After the fire


I read a quote this morning which immediately stuck with me:

Adversity is the state in which man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.

It seems very true, and apropos of much I have thought about in the last 48 hours.

Adversity strips you back to the basics. When times are good and easy it becomes customary to adorn yourself with accoutrements of good living and success. You become immersed in that persona, your true self buried beneath layers of extraneous and ultimately irrelevant luxuries. That’s not to say you can’t be an authentic person still, but it’s nearly impossible to be your basic self. When strife comes all that falls away, either because you can no longer afford to carry it, and because ultimately it is secondary to the person you are. Adversity, should you survive it, simplifies it.

What happens then when you survive and surpass the adversity? Hopefully, you’re left with a truer sense of self and a better perspective on what truly counts. I think that’s true of me, but it also has unexpected, even unintended consequences. This is what I’ve been pondering.

I took the decision earlier this year to open myself up. I chose to let go of the shame and the dark secrets that haunted me. That process is incomplete, but is making good progress. One of my hopes was from that I would become more approachable. For many years – even before my slice of adversity – I could be charming, but also seen as generally enigmatic by many, and intimidating to some. That never worried me too much, and to be honest doesn’t concern me too much now in principle. It’s what it means that I wonder at.

Since I made that decision I’ve succeeded in broadening the group of friendly people around me. I can still be a grouch, but I’m also often light-hearted, witty, generous. I hope and expect that most people within that enclave see me as kind-hearted and true.

Beyond that darkness still reigns. I’m still enigmatic at best, occasionally intimidating, and sometimes arrogant.

There are two sides of this. The first is that I don’t know it does me much favours. The second is that I’m not sure if I care if it favours me or not.

Having survived my hardships I find myself looking back at the time before with a different perspective. By and large, life was pretty good, even happy, and in general I was a success. I took pride in being my own man and doing my own thing. I sought experience over promotion, though ultimately experience served promotion. I travelled broadly, read widely, and considered myself an urbane intellect. I was supremely confident.

Then it comes tumbling down. Rome burns. Slowly I inch my way back over an extended period until I have some semblance of a normal life, though it’s been a torturous process – and it’s but a fraction of what I had before. What I have is a mindset.

I like the man I was before. I think he was a sincere character. He meant well. All the same, looking back I realise what I see are the delusions of the man of comfort. I convinced myself that I was leading an unconventional life, and so doing that made my life worthy. If only it were that simple! And only if it were true!

I’ve come out of that with few illusions. I’m subject to the same conceits as most people, but then I deal with them more harshly than most. I feel no need for admirers having survived what I have. I believe the true essence is being authentic to yourself. I miss some of the fripperies, and still have an indulgent, sensual streak, but I see them now for what they are, pure adornment.

Above all, I don’t want to delude myself that I am more than what I am. I want to be in myself, and in these moments.

I find myself unwilling to commit to the bill of sale presented to me. It’s like I’ve become more aware of the precious self inside and refuse to compromise it – I have one life, my life. Having experienced such hardship much that passes for misfortune appears trivial. Given I have limited time remaining to me, and hence, limited opportunities, I want to make them count, and to be sincerely true throughout. I refuse categorically to allow myself to be stamped by conventional expectation, and that informs behaviour. If I seem impatient it’s because I don’t want to waste time, and if I’m outspoken it’s because I refuse to be silenced just because that’s how people behave. Life is a vital thing – don’t muddle through it!

There was always time before, so I would tell myself. I was content in being a quirky character. Now I realise that time shrinks and there’s no excuse to put things off. I have an urgency now that I only ever applied selectively before. I see life in its pure essence, feel it pushing me forward, urging me to live it now, be myself now. That’s one reason I’m now writing the books that I might never have if not for my troubles.

Whether my life ends up being conventional or unconventional or something between doesn’t really matter as long as what I choose to do and be is true to my self. Ultimately the only arbiter is myself, and I’m glad of that.

