Age irrelevant

Earlier this week there was a lively speculation about my age. One woman thought I might be 36, which took me by great surprise. When she conferred with one of the more sober members of the team he gave me the once over and suggested mid to late thirties. I’ve always looked more youthful than my age, and have excellent skin, but I was flabbergasted nonetheless. What about my beard? I asked. I grew a beard about eight weeks ago and most of it is grey and, I think, makes me look a good 4-5 years older. Nup, I was told, they factored that in.

The discussion went on with every Tom, Dick and Harry having a crack at it, as if I was somehow the human equivalent of the guess how many jellybeans in the jar competition. The highest number nominated was 45, which was an outlier. Otherwise the average range was in the late thirties.

At first I was chuffed. Then I was worried. In my ever active imagination I suddenly understood what a false impression I might be giving people. I’m always flirting, and in good faith, ignorant to now that the receptive woman facing me might be under the impression I was good fifteen years younger than my true age. You might think that’s a good thing being so well preserved, etc, except come the moment when I have to ‘fess up to the truth. That could be a deal breaker – but then, I probably am overthinking it.

It’s a cliché, but age is just a number, and a state of mind. Many a time I’ve sat on the train and looked at my fellow commuters. You wonder sometimes where they’ve come from, what their story is. Sometimes you see someone worn down by life and showing. Their eyes are flat, they move sluggishly. You know they’re younger than they look, but the truth is they’re older than their years.

When I was younger I had an entirely different perspective on age. Fifty seemed an eternity away, and someone that age obviously quite old. I wondered sometimes what it was like, and occasionally felt a little sad. Then one day I hit fifty myself and nothing much was different, just as it hadn’t been different much in the preceding thirty years. My body might have aged – though clearly not as much as it might have – but for all intents and purposes my mentality was little different to when I was heading out into the wide world.

Maybe I’m more mature now, certainly I’m more worldly, and maybe even a little wise in places, but who I am is pretty much the same, as are my attitudes and appetites. If I’ve changed at all it is only in degree, the fundamental me remains.

As it happens this was brought home to pretty keenly this morning on the way to work. Being Friday I had a bit more of a skip to my step. It’s Melbourne Cup day Tuesday, plus I’ve taken Monday off, and so I walk out the door tonight with a four day break. I was well disposed.

I caught my usual train and took the usual route from Flinders street through the arcades and laneways to work. On the way I stopped off a little café in the middle one such arcade. I indulge myself Fridays – you need an occasional indulgence – and so I ordered the special: a coffee and pastry for $6.50. I watched as they prepared my order, a young Italian Australian and a young Asian Australian. They were bright and energetic. About us people buzzed around on their way to work, while others stopped as I had to order something. Ciao, we exchanged, as I took my order and departed.

It was one of those mornings when I had had a greater sensual awareness of the whole world about me. Your senses seem keener, and everything seemed fresh again. There’s a feeling of youthfulness because everything appears new again. I’ve experienced this hundreds, maybe thousands of days in my life, all the way through. It seems a connecting thread, from who I was before to who I am now. Everything felt new, but it was so familiar also.

When you feel things so rawly your sensations feel a slow sizzle, and for someone like me, a world of possibility yawns open. I confess I feel that most particularly when it comes to women. I walked through those arcades and laneways and felt something like I first did when I was just a teenager. There’s been a lifetime of experience in between, but the simple sense of it is no different – which I’m grateful for. My eyes went to every woman that came my way. For every one of them I felt infinite possibilities. I was receptive, open, a sponge soaking up every sensual variable, alert to every prospect. There is raw desire as part of that, but it is more sophisticated too.

What a world this is, I think. How lucky am I? I am appreciative that I can experience this, glad that I have the fortunate capacity to feel the full depth of it. I feel that strong sensual tug, like a tide that has awoken in me, but it is tempered by knowledge. As much as I want to feel and experience, I want to understand. I want to conquer their bodies, but I want to look in their eyes too and see the endless worlds they inhabit; want to lean in with my eyes closed and breathe deep of their scent. There’s a feeling like art, an appreciation of simple things that generally you disregard – the line of things, the sense of a cohesive whole, the very mystery of being and creation. You want to share that, and in sharing it, celebrate it.

