Becoming a beautiful butterfly

About a dozen years ago I lived through one of the most intense phases of my life. ‘Intense’ is relative, and when I look back in general there seem regular patches of intensely lived experience, though of different kinds. It’s surprising to recall how much has been crammed into the years, a lot of it nonsense, though necessary nonsense, and a lot of it very real.

Back a dozen years ago I experienced something that was new and unexpected to me. I had recently returned from an unhappy stint living in Brisbane, and took up a job in Melbourne. I expected to basically take up where I left off. I’d always been a confident, enterprising type with strong convictions, and a willingness to take things on. On the back of that my career had progressed well. Returning from Brisbane I felt a bit betwixt and between, but assumed all would be back to normal shortly.

The job I took on was perhaps indicative of my state of mind – fun and interesting, but not a great career step, and not nearly as well paid as my previous roles. It’s as if I wanted to sit back and take the temperature.

That year turned out to be tumultuous and intense and very different, and I was very different. I didn’t snap back to normal. Instead I went about my work without my usual conviction. I felt untethered from the reality I had created for myself, and left me feeling very uncomfortable. It led to self-doubt and second guessing, things I hated on principle but had no control over. I felt as if this must be clear to the whole world, but apparently the façade held more or less, and many of my behaviours were unaffected.

To complicate things further I fell in love, the details I won’t go into here. She was bright and alluring and challenged me in all the best ways. She, at least, could see beyond the façade. In the way of these things our relationship became fraught and impossibly complicated, and ended badly. Before it did though we would have long conversations about me. She would complain that I was ‘too cool for school’, a flaw I had not recognised until then. It was symptomatic of something deeper, which she also recognised and hoped that I would rectify. It became a bit of a quest, and we would joke that I was “becoming a beautiful butterfly.”

If only that was the case.

History says that the whole situation imploded before I achieved metamorphosis. We split acrimoniously, I quit and took a new job, and somehow magically reclaimed my mojo. I returned to the man I was before, certain and direct. There was huge relief for me because it was familiar: I knew this man. I went on to become a high performer again (I had dropped off), and achieved a bunch of things I’m proud of now. Now though I wonder if that was my missed opportunity – how would things be different now had I become that butterfly and shed some of my masculine, competitive ways? What if I allowed myself to be sensitive and authentic to the world, rather than hide behind the glib, ‘cool’ persona?

I remembered all this as I headed home from work. I felt something near to distress at what had happened earlier in the day.

It’s funny how the world works. We like to see patterns, meanings behind things, but sometimes I think it’s true. The world has a way of leading you to truth, if only we recognise it.

I was sitting on my couch watching TV and idly browsing Facebook on my iPad. I came across one article that interested me, then two. I read them feeling a connection to myself, as if there was something in these brief articles I could learn from if I was smart enough.

The first was a piece by an international cricket coach who specialises in mental preparation. He shared his thoughts on what he had learned along the way, about how people were motivated, about what moved them. He made reference to an Australian international cricketer whose public persona was competitive and sometimes angry, but in his close dealings with him described him instead as being a very empathic, genuine, sensitive and caring character, unafraid to show his vulnerable side to his teammates.

The second piece was by a woman describing a platonic relationship twenty years before with a man she really loved, but ultimately turned from because she could not reconcile what that love meant (later she realised she was gay). It was a sad but very true piece about love and regret and it left me wondering why we act roles when happiness lies in being authentic. Of course, that’s a lesson that holds more true of me than most.

I felt enlightened. I felt as if a depth had ended up inside me. I was both frail and tender, but I was glad of the feeling. At the same time another truth dawned on me.

I complain of being described as a womaniser, but who am I kidding? I like to think I’m a decent, respectful man, and I think that’s true more often than not. But shoot, how can I possibly deny such a charge when the women I’ve known number in the hundreds? And, let’s admit it, you like the chase, you crave the conquest. What does that make you? And if you were really honest with yourself there’s a part of you chuffed to be considered cool, even a ladies man. Time to own it.

I’m back at work today and feel the same. It reminds some of all those years ago, but more pointed. I’ve set myself to be a more open man and this is my chance to nail it. It feels an interesting and scary journey I’ve embarked on. I pray this time I go through with it and actually become that beautiful butterfly, a dozen years too late.

As for the girl. I think damage was done by the loose comments yesterday. There’s no point me being angry or upset by that, and I’m not in a position to explain. It is what it is. Right now I’ll look to sort myself out and trust in time she will see that, and respond.


Not a ladies’ man

It seems an old conversation, a theme that keeps recurring: why is it so many people assume that I’m a ladies man?

It happened again today. I’m back at work and I stop by the desk of one of my friends and ask how her Christmas and New Year was. She then asked how my break was. Before I could answer the dude behind her swivels in his chair and with a big smile says “he was busy dating all the girls.”

I thought, WTF? He’s a cool dude, but I don’t really know him that well, so his comments came as a total surprise. Before Christmas some of the girls got hold of an old photo of me and went on about how handsome I was. When he saw it he said something like “you must have pulled a lot of chicks back then”. I’m only guessing that’s where this comment has stemmed from. The problem is he said it right in front of the girl I like and I figure she won’t much like the idea of me being a ladies man, besides which, actually, I’m not.

There’s something always deflating in episodes like this. They’re surprisingly regular, so there must be something to it. I dislike it because it’s a misrepresentation, and because it presumes me to be more shallow than I am, and because there’s a taint of profiling in such easy assumptions.

I asked Donna why this happens to me so much. She came back straight at me: because you have a swagger. Because you’re cocky and confident and comfortable with women. Because you have the demeanour of a man who reckons he can charm his way to anything.

I can only take her at her word – she probably knows me better than anyone. I was a little surprised though. A few years back I would have accepted it a lot easily. Once upon a time I sat very easily within my skin. Since then I feel a lot more frail, so it’s a great surprise that I still give off that vibe. Is it a bad thing? Maybe, maybe not. What’s not so good is how others interpret it.

So I was annoyed and actually felt downhearted afterwards. And I was deadly concerned about what she would think. I’m an authentic dude I think, and I want her to think it too. I want to be absolutely square.

I thought about it when I went to lunch. Of course I did. It occurred to me that this concern actually aligns with my desire to be less glib. That’s a reason I want to be less glib (though I do it so well). Glib sits well with the notion of the ladies’ man. It’s easy to believe that someone so slippery and ready with the one liners is like that on a personal basis. That’s not what I want.

I can’t change my nature, and I don’t want to. I’m happy to be confident, as much as it is. I’m glad I can be charming and witty. And being comfortable with women is no bad thing. If that’s all there is though I’m apt to be misinterpreted, and because I’ve been so guarded so often that’s all acquaintances see of me. And so they draw conclusions.

I’m upset by this, but it affirms my intention to be more open and vulnerable. It gives context and balance. It makes me authentic.

I’m trusting that no significant harm has been done with the girl I like, but she’s gone home since and I can’t tell. Otherwise, I’ve taken the plunge and opened up to someone I trust this morning and told him about my homeless/unemployed interlude. He was fine with it, and in fact confessed how he lived with his parents for two years after his divorce. I felt good letting it go. It’s not such a big deal, which is how it should be.

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.