With that said I realise I have a way to go. I could be softer. I could be less judgemental. Being honest doesn’t always make for a gentle personality – though I believe I am essentially both kind and gentle. I can be true to my principles, but in a more user-friendly way – and no-one would benefit from it more than me.

That’s the next stage for me, and in my mind I see my next relationship as being central to that. I have someone in mind, but it could be someone else. I realise the person I am drawn to appeals to me because I think she has the qualities to counter-act some of my excesses. Well, for other reasons to. And when I think about that I wonder what it is she sees in me that resonates so in her? It’s such a cliché, but really the best relationships are based on complementary characters, not identical, like two pieces of a jigsaw that fit together perfectly. I need what she can give me; hopefully, I can give her what she needs in return.

Much of this I considered as I sat having a coffee in a cafe in Hampton. I looked out over the street watching people walk their dogs and my mind ticking over. At the end of it as I began the walk home with my groceries hoisted on my shoulder I wondered if I was more complex than most people, or just more aware of my complexities? That led to the obvious question: does self-awareness lead to greater complexity? I might easily have asked if self-awareness simplifies things. It probably does some things, but overall I expect the scales are tilted the other way.

Self-knowledge means looking beyond the surface and beholding the depth and detail beneath. I think it is inherent that with that comes understanding, but so to complexity. Either way, I wouldn’t want to be any different.

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Pitching it


I met today with the head of Digital Marketing to discuss job opportunities. It was suggested to me I should speak to him by a member of his team. I’ve been working closely with him on a project and he knows I’m unhappy. So I arranged a coffee meeting offsite.

I get on pretty well this guy generally, though we have clashed. I wrote about one of those circumstances a little while ago. We’re both straight-shooters and prefer robust conversation and so never a big deal, no matter how it was portrayed by others. He’s dynamic and has ideas and doesn’t mind rocking the boat, and this is a boat that needs rocking. We’re in accord with a lot of things.

So he knows pretty well ahead of time what I want. We have a general conversation about my situation before I go into specifics. Basically I feel underutilised and often undermined. I don’t have the authority a position like mine requires and am sidelined quite often for reasons that generally amount to petulance or politics.

He’s upfront that he thinks I’m a very good operator and would like me onside. He understands my frustrations, but recommends I should make some tactical withdrawals occasionally. I know myself that when I get going I tend to skewer people, which is not always to my benefit – I just get so exasperated sometimes and yes, disdainful too. A lot of that comes with personal frustration given the role I have, but he has a point.

He recommends I speak to the big boss. He suggests I pitch an argument parlaying my recent, very heavy involvement with Digital, which is likely to continue for a while yet. Basically he suggests that I sell myself as an interface between Ops and Digital, reporting to Ops still, but embedded within Digital.

It makes sense in multiple ways. Firstly, regardless of what my job description says, I work well beyond the narrow confines of that, and with a very heavy trend towards digital, which is reflective of trends generally. Secondly, though I’m servicing Ops my role is externally facing simply because I rely upon other teams, people, departments to get things done. I can the ideas, but there are very few I can implement solo. I need to be in the market, and one of the issues is that I’m kept from it. Finally, Digital have a lot more muscle than Ops and by associating myself with them we can leverage their influence.

Proposing this has some risks. For a start I’m sure it will further piss off my manager, who these days is generally prickly to start with (to an extent that it threatens to become untenable). If I pitch this and it fails then I may burn my bridges with her.

On balance I think there’s a good chance that the big guy will go for some variation of it as really he can only benefit. I do a lot of stuff for him and he’s relying on me for a lot. I’m proposing taking that and giving it a boost. He might have to cough up some extra dollars (I certainly hope so), but this is the opportunity to get some real traction. Obviously if he takes this and seeks feedback from the Digital Manager he’ll get the big thumbs up.

