The Saturday before last I went to a 60th birthday party in Canterbury. I caught a couple of trains there knowing I would be drinking, and took an Uber home. I was not particularly in a party mood, but it was not something I could miss.

As it turned out the weather was perfect for it. There were about 70 people there fully catered with a proper bar set-up in the corner – including some top-notch red wine – and waitresses passing through the crowd offering tasty morsels.

I knew very few people there, and all but a few were older than me. It was a convivial crowd, however, couples mainly and longstanding friends, all of them well-educated and mostly well to do. The people I knew – other than the birthday boy – were people who had known mum and admired her. That was my connection, and also my entree.

I had an okay night. I had a few drinks, danced a little, I even got hit on by an attractive 60-year-old (she’d have been a knock-out at 20). I’d gone there up in the air about my own circumstances, but as I waded in and conversed with different people something of my normal self surfaced.

I found myself speaking intelligently and making valuable contributions to the conversation. That shouldn’t have surprised me, but such was my state of mind I was more inclined to be reserved. It was people who drew me out and interesting conversations. Then, about the time the woman made her interest known (culminating in a caress of my arse while I chatted to her husband next to me) my native competitiveness emerged.

I’d been in a quandary, feeling down, but confused also. By habit as much as nature I’m competitive, and like a bubble rising in me it emerged to the surface. There’s something powerful when it takes over, especially when you know you have the capability to achieve what your competitive self urges. I’ve spent much of my life dancing to that tune and once more on that Saturday night I was drawn to it. For a few minutes I told myself to set aside all my doubts and just do it – just be it. Be yourself 1000%, ride that wave.

It’s a mighty powerful sensation, like drugs. And for so many years I did just that. I backed myself to the hilt and went hard. It worked very well for me for a long time – it turbocharged my professional career if nothing else. But after a few minutes I told myself no, we’re not going to do it that way this time.

You see that’s a reflex. It’s innate, but it’s largely unconsidered. Throw a ball at me and I’ll catch it. Put me in this predicament and I’ll rise to it. Except, this time I don’t want to rise to it. Rising to it all these years has meant I’ve never stopped to consider what I’ve lost along the way or what it means in real life. I’ve just done it, instinctively, without stopping to weigh up what I was doing.

That’s one of the things that has led me to the position I’m in today. It’s caught up with me because all the things I’ve overlooked have been important to my soul. I want to proceed consciously from here on in, not simply from reflex or instinct or habit. It feels a bit like cheating otherwise. Anyway, I believe pretty strongly that even if I chose to do it as I use to it would soon putter out because I don’t have the same resolve as I had before. Things need to be mended first.

I’m back to work proper tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how it goes. I had to pop in on Friday for a couple of hours and it was fine. I expect it will be again, more or less, and equally that it won’t take much to upset things once more.

The plan from here on in is to keep it simple. I think humility is a big part of it – accepting things for now, including myself, instead of trying to master them. Work with what’s there, and within me, and not pushing it too much.

Part of that is accepting all that I’ve lost and the pain that I just shoved aside. It’s mine, it’s true, and I have to face up to it and own it. I can’t do anything about it now, but it’s unwise to ignore it. At the same time, I have to work to integrate the different sides of H into one, coherent self. That will take some work, but will be easier with friends. Ultimately I need to let go of what might be and even what should be, and live with what is. It doesn’t mean I don’t strive, it means I live in the moment, from one to the next. Life evolves, and so do we, and I expect what those moments present to me and the opportunities that come my way will evolve also.

I don’t know if it makes any difference, but the girl returns tomorrow from three weeks holiday. I realise I take comfort just by knowing she is in the same building as me. I think her absence added to the general dissipation I experienced. Hopefully, her return will bring changes all round.

Inner and outer H

I had a dream last night in which three women featured – Sally Rugg, a social commentator I’ve got a bit of a crush on; the girl from work I haven’t commented on for a while; and another, invented woman. Cheeseboy was also in the dream, complete with family. Then there was me, at my charismatic, larger-than-life best at the beginning of the dream, down by the beach, flirting with the girls, before toning it down later on. The first two girls interchange throughout, then are replaced by the invented woman for the last third of the dream. I’m keen on her until Cheeseboy takes me aside and tells me they had used her to babysit the kids and found her unsatisfactory. By now I’ve come down off my high and am almost apologetic about it. The last scene sees me drive away and leave the seaside behind – except I’m in the guise of Walter White. The end.

I often think dreams draw together the things in your mind, along with the sub-conscious related things, and presents them in a stylised, allegorical fashion. You can’t take them literally, but there may be some metaphorical truth hidden away in them. This dream I won’t try to interpret, though it feels to me I know what it means.

There’s an outer H, and an inner H. The outer H varies of course according to audience and circumstance, but he has some consistent attributes. In my reflective (inner H) moments I’m sometimes bemused by this outer H. In many ways he seems independent of the inner H, and often times independent of my state of mind. Outer H isn’t false, but he is a distorted version of the true H. He comes naturally, easily, but he is a projection.

