Born salty

It turned out yesterday that I was in a pretty salty mood. Not unusual maybe, as I tend to that anyway, but surprising in a way given the mellow reflection leading into the office. It’s funny how it happens like that. You feel fine and have no idea that you might be in a difficult mood until you encounter people, or return to a familiar environment. Sometimes it’s just hidden because it hasn’t been exposed, and sometimes it needs a triggering event – like walking into work. That’s what happened yesterday.

There was good cause in many ways, as I described yesterday – upset with the behaviour of my immediate superior, frustrated with my efforts to find meaningful work, and exasperated in general by the inefficient practices in the office.

In that mood it doesn’t take much to rub me up the wrong way. Yesterday it was one of the team leaders here I despise, and the general touchy-feely vibe across the floor.

I’ve long despised this team leader. You hardly create a personality more suited to offend me. She is very much a look at me character. She’s highly self-absorbed, and pontificates all day in a loud voice to anyone and everyone with in the general vicinity. Unfortunately that includes me.

She speaks with a smug, superior attitude, and a plum in her voice. She goes on explaining how she did this and did that, how clever she was doing the other, and offering up uninformed opinions that veer between the sanctimonious to the ridiculous. She is a tedious woman under the impression that she is fascinating, and inflicts it upon us all. I might excuse it if she was a good operator, but she’s one of those characters happy to drop everything once she gets on a roll with her stories, which take about five minutes each, and average around ten a day. She’s been around a while and is one of the more knowledgeable people here, and so I use to go to her with questions or asking that she check things. No longer. She’s too unreliable. Long denied a team of her own because of her foibles she has finally been granted one. She’s quite good at teaching them, but her inherent slackness means they tend to follow her suit. I may not look it, but I have a wasp-ish work ethic and I can’t abide this.

Yesterday she was full on. (Funnily enough for a long time she had a thing for me. She knows I don’t like her though, and I suspect that affection has wilted).

The other thing was the general environment, and there’s not much I can do about that. I’m attached to a contact centre. By and large the average contact centre employee is very different to what I’m used to. For most of my life I’ve worked with graduates and professionals, ambitious, hungry types with strong views and a lot of energy. There’s the occasional shrinking violet, but generally there’s a mix of alpha and beta personalities. I know it, I like it, and I thrived in it because I’m innately competitive and have a pretty uncompromising attitude. It was sometimes blunt, but mostly we were effective.

I don’t want to seem a snob, but clearly there’s a different style of person drawn to contact centre rolls, which generally have a pretty low bar and have sucked a lot of personal responsibility and initiative from the role. Seems to me that most people here are either on the way to something else, or else happy to sit in their corner and know exactly what is required of them without having to think about it too much. It’s a very predictable, structured role that fits well with someone wanting a low fuss job.

There are exceptions, some strive for more, some are more innately ambitious or thoughtful or curious, and some are doing it desperate to find something better. Most aren’t though. They’re all pleasant, universally inoffensive people, bright to some degree, but incurious, somewhat timid in regard to things outside their area, and with a personality I would describe as soft. I don’t mean that in any derogatory sense. I mean they are more receptive and reactive, even the bigger personalities among them. They absorb the environment around them, rather than looking to ever disturb it.

I’m a disturber, by practice and instinct. I like to shake things up. I don’t mind being provocative. I don’t want to rest on my laurels, and I’m certainly not retiring. I’m curious and energetic and sometimes hard. I don’t want to let things be, I want to make things be. I can’t imagine being any other be, and in my heart of hearts feel some sympathy who don’t know what it’s like to feel that. This is life – do something!

I miss working in an environment where that is normal. I get no energy from this place, and I must stick out llike a sore thumb – certainly I create unfamiliar waves. I’m used to that more combative environment and the occasional positive confrontation of ideas. That’s absent here by and large and when I make my waves I often get looked at askance. I want to be among my peers.

Most of the people here are lovely – they’re just not me. Sometimes I feel like giving them a shake. I’m a bit bolshie sometimes suggesting to them there are greater things out there in the wide world. I urge them to explore and taste, to try things, to test the limits of themselves. Fundamentally we’re polar opposites. What is second nature to me is foreign to them.

That’s what got to me a bit yesterday. I miss that vibe. I want to be inspired to greater effort by a culture of excellence. I miss rubbing up against intelligent and vibrant personalities.

That’s one of the reasons I was drawn to the girl here, A, and probably one of the reasons she was drawn to me. She is curious and ambitious and highly intelligent. She has a mighty work ethic and lots of energy and a desire to be more, do more. This is what I know. For me she was one of the few I could relate too, separate even to the fact that she is also an attractive woman. I know her in so many ways, in the same way I know myself.


