My second coming

What an interesting week it has been, though in subtle ways. This time last week I was unhappy at having my plans thwarted. Today I feel refreshed.

What has happened? Little that’s material. I was knocked back from one job, but had another suggested to me, and another couple at work mooted to me. Nothing is ever definite until it is, but at least there appears a promising trend.

After my disappointment, I bounced back quickly, as always I do. I’d be interested to place myself of today against the man I was ten years ago and make a comparison. In many ways, I would be pretty much the same, but much has happened in that time, and there are differences. I’m tempted to think most of them are positive.

I was always a strong man, but that strength has been proved by experience in the years since. In so doing it has transmogrified into something more authentic. It’s the difference between muscles wrought in a gym and those that come from hard labour. The whole experience has belatedly made me more open and accepting. I am more mindful.

I’m just as smart as I ever was, which came as a relief. I feared being out of the game for so long that my reflexes may have failed me, but I’m it and a bit more besides. In general, I’m less diplomatic than I used to be, though still capable of charm. As I’ve explained, my experiences have left me with impatient with the insincere and insubstantial. Life’s too short. I remain very effective.

One odd difference is that I seem to have hit a late prime. A friend a few weeks back said I was looking better than I had for a long time. I think much of that comes down to a state of mind. When you’re weighed down by the struggle to effectively survive it impacts on appearance and demeanour, and a revision in attitude since has probably helped.

At the same time, I am looking good. I’m fitter than I was ten years ago, and most days I walk out the front door, better looking too. I come from a good-looking family and so the importance of appearance, if not a sense of vanity, was imbued in me from an early age. I still recall quite vividly my mum telling me that I would grow up to be a man with the good looks of someone like William Holden. As recently as a few weeks ago I was emphatically reminded that I look just like Colin Firth – not something I agree with. But still.

(A peculiarity – like Benjamin Button, I seem to be ageing in reverse. I’ve always looked youthful for my age, but it seems now that as my ageing has slowed still more than my contemporaries are going by me more quickly. I have no wrinkles at all, and though I have grey hairs they make my hair sandy. I was always worried that one day I would wake up and find it had all finally caught up to me. I was afraid that this youthful advantage would be denied to me and the opportunities it gave me lost. Bitter day that would be! I no longer think that. As long as I stay healthy and fit I’ll always be youthful).

On top of all this came the realisation a couple of weeks ago as I sorted through my books that there was still a lot of life ahead of me, much to look forward too and be excited by. That’s an attitude I want to embrace, and having brought it to the forefront of my mind I find it infusing me with expectation. It’s helped by positive signs on the work front, as well as with my writing.

I’ve come through tough times and survived. I’m reframing this time of my life as a late flowering, a renaissance, and it’s amazing how that shift in perspective changes things.

One thing that hasn’t changed yet is my relationship status. It’s shocking to think but for basically the last 6 years I wouldn’t allow myself the possibility of a serious relationship. I wanted to get things right first. I needed to stabilise. The time is now right and fits well with this state of mind.

Nothing is more complex than relationships. I’ve documented the situation with A., which is ongoing. I’ve given up trying to work that out, except to acknowledge that she likes and respects me but there is something that keeps her from me. That’s up to her to figure out now. I hope she does.

In the meantime, some episodes on Friday night brought to light other possibilities.

I’m very wary of being the cute older guy that younger women want to have a fling with. I’m not against a fling, but my priorities are more serious. All that is doubled when the women at question are from work.

There was a function in the office on Friday night I helped to organise. A. was there for a while and very typically was aloof for part of it before reaching out to mitigate it. Strange that the lightness and flirtiness of her emails no longer translate into the flesh. As I said, she has to come to terms with that.