Outer H makes his appearance most commonly at work and plays to his peers, and those beneath him – a harder-edged H presents to those higher in the chain, which explains why most of those junior to me think I’m a great bloke, and many senior to me think I’m a hard-arse.

Like I said, outer H isn’t false – everything about him is true in itself – but he is incomplete. Sometimes I think in dealing with others we shift the biases to present a more affable or acceptable face. In my case, it’s mostly to hide away my vulnerabilities, and so to many, the outer H seems a cool and attractive man, funny and confident and laid-back – and, above all, in control. It comes easily because I am those things and I simply switch my energy into those areas and am smart enough to carry it off. It’s not a conscious thing. At this stage of my life, it’s pretty automatic. What’s left out of that persona is the authentic truth.

I’d like to say the inner H is represented in these pages, but that’s not entirely correct. The outer H creeps in quite often, like an official censor making sure only the ‘official’ truth makes it to air. Thankfully he gets overruled often enough that the true H gets a run.

The inner H is much more reflective and thoughtful. He is compassionate and sometimes terribly sensitive. He feels deeply, but he’s also imaginative and creative, even whimsical sometimes. He hasn’t the hard edge of the outer H. He’s not as easy or fluent in many ways, but he’s more honest. And he’s the one who gets haunted. He doubts.

I quite like the outer H, maybe because I’m comfortable with him. He’s low risk. And maybe – and this is revealing – he reflects what I want to be. He’s the guy at the start of the dream, the guy men admire and girls fall for. He’s witty and smart and commanding. But he’s superficial, too. He’s glib, he’s ‘too cool for school’ as one woman from my past once accused me of, he’s not real, and he’s not deep. He’s an Alpha.

Inner H is real and deep, but he’s not easy. Everything is felt. He’s the wellspring of my writing. He’s the curious mind who just has to understand things. He’s the one overwhelmed by tenderness on occasion. He’s passionate about truth and justice. I like him too because he is a decent and interesting man, but I’m scared of being him out in the world.

Few people get to see the inner H – though I’ve craved the opportunity to share him with someone I could trust. Most of the world knows only variations on the outer H.

This is a big part of my problem (and it’s revealing how this permeates my creative writing) – the split between inner and outer. It’s a divide in my soul I have propagated myself out of fear and ego. It’s a conflict that has taken on volcanic proportions in recent times. For most of my adult life, it was under control until I chose to become open and honest with the world earlier this year, and the hairline fractures became fissures. I exposed myself to this, but it was the right thing to do.

I’m more vulnerable now and more fragile because I’ve attempted to add something to the outer H that by nature he rejects. Humility, sensitivity, vulnerability, don’t belong in the outer H. He’s about skating across surfaces and avoiding commitment. I’m probably doing him – and me – and injustice, because he’s a decent, caring, sincere bloke, just at arm’s length.

This is why it’s hard, because I’m trying to be better and it’s dizzying and confusing. I get offended too easily, my mind gets turned around, everything feels personal. I’m in a state of existential flux – but it must go on until the end.

Somewhere in all this is the true H. He is both inner and outer H but in harmonic balance. That’s the endpoint I need to get to, but hard work from here – but at least I know.

All that I lost

I had my best sleep for ages last night and woke this morning in a good frame of mind. I switched on the radio for the news, fed Rigby, made a coffee, and returned to bed. Rigby lay on the end of the bed as I caught up with social media from overnight, before picking up a book. In the background, the radio was sometimes on, sometimes off, as I was keen to hear the latest updates from the AFL trade. I’ve now showered and dressed and just returned from taking Rigby for a walk. It’s sunny, but with a cool breeze out.

I’m not surprised that the initial positive frame of mind has dissipated in the time since. While you do all those things, while you read and listen to the radio and walk the dog, your mind continues to tick over in the background. Thoughts develop along themes until you set aside your book to consider what’s in your head.

What’s in my head this morning are thoughts of grief. This is not something new, but nor is it something that has been resolved. I guess, technically, what I feel right now is depression, but what it really feels like is deep and abiding sadness. I think about six weeks ago I would have thought myself pretty content, though on narrow parameters. What’s happened since undermined that, but in so doing it also upset the delicate balance of emotions. From the depths have emerged grief that I had packed away, hopefully for good.

I think one of the reasons I write is a fascination with both human complexity and human frailty. I’m well aware we develop narratives to describe who we are and what we’re about. They make life easier because they’re arranged in such a way that what’s unpleasant is hidden away. In many ways, they’re necessary. We can’t go about mired in regret and past distress when we can do nothing about it. At the same time, there’s something artificial about that construct. These things happened after all, and they have a formative effect on the person you are today. And, if not properly dealt with, they can come back and haunt you.

