The next meal


From Thursday I’m running the show in my department as the manager will be away on holiday. Basically it means I’ll have a bit more work to do and a little less support, but it’s no big deal. I’ve done much more.

In general I’m much more positive on the work front. The new role has given me a much higher profile and on view to a greater range of people. I’m fortunate that I’m the sort of person who appears competent and in control (even when I’m not), and I get a lot of brownie points because of that. No matter what they think of me personally, most believe me to a reliable and capable operator. On top of that now I’m in a position to innovate – my sweet spot – and that’s going well also. Basically, I think I’m well poised for higher duties if and when they come along.

Ideally, when the next opportunity comes along, it’s elsewhere.

I’ve just come from having coffee with the RM of the chatbot business we’re a client of. I met him about 7 months ago and we hit it off right from the word go. He’s about my age, an ex big-wig at Optus who’s trying his hand at the gig economy – he works on a contract basis, with other irons in the fire. We’re similar types, though he’s more garrulous than I am. We’d happily share a beer or two, but in the meantime we’ve had a lot of coffee.

He’s moving into a venture of his own, which sounds fascinating and exciting. He’s sort of living the life I would if I could. In any case, he’s not sure about his tenure in his present role but we’ve committed to keep in touch. All that is very cosy, but he also raised the option of me doing some work in his new venture if and when it gets off the ground – “no promises”. And in reality I would expect nothing to come of it, but it’s nice to be wanted and encouraging to be considered.

A couple of weeks ago I caught up with the ex-Digital Manager from here for coffee down St Kilda road, where he works now. One of the first things he said to me is that he’s always looking out for opportunities for me. He’s one who thought I was under-valued and poorly used in my previous role, and was instrumental in me moving into my current role. One of the interesting things he said was that my previous manager was scared of me, which is why she would sideline me. I thought this myself, but it was interesting to get it also from someone else.

Besides looking out for me, he gave me some advice to follow up on, believing still that I’m still well short of what I’m capable of.

All of this leads me to believe that something will give eventually. I’ve broadened my network and there appears a great deal goodwill towards me from very capable people. You’d hope to think that’d translate into a job at some point.

There’s the moral aspect too. When I went through my tribulations I wondered if I’d ever come out of them. And if I did I wondered if I’d be the same man. I had serious doubts, which is normal I’d suggest when you’re coming back from homelessness and virtual bankruptcy.

It’s funny, you even question the things that should be beyond question. There were times I wondered if I was a fraud. If my previous achievements were a fluke or exaggerated. I questioned if I was really as smart as I’d thought I was, and if my experience was as valuable as I’d believed.

They call this impostor syndrome, and it’s quite common, I gather. That’s interesting in itself. I’d never really suffered from it before, but then I was like a shark that cruised the waters seeking my next meal.

And that’s the other part of it. Was I still a shark?

You know, attitude plays a big part. And when I call myself a shark it wasn’t in any unfriendly way – simply that I was always on the lookout for the next opportunity, and any doubt I had was quickly dismissed. I just did it.

The big question was if I still had that mojo? I’ve asked that a lot in recent years and the answer has been different every time. I think the answer is yes, but it’s different from before. And clearly others recognise it, too.

All this is reassuring, for my material prospects, and for my soul. I’ll wait to see what comes next, but I’m confident that whatever it is that I can do it.

A safe place


I was shocked at the depth of my feeling yesterday. For the first time in my life I felt despairing.

Sometimes you don’t always feel the full force of things until you name them. I think it’s great that people can be so more open about the state of their mental health these days, but I wonder sometimes if by saying it that you open yourself up to all its consequences. I’ve observed this a lot.

You see it in infants and kids who have minor mishaps and look to their parents. Generally they’ll start bawling when a parent makes a fuss over them, almost as if they’ve been given permission to feel sorry for themselves. Then there are parents who spare them a glance and play it down, “you’re alright mate”, and distress then is invariably muted. I’m sure we become conditioned by these experiences and it informs our behaviour.

By nature I was, and remain very much in the stoic camp. That’s a very Australian way, or at least it used to be. There’s a lot of risk that comes with that – bottling up emotions, losing touch with the inner self, being closed off to others. The danger is by never expressing distress, or even owning up to it, that it causes critical damage. We’ve come a long way, though.

