Three women

I’ve just returned for an early morning coffee at Captains of Industry, a pretty handy Melbourne style café not far from work. I had a coffee there with a long-term acquaintance, though she’s probably a friend now – we’ve travelled together, she always sends a bunch of choice invitations my way, and I’ve been to a few of her very good NYE party. I hadn’t seen her in 6 months so there was a bit to catch up on.

The thing is that we’re both of around the same age, come from similar backgrounds, and have generic experience in common – not to mention the times we’ve shared over the years. You come together and find so much of what we are experiencing now – and contemplating, and looking back on – resonates with each other. Ours is a cultural compatibility, and so the conversation was interesting and we’ll do it again.

Yesterday I had lunch with another friend. She’s the ex-wife of someone nominally my friend, though we’re not close. I always liked her more than him – he is a bit shallow, and has a chip on his shoulder about me – but when they split choices must be made. She basically sacrificed herself as her then husband had no real friends outside of us.

We’ve kept in touch with the odd message and email. I sent her an email a couple of weeks ago congratulating her on a promotion and suggesting that we should catch up. She was agreeable, and yesterday was the result.

We shared our stories and caught up on old times over a sandwich. I took the opportunity to tell her about the recent initiatives I’ve taken, and she was supportive. We ended up talking about relationships.

She’s now found herself another guy, and seems content with him, if not passionate. We discussed my prospects. I explained how for years I’d basically sequestered myself away from even the possibility of a relationship. There’d been an episode here and there, but nothing serious.

I explained how I’m not ready yet, but reckon within a couple of months I will be. I look forward to that.

I found as I spoke that something had been so long an abstract in my mind – and in my heart – began to manifest itself in a way I could feel. The thing is you want to be authentic and true, and you begin to feel it like a living thing. You look forward to a time when you can embody it, and in anticipation I began to feel more sensitive. It was a good feeling, and remains so – I can feel it now still. There’s a sense of vulnerability that goes with it to, which is fair enough because you’re taking a risk. You’re going all in.

I think I avoided being vulnerable before. It was not who I was, but it was an attitude that cost me. Now I find myself embracing it as if it is the truth.

Late in the day I caught up with Jeep, my old shop manager from the massage shop. We still keep in contact and catch up from time to time, and she always calls me whenever she needs a hand with something – like yesterday.

I adore Jeep, and am eternally grateful to her. And I admire her greatly. I’m always ready to help her, and love to see her. She’s going back to Thailand later this year and I’ll miss her.

So, over the space of 18 hours three different women from different times and aspects of my life. Good to be connected, good to touch base and remember.


Live true

I got a call about 8.30 yesterday morning from JV. He’s a man who likes his sleep, so I was surprised. He was in the car and on the way to his Landmark thing, which is why he was calling.

He told me about this a few weeks ago. He was a reluctant attendee, browbeaten by his wife and his brother and law to go along. He anticipated an intense weekend of little consequence.

We were having a beer at the time, and by inclination I was tempted to agree with him. Even now I’m an old school character who would prefer to deal with his problems personally. I know it’s an archaic attitude and pretty silly, and so I’m always ready to accept other points of view. They’re just not mine.

When it came to Landmark I imagined an intense, cultish bunch of enthusiasts indulging in groupthink and an innocuous brand of brainwashing – and I say that as someone who attended sessions many years ago, when it was called the Forum.

It’s funny what you remember. It’s 30 years ago for me, and by and large the impression is general, with a few memorable moments lodged in my mind.

Like JV I was a reluctant attendee. I was there because my relatively new girlfriend was gung-ho to try it. I was in love and tagged along to an information session, where I allowed myself to be persuaded to hand over my shekels and attend.

Of course by the time the course finally came around she and I had split. It made for an interesting weekend as studiously we avoided each other. Still, at one point she was one of the people waving their hand and asked to share her story. I was sufficiently roused by what she said that suddenly I felt the need to share too – though what I would share I didn’t know. Thankfully I wasn’t called upon.