This is where I am today. As a writer, I’m a master of narrative. I’m strong-willed and stubborn on top of that. It means that I’ve been very effective in locking things away. You could argue that it’s been necessary given the journey I’ve endured. When things were at their most dire I couldn’t stop to dwell on how miserable things were, I had to keep ploughing forward. I managed that. I survived. I’m grateful, but I lost something along the way.

Right now it feels like one of those movies where miners or archaeologists inadvertently pierce through to a chamber, thus releasing a monster. This monster, for me, is unresolved grief.

I’ve touched on this before. How when mum died I was too busy dealing with the fall-out from it to properly grieve what I had lost as a son. I never got the chance later when I was struggling to survive from one day to the next, nor did I ever grieve for, or even acknowledge, what I lost in that time either. To my way of thinking I had about five lost years but, by and large, I just put them behind me and got on with things.

Now they come back to me and now I must deal with them properly. I don’t know how to do that. I don’t even know how you’re meant to grieve, except that I think it’s a process that till now I’ve skipped through.

It’s true – and very reasonable – that I’ve chosen not to dwell on all that I lost. There was no point to it, I thought. It couldn’t be undone, forge ahead. And, I knew, it was much too painful. I think the time has come when I must face it.

When I lost my mum I lost a lot more than a loving and supportive person in my life. I lost a whole way of life. Her death fractured the family. Up until then, the family had been a warm and predictable thing. We were close-knit and social. We weren’t all close, but some of us were very close – and then she died and outside the funeral, I haven’t seen them since. Six years on the only family connection I have is with my nephews and niece, and that haphazard. For me, personally, it means I don’t have the support network I once had, I don’t have the easy affection that comes from long-established bonds, and I’m isolated – and never more so than on the big occasions. My life is much less for all of this, and the wound is deep.

My life was precarious before mum died, but afterwards, it became catastrophic. Much of that has been documented – the homelessness, the near bankruptcy, the despair. I survived all that, but I lost things that couldn’t be retrieved – opportunity and time.

I estimated a while back that I was a million dollars worse off now than I would’ve been had none of this happened. That probably errs on the conservative side. I was comfortable, had a good life, and had every reason to think it would continue to improve. Even if it hadn’t, I had a great foundation. I’ve not thought about this a lot because it hurts too much. I look at my friends with their nice homes and good lifestyles and that’s all I don’t have. It means that unless I do something drastic my senior years will be a struggle too. I went from having a life (and destiny) of ease and comfort, to struggling to get by, now and into the future.

I had a metaphorical gold pass. I was in the upper echelons professionally. All that was trashed by becoming homeless. Now, I am invisible. I strive to be heard but am overlooked. The roles I would have been a shoo-in for previously I’m not even considered for now. I have become tarnished. Damaged goods. And, I have changed because of it.

I don’t know if I’m being wise in retrospect, but what seems the hardest thing for me is that I was set back then to step into the next stage of my life. In my mind, that’s to become a husband and father. I always wanted that, but I was restless and there were other things I wanted to do first. I’d got a lot of that out of my system and had established a foundation on which I hoped to embark on the next phase of my journey. Then, shit happened, and for all those years I set that aside. It’s what makes me ache most – what could have been.

I hope this doesn’t come across as a litany of complaints. I’m trying not to be self-pitying. All these things have been so painful that I pushed them aside, out of sight, and constructed a narrative around them. This is all about tearing that narrative up and facing up to the ugly facts. These are the things I have to acknowledge, feel, grieve for. Maybe I need to feel that pain, and maybe I need some healthy sorrow.

It’s true, I can’t go back and change things. I’ve always been bullish and positive, by instinct and intention. That’s admirable, but it’s not enough by itself. It’s time to set that aside and accept these harsh truths and get them out of my system. It’s a further development on the plan to be more open and honest, except this time it’s about being open and honest with myself.

Sad boy

Today I’m home and will be for the rest of the week. That’s the arrangement I came to with my manager last night. Officially I’m on sick leave, in reality, it’s all about my mental health.

I hate admitting to that, but I guess the admission must come before the cure. I took a day off last week to deal with my issues. I returned on Wednesday but left mid-afternoon, overcome by fatigue. I battled fatigue the next couple of days at work but soldiered through. Then on Sunday night, I felt a form of dread thinking I would be back at work the next day. I was once more heavily fatigued, but also reluctant to engage or interact. Very aware of my situation I forced myself to knuckle down and do things, but the effort only emphasised the deficiency.

I got home from work last night and felt as flat as a pancake. I knew I couldn’t go back to work. I had forced myself thinking it was the right thing to do, unwilling to concede to it. Fact is I was not nearly as effective as I would normally be, and the effort to appear normal drained me. I realised I wasn’t going to get better without being proactive. I contacted my manager to explain, as I had briefly the week before. She was sympathetic and suggested I take the rest of the week off.