It’s something beyond the number of years you’ve been on earth. It’s something outside your physical self. It’s the spark of something individual and unique, a spirit that has always been and rouses so often.

I guess I’ll feel that way till the day comes when the spirit remains willing, but the body can no longer follow.


Feeling my age

It’s been a unhealthy year for lots of Victorians. The flu season has been just about the worst ever, with over a hundred now having died from it. There have been lot of coughing, sniffling workers, and a lot of sick days. Looking about me there’s no-one who sits in my vicinity who hasn’t suffered, and just about everyone among my friends too.

By comparison I’ve been pretty good, which is a surprise as I start from a back-mark because of my chest. I had one day feeling pretty crook, and a few days otherwise significantly less than 100%, but nothing debilitating, touch wood. I’ve soldiered on pretty well, and in theory the worst should be behind us.

All that sounds good, except that for the last month I’ve been feeling generally unhealthy. Sometimes you feel bursting with health and energy. Most of the time you feel a level of health which is unremarkable because it tracks the middle ground. There are times when you’ll pick up an infection or virus and your health will dip before, having mended, you return to an unremarkable level. And there are times when there is no particular ailment but you feel generally off. That’s been me. Not bad enough to see a doc or take time off or indeed do anything much different, but sufficiently poor that energy comes hard and the little bits and pieces add up to a feeling of being run down.

It’s got to the point that I figure I need to do something about it. In reality there is little I can do – perhaps eat more healthily, exercise more, sleep better. I’ve made an effort to eat more sensibly and I’ve upped my exercise regime. Sleep is not really an issue – I always sleep well, though perhaps I could sleep longer.

I’ve started to think about it more too because some of the niggles are distinct things I know won’t go away, and potentially could become worse unless I do something about it. I reckon I’ve had a very low-level cold for the last 6 months. I don’t notice it most of the time, except for when I get to bed and my sinus feel half blocked. Sometimes it flares up – as it has now – into sniffles, or I will start coughing again, which I have been lately. In fact there have been times lately when I’ve felt slightly short of breath because of congestion in my chest.

Then there’s my foot. The DVT I had means I’m meant to be on permanent medication (which mostly I can’t afford to buy). It means that each day my left calf will swell, and with that my foot. It’s got to the point that it’s become painful, and potentially causing other issues.

The problem is my left shoe is not big enough for my foot when it swells. My little toe and left edge of my foot is calloused from rubbing up against the size of the shoe. By the end of the day my foot feels tightly bound, and come the evening – even with shoes off – my foot aches, the sole feels as made of small, delicate bones, and occasionally I’ll suffer from shooting pains.

I think the solution is that I need new shoes, and probably custom made shoes to account for the difference in size between my feet. Of course, I can’t afford that.

And when I get up in the morning both feet feel tender, and my Achilles foreshortened.

Some of this is just getting older. I have my situations, but I’m still relatively fit. I regularly exercise and average about 9,000 steps a day. I’m lucky enough to still look years younger than my age. It all catches up on you though, and I reckon there are some things I just have to get used to. There are some things I can do something about though.

Comes a time in your life when you realise that you can’t play as fast and loose with your health as you did before. That time is now for me, and I have to commit to repairing and looking after myself more earnestly, as much as I can.

Expanding and contracting

One of the many things that confound me today is the apparent need for so many to say anything just to be saying something. What I’m referring to is the trivial, pointless and occasionally childish intercourse between people who might in another circumstance know better. It’s most prolific on the internet, and particularly in internet forums, where contributors dash off a line or two between thinking and encourage others in so doing. It’s a strange, mental regression which I have little patience with. Words are precious, why waste them? Who hasn’t had to wade through pages of nonsense that might have seemed clever at the time, but in retrospect is nothing more than inane? The jewels, the hard information and genuine wit are sparse and deeply buried.

I am pre-disposed to such an opinion. By disposition, I’m more laconic than most and have become more so as the years pass by. I haven’t always been completely so, and understand the tendency to be garrulous sometimes. When you’re younger, when you’re exposed to the full scope of life for the first time, it bubbles over in you and demands urgent expression. I get that, and there is something endearing about it, but my experience is that it pales over time, and in my case at least, leads one to more sardonic ways.