That’s one of my memories of the weekend, the frequent strange and often disturbing life experiences people had to share. I was amazed to think that so many had experienced such tribulation in their life. It left me with an abiding consideration, that there are mysteries in all of us, and everyone has a story.

I felt like a minnow in comparison. I felt as if my story was of a relatively well-adjusted young man, but I was probably wrong. Certainly though, I’d not had my family killed in a murder suicide, I’d not had my kids die in a car accident, I’d not even been harassed and mistreated as a child.

There was one story particularly that lodged in my memory, but for all the wrong reasons. Amid the stories of tragedy and woe there was one young guy who stood up when called upon. He was olive skinned with dark curly hair and sensuous lips – I can still picture him. He related to us how as a teenager in Tel Aviv, where he came from, he would sneak into the zoo and – there’s no other way to put it – commit acts of bestiality with the animals there.

There had been many confronting stories told on that day, but this one was somehow different, and you could feel it in the room. I know I looked upon him with fascinated wonder. It’s not something you could imagine; and certainly not something you could imagine someone owning up to.

There were a lot of converts that weekend, and a lot that seemed to benefit from it. I wasn’t really one of them. By disposition I’m a non-joiner. For whatever reason I’d rather walk the other way, or at least be out of step, and it has ever been so. I don’t get carried away, and my first response to pretty well everything is rational. There’s a bunch of checkpoints things need to get through before I’ll even think about getting excited. My Achilles heel is perhaps when I tip over into infatuation, if not love, when nothing is rational any more.

And so back then I watched on like a scientist, rather than really getting involved. Sometimes it dragged for me, but at other times it was fascinating. I understood the point of it and didn’t disagree, but the fervour with which it was greeted with was entirely foreign to me. I did learn some things, but mostly by watching other people.

One of the observations I made that was stuck with me since was the hierarchy of personalities. We were separated into groups at one point for exercises. There were ten of us, and what I came to understand is that if you take ten random people there will be one person who will try to assume leadership, another – the born lackey – who will support him, seven who are happy to go with the flow and take instruction, because it’s easier. And there will be one who questions, one who rebels, one who suggests other ways but makes no demands of others (“who made you boss Ted?”). That was me of course, in my now customary role, unconcerned if anyone bothered to follow me or not, but determined to go my own way. I learned that this person becomes very quickly unpopular with the self-proclaimed leader and his lackey, who see him as a trouble maker; and that often – because he makes no demands – the undecided seven begin to drift to him.

That was my experience 30 years ago, but I knew as soon as I heard JV’s voice that his experience was different. There was a lift in his voice, a little extra animation. He’s a lovely guy JV, but he’s a retiring type, even a little passive. Back in the day when he used to hang with me and Whisky he’d be often caught in the middle as we went at each other hammer and tongs. He’s managed a respectable career – he’s a smart dude – but the one thing he would benefit from is a bit more energy, a bit more intent. Though he’s in a senior role, he is one who has gone with the flow.

Just hearing a little extra life in his voice was enough to tell me that something was different. Against expectations he had found himself roused by the message of the day, so much so that he had rung his father the night before and for the first time thanked him for everything he had done for him. It was something he had wanted to do for years, but never committed to. The call was a great success, liberating for JV and heart-warming for his father.

Landmark is something that JV can benefit from because potentially it brings him outside of himself, after all these years. I don’t want to use such a term, but okay, it’s his chance to self-actualise.

He asked if it was something I would be interested in doing. I can’t afford it, but anyway the answer was no. I told him though that I had embarked on my own mini project since the beginning of the year. My memory of the Forum is that attempts to bring out the dark stories and memories that dictate our outlook and behaviour. It’s about bringing those things to the surface and authentically owning them. Ultimately, it’s about shedding the convenient narrative that makes life easier – though less authentic – to live.

That’s basically what I hope to achieve, I told him, and explained how I had set out to share my story as the year went on. I am, however, gratified to think that what I have set myself to do seems validated by experience. The aim is to live true.

Blowing the whistle

I did something this morning which may well get me into trouble, but is the right thing to do.

