write. It has a heft I cannot shrug. In a way it feels like a dark secret – I am the man who writes this; I carry this within me.

It’s little wonder that writing is therapeutic for me, but as yet I don’t know the fullness of what it means.

Remembering my birthday

I woke up this morning and it took me ten minutes to remember it was my birthday. It’s not that I’ve overlooked it. I shared in a birthday celebration Saturday night and there’s been plenty of other reminders along the way. These days though my birthday seems purely a social thing, an excuse to get together and have a drink. The deeper remembrance of what it actually means has passed into history.

I had passing thoughts over the weekend related to that very idea. I recalled a time when my birthday would come along and my mum, ever exuberant, would call me at the first opportunity and sing happy birthday to me. I would raise my eyebrows at it at the time, but it was heart-warming to be reminded I was so loved. I have no kids to wake me with breakfast in bed, and not even a family these days to share a quiet celebratory meal with, either out or a nice home cooked meal by mum. And presents, of course. I don’t even consider presents anymore, though once I would be curious with anticipation of what goodies the day would bring me.*

This is a difference. Birthdays now are single events when once they were part of a continuum that took in years of history and remembrance and family memory.

With all that said, it didn’t take long this morning to be reminded that it was my birthday. I was waiting for the train to arrive when I got my first message. I’ve had about another dozen since wishing me a happy birthday. My offsider, returned from holiday, came in with a bag full of pastries to celebrate; and the women I work with have very kindly cooked up a storm over the weekend for a birthday lunch together today. I’m grateful for that and more touched than I thought I would be. And I’ve just listened to a voicemail in which Donna sings happy birthday to me.

I’m not doing anything tonight but there’s another birthday celebration on Friday night – Donna’s – so it’s a busy and festive time all round.

*To be fair, I got a lovely bottle of Mamre Brook shiraz on Saturday night, and Donna doubtless will have a gift for me. And the combination of cocktails, Mexican food and friends Saturday night was great fun.