The good stuff


I got another message yesterday from my old massage shop manager wanting my help. A couple of weeks ago I went with her to the cop shop to report a possible fraud. When that didn’t work I ran VCAT to see what her options were. Responding to their advice I put her onto somewhere else. I also went with her to her school in the city to explain that she may not be able to pay her fees because of this fraud. Yesterday she wanted me to come with her to confront the fraudster (it’s a complicated situation).

This was not in my plans and was an inconvenience. I’d have preferred 24 hours’ notice, but fortunately I wasn’t otherwise busy. Throughout the day she messaged me seeking assistance in the preparation of a legal letter of demand. At 5.30 I met her on tram 19 heading to Brunswick.

With us was Pat, another of my old staff. She was a very capable masseuse, and an intelligent, reliable employee. She now works in a kitchen in Hawksburn, following her passion – “better than massage”, as she said.

The tram was crowded and I sat there wishing I was going the other way. Halfway there Jeep got a message informing her that the other party wouldn’t be there, not until eight. I rolled my eyes internally, but we went on. We got off the tram in Brunswick and walked a short distance to a Thai restaurant, where they conversed in Thai with the mother of the other party. She confirmed that her daughter wouldn’t be in until 8.

I couldn’t hang around till then, and nor could Jeep, who had to work. Pat decided she could and after some pfaffing around I caught an Uber with Jeep. She was heading to Mentone to work and offered to give me a lift.

From what I gather Pat has come to some agreement with the other girl, which is good news if true. Though it’s not always convenient I’m happy to help. I think a lot of these girls, and am grateful for the support they gave me at a time of need. Jeep doesn’t always show her appreciation. She’s curt to the point of being abrupt often, taking it for granted that I’ll help and just hanging up more often than not once she’s communicated what she has to. I take it as one of her quirks, and am more amused than offended. But then she surprises me.

Late last night she sent me a message to update me and to thank me for helping her. No problems I told her, happy to help. She didn’t leave it at that though. In a very un-Jeep-like manner, she exclaimed that I was a “very good boy.” She said if there was anything she could do for me I had only to ask. She said I was like “a superman. Help me when everyone else can’t.”

From Jeep, that’s high praise, and I’m thrilled. It’s all karma, and this is the good stuff.

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Unlikely encounters


A little after lunch yesterday one of my colleagues came up to me at my desk and asked if he could have a word with me. When I assented he indicated he wanted to speak privately, pointing to an unoccupied meeting room. I was mystified, but followed.

This is one of the guys I sat down with a few weeks ago and shared my story with. Like everyone his reaction was positive, and he was fascinated. Now he wanted to speak to me.

We sat down and the first question he asked was if I’d noticed any change him lately. I muttered that he seemed pretty stressed, but that had been seemingly building for a while. He nodded his head, then launched into his story.

It’s a very unlikely, shocking tale of how Friday he unexpectedly received a call saying his sister had suffered a cardiac arrest and was unlikely to survive. He rushed to be by her side, but she soon passed away. This was a huge shock to the whole family, including her two young children – but more shocks were to come.

That night the husband of the deceased woman received a call from the police. They expressed their commiserations at the death of his wife, but had questions they needed answers to. He was distraught, he said, can we talk another time? They would not relent though, and at 12.30 that night there was a knock on the door and half a dozen detectives marched in. They took the husband with them and held for questioning for 24 hours.

The family looked on, bewildered and not knowing what to think. My friend seemed in a state of shock, withdrawn and tenuous, his eyes blinking with the strain.

I didn’t know what to say to him. His sister had just died and it appeared her husband was a suspect for a potential murder. It’s hard to take in, and take it in he couldn’t.

He explained he was trying to be strong for the kids, but I warned him that he had to look after himself as well. He had come to me because I had shared with him, and so I shared with him again some of the hard won lessons of my experiences. You’re stronger than you think, I told him, but be careful that you’re not too strong for your own good. Let it out I said. Grieve. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed.

