Being bold


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Glimpses of how it was


Returning from my collecting my morning coffee yesterday I glimpsed a man wearing a quilted padded jacket. I have a similar jacket and you see them all over but the first time they ever registered in my consciousness was probably about 20 years ago when I was travelling in Italy, specifically in Florence. It seemed to me then that every second Italian male wore a stylish, elegant version of this jacket. And that’s the thought that occurred to me yesterday after that brief and incidental glimpse. The long forgotten memory was triggered and suddenly I felt as if I’d been punched in the gut.

Recalling Italy like that reminded me of how great it was to travel and in my mind was a diversity of memories. The pain was instinctive though with the knowledge that I haven’t done that for so long and, for all intents and purposes, it’s something I no longer do. That’s not by choice; circumstances have dictated that and though one day it may change I’m stuck here.

This was an existential pang. There’s so much I enjoyed about travelling, but being a dedicated and adventurous traveller was also a big part of my self-identity. Take that away from me and I feel staid and deprived. I miss the stimuli of different cultures, of being challenged along the way by a raft of things, and learning from the experience. I am left here looking along from afar.

I was surprised at my reaction – I see men in quilted jackets all the time – but I understood once it settled in me. I relate it now from curiosity and to give an insight into moments that otherwise would probably go unremarked. There are many instances like this, across a range of aspects, that grate upon me daily. That’s just how it is and generally it’s subsumed in the routine of the day. It’s a condition of my current existence. This was different, for whatever reason.

I’m trying to change this naturally, to ascend to a place again where I can get on a plane and fly overseas for a holiday, or buy something indulgent on a whim. It’s a great motivating urge. We make progress, though generally only by inches, but at least recently I was finally permitted to have a credit card again – an encouraging sign, and a relief knowing I can now manage unexpected expenses. And yesterday I spoke to two recruiters with an arrangement to meet with one the week after next.

Humble affection


I’m always learning, always adjusting. Things come to me, seemingly unprompted, or triggered by something, and sometimes mirrored unexpectedly in the fiction I write (that’s a very rich two-way relationship).

I keep on working on myself trying to be better and happier and sometimes I believe I can make it so by applying myself with intelligence to the hard-won lessons along the way. Sure, I learn a lot and it makes me wiser maybe, and maybe it makes things easier at the edges, but it takes more than knowledge to make things better, it takes change.

So, this is the thing. There’s a hole in my life where my family used to be and all the life that emanated from that. What was so abundant once is barely a trickle now. I deal with it in my usual way, by pressing on. Keep adjusting, keep processing, that’ what I figure, but I realised last week that can never be enough until I replace what I lost with something else.

It came as a surprise, though in retrospect it seems an obvious thing. I keep thinking I’ll get over it and I’ll be good, but the only way you really get over it is not by adjusting to it – as I have – but by replacing it with something of similar weight.

Then I was thinking about my friends and my changing relationship to them, and something related struck me. I keep saying I haven’t changed all that much, but I think there is one important thing that has. Because I had fewer concerns before, less pressure and stress, not as much baggage, my midpoint was a lot easier, a lot freer. I could be frivolous sometimes and whimsical and generally less caught up in things. I was a lighter human being.

There are occasions I’m whimsical now and I still get told I’m charming, but I know in myself that I’m much more close-mouthed than I was before and that it’s perfectly understandable. I suffered a great wound, the effects of which are still present in my life every day. I have small wins every now and then, and I’m making my way back slowly, but I can’t be the man I was before until I have the life I had before. I am a reflection of the life I’m living, which is determined but also is hard and sometimes grim and never easy. I seek to surpass that consciously, but my unconscious won’t be released until there’s more to be joyful about and less to struggle for.

Finally, I said something to Rigby yesterday which immediately triggered an epiphany. Again, it’s not terribly profound – in fact, it seems bleeding obvious, but anyway… As he gambolled playfully about me, seeking my attention, I said to him: “you get my affection because you seek it.”

There it was. He craved my affection, as dogs do, and I gave it to him freely. How simple that was. It works with people too, though you have to be more clever with it.

