Not my scene


On Tuesday night I caught up for a drink with a friend I hadn’t seen since late last year. She was at a bar at Southgate, Left Bank, with her husband, and I was there by 5 o’clock.

After about three beers, I was thinking about heading home. It was only meant to be a catch-up, and I had to get home to feed the dog. Then someone brought back another beer for me, then another after that and then my friend said, we’re going next door for dinner.

She’d been on the phone to her brother, who is a multi-millionaire business owner, and who just happened to be at a restaurant nearby having dinner. Come along, he’d told her.

At this stage, I tried backing out again. Gotta go home, I said, have a great night. But then she demanded I join them and her husband, a lovely guy, said I may as well join them. You might find it interesting he told me. Besides, it was a free dinner. So I joined them.

We found my friend’s brother in a private room with his friends and hangers-on. Apparently, he has a standing booking and turns up 3-4 nights a week for dinner. Hence the private room.

I looked about. As I already knew, it wasn’t my scene. There was a group of about six sitting around a round table, a married couple from the business and a few gay friends of the host. Bar one, they were pleasant. The host himself I’d met him a few times before and always found him a charmless character. He’s gay, short and plump with a nearly bald head and small eyes. He’s one of those people who don’t seem to say much but looks out on his entourage, occasionally speaking in a closed-mouth sort of way.

I had a glass of wine and thought twice about ordering a steak, uncomfortable to accept the generosity of someone I hardly knew. I joined in the conversation, but mostly I observed. In my imagination, I considered how 3-4 times a week the host holds court like this, watching on as others enjoy the fruits of his hospitality. It sat poorly with me all round. I’m old school in a lot of ways, but, you know, I’m not above accepting the occasional freebie if someone really insists. Sometimes it’s not worth making such a fuss about. Next time, you think. But to turn up night after night knowing that your meal – and your company – was being paid for is a different thing.

I get how people like free things. And a free meal in a nice restaurant is a treat. But to do it, again and again, makes it seem cynical. Worse, though – for me – would be the sense of being owned. Rented, at least. And I think that’s likely a part of the appeal for the host. He knows their price, and he can easily afford it. He watches them eating from his trough and takes pleasure from it. It’s just money after all, and he has plenty of that. In exchange, he has power.

And yep, I may be being unfair and judgemental here, and just plain wrong. Maybe it’s not the same people all the time. Maybe they’re generous in return in their own way. Or maybe they’re just happy knowing it gives the pleasure host to entertain them – it’s made round to go round, as my grandmother used to say. It’s all perspective. To each their own. It’s not for me, though.

Despite this going through my head, I ended up ordering a steak. I wasn’t going to starve myself on principle, and I intended to pay for it.

In the end, I ate it but never got to pay for it. As I was finishing my meal, a fierce argument broke out. “Come on, mate,” my friend’s husband said, pulling me from my chair, “I’ve seen this before”.

We took our wine and left the room, sitting out in the restaurant proper. I knew it was a volatile family, and my friend herself was subject to fierce emotions. We drank our wine while it was explained to me that once these family conflicts start, they couldn’t be stopped. Best to get out of the way.

Long story short, we were soon gone. I had only the opportunity for a quick goodbye as I grabbed my coat and bag, ushered away from the fractured atmosphere. Then I was walking to the station.

The night only compounded itself from then. No trains were running on my line, and the three Ubers I ordered one after another never arrived. In the end, I got a taxi home for twice the price, and long after I should have been.

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I’m ok


It’s a sunny Saturday morning, and I’m sitting here listening to the latest Tool album. Pretty good. I’ve had my coffee out with Cheeseboy. More Saturday’s than not we catch up for a coffee and a pastry at the French cafe up the road, sitting outdoors rain, hail or shine and sharing our tales of the week just past. Afterwards, I walk down the street a bit, towards the station, and do my weekly grocery shopping. Sometimes after I’ll stop again for a flat white at the little cafe nearby where I watch people come and go collecting their takeaway coffee in yoga pants and gym clothes while the old ladies at the next table cackle happily over what a good life they have. I didn’t do that today, though.

I’m a little off today, and it could be as simple as an unexpectedly bad night for Australian sport that’s done it. It doesn’t take much these days.