What’s mine isn’t hers

Thursday last week I got a message through LinkedIn from a HR guy interested in talking to me about a job. It was a good job, and the organisation top notch. We organised to catch up by phone at 10 the next day.

At about 9.55 Friday I went downstairs, bought a coffee, sat down at a table and dialled his number. It went to voicemail and I left him a message. I sipped my coffee. Ten minutes later I called again. This time the phone rang out. I went back upstairs, left him a message via LinkedIn inviting him to call me, and waited. To this moment I haven’t heard back from him by phone or message. It’s pretty poor, but it’s the sort of behaviour I’ve become accustomed to.

On Monday at work my manager takes me aside and says she has a proper job for me. It’s 3.30 when we catch up. She explains she wants me to put together a proposal to connect our corporate Facebook account to the operational area via some sort of chat functionality. Besides the technical aspects of it, I also had to consider resources, protocols and processes to manage it. That I had to present by Thursday morning.

I smiled at that. Fat chance, I thought, especially given there was a public holiday in between. As it turned out the people I needed to speak to had taken time off too, and so I went back to her and told her no way it was going to happen, and realistically not much chance of getting it a week beyond that. There’s a lot to it – a lot more than she was able to comprehend – not the least the technical components that have to be scoped and customised.

The curious thing about all this is that the job had been sitting on my manager’s desk for three weeks before this. I know that because I cocked an eye when I heard about it. I was sceptical then of her ability to put this together – she hasn’t the experience in this area, and tends to take a shallow perspective of things.

What’s happened, of course, is that she’s got this far before realising she can’t do it. What she had prepared was a motherhood statement and nothing more. I was her get out option. Give it to me and it became my problem. I do the work and she becomes the hero.

Yeah, I felt pretty cynical about it. This is a long way from the first time this has happened. That’s one of the reasons she covets me and keeps me from getting publicly involved in these initiatives. If she keeps me safe she can call on me, use my words as her words, take my advice and parlay it as hers, and ultimately use my work and palm it off as her own. I’m sick of this, and though this time it was a ridiculous request I was quite happy to have it slip.

Let’s not forget, she gets all this for my bargain basement salary.

When I left work Monday I felt pretty jaded by it all. Though I’m looking for other work, the behaviour of recruiters like I described above makes it feel like a bad joke. I felt trapped and over a glass or two of wine I wanted to reflect on that. What options did I have?

So, back to work today and before 9 o’clock a lie told to me has been exposed inadvertently by another. The lie was by my manager. It seemed a small lie, an unnecessary lie, and I wondered why she had bothered. It couldn’t be justified as a white lie. I stood there shaking my head. Curious, I said aloud. But it just added to the sense of infamy: not only does she want me do her work, she lies to me as well.

It demonstrates a fundamental gap between who she is and who I am. I may be a lot of things, but I’m pretty straight, and take pride in that. (I might even suggest that I’m notorious for it).

This episode epitomises my disillusion with this place. I’ll do my job, and do it well, but I’m taking care now that the big boss – her boss – is aware of what I’m doing too, just so she can’t claim what isn’t hers.

But maybe

For some reason about every six weeks I need a monster sleep. Often times I’ll sleep for ten hours straight on those occasions, as if the body has been crying out for rest denied. The rest of the time I run pretty much to a standard routine without feeling any ill effects. I switch off the light around 11.30, and am out of bed a little before 7.

Yesterday was an easy day, more or less. After laying in bed late to read I got up, walked Rigby down by the beach, before returning to make a minestrone while watch the Sixers beat the Heat in the play-offs. I watched some of the Anzac Day coverage from France, including a wonderful speech from the French Prime Minister, before settling down to watch the footy with Cheeseboy and JV. In the evening I had a bowl of the minestrone, groused about the footy, and watched some cursory TV while feeling my energy seep from my body. It was a little after 9 and I felt like nodding off.

I didn’t fight it too much. I was in a funny mood, neither one thing or another, an old Sports song running through my head, Don’t Throw Stones, and no real desire to remain conscious. I went to bed, read for a while, then switched the light off. It was about 10.

I woke a little before 6, dozed for a while, then decided not to pretend. I got up and fed Rigby and made myself a coffee. Back in bed I turned on the lamp. It was still dark outside and the light made the shadows in the room more deep. I read for about 40 minutes I guess, enjoying the novelty of it as well s a new book, but a part of my mind was turned in on itself.

Something felt different. I was different, or at least my perceptions were, but something about me seemed changed to. In myself I felt quieter. The force in me that often expresses itself outwardly in how I walk or talk, or in my eyes, was instead internalised. I wondered what it was. Is something about to change?