I never seek affection. Just the opposite, if anything. I never curry favour, as if it goes against my principles. I’ve lived long denying the sympathy of others as if it was weakness to accept. I’ve always been rigorously independent and rejected undue favour. Seems awfully silly now.

I’ve opened up a bit this last year and addressed some of this almost unwittingly. I recognised the general problem and have tried to adapt my behaviours. I’m better than I used to be, but I feel as if I’ve been dealing with symptoms without addressing root causes. It seems simple now, if I want affection then I should open myself to it – indeed, I should actively encourage it.

All of this is circular. One thing leads to another. I need change if I’m to progress, but the change required is of such a fundamental nature that I have to change myself in this one key regard at least: like Rigby, I need to humble myself for the affection of others.

Seeing in the dark


Had an unexpected wobble earlier this week. I’ve been sailing along quite well after the storms a couple of months ago, then I hit turbulence again. In hindsight, it’s perfectly clear why, but at the time, in the middle of it and trying to stay afloat, it’s not so clear.

I wrote about how a friend here had likened me to a character on TV whose life was all fucked up. Normally I would have shrugged it off. I’ve got skin as thick as a crocodile. Normally I would have seen it for what it was, a light-hearted but ultimately complimentary analogue. This time all I could see were the negative aspects of it, and it hurt.

What made it abnormal was the conjunction of events that had left me more sensitive than usual. Having re-visited some of my bleak past over the weekend I was left a little frail. I was in a condition where it wouldn’t take much to tip me over the edge – and so it proved. What it really triggered in me was my absolute rejection of sympathy.

I did contact my friend that night. I pointed out to her that while there have been tough times my life as a whole has been interesting and rewarding and replete with fantastic moments. It sounds like an exercise in justification, but it’s true. I’ve copped some shit, some hard times, but I’ve had a full and interesting life too. I’ve been a participant, not a spectator. I wish some things were different, but on balance I’ll cop it.

Of course, this missed the point entirely, as our conversation over the next hour or so made clear.

I didn’t blame her or anything like that, but she picked up that she had offended me. After some initial confusion, she discerned the cause of it. She was apologetic but pointed out she was always teasing and jesting and this was in the nature of that. She was right. She made it clear that far from pitying me she had the utmost respect for me. The point she had tried to make was though I’ve suffered hardship I’m always smiling, always positive, always helping others. I had her admiration for that. I was a winner in her books. Plus I was cute.

At some point in this, it dawned on me. You see, I’m getting closer to things. I’m learning all the time.

What I really struggle with is being vulnerable. When someone points out the obvious I feel exposed. The very fact of being frail and struggling is to some extent unmanly in my books – I should be above it. This is why I reject so vociferously any hint of it. I can’t believe that anyone can like or respect that me – frankly, I feel pathetic, and part of that is because I have no control. There’s H in control, which includes my emotions – and there’s H, allegedly, out of control, embarrassed, and subject to prevailing winds. I don’t like myself then and don’t believe anyone else can either.

I think I’ve always known this about me but never wanted to own up to it. It goes to the nub of this issue too, and it’s resolution.

This is the path I’ve set myself on – to be vulnerable, to expose myself, to learn from it and come to accept it as valid and reasonable. It’s bloody hard though and goes against my nature.

I understood that as I spoke to her and apologised. I explained the problem and said I had a tendency to push people away when I suffer from this. This is the very thing I have to stick out though.

In the past I would’ve rebounded from this in my belligerent way, refusing to be frail, refusing to be intimidated. That was my hard shell. That’s what made me survive the tough times, a native combativeness that refused to submit. I’m like a boxer taking a beating but getting up from the canvas each time refusing to accept the other man is a better fighter than me. Somehow I managed to survive the big fight, but after it now I realise there are other ways, better ways, to deal with it.

This is what I’m trying to learn. The easy thing is to get belligerent again, but that solves nothing. The very hard thing is to remain vulnerable, but that’s how I heal and, ultimately, become a better, stronger man.