I’m sceptical that I’m going to be right come next Monday. In the past, I’ve endured episodes that have gone on for 24-48 hours, and each time come out of it. I’ve always had that natural bounce, but it was always kicked along by an attitude that would refuse to submit to the demons. I would overcome these episodes almost by force of will, but effectively all I was doing was grabbing them by the throat and locking them away. I didn’t beat them, I just put them behind me. Now they’ve caught up again and it’s time to face up to what they are. This time I don’t want to put them behind me; I have to beat them.

That’s a tall order in six days, but I hope come Monday morning I’ll have a clearer idea of what I need to do. That’s what I’ve set myself these next few days. Part of it is simple replenishment. I need to recharge my batteries. Beyond that, I need to figure things out, and the first thing that involves is a psychological stocktake.

That involves appraising honestly who I really am these days. The good, the bad, my strengths and weaknesses. With that understanding I can go to the next step, which is to review what gives me comfort and pleasure, what stimulates and excites; and all that doesn’t. Together this will give me a clearer idea of the direction I should be heading in. Is it true that I’m a different man from before – and if so does it mean my expectations should be different too? Does it mean I need to reframe my whole sense of identity? A re-assessment of my strengths may lead me towards a different professional pathway, not to mention set me on a different journey. And by understanding my weaknesses I can begin to address them.

As you can see, I take a methodical, intellectual approach to this, which is ever the way with me. That’s my fallback. Right or wrong, my starting point is always the rational.

As I sit here I have a few ideas of where this will go. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t mean a new job, among other things. This whole episode has exposed the abject poverty of my life these days. The one thing I could always count on before was a sense of self-worth, much of which was generated by an ability to make a difference professionally (along with some native obstinacy). I don’t have that now, which is what has triggered this whole episode.

It’s not that I doubt myself in that way, but I feel unvalued, even disrespected, and perhaps even irrelevant. I was in a meeting yesterday morning which crystallised the reason in my head.

You may recall earlier this year I tried to flag to the higher-ups at work a situation where as a company we were making misrepresentations. My claims were met with hostility or indifference. I made a song and dance of it and was threatened. Ultimately nothing came of it. The very issue came up in the meeting yesterday and as I expounded on it I saw the news catch alight in the people I spoke to. I know that now something will happen because they must do it as part of their project. That’s well and good, but it seemed another instance whereby it means nothing coming from me, but from them, all roadblocks will be removed.

It’s amazing how many things I’ve proposed or suggested over the last 18 months that have been dismissed or ignored or have been told it’s too hard/don’t have the time or resources – and then eventually have transpired. Of course, when they happen, there’s little if any reference to me, and certainly no credit. I feel as if I’m ahead of the curve all the time, but because of who I am my voice is dismissed. It’s demoralising and demeaning, especially when you see your idea taken up by someone else and executed. There must be about 15 occasions such as this, a fucking plethora.

I don’t doubt my ability, but in this environment, I question my relevancy – this is not something I’ve ever had to deal with before. It’s an assault on my self-worth and identity. With that shredded, there’s little else in my life to fill the void. That’s where I am today. I’m damaged by what happened before, confused in trying to be a new person, and bitter by what has happened to me at work. In total that makes H a sad boy.

Bad Fridays

For the last few weeks, Friday’s have been bad for me. For one reason or another, each Friday over the last month has brought bad news or unfortunate tidings. Last Friday was a public holiday in Melbourne and I had the reasonable expectation that the sequence would be broken. It was not to be.

It was not that anything happened particularly on Friday. Rather everything that had happened caught up with me en masse. All the frustration, the disappointment, the betrayals and disrespect, all of it suddenly was heaped upon my shoulders. It crippled me. I was leaden with emotion and fragile to touch. All the world seemed a bleak place to me. And in the middle of it, I was forced to face up to what it means for me.

It’s now Monday, I have the day off, and I’m more or less fine now, though I don’t look forward to returning to work. The questions I asked myself on Friday remain valid, though.

I sometimes wonder that having survived all that hardship it used up my resilience, rather than proving it. I’ve no doubt I’m much more vulnerable now than I ever was before, and much less formidable. That may not be a bad thing in moderation. I was renowned for being invulnerable before. I don’t think it was entirely true, but it didn’t help me a lot. I needed to open up. It’s a necessary part of my growth as a man. If something broke in that period, if now there are cracks in me, then okay, as Rumi says, that’s how the light gets in.

The problem is that it’s so unfamiliar and foreign to me that it throws me off-balance. That, and at times it is too much. There are occasions that I am so fragile that anything will set me off.

I think about how I have changed from then to now. I think most of my instincts remain the same. My behaviours more or less are unchanged. I’m more open, more relaxed about certain things, but that’s by controlled release. In a lot of ways I’m just as driven as before, but more and more I think that’s habit. I’m more sensitive in certain ways – not the bulletproof man I was before – and take much more to heart. And – for me, most damning – I don’t have the resolve I used to.