As I reported the other day, I’ve been at odds with certain sections and individuals in the business regarding what I believe to be unethical practices. Basically they are misrepresenting figures during the sales process to seal the deal. Formerly it could be argued it was the result of incompetence, but once I had exposed the flaws to then go on with it can only be wilful dishonesty.

That explains why basically I have been threatened after I persisted with my representations.

Forget the morality for a moment, there are strong business reasons to correct this. It may result in a small dip in sales, but it eliminates the risk of legal action, and the customers we have will be much happier and more likely to recommend us or extend their custom. And it should result in reduced handling times.

Regardless of that, it’s the right thing to do, and I must confess I was pretty surprised at how blasé about some people are – almost as if the rights and wrongs of it are irrelevant.

I went home Wednesday seething about the whole situation, and knowing I couldn’t let it go. My integrity wouldn’t allow that. And of course, once they threatened me I had no other option but to defy them.

This morning I had a quiet conversation with the Manager of our division. We get on well and he’s a good guy. I’d spoken to him about this at the outset, but in the conversations he was circumvented by my manager and sales. I updated him on the situation and outlined my reservations, from a legal, operational and moral perspective. I’m happy to agree that he agreed entirely, and he’ll be taking it to his manager, one of the directors.

I believe that as an organisation they have been happy to turn a blind eye to such conduct. I don’t know if they can do that now once it has been put to them formally.

Potentially this will make me very unpopular. I’m basically a whistle-blower. I’ve gone above my manager and likely to have put her in a tricky spot. She won’t thank me for that. On top of that the ethics of the sales team will be called into question, and potentially they’ll be faced with a humiliating back down. I may end up unofficially banned.

That’s assuming something is done about it. I don’t expect to do any particular kudos – I’m only doing my job. If something does happen then I’ll ride the backlash – and, who knows, I may even enjoy it. I’m funny like that.

Going against the flow

I had quite a typical conversation with my direct manager this morning. She has, from time to time, looked to modify what she perceives as my overly insistent ways. We have very different philosophies on this, mine being tread softly, smile, but be ready with a cosh. Hers is tread softly, smile, and go with the flow. Basically I figure my job – continuous improvement – is antithetical to going with the flow. I’m here to find a better way, and that will necessitate changing the flow.

In any case she thinks I go too hard sometimes, but as it’s almost impossible to get anything done in this place I figure I have no choice but to be persistent (which comes naturally), and often to the point.

The sacred cow in this organisation is Sales. They wield an unhealthy clout, getting the lion’s share of resources and influence. I get that they bring in the dollars, but having acquired customers we also need to manage them – seemingly a very distant second consideration in this organisation. More to the point some of the practices in Sales are unethical, counter-productive, and create a lot of extra re-work for the area I’m attached to, Ops.

I identified a serious issue a little while ago with potentially serious consequences. I advised the necessary people, including Sales, who are responsible for the function. When I received no response I sent another email and tried to call. When they went unanswered I went upstairs to speak to the manager responsible. The first two or three occasions he wasn’t at his desk. The fourth occasion he was there on his phone. Rather than risking losing him again I hung around, chatting to one or two others while I waited for him to get off the phone. When finally I got off the phone I was unsurprised to know he had hardly read my emails and knew little about it.

Last week I got feedback about this. Apparently he was upset at what he perceived as badgering him. I was amused more than upset. As I told my manager, if he answers my emails, my phone calls, then there’s no need to badger him – even if that could be legitimately construed as such. I told her that if I don’t keep at things then nothing ever happens. And I told her that I want them to know I’m on their tail. I’m not here about to be shaken off.

More than anything I felt contempt. What a trivial thing to complain about, especially when if they had done their job properly then there would have been no need for it. Even so, if they want to complain then I come from the old school that says you do it face to face, you don’t weasel with it dobbing someone in behind their back. What a softcock thing to do, I thought. As always in such circumstances, I smelt blood.

