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.


Becoming easy

It’s a sunny Thursday a couple of days before the AFL grand final, which means tomorrow is a public holiday. That means I can go out for a few drinks tonight and tomorrow I can sleep in. I’ve also applied to have Monday off, so I have a four day weekend.
Because tomorrow is a day off we’re having a casual dress day in the office today. At lunchtime there’s a handball competition in the break room, as well as free pies, pasties and sausage rolls to celebrate the occasion. I’m in a t-shirt, feeling relatively mellow, and look forward to a free pie later and, even more so, a drink after work.

It’s been a productive week for me. As I promised, I set aside the things I couldn’t change. I’ve withdrawn from the things – and the people – causing me grief. I’ve concentrated on my work and on the people around me I value. There’s some adjustment in this – I still itch – but I think it’s the right thing, and it seems to be working well. Touch wood.

In the ebb and flow of all this your eyes alight on things and for a few moments you contemplate. You accept you shouldn’t be so disappointed by mediocrity and compromise, not at your age. And you wonder whether you should even be an environment when questions of it arise: you wonder whether it’s time now to move on in a more substantial way. No hurry for that, something to ponder over a period, and more so as other pieces fall into place. Some of those pieces are people. You fall back, and you see the people about you, friends and friendly acquaintances. Now you’re not expending futile energy you have the mindspace to better appreciate them, and to engage with them. The pleasure that inspires comes as a small surprise. A lot of it is on the surface, fun and sometimes flirtatious, easy words and manners, authentic and light. There’s a part of your mind which is never shut-off which, at times like these, lights up still more because it seems all of a piece. Who am I? What do I do? What do I want? And some of that want is very personal.

It feels like a settled thing. After all the doubts and misgivings, the to-ing and fro-ing, it seems that I’ve accepted at least some of the things I want. Not written in stone – the names may change – but I’m good for what I reckon now.

The funny thing it frees me up a little, maybe because it’s not so intensely mysterious anymore. It frees me up, but for the most part also it means I’m happy to navigate between most possibilities. I’ve become that easier person I aspired to be earlier in the year, as I once was always back in my twenties. I’m light-hearted, fun, witty, maybe a little acerbic. I engage. I’ve always been more popular with the women here than the men, probably because I like them as a gender more. But of course a woman always knows when you like them as a woman, even platonically, and it adds some frisson to the dialogue. That goes two ways.

I mentioned the other week how there was a gap toothed woman who had started who I found some connection with. I really like her, she’s fun and smart and a bit cheeky and she likes me. It’s always nice when they like you. She has a partner so there’s nothing in it, but she can’t help but smile when she sees me. I like her too, but even if she wasn’t partnered up I wouldn’t be interested in anything more than friendship. That doesn’t stop me from flirting, and I get on a bit of a high from the whole, sheer fun of it, as she does too, I think. It feels like great, innocent fun.

I’m happy to be this man, a man people like, a man some might even find alluring, but a man also decent and honest. I got called a go-getter the other day. In the same breath I got called roguishly good looking. Both compliments please me more than they should, but I accept that too – vanity is a flaw, but an acceptable, largely inoffensive flaw. I hope it’s one of the things that make me endearing in a way, oh H, he gets so full of himself sometimes, but he’ll never let you down.

That’s the point. I can be all this. I can clap myself on the back, I can flirt, I can open myself up, I may even engage in the occasional dalliance, but end of day I hope I’m true, and I hope that whoever it ends up being will indulge these other aspects with some affection, and love me still for my individuality and honesty and the devotion I bring.

This is one thing I want, and I’m closer to it now than for a long time.

All that jazz

It was a disappointing weekend of footy finals and after a few beers with the boys on Saturday afternoon watching the second of the games I set footy aside and reclined on the couch to watch a movie.
The movie I chose this week I think is a classic, though perhaps not as widely recognised as it should be. I don’t remember the first time I watched All That Jazz, and all I took from that were fragments. The next time I watched it was about eleven years ago, I reckon. It was a Sunday night and I was flying out the next morning for a week of work in Darwin. I watched as I ironed and packed, before I settled down to watch the movie properly. It had a vivid effect on me.

I think this is a great film. I love Bob Fosse as a film-maker, and reckon he’d have been interesting off set too. He has a distinct style and sense of adventure. Another of his movies, Cabaret, is also a favourite, but he was cutting edge throughout. It’s interesting that given his background as dancer and choreographer how that might have influenced his film making.

All That Jazz focuses on a choreographer much like Fosse, a character called Joe Gideon, played by Roy Scheider. He’s a dissolute genius, a chain smoking womaniser and heavy drinker, living right on the edge. The movie focuses on a show he’s preparing for, while in the background he is putting together a movie of a comedian (based on Lenny Bruce – and a movie Fosse himself made a few years before). The comedian riffs on death, and on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ seven stages, which becomes a theme. Around him are the people in his life – a mediocre dancer he’s having an affair with, the loving girlfriend he’s cheating on, his dancer ex-wife and daughter, as well as the investors in the show.

