The times as they were


I don’t know what connects these, but in my mind, these two small things from yesterday appear linked.

I got a call in the morning from a friend who loves up near Byron Bay. He was in town and wanted to catch up for a beer later. We met at an earthy, excellent bar in Moorabbin called Grape and Grain, where we started on some boutique beers sitting on a couch in the corner.

Even before he shifted up there, he looked the part of an alternative, backwoods type. Tall and thin, with dark wavy hair that in the years since has grown longer and greyer, and a thick, greying beard that makes him look like a prophet from the Old Testament. He’s a good man, a good soul, sensitive and honest and passionate, even if a little absent-minded occasionally, a man too gentle in some ways, too idealistic and out of step with the striving, pragmatic world around us.

We talked about all the usual things, about politics and the deplorable state of world affairs, about his family and life up north and about what’s happening to me. Surprisingly, there was little about sport, but shared memories of times we would go out together on the prowl, surprised to find they were 20-25 years ago.

I recalled a night I nearly got in a fight with a guy at the Prince of Wales because he kept dancing into me. I was in a mood over a woman and happy to express myself verbally, at least. It was unlike me – I’ve always been pretty controlled – and there was another guy with us – what was his name? Stuey, that’s right – who convinced me otherwise. We recalled going to the Corner Hotel to watch Weddings, Parties, Anything and pinging coins at the stage, a bit of a ritual, and seeing Hunters and Collectors at the Palais.

One of our haunts back then was the Provincial Hotel in Brunswick street, where we made an unlikely pair trying to hook a date. Now and then, we’d get in conversation with a couple of girls, whereupon my mate would start talking about politics or the environment while I rolled my eyes at him: time and place, mate, and this aint it. That was him, though, committed in every fibre.

Once we dated a couple we met there – or somewhere – and ended up one night watching Shakespeare in the Park at the Botanical gardens – The Taming of the Shrew, I think. We spread a blanket and had a basket of wine and cheese and what not. I remember looking at the woman with my mate thinking, ‘he’s in’. But he wasn’t interested. He always wanted a relationship but wanted it to be right.

Eventually, he met someone, and they married and had beautiful twins, now grown up (they’re at uni in Melbourne now, and he was here to visit them). His wife turned out very different from him, and they divorced, and he remarried a lovely woman. He’s been up there about 18 years now and has found his groove.

So we were talking about the old days, happily recalling things we’d forgotten. He asked how I’d been going and offered the standard compliment about how well I’d done to survive. I told him how things had changed for me since and suggested that maybe I’d become a harder man since.

He responded straight off to that in a manner foreign to his usual way. “You always had something hard in you,” he said as if it was fact.

I was surprised at how emphatic he was. It made me wonder. Now, there are probably few people in the world who think better of me than my mate, so it wasn’t necessarily a negative judgment. It made me consider our relationship in a different light though, and particularly those memories. I was the organised, decisive one. I had a stronger personality. I was just a mate, though, and suddenly I’m wondering if he saw me as fierce. You just are, then you realise that others see you differently from how you see yourself.

It’s all perspective, and it’s all relative. Compared to him, I probably was hard, and maybe that informed his opinion, but it was not something I was conscious of being. Driving home later, it lingered in my mind as things like that do. But then he had followed up his comment by saying he actually thought I’d mellowed since.

Then last night I had the news on. One news report showed a medical expert talking about something. I glanced at her and thought she looked familiar. Then I saw her name and yep, I remembered her.

You forget a lot of things. Not altogether, maybe, but because they’re not essential or particularly vivid, they slip back into the part of the memory not easily accessed. ROM instead of RAM, for the geeks out there.

I had sex with this woman maybe 22 years ago. She was from Sydney visiting, and we used to have these long, fascinating conversations full of wordplay. That was something I was able to do then (and have little patience for now) that many women of a particular type would find alluring.

We had dinner and a bottle of wine at Pellegrini’s in the middle of winter before we crossed the road to where she was staying, the Windsor Hotel. She took her clothes off there and I remember her body – tall and slightly awkward, pale skin and full breasts and distinctly unshaven. And the other thing I remember was how disappointingly drab the room was for such a grand and famous hotel.

Here she was again, twenty-two years later, looking not much different and an expert so well esteemed that she was being quoted on TV.

Maybe that’s what my mate meant. I had dozens of episodes like this. Fleeting encounters, flirtatious at the edges but basically sexual in nature. It was mutual, but it was easy for me because I could compartmentalise so well. I reckon I had 10-12 years like this and I’d probably have this type of experience 6-8 times every year, maybe more, in between having more considered relationships.

What can I say? I enjoyed it. Mostly.

My friend was always and remains an idealist, through and through. We connected on that level because we had similar interests and beliefs. I was an idealist, too, as I am now, but I wasn’t as innocent as him, and where he wore it on his sleeve at all times, I would pack it away when it wasn’t relevant.

Either way, I was always direct. Truth be told, I enjoyed the grit of reality and that burgeoning sense of self in earthly desires. I had a mind, but I had a body too.

 

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.

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.