The other side of it is to feel victimised. I think it’s healthy to voice how you feel, but equally I think there are times when you have to make a stand against it. The danger is losing the sense of agency in your own life. By putting your emotions in the spotlight there’s the risk of magnifying them.

Look, I’m no expert so take what I say with a grain of salt. I know there have been occasions over the last 18 months when I’ve really struggled and felt as if I couldn’t face the world. There were occasions I opted out, and that was good because it took the pressure off me. Sometimes you just know putting yourself in that spot is going to make things worse and it’s sensible to take a step back.

There have been other occasions though when I’ve felt just as bad but knew I had to front up. Sometimes you need to do it to prove it to yourself. You know that if you step away now then it’ll be harder the next time not to. Sometimes you need to make a stand. It’s not always possible, but sometimes – I think – you just have to grind through it. And though it’s hard afterwards you know what you’re capable of. Sometimes you have to fight it, not give way.

This is what I think and it’s true of me, but I’m sure everyone is different. All of us are made differently and have different experiences. In my case it’s years of conditioning and a bloody-minded attitude that makes me think twice – but today I’m able to admit to a frailty I would’ve been too ashamed too only a few years ago. I think that’s the healthy balance – a pragmatic acceptance of what it is.

And so I return to my revelations yesterday. Up till recently I believed my ‘issues’ were personal, and so I had to address them at a personal level. It’s only in the last few weeks that I came to think that a large part of my issues were symptomatic of the times we live in. I’m disaffected and alienated from the world about me in many attributes, and while there’s a personal element to it, it’s also becoming quite common. What I feel is felt by many others.

Knowing that changed a lot. Writing it out as I attempted to yesterday (very inarticulately) made it very real. As I wrote I felt the sentiment infect me. The more I wrote the worse I felt. Afterwards, I felt morose. Here was true existential anxiety.

The problem is that I feel powerless in the face of these forces. I will analyse and resist and set out plans of action to address the issues that impact upon my personal self. I’m diligent with that, driven even, unwilling to concede. But what can I do about climate change? How can I overcome corruption and apathy?

What upsets me most is not the cause of these things, most of which I can do nothing about – it’s the symptoms of it, which I feel with equal powerlessness.

The world is in the grip of series of catastrophic trends. In a healthy society you would expect there would be force and will to combat them – and maybe once upon a time there was. But not now. That’s what demoralises me. To my disgust and sorrow I’ve come to believe that nothing will happen. Why would it? What’s going to change? Who is it to drive change? Who?

In any case, I fear it’s too late now. There’s a sense of hopelessness mixed in with disgust. It’s undone me.

I think back now and think the critical moment came after the federal election in May. I approached it with such anticipation. Here was the moment I was waiting for, an enlightened government. I could believe in least some things getting better. Instead the same shonky politicians were returned and it was not just disappointment I felt, but a bitter betrayal. The betrayal was as much by my fellow Australians as it was by the politicians. I lost belief at that point, and it’s all been downhill since then.

I’m fine today. You get through. These are the facts after all, I just have to deal with them. But I understand now why people turn to drink – to drown out the disappointment. I’m not about to do that, but I need something away from the state of the world to take comfort from.

I’ve always been wary of such distractions. I wanted to know the truth, and confront it. I felt like a warrior. I would look upon my friends with families and was happy for them, but I also observed how it turned them inward. That’s natural, after all, your prime concern and priority is your loved ones. Single people like me could afford to be cultural warriors.

Lifestyle is a different thing. Lifestyle is the opium of our times. I’ve succumbed to it myself. We’re a society that consumes things at a rate never seen before – consumer goods and gadgets, social media, big occasion TV, and so on. We set out schedules by what we can consume and enjoy.

It’s very seductive, but the Game of Thrones isn’t real life. Lifestyle insulates us from reality, and maybe that’s a big reason we’re now in the state we’re in. Everything got too easy and comfortable.