The Sports song was in my head still as I prepared myself for another day of work. I took a distant view of it in keeping with my low-key mood. In fact everything seemed distant. I was all small movements, with none of the brash outwardness I sometimes portray.

Sitting opposite me on the train to work was a woman in her mid-twenties, a fit looking intellectual wearing skin tight leggings. I sensed her awareness of me, which made me aware of her. She reminded me of a girl I’d had sex with, and all of a sudden all I could see was her naked body. There was nothing lascivious in it, it was a function merely of memory. I looked away from her, out the window, becoming reflective.

I’m in my early fifties now, but I look like a well turned out forty year old. I tend to base my behaviour on how I look rather how old I am: and if you can get away with it, why not? There’s a lot of things in that. No-one wants to get old. No matter how self-possessed it’s the rare person who doesn’t take some lead from their personal appearance. And of course, its vanity.

I’ve always been vain. You could say it was bred into me. My mother was always stylish, and my father immaculate – and his father, my grandfather, was a devotee of Henty Buck. It was not only all around me, the value of personal appearance was always drilled into me, and above all, the beauty of style. I believed in it and as a good looking boy was happy to exploit it.

I’ve always been aware of it, but somewhere along the line it meshed neatly with my ego. For many years I rode that wave until it crashed. I’ve reformed some. I’m still vain, and I’ve still got an ego, but they’re quieter than they used to be. I can’t deny myself, but I want to be the master of my ego and not the other way around. All this I pondered as I peered out the window and train quickly filled. I felt quiet myself, humble, just me.

You try and find the right answer – at least I always do. There isn’t always a right answer though. I know that even as I search for it. I like to have something definite to navigate by or act upon, though it’s rare that it’s possible. Even on the train I searched for that. Was it time I accepted my age and just be it? But then, why? Why if in mind and body you feel timeless? Should I feel flattered to have a young woman aware of me? Was it wrong of me to see in my mind’s eye naked bodies? But then – why must I have a position on these things? Can I not be?

In the background of all this is work, and the girl there. I’ll write about it separately, but I had more cause on Tuesday to feel abject disappointment with work. It left me off-kilter as I went for a glass of albarino on Tuesday night, wondering how such things can be. As for the girl, more and more it feels that this is my personal journey. I make no representations of her. I won’t chase her, or bend myself to be something I’m not to attract her. I am me, myself, as if that is the point of it. I read something the other day, if the door doesn’t open then its not the right door. I’m happy with that. I hope it opens, but if it doesn’t, so be it. In the meantime what I feel is good and true, and maybe what I need. I can be thankful of that, and by extension, her, because she is the cause of it.

Everything is quiet in me. It feels safe, but a little strange. There is no single answer, no easy explanation of right and wrong. Everything is true because its real. Whether something is about to happen or not I don’t know, but maybe.

Outside the outer

Tomorrow I get to sleep in for Anzac Day. I’ll have a quiet morning doing nothing in particular, unless I manage to squeeze in some writing. Come the afternoon I’ll be eager to sit down in front of the TV to watch the big game from the MCG.

There’ll be near 100,000 people there, and millions others watching. The build-up will be enormous, the anticipation huge. It feels momentous, like one of those rare occasions when you join with others in common expectation of something out of the ordinary. I know it’s just a footy match, and sometimes it’s been a disappointing contest, but often it has been epic.

I’ll brook no interruption tomorrow. I might have a mate join me, but all my focus will be on the game. I bought a meat pie today, and tomorrow will cook it up with some chips and enjoy it as the game begins as if I was at the ground. Come the evening I’ll be happy or sad but nothing in-between. And come Thursday I’ll be back at work.

I’m heading out for a glass of wine tonight. One of the bonuses of having a midweek day off is that you get a midweek night out if you want it. The mood will be lighter, people more relaxed.

Some I know are heading out tomorrow, going for a drive down the beach or into the bush, or catching up with family. I’m happy with my plans, but I recognise the subtle pang I feel when people mention this. I’ve always shrugged it off before. It’s a fact of life. Today I faced it square.

It is a fact of life, but personally I feel sad that the family occasions – birthdays, mother’s day, Easter, random barbecues and family meals – are no longer available to me. What I miss is that sense of belonging. Of being a part of something. It was nice to go there and feel utterly comfortable and free to be myself; to know I was loved, and at the very least always had a feed whenever I wanted it.

I don’t have that now, but there’s no good reason why I can’t have it again. That’s the plan. In the meantime, let’s hope the Dons do over the Pies tomorrow.