All this embarrasses me. At times I’m on the verge of being ashamed at this frailty. That’s a residue of times before. If it was another person I would feel compassion and respect. I can’t manage that altogether for myself, not yet. I know I’m being harsh on myself, but that’s the difference between what I think and what I feel.

The upshot of all this that I don’t know if I’m suited for the life I set myself for which, basically, was a continuation of the life I had before. I’m still smart enough to manage it. I still have a certain mulish persistence. In practical terms, there’s no reason I can’t. Except that my heart isn’t in it, and nor perhaps is my spirit.

I always wanted responsibility. I always put my hand up for the toughest jobs. I thought was unchanged. I told myself that. And still, I have those habits, that instinct. But I am not that man now. There is a fragility at the heart of me that was never there before. I always sought leadership – now I don’t want that pressure or expectation. Perhaps it will pass. I hope it does, but for now, it’s a fact of life.

What it means is that I really have to reconsider the roles I’m applying or striving for. I’ve got the noggin for them, I even look and act the part, but I don’t have the fortitude to do them now. I think my ideal role now is to find a role in the corner, something intellectually demanding, but which requires limited leadership or decision making. You see – just writing that shames me! Yet it’s true.

I think I have to accept that having survived homelessness and strife that yet it inflicted upon me psychic damage. It may yet lead me on a path of enlightenment, but for now, it is troubling and difficult to deal with and, most particularly, to adapt to. It’s harder doing it alone, but it is what it is.

This is what I choose

It went pretty much as I expected yesterday, and while I had a moment of bitter reflection I soon got past it. I’d conditioned myself to the outcome and was ready to move on from it.

Moving on, in this case, means to disengage myself from the process. I understand realpolitik, and I can respect it in aspects, but it doesn’t mean I want to be a part of it. For me, engagement means I’m all in or I’m out. I’m at the stage of my life, certainly, when I can’t be halfway engaged. I think this is more pronounced in this stage of my development, but I think it was ever so in some shape or another. I’ve always been contemptuous of dilettantes, who I’ve considered too clever for their own good. It’s not a way I want to be.

Still, I have to exist in this world. These are facts of life. Bold leadership is hard to find, anywhere, and the sort of compromise that caters to the lowest common denominator rules the day. Pure ideals and the courage to be true to them is an anachronism. I can either move with the times or be true to myself.

I think for me to be a part of that would be a compromise of my nature. That may make me an anachronism too, but I’d rather live believing in something true and noble than stoop to emulate those simply more ‘pragmatic’. I think this is one of the problems we see in society today – too many have compromised on their principles in order to be heard. Too few stand for anything these days, and this has become the new normal. It’s the narrative of our times, a spiral that has made our discourse both more confrontational and less incisive and gives power to mediocrity.

I can either be part of that or step aside from it. It goes against the grain to step aside because I always believe I can make a difference, and there is shame in refusing the fight. In this case though I feel to remain a part of it is to be complicit, and to validate its methods.

Instead, I will stay true to what I believe and closely attend to what I do. It makes for a smaller me, but then I have been craving that, haven’t I?

What many don’t understand is that I don’t work for them, or their brand; I work for myself in service of an objective. I will always do my best because anything less is a betrayal of myself. I think that confronts some and confuses others. Some, I fear, feel disrespected by it.

I accept I’m a purist, and I understand it puts me out of step. I’ve always quite liked that, though much of that was ego. Now, I just don’t want to be in step with a way I deplore. This is the choice of every person, to go their own way, to think and act for themselves, to be a true individual.

The turning wheel

You live a long time and sometimes you get caught up in things that twist in you and work you up, but then the days go by and one day it’s a year later and a year after that it’s all forgotten and in its place probably is something else no different. It’s not worth getting worked up. It’ll pass.

I left work on Friday grateful for the second week running that I didn’t have to come back the next day. Unlike last week, when my mood was more prickly, I left for home this Friday feeling utterly dispirited.

It had been an ordinary week for the reasons already touched upon, but then on Friday a couple more added themselves to the list.

I finally had my meeting with the boss for him to explain why I’d missed out. He told me I’d been “pipped at the post”, and that it cost me that I hadn’t referenced the customer in our interview. That seemed to me overly pedantic as I wasn’t given the opportunity to elucidate on my experience or perspective, and even more so considering the customer in this situation is internal. I cocked an eye at that but didn’t argue. I did give him some feedback, however, including the disappointment I felt at having my proposal ignored only for a much later, near identical proposal given the green light. I said other things too, but none worth repeating.

I got back to my desk at about 4.30 and checked my messages. There I found a couple of mean-spirited complaints about the activities of the engagement committee. We’re bending over backwards to represent the staff and put on activities they can share in and these two (one really) choose to complain at the bother of it because they’re not interested. My first response was ‘get to get a fucking life’, but sensibly I abstained from replying. I left wondering, why bother?