That’s what I need though: ease and comfort. Indulgence even. I don’t think I can ever give away the cultural warrior stuff, and don’t think I want to – it’s a kind of brain death. I’m strung out and exhausted though. I need to be loved and supported. I need to re-integrate myself into the community. I need to heal inside and start to hope again. I need something, somewhere, someone I can go to and feel safe, and I haven’t had that for a long, long time.

Faux summer days


It feels like summer, not because it’s especially warm – it’d be about 16 degrees outside – but the sky is blue and the sun shining and, as I sit here, I can hear one neighbour going about his mowing while another has the whipper-snipper out. Sure signs. All I need now is the waft of some barbecue aromas (and maybe the cricket on in the background), and I’ve got pure summer cliche, just like so many others in the past. Some things never change.

In reality, this is the dead time before summer. It’s not winter and, despite all signs, not summer either. I think they call this spring. It’s a bit of everything and I don’t mind that, especially as the days grow longer, and you can see things coming into bud. You get a bit of a skip in your step this time of year because winter is over. Finally, enough is enough, though enough is just right too – I like winter, but steady, boy.

For someone who views the calendar through a sporting lens, then this is a bit of a dead time. Footy’s over, cricket hasn’t begun proper. The A-League re-commenced last night, but it’ll take me a while to get back into that. Likewise the NBL, which I’ll keep an eye on without ever getting too excited. There’s motorsport, but, nah; and the horse racing season heats up now – I’ll get into that in a couple of weeks.

It’s a convenient opportunity for me to catch up on things then without distraction. I did a solid shift working from home yesterday, but still managed to take down a few boxes to the local Salvos. There’s a bit more of that sort of stuff to do, as well as the well-timed spring cleaning I rarely get to in any season of any year. And there’s my writing.

A couple of weeks ago I exclaimed to some close confidantes that I’d be finishing my book that weekend. But then I got crook and by then had lost the plot anyway. I did some more work on it last weekend. This weekend I’m a chance to finish, but don’t hold your breath.

I’ve got plenty of time now without distraction and if it’s not this weekend then almost certainly it’ll be next weekend. That’ll be a moment, though it’s only a first draft and I already know so many things about it I want to change. That’s why it’s a first draft.

Once it’s done, I’ll stick it in the bottom drawer and take from there the MS I prepared earlier – the first book, ripe for a final re-write and polish. That’s how it goes.

In the meantime, might fire up the barbie.

Horses in the dark


It was a clear and mild last night, and I was in the city after an early dinner and heading towards a freebie play at the Malthouse.

We caught a train down St Kilda Road and got off at the Police Memorial. We walked down the street and travelling parallel with us on the road were a couple of mounted police on their horses. They clip-clopped along at a steady and reassuring pace, unbothered by all. I continued my conversation but had half an ear on the horses.

I was filled with affection. What wonderful beasts, I thought. There was something unperturbed and totally relaxed about the horses as they ambled along as if they had done this a hundred times before and were content with the life they had been gifted. It was a dream for their riders, too, I thought, imagining that this was something they had always wanted to do.

They were heading back towards the stables, I figured, which were nearby. I imagined what happened then – saddles removed and harness, given a brush down before a feed. Then the night ahead in their spacious cubicles, the odd clip of a hoof on the floor as a horse shifted, the sighs and gentle whinnies, and the quiet, companionable conversations between them in the dark.

They veered away as we went on. I looked in their direction feeling a quiet glow. That was something good.

The older I get, the more I come to love animals, and I’ve always loved them – and horses are one of my favourites.

The death of a legend


I was sitting on my couch last night watching TV when the news came through that Bob Hawke had died. He was 89, I knew he’d been crook for some time, but the news still struck me hard. I think much of Australia, on both sides of the political spectrum, had the same reaction. It was only after he was gone that I realised I had loved him.

Bob Hawke will probably go down as the greatest Labor Prime Minister ever, though he himself idolised John Curtin. I think there’s a strong argument that he’s our best Prime Minister ever of either persuasion. Together with Paul Keating, Hawke transformed Australia. They were a bold, reforming government with a vision of Australia that was innovative and ambitious. Somehow they managed to deliver most of their agenda. No other government has ever done so much, and it set us up and left us in a stronger place.