A happy game

Last night I watched a documentary on Arthur Miller, made by his daughter. I was keen to see it, not only because he was an acclaimed playwright, but because he was also a seminal figure in the twentieth century. He lived an interesting life.

I’m an admirer of Miller. In my book he’s probably the greatest moral playwright of the last century, and I’m drawn to that kind of writing. My first introduction to him was at high school, where we studied Death of a Salesman. Like many things you’re forced into studying I didn’t take to it overmuch at the time, but I still remember it very well. At some point I caught up with All My Sons, but my favourite of all his plays is The Crucible.

The Crucible takes the Salem witch trials as its setting, but it’s really about McCarthy-ism and the trials that took place trying to root out alleged Communist conspirators in the 1950s. It’s really about paranoia and persecution and the hysterical need to condemn and punish, but it’s also about courage, which is what drew me to the story.

It’s fascinating as a telling of the Salem witch trials, and even more so when you consider it in light of McCarthy, but what rings true in the end is the simple courage of John Proctor and his wife who refuse to submit to untruth, even if it will save them. There’s a line in the play, you’ve taken my soul, leave me my name. That name is their integrity, their identity, and ultimately they can’t compromise on that.

There some who appeared before the HUAC and spilled their guts, revealing to the committee of those who they believed to be Reds. There were others who refused to recognise the authority of the committee, and wouldn’t cooperate. They were punished – as were John and Goody Proctor – but their ‘name’ was more important to them than the threats and intimidation of a blatantly unjust court.

It’s the people who have the courage of their convictions, who are unafraid of going against the flow and are indifferent to popular sentiment I admire. It’s those who are willing to put themselves on the line for a higher principle than self-interest, and will make a stand for what is right and true who elevate society beyond the mediocre.

Miller dealt with such topics, among other fundamental enquiries such as the value of what we do, integrity, belief, the motivations that make us twitch, as well the delusions, and the meanings we come to attribute to our existence. These are subjects close to my heart even at their most raw. Miller was able to encapsulate and give voice to such theme in tales both entertaining and erudite.

I watched, this story of his work, and the life that surrounded it, and in a part of my mind I was working on the story I’d been writing earlier, figuring it out, reflecting on it in light of Miller and his work. It fell full in me, and real. I’ve been struggling with this book but this weekend it began to come together. I saw the depth of it, saw where it might go and how it might get there. It’s an exciting feeling. It’s as if it has gained meaning and life of its own accord and begins galloping away from you, and you hurry after it not wanting it to get away.

And in the background, as it has all weekend, was the sense of contented affection. I know enough that it’s this feeling that I’m drawn to. You fall in love with being in love. I’m not in love, but I have a mighty sense of desire. It feels like a truth that is unique to me, which is likely true. Whether I’m entitled to the love of another person I cannot say, but I know I’ve got every right to feel as I do. I’m easy with it, happy to be myself without striving to be more: it is enough, or it isn’t. I am me, and this is all I have to offer – but it’s much.

So as I watched, reflecting on the work of Miller against my own authorly aspirations, I found myself similarly attending to the story of his relationships, and ultimately the one true love he finally settled with. It seemed right.

There was an affecting moment near the end. After about 40 years together his wife dies. Miller writes to a friend about her, and how it has devastated him:

“I am very old now, like a dog I always laid my catch at her feet. Now I carry it around aimlessly, the happy game disrupted. Forever.”

It seemed such a sad and true thing to say, and I found myself with tears in my eyes. And it seemed right to me that this is something I could honestly aspire to – to be with that person I wanted nothing more than to lay my catch at her feet. To play that happy game. It is something that fits well with the man I am.

The open door

A few weeks ago I sent a message to my step-sister via Facebook after I discovered she was ‘following’ me. As we hadn’t spoken for 5 years it was a significant gesture.

I didn’t say much. I wanted to keep it simple and not presume too much. I hoped she was well and made mention that given the years passed perhaps it was time to speak again – if she agreed, then she knew where to find me.

I know she read the message, but I haven’t heard from her. I’m a little disappointed because I was genuinely curious, but I wouldn’t say I’m upset. I find it ironic in its own way, and gently amusing because of it.

I wouldn’t rule out hearing from her sometime in the future. I’ve opened that door to her and it’s up to her to step through – but now she knows it’s open, and it should be easier. Perhaps she needs to gather her thoughts and feelings before responding, or perhaps she wants to close the door. Time will tell.

I’m glad I contacted her because, on the balance of things, I think it was the right thing to do. Right for me, at least.

I can’t presume to speak for her, though the fact she is following me still after these years suggests there is still interest. I’ve done my bit. What she does next, whether it be anything or nothing, is entirely up to her and I’m at peace with it either way.

Still, it would be nice…