In saying this I run the risk of sounding like a curmudgeonly old man, which I can’t rule out. I grew up being told that if you don’t have anything worth saying then don’t say anything. I haven’t always abided by that, but on the occasions I haven’t I generally regretted it not long after. I always knew when I was being stupid, and it caused no end of disappointment. These days if I err, it’s on the side of silence – except when I get grumpy, when I can be very profuse and eloquent, and occasionally profane (and which is enjoyable).

I’m aware also that in crucial ways I am different from most people. I’ve never sought the kind of acknowledgement that some conversation invites. I have no need of validation, and if someone agrees or disagrees is, in general, a matter of indifference. Of course it’s a different story with people close to me, but to the world, in general, it’s very true.

What it boils down to is that I have no need to say anything unless to request something, share something meaningful, express an opinion I think worthwhile – or to be courteous. Perhaps I can add to that the need often simply to get something external from the internal, but little of that is nonsense. You might argue, but most of this blog falls into that category.

This becomes relevant not just as a general observation, which is what prompted this post, but also in my recent decision to be ‘more charming’.

That decision was based on the notion of taking things down a notch or two, but after writing it last week I had to stop to think what it actually meant, and then my personal history with it.

Firstly, my personal definition of being charming equated to not much more than being more expansive. I can be clipped, and am known to be direct. There are occasions when I change that up, but that’s generally limited to my friends, or when I’ve found someone to flirt with. As much as anything I found I had no interest in being charming anymore. Whose opinion was so important that it mattered? Too few.

Yet I have made a decision to let things go and chill more and to indulge in whimsy and charm. For me, that’s no more than being expansive – speaking aloud the things that I might otherwise simply think.

There was an example the other day when I was telling a colleague in a different department how I was the sole remaining member of the group I had been part of. I told her that I was like the last of the Beatles, likening myself to Ringo Starr, though much preferring to be John because he was much cooler, but not an option now that he has so long departed. It came out naturally and she looked at me and laughed.

There was a time when I was like that all the time, and a thousand times over. It was when I was younger and discovering the myriad delights of being a young, intelligent, curious, healthy and virile male. How good was this? I could go on all day, riffing – quite eloquently, I think – about anything that came to mind. I had recently discovered the beauty of words and my mouth was full of them, and I used them well. It got so that people around me would smile and laugh, and lead some to suggest I should be on the radio, or even have my own TV show.

Looking back now it seems a novelty that wore off by the time I was 30. I still had the words, but the wonder faded, life happened, and I became less inclined to share – to be expansive. With that the open personality I was slowly closed, though never completely. Though I was wary of showing it, I was a sensitive soul who believed in vulnerability – it’s where life flourishes. I grew harder though too, more measured and less spontaneous. Occasionally I would indulge in those larks showing off how clever I was, but less frequently, and when I did it was entirely for my own benefit. It was rare I sought to impress anyone unless I was attracted to her. (And for balance, my personality was sufficiently bright to be compared to George Clooney just a few years ago).

That’s how it has become, compacted, I imagine, by years of struggle and strain. I’m tough as old leather and I think give something of that out. I’m respected and maybe even admired, but not understood (there are people I work with who think me a lovely, kind person, it must be said). I banter, sometimes I tease, but end of day I’m a set of eyes that miss little and say little besides something to the point or some throwaway wit.

I think it will be good for me to be more expansive. It’s probably what I need. It brings colour back into my self – but I’m never going to say something just to be heard. If I have so many words in my life then they must have value, and if not value, then wit. That’ll do me.

A loosening

I dreamt last night that I was offered a redundancy, which I happily accepted. I woke early and contemplated that and other things before wide awake getting out of bed early. I was out the door a little after 7. It was still dark outside, though by the time I had made my short walk to the station there was a glow in the air from an imminent sun. It was quiet, solemn. The car park with the bus station behind the shopping was all lit up by yellow tinted lights against the dark sky, but besides a solitary bus no-one was about. In the air was the aroma of something spicy and sweet being cooked at the bakery.

At that time of morning there’s not quite the crowd at the station. When the train came I quietly found my seat and, as before, listened to my book. The stations go by. The train fills. I’m contained within my headphones though. It’s a very interior world. That time of day encourages a sort of introspection – it’s a rare person who has the energy to be garrulous before 8am. And though the train becomes crowded most others are like me, and there is little conversation.

