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.

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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?

Rounding the beast up


I’ve been off the last couple of days, and I don’t mean physically. It got to the point that I was in a state of heavy brooding. It seemed not to affect my behaviour at work, where my behaviour is more tightly managed, but out of work and at home, it came down on me. It made me bad-tempered and short, though it was purely between me and the TV screen. I was conscious of this, and it only made it worse. I didn’t want to be bad-tempered. I didn’t want to feel as I did. I didn’t want to snap. That I was all those things despite myself added to the burden of it.

It felt so oppressive at one point last night that I made the decision that if I felt no better, I wouldn’t go to work the next day. When you feel like this, you don’t want to be among people. Say what you like, but it’s not stupid. If I’m going to be bad-tempered, then I don’t want to be in an environment that will only aggravate it further. It makes me feel bad and, besides, the primary reason I feel this way is because of work.

In that regard, nothing particularly had happened. The job hasn’t progressed because the people advertising it are away. That’s frustrating but reasonable. And in fact, I’d had some particularly productive days. Maybe that was a reason. I hate working for an organisation so generally lacking in competence, and surprisingly lacking in knowledge. I feel like an outlier. I wonder how it is that I’m working for such people. I’m not asking for anything special but to be allowed to do my job properly and with people who know what I’m talking about. And I can’t let it go because I don’t want to be the person who lets it go, who compromises and lower standards. And I’m not that person. But being that person and working in a place like this means there’s great frustration that has no outlet. That’s my problem.

Last night it worked out okay, by happenstance, just about. There was a game of footy on the TV, and my team was playing. It was an entertaining, tight game. We were the underdogs and trailed for most of the night. Midway through the last quarter, we were three goals behind. But then injury forced change and the team charged home and kicked the winning goal with 19 seconds on the clock. That brightened me up.

So, I’m at work today. It’s Friday, and I feel okay. I rode the lift up, and I’m aware of all the things I keep locked away because I couldn’t go on if I let them out. Bits and pieces leak out from time to time, and I’m affected. It’s like an escaped animal you need to round up before it does too much damage. I have to deal with it sometime, but there’s no future in doing it all at once. Chip away at it, makes things better bit by bit, that’s my strategy, and I think it works. I just need to do something about my job.

Fathers and sons


I had lunch with my father yesterday. I hadn’t seen him for about six years and not spoken to him for about four, until recently. I didn’t know what to expect but was glad to be catching up with him again.

At my first sight of him, he was leaning on a walking cane. I’ve always been much bigger than him, but he seemed smaller again. He was still handsome, and there was plenty of black still among the grey hairs, but for the first time in memory, I thought him old. Fair enough, he is – by my reckoning 78. In my imagination, at least he seemed much different from when last I saw him. A lot can happen in five years.

We shook hands and talked as I led him to a cafe off to the side of the State Library. It was a cold, grey day – every day lately has been. I had to slow my pace to match his hobbling gait, looking back over my shoulder to check I wasn’t getting too far in front of him. I felt the awkwardness of being able-bodied with someone who isn’t. I slowed, paused, idled as if fearing my relative agility was an affront.

Over lunch, we caught up on all the things that have happened in the years between. He’s happily ensconced in Eltham, in a home he cherishes. He has his dogs and once or twice a week he’ll catch up socially with people he’d met through Probus. He’s up early every morning (5.30am), as always he has been, but he returns to bed with a cup of tea and stays there until about 9am catching up with the news on his tablet.

We didn’t always get on before, but he was always a force to be reckoned with. He had a keen mind and inquiring spirit. He still has that, though we look upon things from different perspectives. He was always someone on the go, as well. He was one of those people you can never imagine not working, and he achieved a lot professionally right up to Managing Director. Even at home, he always had something on the go. I can remember him working in the garden, or fixing something or other, or just cleaning the barbecue. He did everything with intent.

He told me he still worked in the garden, but in the same breath admitted it was the loss of mobility that hurt him most. He could only work for a little bit at a time, and a neighbour helped out with more strenuous activities. He lived at the end of a long, steep drive which he couldn’t navigate on foot. I listened, observing for myself, saddened that he could not be the man I remembered.

Later I realised this is probably a moment most men will experience. One day they look at their father and with idealised memories realise that man has gone. I’ve long been more physically robust than him, but he could hold his own. Now, though his mind is willing, his body is failing. And in the heart of that, there’s the chill reflection that ‘one day that will be me’.

He has arthritis and other ailments he didn’t elucidate. I suspect he’ll go on for years yet, but that the deterioration will continue. I can’t imagine him every losing his keen mind.