Thankfully I’ve managed to right things since. I’ve accepted that it’s very unlikely that any meaningful opportunities will come my way in this organisation. And I’ve asked myself a series of questions related to that: is it really what I want? Have I moved on so far (or the world moved so far away) that what I desired once is no longer relevant? Do I want different things? Can I reasonably expect to excel in an environment that is so foreign to my experience?

They’re valid questions and I don’t pretend to have all the answers now, though I have inclinations. What I want, I’m sure, shifts with what is possible. I remain instinctively competitive, which is one of my problems. It clouds the truth. It urges me to take on challenges potentially that I have no innate desire to attain. Mallory said he climbed mountains because they were there. I think I have a similar relationship to challenges.

Likewise I’ve been battling what I see as unprofessional practices, but ultimately I wonder if it is I who am out of step? If this is the world now – less ‘professional’, more ad hoc – then perhaps I should just accept it? Probably sensible, the problem is it means compromising my standards. Can I live with that?

More generally it’s true that my heartfelt desires lie in different directions. I may retain some of the habits and instincts of a lifetime, but my inclination is to a gentler, more intimate future in which I tend to the things that warm me. Should I give away my more assertive ambitions? Maybe.

Likewise, it’s no point being upset. The events of the last week have angered and aggrieved me, and no matter the justification for such emotions – and many of my colleagues believe there is great cause – much of the hurt I feel is the insult to my ego. It’s a battle for me to let that go, but something I’ve tried now since the beginning of the year. It’s hard work.

The difficulty is that I suspect my ego is much more robust – developed? – that most people’s. I may be aware of the need to settle it down, which is a plus, but knowing and doing are two different things when much of it is pure instinct.

In this case, I feel aggrieved because I feel I have been poorly handled, and perhaps unfairly handled. That’s a puny thing, though. That’s my ego fighting back. Take away my ego and I remain a man attempting to get by. Being upset won’t change the facts, and is unproductive besides. This is what I must keep reminding myself – separate yourself from your ego.

For a while now I’ve waited to go to what I think of the next level. Having battled back to a situation where I had fuck-all and a precarious future I at least have some stability in my life. It’s still far from easy. Life is not plush. It’s better than what it was, but it’s still a struggle. I have expected at some point to move on from that and experienced some false dawns. I’ve felt like I’ve had my life on hold, and have deliberately held back from committing myself to outcomes until things changed.

I think that mindset has to change. Perhaps it will never move on appreciably from what it is now. I expect there will be incremental improvements here and there, but the big leap forward – as my experience, my expectation, and my ego have expected – may never occur. If that’s the case then perhaps I should release the handbrake I’ve put on? There are things I can’t do, but others that only take a change of mind.

As I have accepted there is no real future in this job, so I will not push so hard. I’ll still give my all, but keep it small and local. I’ll look elsewhere and if something good comes up will take it on. In the meantime I commit myself to completing the project at work that I have begun, because it is only half done, and because it may look good on my resume.

I know it sounds lame, but I want to be a good man, but don’t always know how that works. I know I have to be better than my petty grievances. I think being open and honest is part of it too, though easier sometimes said than done. I think what I wrote the other week about being smaller is true also – I’ll always have the big elements in me, and nothing wrong with them – but the small makes me a gentler, more intimate man. Finally, I think, I need to let those things into my life I’ve held off on because the time wasn’t right. The time may never be ‘right’, but I don’t think I can live without them.

Moving on

It was father’s day yesterday, a day that has had no real meaning in my life for many years. I knew it was coming, but as I woke up yesterday I had forgotten all about it. Later, when I remembered, my only thought amid all the cheery messages of the day was to reflect on all the not so good dads. Lift your game, I thought.

I’m not sure what it was – the disappointment of missing out on the role and the reflection that ensued, or if it was a final consideration of family matters – but later in the day I cut the tie in as formal a way as you can these days: by social media.

There’s no doubt that the disappointment I felt on Friday made me more sensitive to my situation. As I do, I sat down to figure things out. One of the things that involved was to reflect on my values. I’m strong on that stuff. I may come across as a cynic sometimes but I remain an idealist. I can’t do much about the world around me, but it’s different when it comes to myself.

I didn’t want to be angry or bitter. I don’t believe in those things. I didn’t want to act from personal affront. I wanted to be reasonable and rational and honest. Ultimately it meant that I reflected on my recent journey and what that meant to me. I needed to articulate it to make it real.

To my surprise I found myself typing out a Facebook post in which I admitted that I had been homeless for a while, before going on to explain how that had changed me.* I hesitated before hitting the Post button, but the time was right. This was something that had to happen and was always going to happen. Now I can put it behind me.

Over the next 12 hours I got a lot likes, but not one comment. I understood that: what can you say? And I knew that the likes were an acknowledgement of my honesty and a sign of support. I appreciated it.

That lightened the load, but then I went further. I suppose I should have done this long ago. I went through all my Facebook friends, weeding out those I have no contact with anymore or any real interest. But then there was my sister and my father. I’ve spoken to neither of them for nearly two years, but there’s a family bond. But then I was sick of the pretence. I’m not going to contact them. I’m certain they won’t contact me. And you know what? I’m not really interested in them anymore. And so I deleted them from my friends list.