I listened to the narrative. I looked out the window. Coming into Middle Brighton I witnessed a fiery sunrise spread across the horizon to the east (the right side of the train – I realise now I always sit on the right), reminding me that every day is unique.

I’ve got an existential restlessness. That’s not news for me. It’s not bad either. I always reckon you’ve got to be wide awake to your life otherwise it slips by without you noticing. Everyone’s different, but for me I want to do things. I’m not content to be comfortable, or even secure, which may be a surprise given my recent experiences, but somehow those experiences rather than making me more fearful have instead released me from conventional expectation.

I contemplated this morning letting the rake in me loose. It was a very considered, un-rakish thought process. One might even call it rational, which is my abiding temper. I’m always the most responsible and reliable, generally the smartest, or near enough, and close to the most driven and determined. There dwells inside me another side that has long been repressed, by circumstances I guess, though there has been a deliberate inclination to set it to one side.

I wondered if it were now not time to let the rake in me to return to the surface. There is much joy in that persona, and for so many reasons, and it might serve me well in my relationships – I feel as if I’ve been tethered for so long. It frees the mind in other ways too. It might be a bad thing to be a little less responsible, a bit more unpredictable. It might serve as a kind of mental detox and free me from the spurious obligations of duty. In so doing it may give me, and my life, a little kick-along.

I don’t know. As I said I considered it in purely rational terms and, even so, don’t know if I could just turn it on like that. It is tempting though. I know I need to freshen up. I have become disappointed and disapproving, and none of that does me any good.

A fling, a mental loosening, might be just the thing.

Tender desires

One minute you feel a bit of swagger, there’s a pretty girl on the train and you try and catch her eye. You feel the familiar things and you wonder at it just a little. After all you’ve been through the swagger is still there, still natural, never far away, and yes, okay, there’s something a little lame about it, but, what the heck, you feel a nostalgic affection for it too. The boy you were lives still.

The next minute you feel tender. You’re walking away from the train and ahead of you is a little girl of no more than 7 or 8 in her cute little school uniform. The crowd is thick rushing from one platform to another and she glances around searching for her father. He is beside me, tall and bearded and in fashionably casual clothes, like a creative consultant of some description.

They get on the same train as you and something about the picture affects you. You wish them happiness and joy. You wish the little girl a long life of happy moments. It feels so true and lovely, as if you have caught glimpse of something you normally overlook.

That is me. Different desires, low and high, both true. Swaggering and tender both, and maybe a few other things besides.

Telling, not kissing

I had a mini breakthrough yesterday when I actually told someone parts of my recently chequered past. It was over coffee at lunchtime. I met with a woman I’ve been seeing now and again, but with nothing serious in prospect. She had just returned from a few weeks holiday in Japan, and had very generously presented me with a selection of Suntory whiskies as a gift. The conversation transitioned from her travels to what has been happing in her absence, from plans for the future and hopeful expectations before somehow segueing into even deeper topics.

I’m uncomfortable speaking about what has happened to me. I’m not ashamed, but find it an embarrassing subject, particularly when I am forced to explain it. I’m a private person regardless and, as she observed, quite proud. I think I confessed trying to explain my reticence when it comes to things romantic. I want to, very much, but because of my recent past and the constraints of my present situation, my options are far fewer than in days before this when I had not a concern in the world.

I didn’t explain things to that degree, but said I was not quite right to commit – then, feeling I had to explain that a little told her that there was a lot more I was dealing with than I had told her. Of course, once you say something like that you can’t really leave it there, which is when I reluctantly confessed that I had spent 15 months homeless, hinting at all the complicating factors falling out of that, many of which are still ongoing (and which I don’t really bother about recording here).

She seemed unsurprised. I had probably foreshadowed something, and had admitted to smaller things along the way. Right from the start I had said that I had a complicated life and I was not a good catch – I need to be honest to that extent. She nodded her head. She asked some questions. I imagine it must have been hard for you to ask for help, she said. I said it was, but that in the end you have no other choice if you mean to survive. No-one knows the full story I told her, not even my closest friends.