That’s always how we’ve engaged. It’s never, ever been a warm relationship. The best I can remember is when its been companionable, but then rarely. It’s mind to mind we’ve connected. We have different beliefs and perspectives, but similar attitudes and attributes. We might argue the point, but both sides of the argument will be lucid and considered, and each of us recognise that.

He asked about me, and absent an ulterior motive I was completely honest. This is what’s happened, this where I am, this is where I hope to get to. I admitted to him it had been a struggle and it was only just now that I felt like life might be returning to some minute semblance of what I used to consider normal. I guess in a way I was like him, accepting of what had happened knowing it couldn’t be changed. There was always the future, though – different for me though, than for him.

We spoke a little of my cousin and he filled in some of the gaps I didn’t know, or had known once and long forgotten. Suffice to say it’s a very tawdry tale that reflects poorly on most.

We left and I walked him to the tram stop to return home. Before I had the chance to speak, he said something along the lines of must do this again soon. I told him I was glad to have seen him again. We shook hands, and I let him go.

Being bold


There was a moment last week when I felt self-conscious and unhappy. I was unwell – I’ve been suffering from spells of vertigo – I was tired, the doctor had just told me that I should look after myself better, and for once I contemplated the fact that I’m getting older. Added to all this was the knowledge that I’m not living the life I want to live, and not even the life I’m capable of.

Of course, I’m always trying to change that. Though I’m not sure what more I can do I’ve taken the doc’s advice on board (the vertigo has cleared), and I met with another recruiter last week to discuss my situation. As with every recruiter I’ve met with he was positive, but nothing much seems to come from it. But anyway…

This is not intended as a grizzle session. All this is by way of background because, as always seems the case, I bounce back strongly. I don’t deny any of those things, but regardless I remain a bold and robust character. I plough on.

There have been times I’ve wondered at the value of that. I wondered if my character had the effect of papering over aspects I’d be better off facing up to. But then I’ve never been one to shy away from hard truths. I acknowledge they exist, but it’s neither my nature or intent to wallow in them. If there’s something wrong, I’m better off making it right than feeling sorry for myself. The hard part is making it right.

This manifests as an attitude, but it’s natural to me. I’m not sure what comes first, the attitude or the belief, whether my nature informs my mind or my mind directs my nature, or if in fact they’re one and the same thing, but here I am, a week after that moment and I’m as just a virile character as I’ve ever been.

Over the last year or so, I questioned the reflexive nature of this process. I’ve always bounced back. Always been resilient. And at times have felt that sense of purpose surge through me like a shot of electricity. That’s happened hundreds, if not thousands, of times. It was like I’d get to a point, and a failsafe would trip and off I’d go, almost unknowingly. I wondered, what would be left if that wasn’t there?

It was not that I sought to suppress it, rather I wanted to go on without expectation or reliance on it. I told myself, feel it. Let it take you and see what you learn and muscle through it. It was an attempt – in my mind – to be a more authentic self (which is a false dichotomy because there was nothing false about the process). Put it another way, it was like an athlete who wins on natural talent who is unsatisfied because there’s not enough of ‘him’ in it. I didn’t want natural, unthinking ability take me there – I wanted to work through it mindfully.

I’ve done that. I think I gained a lot from the exercise, but it was hard work. What’s happened in the last week isn’t that though. It’s that natural, reflexive buoyancy, and this time I’m willing to accept it.

It’s a gift in a way. I wouldn’t be here today without it. And I know it wouldn’t be possible without some innate strengths – being smart for one, calm by nature, and defiant by inclination. And they take off.

I’ve learned the lesson I needed to, and now I’m happy to let things run their natural course. They make me a bold, confident man, full of ideas. Despite everything I’m not one whit cowed – in fact, the ‘everything’ I refer to has opened me up. What I’ve left behind is the extraneous frippery which these days makes me even more direct than I was before, and less inclined to be the diplomat. It’s not that I don’t know how – once upon a time I knew every lever to pull, ever button to push, knew how to shape my words and modulate my voice. There are times I still do, but mostly these days I just want to say it how it is. And, though I’ve always sprinkled my speech with swear words, I’m much less inhibited now than I was before.

I feel it in other ways that are so familiar, and in ways, quite joyous. Flirting, for example. There are occasions I feel like a heat-seeking missile, and it’s a great vibe. I love to flirt, love to look into another set of eyes, love to feel that frisson and the possibility that comes with it. And there are times it’s satisfying to call someone on their shit. There’s a lot of shit that goes on these days, and I won’t abide it. I won’t always say something (though often I’ll question it), sometimes it’s just a look as if to say I know that’s shit, you know that’s shit, don’t shit with me.