The problem is I’m told to backpedal. Can’t upset sales. They’ll blackban you if you keep this up. Really? I thought. How fucking ridiculous. That’s how fucked this place is, not only that that could happen, but that people could go along with it. Unfortunately my manager – who used to work in Sales – is the Neville Chamberlain of this joint, but there’s a cabinet of other appeasers. There are those out of step with that, but we’re all the newer people who have come in from other places.

Bottom line, I made my point sufficiently that Sales ultimately decided to do something about my concerns, but not until next financial year. Apparently they have to figure out what the sales impact will be if they provide accurate figures – says it all really.

As for the guy that complained – I’ll reckon I’ll give him a cheesy grin next time I see him, but he’ll know I’m onto him.

Putting it on the line

I did something this morning I didn’t want to do, but felt that I must. It leaves me feeling very uncomfortable.

I’ve been erratically charting the spasmodic and conflicted interactions with the girl here at work. It’s been up and down and generally confusing. More often than not I don’t know how to act or what to say. I don’t mean to make it more complex than it should be, but when you don’t know which way is up you’re just as likely to do the wrong thing as you are the right. It’s now got to the point that something needs to be done because it can’t go on like it has been.

Last week I got into work and for the first couple of days she was bright and forthcoming to me. I responded in kind, but didn’t try anything myself. For the rest of the week it reverted to type. It became awkward again, and whether that’s because I didn’t respond adequately I don’t know – I never do know. All I can say is that on drinks Friday night we ended up sitting opposite each other, but not interacting. She left early which, rightly or wrongly, I think was because of me. If I knew that was true I would feel guilty, if not distressed. I’d rather be discomforted myself than cause it in others. As it stands I feel some of that guilt and distress regardless.

It seemed to haunt my sleep on Friday night. Saturday morning I lay in bed wondering what I could do. Originally I thought I’ll just be nice every day regardless of her reaction, hoping that persistence would break through the crusty reserve between us. I’m sure she feels no more hostile to me than I do to her. It’s just this mutual pickle we’ve landed in without knowing how to get out of it.

The more I thought about it the more I thought I must be more decisive. The time for ploys is past. I had to take a risk to clear the air, one way or another.

It’s impossible to speak to her at work, so the only option seemed email – not my favourite channel for a conversations like this. I composed in my mind an email explaining what’s been happening with me, going back to Christmas when I became depressed, and the weeks since when I’ve struggled to reform myself. I’m pretty candid, more so than I’m comfortable with – but isn’t that the point?

I explain how I’m trying to open myself up, but how that makes me feel vulnerable and uncertain. I tell her I don’t know how I’m meant to act sometimes. I say that I’ve been self-absorbed, and how it has made some people confused and uncomfortable.

Though the words are raw I’m expressing myself with dignity. This is something I must do, something that will make me a better man – but yes, I’m sorry if it has caused discomfort, that’s not my intention.

Basically I lay it out in my head, exposing my soft underbelly. And though I’m full of trepidation I come into work this morning and first thing I do is write it out properly and – after hesitating a few moments – sending it to her. It’s out there.

Gosh I felt depressed afterwards. I felt as if I’m always getting in these situations where I must do something hard to extricate myself from. I felt weary of it. That only lasted a while though. It was done, fate would take its course.

She came in late, but must have read it by now. I don’t know if I expect a written response. If so I expect it will come later after she has reasoned it out. There may also be no response, which I’d be fine with too. End of day I’ve done my bit, and though it brings no relief I don’t know if I can do more.

To cut or not to cut

About a fortnight ago I set out to document the fall from grace that led to my homelessness. I’d kept tabs on it in real time recording the sundry moments here in this journal, but while that’s a valuable record it’s flawed. It takes time to see the whole picture, and to see the patterns unfurling – and perhaps it takes some post-event wisdom too, looking over your shoulder at what happened and knowing well the hard lessons learnt.

So I wrote, for myself, but also in the back of my mind, to share. I’ve been telling bits and pieces of this tale over the last month, and those select few, earlier than that. There’s no-one in the world I’ve told the whole story to from start to finish. It’s a big story and a long story and it doesn’t make for idle conversation. I even had thought that perhaps I might put my story up on Medium.