She accepted it. She seemed undeterred. She may even have been impressed that I had survived and come through it. I reiterated to her that there was a long way to go, but that I was hopeful and determined.

I’m glad I told her. It’s a conversation I have to have more often, and it will be good for me. It becomes easier when things improve – I’d much rather confess to something done, dusted, and successfully endured, than something that continues to bear down on me.

I’ve told her now and we might become friends – she’s a good person and has interesting ambitions. She’s not for me though. I need someone who will lift me. I need a kind of innocence I can believe in.

Beginning next year

When I met with Donna last week I gave her some homework to do leading into the new year. I gave her two sets of paperwork. One was a single sheet articulating the things you’d not done the year past, and the things you wanted to do in the year to come. It required you to articulate goals, but also to detail the things needed, the attributes gained, to achieve them. Finally it required for you to commit to those goals, and to document the person who would support you in that quest.

The other set of paperwork was similar, though aimed at getting in deep to unearth the deep, authentic feelings and aspirations. It suggested methods such as writing with your other hand, or putting it down with your eyes closed. The whole aim of it was to get at the real truth, not just the official truth. Ultimately it was about setting it down to make manifest.

This morning I sat on the front patio of the house with a glass of mojito while Rigby lay beside me busily chewing on his Christmas bone. I sat at a small table and in between sips of my cocktail filled in the first of these forms. It was not overly difficult – I guess it’s not when you’re in my situation. And, I thought, I knew what I needed, as well as what I wanted.

What had I not done this year I wanted to do next? Travel was an obvious selection, though realistically it will likely be problematic in the next 12 months also. The other was be in a relationship. That’s been by choice, but things have changed to the point that I can contemplate it once more. More importantly I’ve come to terms to some of my attributes that has made it difficult in the past – though we’re getting to that.

What do I want to feel this year coming? Loved, secure, relaxed, and happy.

Pretty simple really. The first has an edge because of Christmas day just gone. It’s probably the thing I’ve missed most in recent years. I’ve never been a big one about security, but when you have so little of it you begin to appreciate it. Relaxed relates to that – I’m constantly straining and struggling just to survive. I want that to have subsided by years end. Happiness really will be a product of all that.

What are my goals for the next year? Work, relationships, finances.

I figure there are millions of others who would answer just the same, but once more my situation adds some piquancy.

What do I need to achieve these? I struggled a bit more with this. I put networking and negotiation as my first 2 selections. I struggled for the last before noting down lightness.

I used to be such a charming man. I was quick witted and fleet of tongue and took pleasure in the interchange. My wits have probably sharpened since, and I still take a delight in words, but it’s rare I took pleasure in it anymore. I didn’t lose my charm, I just became more sparing with it. All the same I got by quite well for many years, and there were many still who thought me a charming man. Then with all the stuff I’ve been mired in charm seems a luxury. When every day is a struggle charm seems insincere. I’ve become stronger, but I’ve become blunter too. I like my bluntness, but I miss the state of mind when words come lightly to the lips. I want to be that person again, and need to be.

What are the benefits of this? Better job, improved finances, more friends.

Again, the first two seem self-evident, and absolute necessities. More friends become a requirement not because I’m losing them, but because the friends I have are increasingly becoming entwined with their families. I need more friends for me. And above all I need that one, special friend.

There were other sections I’ll skip over here. The two things I don’t want to be are being too proud and distant. I waste time by being stubborn and being too proud.

Finally this year coming I’m branding the year of redemption.

There was a scorecard at the foot of the page in which I had to allocate a number out of 10 to a bunch of measures:

Happiness – 4; Health – 6; Prosperity – 2; Mental strength – 9; Body Fitness – 6; Relationships – 5; Sex – 4.

One thing not addressed here is something else that needs to change. I feel beholden to so many and so much. In a literal sense I owe people. There’s been nothing I can do about it, but it is a burden I’m keen to rid myself of. I want to be my own man again by beginning to redress the debt I carry, and do the right thing by those I carry it with. That certainly involves dollars, but there’s also a moral debt. So many have helped me. So many have given me their support. I’m very grateful to that, but I don’t want to need it. That’s one of the reasons I refused invitations for Christmas day. Maybe this is me being too proud once more, but I’d rather stand on my feet now that I can than receive help I don’t need.