These things are the past now, and I’ve put them away and looking forward.

*As some of you will know, I spent a patch of a bit over a year being homeless. It wasn’t a bunch of fun, but it probably wasn’t as scarifying as some of you imagine. Nonetheless, there were many low moments and times when I wondered if I’d ever escape it. Having endured I set about re-building my life, which has been slow going but steady.
Not surprisingly, I realised that many of the things I thought important before seemed less so after. I had a simpler, less pretentious view of life than before. My basic character was unchanged, but I found I saw people differently. No man was my superior – but none my inferior either.
We all have a story, not better or worse, but different, though value judgements are rife. We tend to apply labels because it’s convenient, but most labels are arbitrary and ultimately meaningless – rich/poor, superior/subordinate, black/white, etc. It’s what’s inside that has value.
This is not easy for everyone to understand. I’m not playing by the same rules as before, and see more directly than I did then. For me it’s simple: I don’t want to pretend to be anything than what I am, don’t want to fake something I don’t feel, and don’t want to be anything less than totally authentic. Ultimately this is what I want to be – open and honest, for better or worse.

Striving for less

Back in my bombastic youth I never aspired to be better, instead I’d proclaim my aim was to be more. That seemed to be the essence of the thing, to be big in appetite and ambition and sheer life. Better would look after itself, but being more held no limits.
Somehow or another that held true for many years after, even after I turned from being bombastic to laconic. It seemed a natural thing as for years on end I sought to experience life in its variations and to explore the further reaches of it. It sounds grand when I put it like that. What it boiled down to is that I would travel adventurously and deeply. I sought more demanding work and more challenging environments. I had great appetites, for food, for booze, for sex, all of which added to the rich kaleidoscope of experience. And in my own way I quested for knowledge and a modicum of wisdom – all of which refracted off the rich vein of experience I had drilled into.

Of course, things change and for one reason or another many of those things became no longer possible. I haven’t stepped on foreign soil for five years. Work was non-existent for a while, then very much more modest. My appetites remained, but my capacity to indulge them was severely constrained. All that was left to me was the ongoing quest for knowledge and wisdom, which generally comes cheap if you do it right.

All these years later perhaps I’m approaching a time when I can get back to something of what I had before. I won’t say no to any of it, but my relationship to it has changed since. You can put that down to wisdom if you like, though quite equally you can blame age. I still want, but I’m content with smaller portions.

I sometimes wonder what I think of this. It’s like competing all your life in the big leagues then one day dropping down to a league below. It doesn’t feel quite right. You feel it personally. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that this is by choice – you could still compete with the big boys if you chose to. I accept this as part of the adjustment, but I can see through it.

What’s happened is I re-appraised things after the difficulties I encountered. I came to the point that I knew I must accept things, that I must be more humble in my appreciation, that in my own way I needed to re-connect with the small, true things.

This is a challenge because it goes against habit and routine and previous expectation, even against personality. I can say all these things but fact is I’m not one bit less competitive than I have ever been. I can try and be humble but learn, as I did last week, that some still think me intimidating. I can accept the need for change and embrace it, but still present many of the behaviours of time before.

I accept that too – I’m not trying to be a different person, I just want to live in a different way. There’s an ongoing battle with the ego, but notwithstanding occasional appearance I am genuinely humble. I’ll chip away at the ego thing, but ultimately what I understand is that what I want is a smaller life in key ways.

How terribly difficult this is! I sometimes think this is a generational thing – I have friends with similar appetites and expectations to me, but see it less in generations after. We were a carousing lot, big in a lot of things we set out to do. In some ways it’s our defining attribute.

I don’t say it was wrong – I had some wild and great times – but in my case at least I wonder if it turned me away from things which might have made me happy. Through a period I knew a lot of women and had a lot of sex. It was mighty fun. I loved a couple through there too, and might have loved more, or gone further, had I really been attuned to it. Instead there was always something more to do or see. Another women to meet. Another adventure to be had. I could never be sated, and I think that is true for many.

Now I’m in a different stage of my life and wonder if I should regret that. I got caught up on the ‘more’ thing, on wanting to live big. That’s still in me, impatiently tugging at me to indulge in the next adventure, and I have to say I don’t really know how to live small. I know it has to change though, I’m ready for it, I need it, it is the right thing and this is the wisdom I’ve come to, if not the knowledge of how to make it true.

I’ve lived the macro life. The challenge for me and others like me is to look deeper and closer, to turn from the macro to the micro, from the expansive to the intimate. I can accept things, I can strive to be more humble and authentic, what’s hard to accept less.

My second coming

What an interesting week it has been, though in subtle ways. This time last week I was unhappy at having my plans thwarted. Today I feel refreshed.