There was another girl there I’ve become friendly with in recent months. The first time I set eyes on her I felt a visceral attraction to her, but it was purely physical. In recent times we’ve overlapped and got to know each other well. She’s smart and fun and very attractive and has a lovely smile and likes me. It’s at the stage where it might quickly become something more if we choose it – a drink, some flirtation, then…

On Friday there was both drinking and flirtation, but other people too. I enjoyed it, but at the back of my mind was two things: A.; and the knowledge that I’m a much older colleague of hers. She’d be about 28-30, too young for a serious long-term (A. is 35).

I knew about this woman, but another emerged on the night. Perhaps it was the alcohol that did it, but a woman I’d merely nodded to in the past or exchanged conventional greetings with was quite aggressively flirtatious with me. I enjoyed it. I always enjoy flirtation and aggressive flirtation is my favourite kind.

She’s not as attractive as the other, but has a raw sexuality which is alluring. In basic terms, I’d love to fuck her and think it would be a great fuck too, but I almost certainly won’t. She’s about the same age, less pretty, more assertive, and probably wants no more than a fuck if her behaviour Friday is any guide.

I’m gratified by the attention and glad for the possibilities, but doubt there is anything I can really do with either of these women, for the reasons I said above. It might be different if I didn’t work with them, but even then, I want a keeper.

My gut-feel is something probably will happen with the pretty one, but in any case, the trends are positive. Renaissance it is.


Frailty and power

I went out for dinner last night with Donna. It happened to be the date of my mum’s birthday, and it’s become a tradition that we catch up on that date to celebrate.

We didn’t dwell on it. I don’t think we mentioned mum once except towards the end to mark the occasion. I wasn’t maudlin or sad. I’m glad to remember and I think it’s a fine thing, but I’m past the point I dwell on it for too long.

But then this morning as I’m heading to work on the train I’m listening to an audiobook and there’s a scene where there’s someone who had gone away many years ago returns to the town he grew up in and reunites with the friends and family and the woman he loved. He’d gone off, had adventures, made a name for himself, and to some he’d become a hero. But then he is undone meeting these people he once cared so much about, all of whom had missed and wondered what had become of him. Their affection for him was undiminished and he is embraced, forgiven for his absence and loved for his essential qualities, buried deep within his hardened exterior. He had gone away, become tough through experience, then returned, and in his return he connected not only with his loved ones, but with his sensitive self, so long neglected.

I listened and felt incredibly moved. I could understand completely, as if it reflected my life – though it doesn’t, not directly. Then, as he is held by his adoptive mother I found myself gazing out the window of the train with tears in my eyes. I felt as he did at that moment, though in a different context.

I have not gone away from my mother, she went away from me, and she won’t be coming back. I remembered that feeling as he is comforted by his mother, the strong man made frail by love and I missed that and envied it and realised that it was something I could never experience again.

I have lived without it. He went away, I stayed, but both of us became hardened in the interval. Love was not something we encountered and we took its absence for granted. He didn’t know what he had forsworn until he was wrapped in its arms again. I forget too what I no longer have, but am reminded – unsatisfactorily – when I witness the experience of others.

As I said, I’m not about to get my mother back and that’s a fact of life. That’s not to say I can’t experience variations of that, and I earnestly hope, expect, and plan to do so. Like a lot of things, that’s just the situation now.

I have these moments but the truth of it is that I’m an incredibly resilient character these days. I get knocked off course sometimes or experience a wobble, but it doesn’t take long before I right myself again and some innate quality is reasserted.

That was at 8 o’clock this morning. By 10am I was sitting in a fancy office high in a tower at the bottom end of Collins street being interviewed for a job. I blitzed it, though it’s only the first of a few. I found myself inflating to my persona, confident and articulate and in control, tall and stylish and direct. It felt my element, as if I knew the moves before they were made, aware of the impression I was making. It’s all performance, though largely unconscious. I left knowing I’d killed the interview and thinking how odd it was that so recently I had been touched by frailty – and now was a master of the universe.

Mum would be proud.

With the fam

I had my niece and nephew come into the city on Friday to have lunch with me. We went to TGIF and each had a burger.