There are many other elements – I feel super switched-on, super observant, super sensitive, super smart – but the bottom line I’m infused with a sense of purpose and direction, even if it is only in service of tenuous goals.

The truth of it is that I’m not living the life suitable to my capabilities. This life is unsatisfactory. I am getting fucking older, and there are niggles and time isn’t about to run backwards and happy conclusions aren’t about to flow like milk and honey might. There are no fucking guarantees. I know that. That’s the cold, hard truth and that’s what grips me at times – but then I know it is in me to, that capability exists, I’m strong and smart and even if things aren’t as I desire them it’s in my power to change them.

In a way that epitomises precisely this feeling, and the value of it.

The quirks of family


It’s a tiresome subject, but I have some updates on my cousin, as well as an unexpected development to come out of it.

I made the mistake last Thursday contacting my cousin to see how he was settling into Melbourne. I thought twice, even thrice, before doing so. He’s done nothing to endear himself to me in the short time I’ve known him. He’s graceless and rude and with a mighty chip on his shoulder. I’ve not said a cross word to him yet he’s walked out on me once, told me to fuck-off on another occasion, and otherwise imputed that I had benefitted at his expense. Basically, I don’t like him. On top of that he’s a manipulative opportunist and I was afraid he would seek to take advantage of any contact.

I contacted him nonetheless, setting all that to one side. The family connection means nothing to me, but I’m sympathetic to anyone less well off. And, I figured, I’d only seen him at his worse, at the bottom of the curve so to speak. It seemed unfair to judge him on that. He was entitled to get another go.

Unfortunately he was true to form. I started off bright and friendly. As always, he responded within seconds. He didn’t answer my question, instead launching directly into an interrogation of his own. Did you know what happened with our grandparents will? Did you get an inheritance? Where do you work? What do you do? What are your qualifications? What’s your office address? Are you on Newstart? Why does your side of the family have money when my side doesn’t? Where do live? What’s your address?

I should note that some of these questions were repeated 3-4 times, and came rapid-fire, before I had a chance to properly answer – even had I been inclined to. They came, one after another, until there was a line of them scrolling down the page.

At first I was patient, looking to answer appropriately. I was suspicious though, and soon his interrogative tone began to piss me off. I refused to answer the contentious questions for fear of further inflaming the situation, and because I felt no need to explain or justify. I let him go on until he petered out.

Throughout this I had the fear that if I gave him too much information it would be used against me. I was sure had I given my address he’d have shown up on my doorstep. Likewise, I was fearful of him turning up to work and either demanding to see me or making accusations against me. There was in his tone something hostile and resentful. It’s clear he believes we – being my side of the family – have derived some magical benefit denied to him. It makes him angry and sneering. Amid all his tendencies he’s also narcissistic and superior.

Once he’d subsided I quietly muted him. I had made up my mind that in time, once things had settled, that I would block him.

Then a friend of mine – the friend he had cottoned onto – asked if I’d seen his most recent Facebook posts. I hadn’t, and when I went to check found that he’d unfriended. I quietly rejoiced at that. He’d saved me the trouble.

In the meantime he’d posted a scathing take-down of his mother that ran to paragraphs. My friend sent me screen-prints and they were nasty. Regardless of truth they’re not the sort of thing that should be shared on a social media site for every friend and family member to read – but then I’m old school.

The next day my friend contacted me again telling me that my cousins sister had responded to his posts very eloquently. He sent me copies of those too. In them she basically refuted everything he’d claimed, adding that he had been abusing their mother for years, to the point she was afraid of him. There was reference to constant demands for money, among other more ambiguous, troubling references. It was quite compelling, and his response feeble. And he unfriended her as well as me.

So, that’s where I’m at with him – better off in a different orbit altogether.

But then there’s something else that came out of this episode. People often say things happen for a reason, but mostly it’s a case of applying a retrospective interpretation to explain a fortuitous happenstance. Sometimes it’s an easy thing to do.

When my cousin threatened suicide I contacted my father. He didn’t answer but responded with a message. That was our first communication for about four years. Having called him his number was now on my recently dialled list and on Wednesday the week following my bum inadvertently called him again. I caught it before he answered and disconnected. Awks!

That afternoon I was in a meeting when my phone rang. It was my father returning my call and leaving a message.

That left me in a quandary. I couldn’t ignore him, but nor could I tell him I hadn’t intended to call him – that would be too rude. I called him late in the day and explained that I’d been calling to update him on the situation with my cousin. We talked for about ten minutes beyond that when he explained his lifestyle – busy and unusually social. Maybe he’s mellowed. At the end of the call, unsure what to say, I said “catch up soon,” as you do. And having said I knew I had to do it.

Long story short we’re having lunch on Friday. Let’s see what happens.