The economic foundation they set has seen us through some dark places since, but sadly the social and cultural direction they set – liberal and enlightened – has been waylaid by successive governments since. It’s an argument for another day, but had Keating not been defeated in 1996 Australia today would be a different place, and a better one. Enough survives however, the legacy remains.

Many contemporary Australians wouldn’t know that, but despite having left office in 1993 Hawke remained a public figure and became a cultural icon. Pretty well everyone loved him because he was a good bloke. There was no pretence to him, his compassion was authentic, and he was as he seemed, a garrulous, charming larrikin who epitomised the attributes we Australians like to think we embody.

For me, I remember much more than that. When I heard of his death last night I sent a text to a friend I knew who would be similarly affected. We spoke for a while and for the rest of the night exchanged SMS as we watched the coverage on TV and remembered. There was some mighty nostalgia at work.

The first election of any kind I ever voted at was the 1983 federal election, the election which Hawke beat Fraser. If I remember right it was held on the day after my birthday. I don’t know how it happened, but I was already deep into politics. I think a personality like Hawke’s probably encouraged that. I’d grown up with him being the president of the ACTU. He was immensely popular throughout the country. He was tough and smart – people forget how smart he was – with the boundless, inspiring confidence of man who knows he’s smart. He was without pretence though. There were no airs or graces to him and I doubt anyone ever doubted his genuine passion for the cause. I think many Australians could see something of themselves in his unabashed Australian-ness. He gave us permission to be ourselves.

That carried through to his prime ministership, though by now he had progressed from open neck shirts to fine Italian suits. He went into government with the imagination to create a better Australia, and the will to achieve it. We were all lucky that he had a man by his side – Paul Keating – who had similar imagination and drive. Together, and with possibly the best cabinet in Australian political history, they forged a new Australia.

Throughout that time he was on our TV screens and in our collective imaginations. He lives on in vivid memories, in great moments we all recall. He was someone we liked, someone we could be proud of. For all his great abilities what I cherish most about him was his compassion and decency. He was a truly good man who couldn’t abide injustice or bigotry. He stood for good, as no leader for many years has. He opened Australia up and made us look outwards, and in so doing embraced others with less opportunity, or disadvantaged by circumstance.

I can recall him crying on national TV, which he did several times. He was an empathic, sensitive man, and that only endeared him more. They’re the best people.

I look back and I remember sunny days and good times. Australia was burgeoning, we had belief, life was sweet. And we were lucky – how lucky we’ve only come to realise – to have leaders of the finest quality. We live in an era of pygmies, but Hawke was a true giant and a fine man. I’ll miss him.

PS It was good to see Hawke reconcile with Keating in the last few weeks ahead of this election. They are an iconic duo. It’s sad to see Hawke depart before seeing Labor win on Saturday, but his timing is impeccable otherwise. He always knew how to milk the political advantage. Australia is awash with sentimentality today remembering the prime minister they had once and what he stood for. That will stand today’s Labor in good stead.

Up for grabs


Getting ready for work this morning I was listening to an interview with Kevin McHale. For those that don’t know, McHale was a great power forward in the NBA who played for the title winning Celtics in the mid-eighties. I remember him well, tall and pale skinned with a mop of dark hair, he seemed destined to play for the Irish themed Celtics. Later on he became a commentator, which was what the interview this morning wall about. It was a terrific interview.

Naturally much of the conversation revolved around the current NBA finals series, which is coming to a crescendo. A good three or four minutes was spent discussing Kawhi’s buzzer beater against the Phillies in the seventh game of that series.

It’s already a famous shot, but in time it will become one of those moments in folklore. The shot itself, the seconds ticking down to zero, the high degree of difficulty shooting from the corner with the Sixers tallest player, Embiid, guarding him. The ball had to loop high to get over him and landed on the front rim of the hoop, bouncing straight up the height of the backboard, and coming down on the same rim. This time it took a forward bounce, hitting the front of the rim on the far side, before plopping into the basket. Time has stopped, the crowd is hushed, the fate of two teams, two cities, all wrapped up in the bounce of the ball. It goes in, the crowd erupts, and the Raptors win by two.