I saw my nephew a couple of months ago, but I hadn’t seen my niece since before Christmas, and as she’d forgotten her Facebook login, exchanged no messages either.

My nephew was as I remembered him, tall and lean, but my niece had grown appreciably. She’s tall for her age now, and will likely be a tall woman.

We had a fine time as I plied them with questions and discovered unlikely facts about them. My niece, for example, was excited by watching some gaming robotics convention over the weekend, and has aspirations to become a game designer, if not a gamer.

My nephew has the mandatory desire to become a rapper, and demonstrated an impressive knowledge of the genre. He prefers the old stuff, 2pac, and Notorious B.I.G. If not a rapper he’d happily be a game designer also, but will probably do media studies and follow up with something in that area.

After lunch we went back to the office and they oohed and aahed at the views over the city. Kids always love that stuff.

I waved goodbye to them and back in the office people were quick to comment on how strong the family resemblance was. Later that day I got lovely messages from both of them thanking me for lunch. When I told S to keep in touch and that we must catch up again next school holidays she said she couldn’t wait. Nice to hear.

Earthbound Cheeseboy

Sitting on the couch last night at about 7.30 when Rigby started barking and dancing around the front door. A moment later there came a knock. I opened the door to find Cheeseboy standing there, not unusual generally except that he was supposed to have flown out to Singapore with his family earlier in the day.

I asked him questions then plied him with the wine he demanded as he explained to me that everything was on schedule right up to the moment he arrived at the check-in counter. There he was told he wouldn’t be able to board because his passport was due to expire in less than three months. After some agitated conversation it was decided that his family would fly on while he stayed behind to try and sort things out.

I was not surprised. The three month thing is reasonably well known, and in fact 10 years back when a few of us were flying out to Bali for a holiday JV was turned away from the airport for the same reason. Fortunately, being an Aussie, he was able to organise an express passport replacement and join us later in the day. That’s not so easy for a Dutchie.

Cheeseboy in fact flew up to Sydney last week and visited the consulate to organise a new passport. Unfortunately it takes 3 weeks to deliver.

So last night Cheeseboy drowned his sorrows with first one bottle of wine, then a second, before starting on the third. We had a platter of cheese, then a delivery of pizza. Finally we sat down and watched the Peter Sellers classic, The Party.

Cheeseboy is not one of those people who do solitude well, but it’s unlikely he’ll make it to Singapore now, and is planning to go back to work tomorrow. I expect I’ll be seeing a fair bit more of him in the coming days but, as he has a sore head today, with less wine consumed.

Beyond rational thought

I must one day write a book called The Rationalist. I realise it’s a theme of a bit of my creative writing, and harks back to my very own outlook on most things. I wrote yesterday about how things are changing with #metoo and so on, and while there’s a very strong moral angle on this I come to first from a rational perspective. In that case it’s pretty simple since I am democratic by nature and believe in the essential values of equality and equity. It just makes sense. People might come in different genders and in different colours and might believe in different gods but we all come out the same way and all start out equal. The diversity makes things interesting, but is no cause for one side of that equation to seek to oppress or mistreat an equal on the other side of the equation. Without all the nonsense people conjure up to excuse things there can be no other rational outcome.

I set my mind on things, but it doesn’t mean I don’t feel. I have a hard crust of rationality within which is a molten core of feeling. My writing concerns itself often with what happens when rational thought fails, or when there is no rational response, or when – as it must be on occasion – when pure rationality is not enough.

Clearly I know that reason is not everything and have wrestled with the complexities of it on many occasions, but to others who don’t know me well they don’t see that.

Right now I’m at the point where the rational is insufficient for me. I am swayed by desire and hope and unrealistic expectation. It remains a private thing mostly, viewed only obliquely, but I suspect it does me no real favours. I wrote a note to myself before: I’d rather be too much than not enough. When I was younger I wouldn’t exhort myself to be better, I’d tell myself to be more.