I’m sure the DM is sincere in wanting to assist me, but I’m under no illusion that it’s a set-up which he would benefit from as well. If this gets adopted then he extends his influence through me, whilst also gaining the benefit of my skillset within his team. In actual fact if it is agreed to I doubt it will be as pure as that, but we’ll see.

I’ve arranged a meeting with the big guy on Wednesday to discuss this. Hopefully we find out then.

Entirely me


I left home today when it was still dark, heading for work. It had rained overnight, and though cool, it wasn’t cold. At that time of morning – just on 7 – it’s quiet and sleepy still, with most of the world yet to properly rouse. Walking the suburban streets there’s a sense of agreeable aloneness.

It was early for me because these days I’m sleeping so well. I’ve slept well most of my life, and for most of my life took it for granted. Then in the last 18 months I found my sleep deteriorating. From never waking up through the night I became someone whose sleep became disturbed, waking up two or three times or more a night. I suppose for many people it represents a normal sleep, but for me it was foreign. This disturbed sleep coincided with a blocked sinus I experienced nightly. In recent months that’s improved some after acupuncture, and still more again with a new nasal spray that has cleared me up very well. From a sleep quality averaging about 72% it’s now up about 88%. I feel better for it all round. With my sleep more efficient it becomes easier to get up early (though I’ve been sleeping longer on average).

In any case I rocked up to my local station this morning as the sky slowly brightened and the sleeping homes gradually woke. As I do every morning I found myself a window seat on the right hand side of the train with my headphones on listening to an audiobook. As the stations were ticked off the train slowly filled. It’s quiet generally, most people at that time of day happy to ease into the maelstrom, and still very much in their own world. About me the seats fill. For the most part I take no notice unless there’s someone interesting. Otherwise, like everyone else, I’m happy to peer out the window waiting for the moment I must exit the train and head to work.

When the train pulls into the city the sun has properly risen, but the light is opaque, and a few heavy drops of rain randomly fall. I like this time of day. There’s not the bustle in the streets that 20 minutes later will be in full force. There are a few, like me, early to work in a mix of business formal and Friday casual. There seem to be a lot of backpackers wondering around with backpacks laden. There’s probably no more than usual, it’s just that they more visible – less diluted – in the smaller crowds. They poke around uncertainly, looking for somewhere to sit down for an early breakfast or coffee.

I clack-clack down the laneways and arcades I take to get to work. I’ve got my heavy redwing boots on and a thick p-jacket with the collar turned up. I feel free. I look about and absorb so much and so much of it I know from my own experience, and what I don’t adds to me. It’s one of those occasions when I feel most especially me, and what a privilege it seems.

Climbing into the lift in the building a girl working on my floor smiles at me and wishes me a good morning. We speak lightly, gently joking, both of us anticipating a long weekend and glad its Friday.

Then I’m at my desk, PC on, my good mornings said to the sparse crowd there, and today out again for an early coffee, flirting with the French girl from La Rochelle.

Here I am


Sometimes when I tell my story I’m actually surprised how many things seemed to happen at once, and I wonder occasionally how I survived it. The thing is you don’t know the next thing is coming otherwise you might start shittin’ your pants again. When it does come there’s no time for that and you just deal with it. And so it goes – you keep going doing your best to survive and riding the blows and thinking to yourself it’ll turn one day – and it did.

In any case I compiled a list of things, comparing basically where I am now to where I was six years ago, before it all started.

Six years ago, give or take, my mum was still alive and healthy. I had a full and loving family about me. I had an investment property, a share portfolio, multiple tens of thousands in the bank, and a job earning me around $7,000 a week. I’d travelled abroad for holidays in each of the previous ten odd years, and some years twice. I had an excellent lifestyle, ambitions, aspirations, and hopes to settle down into a prosperous and happy future. Then it all came tumbling down:

  • Mum would be diagnosed with cancer, which would turn out to be terminal.
  • I was defrauded of about $100K.
  • The lucrative job I had would abruptly end as another, unrelated, project crashed. We’d been in discussions for a 12 month extension.
  • My shares crashed leading to margin calls and eventual significant loss.
  • Unable to find work and having used my savings I had to sell my property.
  • Unable to continue living independently I moved into mums.
  • Mum died two weeks later without ever coming home from hospital.
  • Her will led to dispute and a legal impasse. Eventually resolved, it left the family fractured and I’ve not seen or heard of half of them since.
  • Unemployed, near bankruptcy, battling the legal process and living in mums home under threat I became depressed and miserable. Dark times.
  • Will finally resolved I was able to move out, find a home of my own, and pay off the majority of my substantial debt. Time for hope.
  • Still unable to find work, invested in a massage shop hoping for passive income.
  • As the business struggled, still unable to find other income, was finally forced out of my home. Officially homeless.
  • Moved in with my sister initially sleeping on the couch, but not permitted to join in family meals.
  • My father let slip that he blamed me for the divorce from my mum about 30 years before. Relationship – never close – fractured.
  • Finally offloaded the massage shop at a significant loss.
  • ATO continues chasing debt of around $40K. Ends up in court, unresolved. Battle continues.
  • Creditors ringing daily chasing debt.
  • Having patched up with dad it comes crashing down again as he again tries to tell me what to do. Without ever a word of praise or encouragement from him I call it quits. That remains the situation.
  • Forced out of my sister’s home I shift between friend’s couches, house minding at different outskirts of the city, and making it up as I go along living out of the boot of the car with the dog.
  • More court action. More rearguard actions.
  • Just when I thought all my options had ended, including housing, received an email out of the blue which led to my first job in about 3 years.

That was about 3 years ago, and though there’s been much more since then, that basically marked the turning point. Still more court actions, still creditors chasing me throughout, I was at least able to find my first home in 15 months. Slow road since, but things are better, debts are being paid off and I have some life again.

Against that I have no real family any longer – my sister broke from me over a married man she was having an affair with. She believed I wasn’t sufficiently supporting her (having endured weekly updates in the 12 months prior). My sister is no loss – she’s a nasty piece of work – but she disconnects me from the remaining family. I now have but just tenuous connections with my nephews and niece. In basic terms I am without family, but I’m fortunate to have friends who are loyal, decent and caring. I can’t complain.

It sounds like a litany of unfortunate events, but there’s no enduring sorrow, and despite everything, few real regrets. In fact I feel buoyant more often than not and hopeful and confident. I’ve been stripped of all the material possessions I had accrued, and the security that went with it, but I understand that I’ve lost nothing of myself. I’m still just as capable as I ever was, still just as determined, and if anything stronger than ever before. On top of all that I’ve released myself from the burden of my pride and feel freer than I can ever remember, no matter what happens. I’m tied to nothing but my own beliefs and I take care to nurture them.

The only real loss is family, but the relationships I really care about I’m certain I can redeem. The rest I couldn’t care less.

Where I come from


A couple of months back I sent off some of my DNA to test my genetic origins. I got the results today.

It was no surprise to find that my strongest regional connection was with Europe. What was surprising that within Europe the top result – and therefore the top result of all – was Belarus, followed by Central and Eastern European countries such as Austria, Czechoslovakia, Bosnia, and so on, until we hit Ireland coming in at seven – Ireland I know I have definite ancestry. After that came Spain, Portugal, as well as the top result from the second strongest region, Morocco, from the Middle East/North Africa.

It’s fascinating to think about all the previous versions of H inhabiting a reasonably concentrated geographical area, meeting, mingling, inter-mingling. These results, I should note, are based on statistical probabilities. My DNA, for example, most closely matches those of people living in present day Belarus, and so on.