As a pseudo Sixers fan I wish it was otherwise, but Kawhi Leonard is one of my favourite players and really elevated his game in the playoffs. They went through and the Sixers went out, while in the other playoff series my number one team, the Celtics, went out to Milwaukee. I reckon the results would have been the opposite had the Celtics matched up on the Raptors, and the Sixers on the Bucks, but you play the game you’re given.

The Bucks now take on the Raptors for the Eastern divisional title. They’ll take on the winner of the Warriors/Trailblazers series in the west.

The Bucks/Raptors contest is enticing just to see Leonard go up against Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo is my pick for the MVP, though they’ll probably give it to Harden again (overrated in my book, but that’s another conversation). I reckon the Bucks will get up in six games and probably take on the Warriors.

The Western conference finals is a different ball game with the two back courts going up against each other. Curry is a hall of famer, but I loved Lillard both as a player and a personality. The Trailblazers have been brave and will take a game or two off the Warriors but can’t see them winning unless Kevin Durant – another great play-off player – doesn’t make it onto the court. I’d like to see the Blazers win the whole thing, but nah.

That would leave a Bucks/Warriors final. Warriors have been there so many times and won so often it’s hard to go against them. But, this time I reckon the Bucks might have a slight edge.

That’s what I’m thinking now, but it could be completely different. I’ll be watching. For mine the NBA is one of the great competitions in the world and shits all over the other American sports.

Crash and burn


A lot of talk about the final series of the Game of Thrones, now being broadcast. Much of the commentary has been negative – too violent, lacking in logic, literally, lost the plot, and so on. Having been an avid watcher of the series for many seasons now I agree entirely.

I’m far from being one of those GoT geeks who can recite chapter and verse every plot development and nuance over every season. I took delight from the show for the same reasons as most people. Here was intricately detailed world with a strong backstory and engaging characters and a myth to lead us on. It was beautifully designed throughout and well-acted, with wonderful set pieces and changes of fortune we could believe in. We all had our favourite characters. It was a world we could immerse ourselves in.

This last season was widely hyped. Here was to be the culmination of years of story development. Instead what we’ve been given appears to be a rushed resolution. What might have been better served over eight episodes has been squeezed into five. More fundamentally, aspects of the back story have been forgotten or dropped altogether, and inconsistencies in motivation and behaviour have taken the story in an unsatisfactory direction. Most obviously, the story has been overtaken by huge set-piece battle scenes and incongruous violence, as if suddenly pandering to a different audience that have stuck fat from the first.

It really does feel a rush job.

Take Daenerys. She’s always had tendencies towards megalomania and even cruelty. They were always hairline cracks in her personality. Come this season they’ve suddenly become wide breaches, dictating the direction of the story. She has become the mad queen all at once. So okay, maybe this was always going to happen, but the haste with which it’s happened is jarring.

Then there’s Jon Snow. If there’s meant to be a central hero of the show he’s probably it. He’s always been the decent, reluctant type who’ll always do his bit. Fine. But in this series he’s become basically a softcock, slow on the uptake and as wet as a lettuce leaf. Supposedly it’s from love for Daenerys, but gee, it’s an unconvincing love story.

You have other characters acting counter to their established nature, and all the lovely, intricate threads of myth and foretelling have seem to be all lost – unless they’re to make a belated appearance in the last episode.

What we have instead is this violent, almost nihilistic portrayal of a world bent on self-destruction. It’s a bleak, dispiriting vision full of special effects and grand sequences, but empty of purpose.

I’ll be watching the last episode next week hoping for some miraculous and satisfying resolution to what appears right now a steaming mess. I can’t see it happening, though I’m pretty sure were the story goes from here.

Long running shows sometimes go off the rails as they run out of ideas. In this case it feels not a lack of ideas but rather an artificially rushed ending, as if they had to be somewhere else and couldn’t be bothered tying up all the loose ends. Let’s just burn them all instead.

I’ve seen this before. I used to watch the Walking Dead for years but gave up on it about 18 months ago, for similar reasons. The violence had taken over from the story of survival. At one stage the show seemed almost fascist in its depiction of violent might. That came to a crescendo but wasn’t played out properly, and thereafter was just lame.

Oh well, there’s bound to be another cracking series to come along soon.