It was RUOK day the other day, and no-one asked me, or ever has. I think I give off the vibe of being very self-sufficient so no-one ever bothers. Had someone asked I’d have told them, could be better – now there’s a typical Aussie understatement – but also that there’s nothing to be worried about. I bend a fair bit these days, but I’ve no doubt there’s a lot of tensile strength in that flexibility. I’m not as brittle as many are, and what I feel is mainly subject to circumstances.

It’s a timely conversation, for, during the week, there was the death of a high profile ex-sportsman who had suffered from his mental health demons. How often do you hear it, they had everything to live for? I’ve come to realise that it’s an irrelevant sentiment, for those who genuinely suffer chronic depression, the state of their life has little to do with it. It’s a disease that eats from the inside out, undermining self-belief and corroding the sense of self. No amount of riches or fame or even acclamation can prevent it.

In this case, the man who died was much loved by those who knew him well, and by many who knew him only by his persona – self-deprecating, fun, generous, loyal, the life of the party. He had a good career – it seemed – and a loving family. And still…

I sometimes wonder if we live in an era when depression has reached epidemic proportions, or if it only seems that way because we are much more open about it? Thankfully, much of the stigma of poor mental health has been eroded by education and by high profile role models admitting they have suffered, or suffer, from it. It hasn’t been normalised entirely, but it’s not nearly as hush-hush as it used to be, and generally accepted as another ailment.

I suspect, all the same, that it is a particularly modern ailment. We know more about it, but I think more people suffer from it now also. I could come up with a million theories as to why now it is such a thing, but I don’t have the patience for it – and I think I’ve probably gone over it many times before.

I’m different because while I can be intense and introspective, as I have been my whole life, I’m also bold and willing. The person I am is that I’ve experienced great moments and done things I’ll never forget, but when it hasn’t worked out suffered setbacks that impact directly on my life. The rugged part of me means that I come through, and surprisingly well sometimes – but so many battles have left me weary, and probably damaged in ways I don’t understand. I think the damage can be mended and will be with time, but for now – as I thought walking back from the shops – I’m getting my life in order, but something in me is unshipped.

I haven’t written much about the new job. I will in time, suffice to say, it’s going well. That’s been a net gain, and I’m better than I was a couple of months ago. One of my ex-workmates commented the other day about how much happier I seem now. That’s because I have purpose and permission to be myself. I work for a man who is decent and respectful and modest – a good man. He knows what he’s good at and what he’s not so good at. He recognises in me things I can do that he can’t and rather than being threatened by it, is excited. He encourages me to do my thing, and he’ll help clear the way. He gets the best out of me and at the same time, he benefits. For me, this is proper management, and just about the opposite of what I had to put up with before.

Being yourself makes for a much healthier mind, and the extra dollars will provide some peace of mind to go with it. I’m thankful and optimistic, but I’m still subject to overcast conditions. It’s a bit like Melbourne weather, unpredictable and capricious. The sun never blazes bright these days, but it’s out most days, and the stormy moments are held within. No-one knows. All they see then is a steely demeanour they mistake for something else. I’m happy about that.

One last thing. I’m innately competitive, and this helps me a little, for it means I always fight back and, most importantly, see this as a challenge to overcome, a battle one day I’ll strain to win. It becomes personal, but I’m sure it’s a battle I’ll win.

Without prejudice


When I first watched Succession, I found myself studying the character of Logan Roy wondering why he reminded me of my father. One was a tyrannical, irascible, media mogul, and the other was just my dad. Of course, my dad could be tyrannical at times, and if he was never a media mogul, he was a bit of a mover and shaker in his day. And perhaps that was some of it – that sense of authority, in voice and body and general attitude. Someone who commanded attention because they expected it.

There were other cues. Logan Roy is a cunt; I’m pretty sure my dad would’ve been described the same at some point, though not nearly in the same league. Still and all, I can recall specific modes of my father when he would mix contempt with disdain. He was not above ridicule. That was not his persona per se – in general terms, I think my dad was a reasonable human being – but he could stoop to such behaviour. The sort of behaviour that Logan Roy delights in.

Watching Succession was an interesting experience for me because there seemed a lot I could understand, and not just because of my dad. I’ve never really moved in such elevated circles, though I’ve rubbed shoulders with wealth. My family would’ve been upper-middle-class, as I was pretty much, but enough was going around to be familiar with the good life and to catch a glimpse every so often of those who had both wealth and power.