I was surprised he was even at work in the circumstances, but then I know for some people the illusion of normality is what they need, and to be actively doing something. He had told only one other person and I suggested he should share it with his team leader – a lovely, compassionate man.

About an hour later my phone rang. I’d sent an email to the head of finance, knowing he was on leave. Evidently he was checking his emails and decided to call me.

We’re fellow travellers. Our connection is that he’s championing a technology which I’m hoping to ride the coat-tails of. We’re both frustrated with how business is done in this place, and we both like and respect the other. Still, I was surprised.

The first thing he told me was that he was on post-operative leave. With little prompting he explained he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in early December, and had his prostate removed the week before last. Clearly his condition had been deemed serious but, he explained, it would be another year before he knew if he was in the clear. His mood was philosophical, but with a melancholy edge. You hear these stories, he said, about other men. He paused. This time I’m that man, he said.

Though we discussed the subject of my email it seemed pale in comparison to the real world situation he was facing. Just as everything diminished in importance at hearing the story of my friend’s sister. It was one of those days.

I had a sense of wonder last night. I felt extra sensitive, and as if I had tapped into a reality I’d only known in passing before. Donna rang, and as I told her the story she said it was all because I had opened myself up. It was good, she said. The world recognises those who open themselves to it, and from here on in I had to be ready for it. I nodded my head.

I’ve always been sensitive. I’ve always read people well and sensed their state of mind. I’ve always wished the best for most people, and had my heart warmed at their hopes and happiness. Most of it has been from a closed position though. Now I’ve opened up, and it’s as if I can feel it on my raw flesh.

Family lost and found…


It’s the day before Christmas, and most of my Christmas rushing is completed. On Friday I caught with Donna up for our usual pre-Christmas cocktail and dinner, and as always it was good. Yesterday I met up with my two nephews and niece in the city. We checked out the gingerbread exhibition at the Town Hall and then had lunch.

I’ve just come back from my final grocery shopping. Predictably it was pretty hectic in the supermarket, but reasonably civilised. In a minute I’ll begin my own Christmas celebration – a butterflied chicken I’ve had brining overnight will be cooked up on the barbie, with all the usual trimmings. Just me and Rigby, but that’s fine, I’ll be out and circulating tomorrow.

I’ve had my own small  Christmas miracle this morning. I went to check online and found I had a friend request. I’ve been getting a few lately as a bunch of people from work have cottoned onto me. I expected it to be more of the same. Instead, it was a face I didn’t recognise, and though I knew the name – the surname was mine – I didn’t know the person. As always I ummed and aahed, but accepted in the end out of curiosity – maybe he’s a distant really?

I went to message him to inquire, but he got in ahead of me. Before I knew he was claiming to be my cousin.

My first reaction was scepticism. My surname is uncommon, but it’s not unknown. I thought he had probably mistaken me for some other branch. Then it dawned on me: he was right.

I have to go back a bit now and to a pretty sad tale.

I don’t know if I’ve ever told the story of my dad’s family. He had an older sister and younger brother, both of whom died badly of cancer 15-20 years ago. They were all quite different. My aunt adored us, a hard-drinking, hard-smoking spinster who loved books and thinking. My uncle was a gentle, lovely man who hero-worshipped my dad and wanted to be just like him. He was disappointed in that. My father was, and probably still is, highly intelligent and driven. There’s a lot of things I could say and have. Suffice it that he was confident to the point of arrogance, and lacked the ease of my mother. He was strong, and my uncle when it came down to it, was frail in all the wrong ways.

My uncle married twice, the second time around he had three children he adored. He married to be a father – he loved kids, and not from love, and eventually, he parted ways with his wife and children. They ended up in Brisbane, he in the Sunshine Coast, which is where he died. None of his kids attended the funeral.