Being rational means being reasonable, it means looking after others and doing the right thing. It means that sometimes I sublimate myself to that; the greater good comes before my own need. That’s being rational. It means that sometimes I miss out and I don’t know if I want that any more. And if I were to be truly rational I’d realise that sometimes you must look after yourself first. Maybe this is being expressive?

At the same time I don’t know where it fits in with my heart’s desire. I find myself weighing up different options. On the side are the options I’ve taken mostly where I flirt easily and well and enjoy the superficialities of life and perhaps fall into bed and enjoy my time with someone who ticks off some of the fun things, and why not in the absence of anything else. That feels an easy thing.

On the other side I want to find some kind of truth that contains both spirit and rationality. I feel myself yearning for this. I know myself well enough to understand that what I have I can give deeply, but not widely. My heart is a secret thing, guarded by my rational self. It is kept behind a door until it finds another heart it can speak to. It’s like a hidden garden untended for years that has grown abundant and wild and fertile. That is the other side – I want to unlock that door and let someone into that garden, but there can only be one at a time and even then, only the very select.

Of course it’s not as simple as either/or.

I feel myself restless with convention and rational, reasonable action. I feel in the mood to break the things that don’t work rather than persist with attempting to fix what is broken. I’m weary of being the reasonable man, it narrows you too much, cramps your movement and yes, inhibits your means of expression.

I don’t know. Right now that molten core is bubbling up through the cracks of that rational carapace. I’m about to declare an armistice on myself, absolving myself of any guilt and responsibility for the things that have gone before. If I did wrong I did not intend it, and have no desire to carry the can for it anymore. I want to be free to be myself.

Everything starts again. Slate is cleaned. A friend of mine said the other day I was like (his favourite) Kobe Bryant because I could create my own shot. I wasn’t sure I understood how that applied to my life, but right now feel as if the moral is: take the shot.

Expressing myself

Most weeks I catch up with someone for coffee or a light lunch, a woman. There’s nothing between us and I’m not in the least interested in her in that way, but I like and appreciate her. She has a kind heart and an interesting mind and she’s someone I can speak to.

I can’t remember how it came up but she said something that took me aback. I fumbled a little in response before replying thoughtfully. All the while I feel as if something in me is plummeting. You know that feeling, an emotional falling away. Still, my words were crisp and I went back to work.

At work I realised I felt hurt by her comments. Basically, though not in those words, she called me an unfeeling brute. I knew I wasn’t, but I wondered if that’s how I seemed to the world? In speaking to her I tried to be reasonable about it, as if her opinion was valid, but back at my desk I felt betrayed. It seemed particularly cruel in light of everything I’ve tried to do this year, opening it out, letting it go, which she has been witness to and recipient of. It’s a process but I’m trying, but it felt a kick in the guts.

She sensed she had overstepped the line and sent me a text. I was a good man she said, compassionate and interesting, and even admitted I have feelings too – I’m just not expressive. I didn’t respond, and later in the evening she called me. It’s all good, I told her.

It wasn’t though. I felt vulnerable and I realised how very fragile I have become. It was unfamiliar, but not necessarily a bad thing, and this journey I’m on lends itself to that.

Of course I told her none of that, which supports her contention perhaps except that I choose who to share my things with. I am of phlegmatic temperament, but the people closest to me get the real deal. I’m pretty open with her, but I’m careful not to be too candid or indeed, too expressive, because I don’t want her getting the wrong idea. On reflection I think this is what may have prompted her comment. Quite deliberately I told her how I hoped finally to begin dating again. I suspect she harbours feelings for me but we’ve never had that relationship and fact is we never will. I wanted to tell her that obliquely, as a friend sharing news, but it might have pricked at her and that I understand.