All of this now is of interest because I had lunch yesterday with my dad for the second time in ages.

Dad is different these days. He’s an older, more frail, version of the man I remember. His health was better yesterday than the time before. I remember him as a hard-driving character whose passion was his work. He was reluctant to give it away, and it was only poor health that forced him to in the end, past his 70th birthday.

He’s now retired, and the impetus that was so evident in him has wound down. He tells me he’s happy, has a good life, and that he avoids situations and people who might confound that. It seems to be the case looking at him, and I’m happy that he’s come to this point. It’s odd at the same time because it feels foreign to what he was. What I remember of him, anyway. He has nothing in common with Logan Roy now.

He asked me about my new job and listened intently as I explained it to him. He was always interested, but always ready to cast judgement also. Yesterday he had a smile on his face as I told him. He nodded his head, seemed to agree with comments I made. Yesterday he accepted it for what it was and was happy for me.

I’m happy for him. It must be a lot lighter load to take on the world without prejudice. I’d like to try it myself sometime.

Father’s day


Maybe because it’s Father’s Day today I dreamt of dad last night. In the dream, I saw myself as he did: ever so reliable and intelligent, but prickly to boot.

I don’t know how true that is, but I’m sure it’s a true impression for some of me. If I am ever prickly then – I say – it’s in defence of my independence, or to assert a right. Or maybe to refute a nonsense I won’t abide.

As for dad, if he ever thought that, then the first part he took for granted while exaggerating the second.

Needless to say, I’m doing nothing for father’s day. I’m having lunch with him this week, I think. I think he’s mellowing.

Damaged goods


I was home last night when the phone rang, and it was the national digital manager wanting to catch up with me. He was calling me to congratulate me on getting the job, and to welcome me aboard. He was sympathetic and genuine, and though I was grateful, I had to think about how I should respond. I responded fine and afterwards thought, that’s the way it should be done, that’s good management.

Of course, I was contrasting it to what I’ve experienced these last three years. I’ve butted heads with the national digital manager before, but in a good way. He’s committed and ambitious and hard at it and very smart. He wants to make things happen, as do I, and in that mix of personalities, there’s bound to be the occasional fall-out. I expect he sees it much as I do, as something healthy and honest, and shrugged off.

That was a welcome call, but I’m not in a good way. I did my best to explain things this week, and I reckon what I wrote is probably right, except that I’m thinking now that I had things the wrong away around. I tried to find a cause for what I felt when I think now it is the effect. The cause may well be one of those irrational things I spoke of, beyond understanding at this level. What I did was an attempt to explain why I felt as I did, when now I think these things come to the surface because this is how I feel. They may be some circular logic in all of this, and I think the things I described are legitimate and underlying issues. What they do is inform my behaviour, in itself not necessarily depressive, but closed off in large part.

It leaves me functioning effectively, but without joy. The trigger this time was to catch a glimpse of myself in that mode as if seeing something in the mirror I didn’t want to face. Faced with it many of my reserves crumbled. The reasons I published to explain it are, in effect, justifications for it. Add to it ongoing challenges – the sense of being untethered and alone, even unloved – and it’s not pretty.

I’ve done a lot in the last 18 months to address my state of being. I opened up about my past – a difficult thing – and that was a significant positive. I don’t go broadcasting it now, but I’m open about it should it come up. There’re other things I’ve not been able to let go of, and maybe it’s not in me that I can. It’s ironic now that some of the things I’ve complained about, such as my financial difficulties, and the loss of status and lifestyle, may finally be addressed, and yet here I am feeling as bad as I ever have.

I’m damaged. I always believed one day, the damage would heal. Now I wonder if it’s beyond repair.

There’s no doubt that a decent salary, a meaningful job, supportive management – the things I haven’t had – will have a profound practical impact on my life. I’ve been saying this for months as if it might be a cure-all. The problem is that’s a rational solution to what now is an ‘irrational’ feeling – irrational in the sense that I can’t fully explain it with logic, and in the sense particularly that rational solutions don’t apply because they’re in a different language.

There will be a time when it will make a difference, I just have to hang in there until then. I’ve always managed that, but have spent a lot of the last six years just hanging in there, and I feel depleted by the effort. I want something good in my life. I want joy.