It’s a high-wire life and he lives it recklessly, almost daring it. Throughout the first half of the movie it jumps between these scenes, with the odd fantasy diversion. There are some brilliant set-pieces, fantastic imagination at play throughout. It’s daring and inventive, but in the second half of the movie it really becomes an artistic expression.

By then Gideon has had the inevitable heart attack and is in hospital. The movie takes on a psychedelic vibe as it alternates between fact and fantasy, with Gideon confusing the two. His life and background are explored as his health declines further, leading into the final musical number with Joe Vereen singing Bye, Bye, Life to Joe.

The whole movie is a tour de force, and I can think of few other films who carry such an imprint of their maker. It’s brilliant.

It’s funny what you remember. Things stick in your mind. For me there were three things I recalled whenever I thought of the movie before watching it on Saturday. In my memory the scenes featuring the comedian were more significant, like a commentary on Joe. There’s another lovely scene when the girlfriend and the daughter perform to Joe to Peter Allen’s Everything Old is New Again. Then there’s the final scene, where Joe’s life and death are played out musically.

All of this melded into my mind creating an overall impression. They were the elements my psyche was drawn to, and I think influenced one of the ideas for a novel I’ve had in my head for the last 18 months.

This novel is more extroverted and fantastical, and in fact occasionally when I stopped to think about it I was reminded of another movie, Fellini’s . It was only after watching All That Jazz again that I realised the influence of that, unknown till that point. In fact the two movies have many elements in common, so it makes sense. Both protagonists are auteurs, of different types. Both are troubled, intense souls living on the edge. Both movies feature fantasy elements and a sort of cinematic stream of consciousness. Both, in their way, are intellectual movies – movies that provoke and explore and ask questions. And both have a distinct directorial perspective with an autobiographical inspiration.

Funnily enough that’s pretty much how I conceived my novel too. I love that stuff.

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.

When you care

I’m sitting in the dark in the quiet, the glow of the screen the only light. I’m meant to be doing my weekly ironing, but… I have other things in me tonight, a mix of them that leave me with a peculiar edge.

There’s some wariness in me. I fear tomorrow I will once more be on one side of a confrontation. I don’t resile from these things, but wish they weren’t necessary. I sit there wondering, are they necessary? Why not just give way? Wouldn’t that be easier?

It would be, but to what end? I don’t know if I could give way. It’s not in me. But let’s say I could, what then? I don’t know if you can understand this, but that would represent almost the worst thing I could contemplate – to go on day after day contrary to my desire and nature and rational consideration. I know people do it, but for the man I have become that feels like a living death.

People do that. Many do it easily, and lots besides rarely hold such deep-seated convictions in the first place. I do, and always have. I remember when I was barely out of my teens thinking about principles. It was something in my head, a value I held onto that I justified by rational argument: if I’m not this then what am I? It was in my head but it was also much deeper in the middle of me, something I was instinctively.

I wrote the other night in Facebook how much easier it is when you care less, which is true enough, but when you care less it also means less. I don’t care overmuch about what people make of me – that’s too much hard work. I care about what I stand for though, and for principles of honesty and decency and democracy. I care about the things I do because, among other things, there is meaning in that and purpose. Without that isn’t life a pale thing? We are our beliefs, they’re the spice of our character. Without that what are we?

I’m glad to be that way, but in all honesty don’t know any other. The value you take from things comes from the effort you put into them. The challenge I set myself is to do things with integrity. I’m not perfect, I’m deeply flawed, I fail sometimes, I don’t wish to set myself up as a paragon – I’m not by any stretch – nor do I demand it from others. We dance to our own tune. This is my tune though and it means regardless of other things I’m committed to the job at hand and giving it my best and being true to its meaning. I’m a man who puts his hand up. I believe in things. I want to make things better. I put my heart into what I do because what else is there? I’m hard at it and single-minded sometimes because there’s only one way, and that’s the right way.

Of course, you say – there’s your right way, and there’s mine. I’m not pushing ideologies though, that’s every mans own business and if I take you up on that then that’s something completely different. I’m not going to tell you what to think, or how to live your life, and if you choose to do your thing differently to mine then that’s your business. There are some things less ambiguous. If it’s meant to be fair then it should be fair. If it’s supposed to be democratic then it ought to be democratic. And always we should be decent and honest. I won’t accept any back-sliding there and so that leads, sometimes, to disagreement.