So anyway I began writing and re-writing and the experience soured me sometimes, and sometimes it was illuminating. I had to think hard to place things in their proper sequence, and many times I would close my eyes to re-capture the feelings I had then. All throughout I was determined to make it as honest as my memory would allow. That meant plumbing the emotional depths I fell too, as well as – most importantly – taking responsibility for the many missteps along the way, born from pride mainly, and hubris. This was the point of the thing, not just a true rendering of the tale, but an accounting of it.

I’ve not yet finished writing it, but have reached the moment when finally I got the job that meant I might find a home again.

I’ve got many people fascinated by my story, and others intrigued by the bits of pieces they know of it and wanting to know more. As this is a process of opening up I shared it with someone yesterday.

She called me up last night to discuss it with me. She was shocked by what she had read. In a way I was surprised. I don’t really know where to place my travails and privations in the scheme of things. I know it was tough, but I know that people experience tough times daily, and many much tougher than me. I don’t want to glorify my misery. I want it to be true, but I can’t be objective about that truth because I am at the centre of it.

I think what she was shocked at – and which was hardest for me – was how there seemed no end to it, how one thing seemed to come hard on the heels of another. But still, some of that was my fault, and here I am, free of it – there was an end. And there I go qualifying things again.

In any case the crux of the conversation last night is that she wants to help me. She’s a wealthy woman with nothing to spend her money on and she sees me as a wasted talent in my present predicament. Those are her words. She thinks I have much to offer, but need to get from under things.

I don’t disagree much, but of course was reluctant to accept her help. She anticipated that and said, quite sensibly, that there was no shame in accepting the support of friends. I have in fact done this along the way by necessity, but it eats at me today like acid. I know intellectually that she is right, that I should be big enough and humble enough to accept the help I need when it is proffered. As always it is my spirit that rebels, the pride that has done me so wrong, and the fear of being indebted, obliged, of having a part of my independence bought and paid for. I know it seems like nonsense, but it feels true, even right.

I admitted that things remain tough, but they had been a lot tougher and this was like a cakewalk compared to before. We have different scales though. I still have upwards of $20,000 in debt I cannot pay, excluding the ATO. I have a car I can’t drive because I can’t afford to register, insure or service. And, as I revealed to her, I limit myself to one lunch a week. All of that makes her aghast, for me I just shrug my shoulders and look upon as a necessary challenge. It would feel like cheating if at this stage I accepted her help. I’m almost fearful of having it easier when I haven’t worked for it. I’ve strained so hard throughout and wrested myself from the utter pits by force of will and self-belief. To accept an easy out seems to me cheapening it.

Of course, I know, that’s ridiculous. That’s the man I’m trying to overcome. He was the man I had to be, honed for battle, but in relative peace he doesn’t work. He’s grim and defiant and mightily proud and closed off to good things as well as bad. He’s cold and ruthless, mathematical, but that’s not who I am at heart and who I can’t afford to be if I mean to be happy, and he’s the man I’m trying to overcome by exposing my sins, my struggles, my pain.

She’s offering me enough to cover my debts, repay down the track. Other than pride there’s no real reason to refuse. In fact it’s very similar to a plan I tried to hatch about 12 months ago: with money in my hands I could negotiate my debts downwards and free up my cashflow, as well as a good part of my peace of mind. It was a good plan, but the key element was missing: dollars. Now I’m offered the missing dollars with which I could extinguish the debt once and for all, the angry daily calls, and the stunted repayments robbing me of lunch money. I could repay the friends I feel so guilty about, and maybe even I could get the car back on the road.

It’s tempting. Cut the Gordian knot. Yet almost certainly I will refuse her offer.

Nothing good gets away

I’ve been meaning to add this for a while. It’s a letter from the writer John Steinbeck to his son. I reckon it’s pretty good, and pretty true too:

“Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First — if you are in love — that’s a good thing — that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second — There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply — of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it — and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone — there is no possible harm in saying so — only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another — but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.”