I don’t feel it so keenly today myself, but things are different. I really don’t know how others see me, but it’s probably in a variety of ways. To some I probably aloof, but they don’t know me and that’s fine – one of them recently came to work as my offsider and the reality of me has been a pleasant revelation to him. To others I think, and hope, that I’m friendly and kind, the guy who they can crack a joke with. I manage a bunch of people and all of them enjoy it, I think.

I wondered at the anomalies last night as I lay in bed. I’m pretty breezy with the people who know me. For 10 minutes yesterday I flirted and teased three women together upstairs and they loved it. Nothing in it – one of them is heavily pregnant, and it’s fun and easy. It’s easy for me too. It comes naturally and I enjoy it. But then I get called unexpressive. What does this mean? Who am I really?

But…I don’t know. I don’t know what more I can do. I’ve opened up. I’ve told my stories, not to everyone, but to many. I’m trying to be more transparent but it’s a learning experience, trial and error. That’s why I felt so betrayed. I’m doing my best.

I’m going to sit on this because I can’t do more than that, but deep in my heart I’m wondering if I need to wrap things up. If others see me in that way – and I don’t know if they do – I wonder if it’s because I can’t commit to an outcome? Maybe I just need to put myself out there, cast myself to the winds and see what comes of it.

Being mindful

I got a call from a friend over the weekend apologising that he hadn’t been completely honest with me. I’ve sensed issues and asked gently leading questions which he’s responded to with a straight bat. That’s his nature, private to the point of being reserved. I know that and I’ve accepted his answers without completely believing. And so it was, there are issues, he hasn’t been open with me, and so he apologised.

His apology came on the back of Landmark, which he had been immersed in over the weekend. He seemed invigorated by the concepts he’d learned and keen to put them into practice. All power to him. I know well myself the power of opening up and letting go of the secrets and lies. At the end of our conversation he invited me to attend his graduation on Tuesday night.

He’s tried a few times previously to come along to some information sessions and I’ve resisted. This time I agreed, but only because it was his graduation. I would be there to support him, but there was no way I would contemplate signing up, and I told him that.

So come Tuesday we catch up for a quick dinner before rocking up to the venue. It’s crowded and hectic as people register and search for seats. There’s a busy vibe, sizzling with energy. Then the evening begins.

I don’t go along with everything espouses, but as far as I’m concerned a lot of what they say is common sense, even if it isn’t self-evident. I figured a lot of it out years ago, and more again recently. That doesn’t make me a convert, however.

The presenter was warm and engaging. She had us laughing at times and once more I could go along conceptually with what she said. Of course there was a lot of raise your hand if, and conditioned applause after every audience contribution. Needless to say I didn’t raise my hand on demand, nor did I applause unless I wanted to.

If I impressed by anything it was the people I heard testifying to their experiences, either in the forum or one on one, were universally blown away by the results of their weekend. Many claimed it to be life changing. There was something very endearing in their fervour and I found myself rooting for them. I have no doubt most of us have layers of baggage, and the more we can shed ourselves of, the better.

Towards the end of the night the selling began. Most of the participants had brought along guests, and many of those guests seemed ready to sign up at the word go. I was surprised by how many. A few more teetered before being coerced into taking the plunge. Then were likely a few more again, like me, with no intention of signing up.

I had someone approach me about it but I shut him down pretty quickly. I wasn’t rude, just decisive. Thanks, I’ve done it before, impressed by the passion, not something I’m interested in doing. Thanks again. As much as anything it was my body language and certainty that convinced them I wasn’t about to change my mind.

As I said to my mate, maybe this might have been something for me last year, but I’ve managed to navigate my way out from the worst from it, and still going. I don’t discount help or the assistance of professionals, but ultimately it’s my call and as much as possible I want to do it myself. That’s my way, but it recognises the fact that no-one knows me better than I do, I’m a stubborn bastard, and I don’t like being told what to do. Plus I’m sceptical of formulas.