It took me a while to process and unpack this, and then I began to hypothesise. I’ve often been mistaken for German/Scandinavian, but those countries were 16/17/18 on the list. I can only imagine Belarussians – what were called White Russians – are of similar physical appearance. In case I speculated that obviously many hundreds of years one thread of my ancestors inhabited Belarus, before spreading. I know historically that some Vikings came from that area, and I would guess some long ago ancestor of mine headed off on a raiding party and ended up in Ireland, where the story is taken up. The other countries listed are false positives I would guess, reflective of the spread and influence of Belarussians into the eastern and central parts of Europe. (Interesting to note, incidentally, that England does not rate in the top 25 of possible ancestral connections – which explains my general resistance to English culture).

On the other side of it I know that my mum’s maiden surname was said to be French or Spanish, and I think we can probably presume that she is represented by those countries on this list, including Portugal and even Morocco, which is just over the straits.

Strangely enough of the remaining regional areas the Honduras is the highest rating in Central/South America – that will be the Spanish/Portuguese of my mother’s side of the family.

In Asia – the fourth ranked region – Australia itself comes out the top result. That’s no surprise given I live here and my family on both sides as far as I know have been here five generations at least. And it represents the multicultural polyglot Australia is – a bit of everything. The other Asian countries represented are those who were colonised by the west and therefore have some European DNA bred into them. Surprisingly New Zealand comes in number six in that region. It seems odd that the only real Caucasian country in the region would rank so low, until you consider that New Zealand has a strong English/Scots heritage – I have no English in my recorded DNA, and Scotland comes in at about 20.

There’s one family story, possibly apocryphal, which crosses over these different connectors.

My aunt was very dark blue-black hair, Spanish looking hair, or Irish black if you prefer. She was the anomaly in the family, the throwback. The story went that around the time of the Spanish Armada some Spanish sailor washed up on the shores of Ireland after his vessel foundered. He found some sweet Colleen and the rest is history.

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Dare to hope


Following on from what I wrote yesterday I’m trying to put it in true perspective. I reckon half the time you think you know what you think or feel, but even then it’s not always true. You’re apt to get caught out. Something happens and exposed is a previously secret emotion. You approach things rationally and logically and that’s perfectly fine except you don’t lived in a pure, untainted environment. In the real world good intentions and considered expectations get derailed by unexpected twists and irrational responses and, heaven forbid, your own sense of human feeling.

I know all this. I’m a very rational man but I’d be dumb if I didn’t factor in an often irrational world. So, I try never to be categorical. Black and white is a no-no. I have inclinations and preferences. I have notions and the odd hypothesis. Ultimately I trust more what I do than what I actually think.

It’s funny how we can be disconnected from our own doing. It’s as if there’s another realm wherein the body takes over. So you think this, but actually you do that. WTF? Yet you have to respect it. So many times this has been true in my experience.

This girl is a decent example. I’ve been hanging in there for a while and gone through different permutations of emotion. Sometimes I’ve been hopeful, other times upset, sometimes angry and occasionally exasperated. They’ve been the variables, but I’ve tracked well tracked the same line. Fair enough.

Now I’m just a bloke and by bread a bloke does not live alone. So while I’m yearning, while it’s still yet to happen and may never, I figure I can satisfy my needs elsewhere. That’s the theory. In fact – though I often feel great desire and am almost always straining at the leash – when it comes down to it I have no real urge to do something about it. Bless my cotton socks, but I want to stay pure – there’s a lot of me on the edge, but I really am a romantic, sensitive character to.

I say that – and yet, this is what I want to figure out. I actually had a very brief but pleasurable episode with a much younger woman about ten days ago. It was fun, guilt free, just what I needed. Then on Friday I’m sitting with another woman and I’m wondering if I can take this further and I know, I just know, that I don’t want to. I make my excuses and extricate myself. On the train home I rationalise it that it’s too complicated – and by that her place or mine, and the conversation on top of it – and of course I know it’s bullshit. I think of the few occasions when I’ve knocked back sex and how always afterwards I would shake my head in wonder: what happened there? In actual fact that was me being an adult, not a kid.