Right now, I wonder what the point of everything is. It’s nice to earn more, and it means that maybe I can take the treadmill back a notch or two – but here I am on the treadmill. These last few weeks have exposed to me the transactional nature of the things we do. Only true independence frees us from it – perhaps knowledge of that is my true and existential crisis. I’m reminded how, as a human being, I’m fundamentally utilitarian. That’s what I want to break free from – to be independent, creative, and to assert an identity which is mine – but these are the aspirations of the truly privileged. I just need to survive, but I’m sick of just needing to survive.

Unwinding the damage


About ten minutes after I wrote yesterday, I had a visit from the guy who had interviewed me for the digital job last week. He called me into an empty office and told me that I had got the job. It was what I expected, so my surprised was muted. Given I was in a bit of a fugue at the time, my reaction was altogether tentative. I thanked him and enquired about the process from here. I was wary knowing nothing was official until it was in writing, and I didn’t even know the salary as yet. And I was conscious of the other job still in play.

For the rest of the day, I went about my work. When I mentioned it to my current manager out of courtesy, she grumbled a little that she hadn’t been told and nothing would happen until she said so. I didn’t take that too seriously. I expected her to grumble, but it’s my sincere belief that she’ll be glad to see me go, for various reasons, but chiefly because I suspect it frees her up to do things which were awkward with me still in place.

My mood didn’t appreciably change from the morning, but as the day went on, I got further insight into it. When I say insight, it was more like recalling to mind things I already knew and had known for a long time.

I have no illusions about the work I do. I’m proud and committed, but for the most part, what I do today is likely to be forgotten in a month. I’m not creating monuments. I’m not saving lives. If I didn’t do it, then someone else could and, even if half as well, it would make little difference. I’ve known that for thirty years. Mostly it’s something out of mind, but occasionally it comes to the forefront, often when I see people take things terribly and – it seems to me – disproportionally seriously. I’m apt to say, it’s only work. You’re working on a cure for cancer.

You would think that someone who has that mindset might not take work seriously. Why bother, after all? Well, because I know as part of the collective it does make a difference – just don’t get hung up on it. And because I have the attitude that if I’m going to do anything, then it will be to the best of my ability. Just keep it in perspective.

It’s one of the things that makes me good at my job, I play for keeps. No half measures, no short steps, you do what needs to be done. Perhaps I’m of a generation when that was more of a thing, but it seems an important thing. And it is a key component of my self-identity. This is the man that H is – hard at it, honest, committed, true. Even when I have nothing else, then I have that.

It’s that which gives me problems sometimes, an attitude, sure, it’s not brain surgery, but if you’re going to do it, do it properly. I hate sloppiness. I hate skyving off. I hate passing the buck. I hate half-arsed efforts. I hate ego getting in the way of good outcomes. I hate people getting personal. I can’t get over it, it offends my sense of what is right, but here I’ve been surrounded by it, wherever I look, and I can’t get it go.

I’ve come to realise that the inability to let it go is a little bit me, but mostly it’s symptomatic of the condition I’m in. I’m such a different person away from work. At work, I feel myself seething more than it’s healthy. Outrage at the way things are is almost perpetual. I’m angry, and I don’t want to be. And I get angry that this has happened to me when, given a square run, none of it would be necessary.

I went to the footy on Saturday, and I can be described as a committed, fierce fan, but I’m focused and calm too. I’ve been called unflappable. Outside of work, I remain my true self, more or less, but in work, I change.

There are reasons for that, but it’s also symptomatic of a kind of work depression. Everything is heightened. I’m aware of how sensitive I’ve become, even vulnerable, and being of more combative nature I react to it. My behaviour is not true to me, but true to a state of mind. I’m someone I don’t want to be.

I had a conversation yesterday with a woman here I like and get along well with. She’s smart and decent and friendly. We had a disagreement about something I thought was unethical. If you knowingly deceive someone for financial advantage then at the very least it’s unethical, I said. She saw it a different way from me, but then her perspective is informed by having to deal with the practical outcomes of this, while mine is purely humanistic: people are being taken advantage, some of whom can’t afford it, and this is wrong.

As sometimes people do, she made it smaller than it was. And, as people sometimes do, perhaps I made something bigger of it (though it has been something festering in me for over a year). I could see in her eyes she was taken aback with how fierce I was. She left, and I wondered, is that I have become? Of course, that made it all so much worse. I was crestfallen.