He asked me then what would I say I need to change if push came to shove? I scratched around a few moments searching for an answer. I thought about the girl at work. How do I resolve situations like that? I said, half-jokingly, though that’s a human problem. Maybe be less intimidating to my seniors I said, though I hardly care about that either.

It occurred to me as we drove home that I’ve progressed to another stage in my re-development. I’ve always had a strong character, but since recovering from my tribulations I’ve become a harder person in key aspects. Last year some of it came from anger that I should suffer so unfairly. It wasn’t consciously articulated, but it simmered beneath the surface. Much of that has now dissipated and I don’t think I’m angry at all now. In fact a large part of my healing comes from acceptance.

My experiences left me with a direct way of experiencing things, however. It stripped away a lot of the irrelevancies and posturing and stories and artifice. A lot of the language as these Landmark people would say, and false realities. What it left me with is an authentic perspective on life.

In some ways that has meant I see through things that once meant much more to me. It means I deal with people on a much more honest level.

I’ve always been pretty blunt, but some of it was persona. I’ve always had a strong character, like I said, but I was conscious of it. I had swagger and ambition. I was in it for myself and my ego was much more present.

I still have some swagger, but much less conventional ambition. I can’t do away with my ego altogether, but I’ve recognised the dangers of him. And if I’m blunt now it’s because the crap isn’t worth my time.

Apparently I intimidate some people, but they’re all senior to me. I can see it sometimes, but only in retrospect. There was a situation the other day when frustrated at not getting something out of a department I visited the manager. I stuck my hand out and introduced myself. We shook hands and I told him what I need, following it up with an email laying it out. It was only hours later I realised that this guy was much senior to me and he might be put-out by a big and overtly confident guy marching up to him and expecting results. I’m not the complete alpha male, but there are occasions when I’m the most alpha of alpha males.

Now, to parse this experience I would excuse myself by saying that I’ve never been a natural or particularly good subordinate. I’ve never really seen myself that way and was inclined to some intellectual snobbery. No real excuse, but to be fair before my problems I wasn’t subordinate to many – the CEO maybe, the CFO – and was out of practice. But, there is a more fundamental reason now, I think.

Before I saw the issue or the challenge within structural constraints. There was a hierarchy and a defined pathway to follow. Human nature is that we vest a lot in that hierarchy and attend to the status that hierarchy gives us. Our ego is fed by it.

Having survived extreme hardship a lot of that appears irrelevant, if not downright silly to me. It’s like a lot of the things I set store in before, nice but ultimately meaningless. That you’re the assistant senior manager of something or another is ultimately a construct, necessary in a organisational sense but without intrinsic meaning. It’s a label.

Now none of this crosses my mind. I’m past being conscious of it. I don’t see a manager, I see someone who can help me, or has information I need or access to something I need to get to. I go to them with my problem or issue or request and that’s all that has meaning. Whether they work in the mailroom or run the show is meaningless, what is meaningful is that they can help resolve my problem or issue or request. As I keep telling my manager, it’s not personal, it’s about the work.

That makes me a bit of a savant these days, and in hindsight I understand it might unsettle some (though it only really worries those less capable or competent, those for whom entrenched position and status is more important). I’m like an Exocet missile homing in my target, and about as mindful as one. This makes me very effective, and there are many who value my focus and determination, but…

Now, I’m pretty indifferent to this, but I’m starting to think I shouldn’t be so switched off. There’s a tweak required. I understand why I’m the way I am, and maybe my perspective is more true, but if it makes me out of step then the truth is subject to societal perception. Reality is that as a world these petty conventions count; egos must be considered and stroked as required; the unspoken rules must be attended to.

That’s the practical consideration. The personal consideration is that I should be flexible enough and sensitive to pay due respect to these things. It’s not for me to trample on the ego of others, even if blindly. I don’t want to intimidate others. To achieve this I just have to be more mindful, which is the path towards so many solutions. And I don’t need Landmark for that.