As I pondered deeper I realised that I didn’t want an episode of convenience. I’m past that banality. I want something real and felt, and fair enough now, and maybe overdue too. So how then do I account for the episode? I felt it, but what I felt wasn’t tenderness or affection and certainly not love, what I felt was a spiky desire. It started flirting and joking and suddenly it happened – it spontaneous and unexpected, therefore it was real.

I reflect on this as I consider A. I absolve myself of anything inappropriate, even had I gone with the woman on Friday. That’s the rough and tumble and life and I’m under no obligation. I choose to feel some obligation though because that’s what I want. I want that tie, that bond, that connection. I’ve never understood open relationships because what to me is some of the central tenets of love are done away with – faith, expectation, shared and poignant experience. To pour yourself into one other, and one only, and from here till eternity, well that’s my ideal.

I hope that happens. I hope the day comes when I can share some of this with her. Of course, there are many things I want to share – that’s what you crave when you become close to another. I want to crack myself open for her so she can read over my entrails. And vice versa. This is a different dimension altogether, much, much different to these transient episodes, even the highly satisfying. This is what I want I think, and what my body does too. We are in accord because the behavioural barriers between us are dissolving. It’s no longer purely hypothetical; I have entered into and accepted my own human feeling. And, perhaps too, as she.

She is shining now. I’ve never seen her like this before. She’s ebullient. I dare to hope.

Domestic nudity


I took a holiday last week from concerning myself with A, the girl I like at work. I was busy as always and she was training all week regardless and I in truth I was probably a little weary of the routine we rinse and repeat time and again. We were at the stage of the cycle where she opens up to me and I anticipated it. Sure enough, that’s what happened, and though I was glad of it I was also a tad jaded at the predictability.

In fact, despite being busy training, she made bright efforts every day bar one. Fine, I thought, and let it go.

I had the curious sense that though I thought no less of her my romantic interest was waning. I liked her, I just didn’t have the same feeling or sense of hope. Perhaps it had dragged on too long. I set that aside too, knowing that likely it would take very little to re-ignite my interest – which, on balance, I hoped for.

I saw her perhaps twice last week and briefly each time, but found her in my mind as I went to bed last night. I imagined her at home, wondering what she might be getting up to and thinking that if she wasn’t in bed already she was probably on her way. It was kind of cute.

As I slept and woke she came back to me. Like most men I’m sure I indulge myself from time to time picturing what the attractive woman over yonder looks like without her clothes. I’m pretty good at it having a naturally vivid imagination, plus real life experience to boot. Of course I’d done that with A also, but found I could never quite manage it convincingly. Sure, I could imagine this or that but it never quite hung together. I would wonder what it meant when I could conjure up the naked bods of other women so much easier. There were times when I took it as a negative, as if it was my sub-conscious sending me a message.

Last night I could picture her, but the erotic edge of a naked body was stripped from it. Rather the sense was of a casual and comfortable intimacy, very much in a domestic setting – the glimpses of naked body you catch when someone gets out of the shower or changes for bed, an unmentioned, low-key sharing of moments as she pulls a dress up over her head, or putting knickers on as we discuss by the by the plans for the day ahead, or a dream overnight.

I don’t know but it felt warm and real. This morning getting into work I reserved judgement on what I would do next. Our first encounter would bear strongly on that. As it happened she visited mid-morning as I was yarning with my offsider. She went about meeting with different people. She would have known I was in good spirits. I’m certainly the laconic type, but I also have a big laugh when it comes, and this morning it came. Eventually she turned to us, teasing how we seemed to be having too much fun. I liked her.

Just now I’ve returned from a meeting on her floor. On the way back I sat on the edge of her desk and we chatted for 5 minutes teasing again and her smile was happy and I felt it too.

I’m hoping we’ve moved beyond the looping stages. I suspect she knows that I am more than that now, and I hope she understands that she too can be. Time will tell, though I’m not sure yet how we play it out. Guess I’ll find out.