Today I was called up to meet with the big digital manager. He affirmed the job was mine, and we discussed dollars – it’s about a $17K increase on what I’m getting now. He suggested that I had all the attributes to make it and that I would go far. His one reservation was regarding this state of mind, though he understands full well the situation here and is sympathetic. He assured me that it would be different in the new team and that a change of environment would make all the difference. I agreed that it would – and I think it so.

Right now though all I feel is the damage in me. I need to mend it, and until I do, I’ll never be at my best.

Conditions of life


Sitting on the train this morning, I felt warm and comfortable and in my own little bubble. I’d have been happy to travel for another hour undisturbed. I felt sad, though, and part of it was knowing that soon enough, I must get off the train and make the familiar journey to the office.

I’m here now, sitting in my corner. I’ve had a chat with some of the guys upstairs and a laugh with someone the other side of the office. I’ve collected my morning coffee from downstairs, stopping for the regular chat with the barista. I don’t want to be here.

I guess that’s a general condition in much the same way as it is for most people. Who of us would not rather be at home, or on holiday somewhere? We accept this as the cost of those occasions when we can stay home or go on holiday, or even just to put a roof over our head and food on the table?

I’m the same in that regard, except there was a time it was less keen in me because I took pleasure from doing things. What’s the point of being at home if there’s no sense of having achieved something? And I think in our society we accept that as a fair trade. Having paid the price, we earn our liberty, and that’s how it should be.

For the last couple of weeks, it has been more than just the general condition affecting me. I thought about it as I came in this morning, peering out the window of the train at the passing landscape.

I think it’s all this talk about a new job that has stirred things up. A new job is a good thing, obviously, and for all the reasons I’ve written about. Yet I felt this sense of dismay at the foot of my stomach.

When you’re a rational, thought driven man, you search for reasons for everything. It’s that process – once more – that provides much of the fodder for my writing. You investigate and analyse, postulate and fantasise. The problem is the rational will never untangle the irrational.

You could argue that nothing is really irrational or, at least, beyond understanding – there are reasons for everything, even if obscure and illogical. In someone such as myself, with a strong spirit, but an even stronger mind, the links are more ordered and visible.

When these things bubble to the surface, I try to make sense of it. Why do I feel this way? Is there a reason? And, to be honest, while sometimes the answer might be obvious, mostly the answer I come up with is informed speculation. An educated guess. So it is on this occasion.

This talk of a new position has roused me to the fact that I’m in harness. I might change from one harness to a better one, but the truth remains that I’m in the yolk.

Something I’ve observed as I’ve got older, and having experienced my difficulties, is that I’m much less patient with the sort of thing I would have waved aside previously. I don’t like to fudge my words or obscure intent. I’m less likely to let others off the hook when they take sneaky shortcuts or speak untruths or indulge their ego. I’m the hard eyes that ask questions of them because it’s tawdry bullshit I want no part of.

This explains this sense, if but to a degree, though there isn’t a direct correlation. Doubtless, I’ll come to wave it off in a week or two, I’ll probably celebrate in some small way should one these roles come my way, but right now I feel the compromised agency I possess. I feel the box close about me that mostly I look past.

And what makes it worse is that there are things I want to do. I don’t want to stay home and sleep in, I don’t even necessarily want to lounge on some sunny beach. I want to write, as I did yesterday (which probably triggered this).

I feel I start along pathways I want to follow with what seems infinite branching’s and I’m intrigued and fascinated and even excited. It fills my mind so that in my off times, I find myself wondering and enlarging on themes I have glimpsed on those brief forays. They are brief though because – you guessed it – I must hitch myself to the plough once more. The freedom of thought I cherish is set to one side, and my mind programmed again to think for another.

These are age-old complaints. This is the existential dilemma, and you’re probably better off being that dumb ox in the yolk because thinking brings you nothing but discontent. I wish I didn’t feel this way, but I’d hate to sacrifice my mind for it. Realistically, I have to accept this state of affairs because it’s the only way I can subsist. It will settle down. I’ll get one of these roles and have more money in my account, and I’ll be happy. I know now there is more to it than that, and even if I get back to where I was before there will always be more to it. I will go through this again, and I wonder, is that a condition of life?