The eldest was a boy, blonde haired and playful. In my memory he was a bit of a sook, always running to an indulgent mother. Later I heard about the traps that he had a photographic memory – he had memorised the Brisbane street directory, was inclined to the left and was likely gay. The last time I saw him was before the turn of the century, and the last I think I heard of him was 2003 when my aunt died. This is the cousin who contacted me.

I was as astounded as I ever get, but also unexpectedly pleased. I felt a mild guilt that I had not remembered him, that I forgotten him so well that he was not a part of my consciousness. That was my bad, but clearly, it was different for him. We chatted for a bit. He told me he had just graduated from uni (Politics and International Relations), that he had a flair for languages, and he was thinking of working for the fair work commission. I could tell from his profile that he was a good Labor supporter, and discovered in our chat that we have the same footy team. His mum was crook, but both his sisters well, including one who had completed a masters of journalism.

I wanted to ask him what made him seek to friend me? What was the motivation? Was I just one of those names that pop up suggestively, or did he choose to reach out for other reasons?

Afterwards, I felt sad at all the lost years and all he had been deprived. I remember when his father died wondering how his kids would feel grown up never having had the opportunity to say goodbye. He, they, grew up completely separately from us, like a completely different family. That was by choice – his mum was a strange, bitter woman who wanted nothing to do with any of us as if we were poison. Now he’s grown up and can make that choice for himself.

For me, it feels strange to find I have another family closely tied by blood that I knew nothing of really.

We said we’d keep in contact, and I hope that’s true. I want to do right by him, even that means just being here.

 

Family relations


I caught up with my younger nephew for lunch last week. I’d seen him a couple of months before when we went to the footy together, and in the time between he seems to have grown more. He’s 16 and about 6’3”, with the frame of someone who will grow a few more inches yet and fill out into a powerful physique. Right now he is very lean, as I was his age, and in fact everyone says he looks like me, though I don’t see it completely. He’s a lovely, gentle, sensitive kid, but he’s also had issues with his self-confidence.

We’ve always been close. I love his sensitivity, which is a greatly under-appreciated quality. I guess I appreciate having someone to care about too, and want to guide and support him as much as I can.

I’m an important person for him, I think. His father died a few years ago, but even before that he was absent, living in England. There are no male figures in his life but me, and at times it’s been hard for him without someone to lean on. He basks in my affection, and draws strength from it. I am family, but remote and disaffected from his mother, and it would be simple for me to fade away – not that I ever would. That I choose to remain in contact and speak intimately with him is a form of reassurance, proof that I see something in him worthy of love.

We had a pizza each in the Emporium, my shout, while I asked him questions about school and what he wants to do next, his friends and potential love interests. He was quite open with me, I think because these are conversations he can’t – or won’t – have with anyone else. I skirted any questions relating to his mother or grandfather, not really interested in any case, while in reply he asked questions of me about work, and what I wanted to be when I was growing up. Afterwards we went for a walk.

It felt strange in a way. He will grow into an impressive looking man, and even now he’s well ahead of the curve – Donna says she sees my nephews much as she did William and Harry growing up (my other nephew is tall and good looking also, though less so, and has done some casual modelling). He is taller than me now, though I’m still much the bigger, and beside him grizzled, and even wise. I feel older about him, and remember that the years are ticking. I realise how it must be as a parent and the feeling of passing things on. There’s no sense of loss in that, rather extending something which you already possess.

That night, or the night after, I dreamt of his mother. It’s been a year since I’ve spoken to my sister, and haven’t missed her at all. We always had a difficult relationship, and after we broke I acknowledged that I had never liked her. It was her doing – she took offence at an honest answer I gave to a question from her. She said she wanted an honest answer, but really what she wanted was an answer that confirmed what she hoped for. I had done that in the months before, but when I failed to on this occasion she took offence. She sent a bunch of very nasty SMS to me, and that was that. I haven’t missed dealing with her difficult personality.

I hadn’t dreamt of her once either, which was significant. I missed the kids, but she was out of sight and out of mind. Meeting with my nephew brought her back to me, though the dream was innocuous.