I have to remember that. I’m standing out in the dark alone. I could turn and return to shelter and to light, but then I’ll never accustom myself to the darkness. This time I must refuse to be tough. I have to submit myself to the darkness until I can see.

To be


I had a woman during the week tell me I was a good man. When I answered that I try to be she said that I was good without having to try. It’s funny, but I can’t hope for a better compliment than that.

I had a bunch of women tell me the other week how handsome I was. Isn’t he handsome? Don’t you think? Yes, of course, very handsome. And recently I’ve been told repeatedly how charming I am – though I reckon there’s an equal number who mutter under their breath about my lack of charm. These compliments flirt with the ego, but they don’t speak to character. I can’t hope to more than being a good man, and it’s lovely to have someone tell you so.

For most of my life, I’ve been conscious of being this or that. I’ve strived to be a good man because I believed in it, but I also strived to charm (sometimes) because I wanted to – and so on, across the board. I’m very ‘conscious’, very self-aware, so this was natural to me.

I’ve had my tribulations in recent times and lately, it hit hard. It’s a lot better now as I have consciously dealt with it. For a man such as me, life often feels like a series of trials designed to test and potentially mould you. How you deal with these trials and what you learn from them feed into who you are, but it’s a constant feedback loop, ever adjusting, ever assessing. I think this blog attests to that very well.

I am what I am, I’ll always be a thoughtful, analytical type, I don’t know any other way. I process things. That’s what makes me good at my job because I get to the bottom of everything in a very rational way.

I hesitate to proclaim what I’ve learnt from this latest episode, but I have come to some provisional understanding – and the first may seem surprising.

I think part of my problem, and probably common to most people, is that I am striving to be something. That’s a complex thing wrapped up in identity and personal history, expectation and ego. I set myself and even when I go some way towards achieving whatever it is it’s never enough. I don’t think anything of this is surprising, except that the answer as I see it is simply to ‘be’.

That will be hard for me because my mind is always engaged and I’ve got a hand on the gearstick. I’m not about to disengage my mind, even if I could – but it means that I might be inclined to let things take their natural course rather than trying to intervene. I’m always searching for ‘ways’. I get stuck in one of these fugues like lately and I’m right on it trying to figure things out and make a difference. That’s fine – here I am, after all – but I might not be in this fugue in the first place if I was less consciously trying. I am a lot of things and many of them pretty good – why not let them take me where they will?

This means not making rules – won’t do this, can’t do that, and so on. If I just let it happen then I’ll find the way that is natural and right for me. Don’t worry, be happy.

This will take some adjusting to and I’m bound to get it wrong probably more often than not, but it’s no more than an adjunct to the philosophy I embraced earlier this year to open up and let go, to accept.

Part of all this is to accept who I am. I think some of the troubles I’ve had comes from the conflict between what I feel and what I want, but such are the complexities of human nature that sometimes they reverse. That leads to much confusion.

Let me give you an example. I feel a general reluctance to take on too much these days. That may pass, it may not, but it’s true for now. It rubs up sometimes against notions of self. To be honest, it embarrasses me sometimes, it feels unmanly even – but really, it’s only against the arbitrary standards I set myself before. At the same time, I still feel often that surge of adrenalin and competitive fervour. How do I reconcile these things? I don’t.

I’ve always been someone eager to take things on. I’ve always been bullish and aggressive. Over time that’s manifested itself in self-image so that I’ve strived to be that man, rather than just being that man. He’s still in me, but I don’t have to be him if it doesn’t feel right. There’ll be times when that assertive character will take it to the ring and it will feel perfectly right; and times when I’m happy to bystand. They don’t have to be incompatible. I don’t have to be one or the other. They can be simply different elements that abide in harmonious balance. This is what I have to get my head around. Everything is true, everything is right if I just be.

Shedding my skin


Once upon a time I just got the job done. I was very direct and efficient and drawn to achieve the best and most effective outcome. Some of that was reflective of a competitive nature, matched to a good brain I enjoyed giving a run. I was confident and ambitious and though challenged sometimes, never really doubted that I would find a way. And I did, every time. I was, as I was apt to think back then, full of good male juice.