What has happened? Little that’s material. I was knocked back from one job, but had another suggested to me, and another couple at work mooted to me. Nothing is ever definite until it is, but at least there appears a promising trend.

After my disappointment, I bounced back quickly, as always I do. I’d be interested to place myself of today against the man I was ten years ago and make a comparison. In many ways, I would be pretty much the same, but much has happened in that time, and there are differences. I’m tempted to think most of them are positive.

I was always a strong man, but that strength has been proved by experience in the years since. In so doing it has transmogrified into something more authentic. It’s the difference between muscles wrought in a gym and those that come from hard labour. The whole experience has belatedly made me more open and accepting. I am more mindful.

I’m just as smart as I ever was, which came as a relief. I feared being out of the game for so long that my reflexes may have failed me, but I’m it and a bit more besides. In general, I’m less diplomatic than I used to be, though still capable of charm. As I’ve explained, my experiences have left me with impatient with the insincere and insubstantial. Life’s too short. I remain very effective.

One odd difference is that I seem to have hit a late prime. A friend a few weeks back said I was looking better than I had for a long time. I think much of that comes down to a state of mind. When you’re weighed down by the struggle to effectively survive it impacts on appearance and demeanour, and a revision in attitude since has probably helped.

At the same time, I am looking good. I’m fitter than I was ten years ago, and most days I walk out the front door, better looking too. I come from a good-looking family and so the importance of appearance, if not a sense of vanity, was imbued in me from an early age. I still recall quite vividly my mum telling me that I would grow up to be a man with the good looks of someone like William Holden. As recently as a few weeks ago I was emphatically reminded that I look just like Colin Firth – not something I agree with. But still.

(A peculiarity – like Benjamin Button, I seem to be ageing in reverse. I’ve always looked youthful for my age, but it seems now that as my ageing has slowed still more than my contemporaries are going by me more quickly. I have no wrinkles at all, and though I have grey hairs they make my hair sandy. I was always worried that one day I would wake up and find it had all finally caught up to me. I was afraid that this youthful advantage would be denied to me and the opportunities it gave me lost. Bitter day that would be! I no longer think that. As long as I stay healthy and fit I’ll always be youthful).

On top of all this came the realisation a couple of weeks ago as I sorted through my books that there was still a lot of life ahead of me, much to look forward too and be excited by. That’s an attitude I want to embrace, and having brought it to the forefront of my mind I find it infusing me with expectation. It’s helped by positive signs on the work front, as well as with my writing.

I’ve come through tough times and survived. I’m reframing this time of my life as a late flowering, a renaissance, and it’s amazing how that shift in perspective changes things.

One thing that hasn’t changed yet is my relationship status. It’s shocking to think but for basically the last 6 years I wouldn’t allow myself the possibility of a serious relationship. I wanted to get things right first. I needed to stabilise. The time is now right and fits well with this state of mind.

Nothing is more complex than relationships. I’ve documented the situation with A., which is ongoing. I’ve given up trying to work that out, except to acknowledge that she likes and respects me but there is something that keeps her from me. That’s up to her to figure out now. I hope she does.

In the meantime, some episodes on Friday night brought to light other possibilities.

I’m very wary of being the cute older guy that younger women want to have a fling with. I’m not against a fling, but my priorities are more serious. All that is doubled when the women at question are from work.

There was a function in the office on Friday night I helped to organise. A. was there for a while and very typically was aloof for part of it before reaching out to mitigate it. Strange that the lightness and flirtiness of her emails no longer translate into the flesh. As I said, she has to come to terms with that.

There was another girl there I’ve become friendly with in recent months. The first time I set eyes on her I felt a visceral attraction to her, but it was purely physical. In recent times we’ve overlapped and got to know each other well. She’s smart and fun and very attractive and has a lovely smile and likes me. It’s at the stage where it might quickly become something more if we choose it – a drink, some flirtation, then…

On Friday there was both drinking and flirtation, but other people too. I enjoyed it, but at the back of my mind was two things: A.; and the knowledge that I’m a much older colleague of hers. She’d be about 28-30, too young for a serious long-term (A. is 35).

I knew about this woman, but another emerged on the night. Perhaps it was the alcohol that did it, but a woman I’d merely nodded to in the past or exchanged conventional greetings with was quite aggressively flirtatious with me. I enjoyed it. I always enjoy flirtation and aggressive flirtation is my favourite kind.

She’s not as attractive as the other, but has a raw sexuality which is alluring. In basic terms, I’d love to fuck her and think it would be a great fuck too, but I almost certainly won’t. She’s about the same age, less pretty, more assertive, and probably wants no more than a fuck if her behaviour Friday is any guide.

I’m gratified by the attention and glad for the possibilities, but doubt there is anything I can really do with either of these women, for the reasons I said above. It might be different if I didn’t work with them, but even then, I want a keeper.

My gut-feel is something probably will happen with the pretty one, but in any case, the trends are positive. Renaissance it is.