Then yesterday I returned home from work to find an interesting envelope in my letter box. Mail has become relatively rare these days, and personal mail almost non-existent. The envelope was coloured and across the front of it in fancy ink and script was my name and address. I opened it inside the house and found in it an invitation my aunties 70th birthday in December.

I’ll go, and I’ll be happy to go, and look forward in particular to see my cousins. But it also means that I’ll encounter my sister. I suppose it had to happen sometime, but really I would have been happy to put it off permanently. I’ll be civil and polite, I’ll happily break bread with her, but no more than that. There are family things I have been excluded from, and I’ve had to make separate arrangements in its stead. I’m not someone who holds grudges, but nor am I someone who will sweep things under the carpet. Even if my sister knows she has done wrong there is zero possibility of her apologising, or even admitting to it – my sister is one of those people who have never been wrong. Under those circumstances I am unwilling to return to a phony and convenient family arrangement.

It should be an interesting night, but I’ll have Donna there to lend support.

Great winds…


About 18 months ago I broke with one of my oldest and closest friends. It was not an easy decision, but it was a long time coming. It came as a shock to my friend though, I think.

It still makes me sad, sometimes, and I still care for him. You can’t just switch off years of friendship and memories like that, and there were many splendid memories. We travelled quite a lot together and had adventures abroad, and at home too. We had much in common – an independent spirit, a love for the good life, a sense of adventure, ambition, hunger and intellect. Throughout all of that, there were some cracking times and a lot of deep and meaningful conversations. Though both of us are innately competitive, there were a surprising number of tender moments. We got each other – by and large – on a deeper level.

That’s why he became my friend. I found in him a lot of traits which are conventionally attractive, and he has conventional admirers because of them. Generally, I’m not much interested in the conventional stuff because very often it tends to be more shallow. What I admired was the man inside. At his best he was a warm, incredibly sensitive man with a generous, giving nature. For many years, and through lots of ups and downs, he was a great friend to me.

I’ve given him a fair boost, and the obvious question is if he is all these things then why are you no longer friends? (And bear in mind, there are two sides to every story – this is mine).

Let’s face it, all of us have more than one person inside us. He used to complain about how blunt I was sometimes, used to complain about my strong personality and attitude. All fair calls.

In my friend there lived this lovely person, and side by side with him was another person – selfish, terribly self-absorbed, often petulant and precious, driven by ego and status – and surprisingly insensitive and rude occasionally. I hated that side of him. I thought it was a common, low-rent personality that did no credit to the friend I knew and loved.

This character was always in him, but early days only made a fleeting appearance. As the years went by, as challenges crested and then riches came, this character became more present. It was not helped that life had taken him away from his old friends and the naturally democratising influence of us. You know what it’s like, when a friend starts talking shit you tell them, and soon enough they pull their head in. We were not there anymore to do that, and in our place was a transient number of acquaintances willing to flatter and admire him for his conventional qualities. He was always receptive to flattery, and it turned him from his more individual gifts that only few of us knew to admire, to the more prosaic but superficial qualities the crowd knew him for. Still, for much of this period he remained a great guy to be around, and dear friend for much of it.

In the last couple of years, the balance changed. Geography meant we hardly saw each other. When we did mostly it was by email and phone. He remained a generous friend, but more frequently he was harsh and inconsiderate. At times I thought I sensed disdain, though at other times he was charming. Often I thought I had only to be out of sight for him to forget about me. By and large, I felt discounted and disregarded.

Now this coincides with a tough time in my life and I was probably more sensitive than I would normally be. I factor in some fragility, but at the same time if I am, then he should have to – and that was part of the issue. I’d felt some disquiet for a while, and we’d clashed before, and smoothed things over. It wasn’t great. To help me out (helping him) he would put some paid work my way occasionally, but more and more there was an attitude – I felt – of master and servant. I was his mate, I saw myself doing him a favour, the money was secondary and I didn’t appreciate being ordered around so rudely. Then he demanded I do something I wasn’t able to and he became nasty and personal, as he was wont to do. I went away and thought about that.