Superficially the juice could be viewed as pure motivation and drive, but in actual fact there’s a lot of attitude in it too, and maybe a little swagger. Though it was effective in the office, I also carried a lot of it out into the street. There was a time I believed I could do anything, and every dream was bold. For many years I had more juice than just about anyone, and it was no secret. Outer H writ large.

That’s what I don’t have now. For a while now I’ve tried to act as if it was still there. In fact I probably believed it, not because I felt it, but because I was unfamiliar with a time when it wasn’t. I acted then from long standing behaviours and learned routines. The instincts remained, but they didn’t spark anymore. I think some of the frustration and abrasion I’ve experienced have been prompted by the absence of the thing I could so reliably count on before. In its absence, I’ve tried to force it, and act out a role that came naturally before. I’m all out of juice.

I don’t know if this is a temporary thing, but I know it’s a notable thing. I think I’m in the process of re-defining myself. It’s the clear that I’m not the man I was before and it’s probably not worth pretending I am. That poses the question I asked last week: who am I then? And who am I supposed to be? I don’t think that can be answered yet because I believe I’m in a state of transition. I’m in-between selves.

This is not terribly comfortable, but then it’s hard to imagine that it would be. I feel unmanned somehow, and without my familiar tools have nothing to fall back on but this, my mind. The old reflexes are gone. All that is necessary I think, but it’s not easy.

I don’t think this process will be either quick or certain. It will take a while and I expect some to-ing and fro-ing. I’ve got to hang in there through that and remain functional. I think I’ll manage, but I’ll have to deal with other people as well, including those who know only the old me.

If I were to hazard a guess I would suggest the next version of H will ultimately have many of the attributes of the previous H. I don’t know if you change so much as re-constitute. Same ingredients, different proportions. I reckon I’ll get a good measure of the old juice back, but directed differently. I hope – and I expect – that more of the inner H will be on show, and think it must be. I reckon some of the growing pains I’m experiencing relate to that very thing. I think it will be a gentler H that will emerge, less competitive, more willing to go with the flow. Bold dreams still, I hope, but in service of a more humble perspective.

Reconciliation


I’ve just returned from buying my morning coffee. Most people have their regular spots and I’m no different. There’s a place almost directly downstairs I go to around 9am every morning. Staff come and go there, but there’s a few who have been there all the way through. By now we’ve come friendly. They know me by name and we chat about the footy or what we’re doing on the weekend or movies we’ve seen while they go about making my latte. I’m almost hesitant to admit that they get the full outer H. I’m friendly and light-hearted, confident and glib. The words spill by my lips and I exude an attitude.

I think most people have inner and outer versions of themselves, and sometimes more than that simple duality. I know myself I become a slightly different person according to who I’m with. It’s one of my tells when I like someone – in my eyes at least I feel as if my best self emerges, which is a lot of different things that are hard to list, but safe to say he combines the best aspects of both the inner and outer H.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having alternate versions of yourself. Or at least, let me suggest that it is so normal that perhaps it is necessary. It might be different if our society was different but, even so, I think it’s good to keep some aspects confidential, and shared only with those closest to you. And so in this respect let me make the point that I’m not looking to transform myself (and also, make clear that the outer H is a very decent man). Rather my aim is to reconcile the two parts.

It’s an apt reminder today when I feel it a little more than I have the previous couple of days. It seems to me that I have an abiding sadness in me that goes deeper than I can clearly discern. It’s like there are huge, dark caverns within me that I can only see a little a time by the light of a torch. I can accept this by and large, and it doesn’t impact upon my ability to function or do my job. Previously though, I would tough it out. I would almost beat it into submission, all the while putting on a brave face for the world.

Today I want to accept what I feel. I’m not going to pretend otherwise. I won’t go around mopey and miserable, but I’m not going to try and gild the lily either.

It seems to me this is some way towards reconciling myself. I can be sad and still confident. I can joke and also be serious. And I can be both engaging and authentic. Of course I have to manage this in reality. Today is a test of that.