There’s a great song by Keith Richards that sums up my general state of mind at the time – You Don’t Move Me Anymore. A tipping point had been reached. It was harder knowing him than not knowing him. I had precious little energy, precious little belief, and what I had he chipped away at. The time had come to move on. I went to him and told him, I’ve had enough. That was that.

Towards the end of last year, I contacted him again. It had weighed on me that he might think I was bitter or angry towards him. I’m not really that type, but I was concerned he might think that. I wanted him to know that I thought well of him. We’d had great times, and I didn’t forget that. I was grateful and appreciative, it was just that we’d moved in different directions. It happens. Happily, he accepted in the spirit and with the grace it was intended. I was relieved.

These days I dream about him every 6-8 weeks, and he crosses my mind or comes up in conversation sometimes. In truth, our lives had become so separate that there wasn’t a huge wrench. Sometimes I feel sad, but not regret. It’s unfortunate, but I mourn a friend I lost years before we parted.

I dreamt about him again last night, which has prompted me to write today. In the dream last time it was as if we still friends and at our best. I felt sad after that. Last night we met again in a group situation having made this break. It’s a bit awkward, but civil, and then something happens to break the ice and it’s as if nothing ever changed.

I have these dreams and it makes me reflect on the ebbs and flows of life. It’s a dynamic thing. You think sometimes that something is forever, but then a year or two later it is of the past. There’s good in this, growth and regeneration, but there’s inevitable sorrow on occasion as you let go of things that were precious to you. I don’t know what to think of it sometimes, but at the end of the day, it just is. It reminds me of a Sioux proverb I heard once read:

“Sometimes I go about pitying myself. And all the while I am being carried on great winds across the sky.”

It’s a proverb that always gave me solace. I can only hope that it’s true, but I’ll only know in the fullness of time. In the meantime, I hope he’s well and, even more, hope he’s found a way back to himself.

Hail the individual


Was walking to work this morning when I passed going the other way a tall, slender, stylishly dressed woman. She was about 32, 33, and what I would call handsome, rather than pretty. It was the strong, confident face of someone who has experienced life and drunk it in. It would not be unusual for me to appreciate a woman like that as we passed by, but what really caught my eye on this occasion was her hair.
She had beautiful hair. It was dark, and fell to just below her shoulder, though ‘fell’ is the incorrect verb. Her hair was gently kinked and had an airy quality that immediately put me in mind of the seventies. It was an emanation, a halo of beautiful hair that was impossible to miss. It was a statement in itself, of style certainly, and certainly of individuality.
I felt a thrill just seeing her hair. You go, girl, I thought. I admired such strident independence. She was someone with her own mind, her own view of the world, her own unique way of expressing herself. I wanted to know her, but at the same wished their were more people with such irrepressible individuality.
I really think it boils down to that in the end. There’s no point in being anyone other than yourself all the way through. What joy is there in compromising on your individuality? The highest attainment of selfhood is to understand and embrace that individuality and express it without compunction.
I think there is a real practical benefit of this. Society is such that often we feel obliged to conform to norms which are ultimately quite arbitrary, and often no more than temporary.
That’s especially true within a work environment. We become a part of an explicit hierarchy. We have defined roles and responsibilities. Most of the duties we perform are clearly prescribed, and we must comply with office rules and regulations. We are squeezed on every side.
One of the reasons I managed to climb the ladder relatively quickly is because I rejected much of that. I always had a strong sense of self, had the confidence to speak my mind more often than not, on top of which I’ve always been stubborn. All the same, I’d never have got away with it if I couldn’t deliver.
Still, you have to play by the rules, even if you might stretch them a bit.
I reckon most major advances come from someone having the balls to defy convention. That’s true at work, and I think it’s true in history. I reckon we should celebrate individuality more, and in fact, encourage it.
If nothing else it’s liberating to see someone so completely themselves.