It seems to me this stubbornness leads me to regular conflict. I’ve been called a warrior again and again, and I understand why. I don’t crave these confrontations though. I’d rather we agreed, I’d rather that we all understood the same thing. I understand how self-interest works, I can even respect it in a way because in a way it’s honest. I’ll oppose it still when it crosses the line, but what I really can’t abide is the craven submission to it by some because it becomes simpler. I can’t abide these moral bullies getting their own way to the detriment of some higher principle because those who could stop it, don’t – and because it’s easier to compromise than it is to stand for something.

I could be talking about anything these days – certainly it sums up much of our parliament.

So this is something of what I face tomorrow. I dread it, but I won’t back down. I suspect I’ll be defeated, but a point will be made.

So all of this in me now, but at the same time, there’s a fantastic sense of poignancy in me. I cherish the fact that I’m capable of feeling so delicate and sensitive. I tremble with feeling unrelated to anything I’ve written above. If I am a warrior then I am also a man riven by deep feeling. It feels like a flaw, a crack in me, a vulnerability if you like, but because I’m cracked in such a way I have a direct sense of the mystery about me. It’s like my skin has been peeled back and upon the raw flesh I feel life, stinging and oppressive in a way, but true and pure and real as well.

I can say none of this to anyone, which is a pity. Something like this is made to be shared. I feel wonders. I feel illuminated. I feel something more than the man contained in this body. Sometimes I preen, I’m a man full of vanity and it delights when I can make a girl smile with my clever words or impress with my smarts. I realise though what I want is to be loved for what I have inside me, this delicate thing I can’t begin to understand, no matter how many words.

The fight justifies itself.

Random perspectives

There’s been a bunch of things happen in the last ten days which have exercised my mind but which I haven’t commented on. More often than not I’ll never comment because I won’t get around to it, but today I reckon I’ll set my thoughts down to the lot of them and be done with it.

One of the big issues last week was the Mark Knight cartoon referencing the Serena Williams eruption at the US Open. As soon as I saw it I thought, uh oh. Very clearly it features a racist caricature of Williams, and anyone who doesn’t recognise it is either terribly ignorant or deeply racist. I can’t see any ambiguity in it, though Knight himself reckons it was drawn without racist intent.

There’s a couple of problems with that. To start with, Knight has history. Not long ago he depicted black gang members in very broad and offensive terms also. On that occasion, he drew the figures in scurrilous detail, while perpetuating a false stereotype of black youth gangs over-running Melbourne – which, as anyone sensible living here will tell you, is utter nonsense. He has drawn similar cartoons in the past, and though cartoonists are permitted some artistic licence – much of what they do, after all, is exaggerated and made a caricature – there must be sensitive to culture and history, which is where the second problem emerges.

I remember about ten years ago there was a huge outcry when a local TV program had a talent show in which some contestants got up in blackface. It took me a long time to get my head around that. Unlike North America, blackface has not the same resonant and racist overtones, and the contestants themselves likely did it as a bit of fun, rather than looking to perpetuate a stereotype. That was my view then, but it has evolved since as I, and we, have become better informed. It’s safe to say we’re much better educated on these matters now, which is why I knew it was racist the moment I saw the cartoon. Knight pleads innocence in this matter (and has since doubled down), but that no longer washes in this day and age, though I believe there are still many uneducated who are effectively ignorantly racist.

It wasn’t a particularly clever cartoon in any case. He’s a fine draughtsman, but he has none of the wit or insight of a Rowe or Pope or even a Wilcox.

There was a great outcry also over Steve Bannon being interviewed for 4 Corners. 4 Corners is a venerable ABC program. I’ll watch it most weeks, and it’s record of breaking news and catalysing change is unequalled in Australian television.

On this occasion, it was the left that felt by giving a voice to Bannon the ABC was condoning his views.

My instinct on this is almost the opposite. I recognise there are limits, people unworthy of airtime, or who are so dreadful that any exposure is poisonous. We don’t need to see them on TV. But otherwise, in the spirit of free speech and equal opportunity, as well as in the hope of being educated, my strong belief is that we shouldn’t be shutting down the voices we don’t agree with. That amounts to censorship.

I’m of the left myself, though I’d call myself a moderate liberal. I don’t believe in the extremes on either side, where it tends to get rabid, and I’m a great advocate for the democratic principles our society is founded on. That means allowing for a broad range of voices to be heard. Speaking for myself, I like to understand. I’ll often read opinions I disagree with or find offensive, but it’s useful for me to understand what their arguments are and how they think.

In the case of Bannon, I think that applies very neatly. He was the guiding philosophy behind the current American president, and his broad manifesto has many advocates around the world, including in Australia. I think that makes him a relevant opinion, even if toxic. So, on the one hand, I believe he was a worthy subject for the program, but unfortunately, that required a more rigorous interview than what occurred. Bannon, a savvy player, manipulated the interview to his advantage. I’m a great admirer of Sarah Ferguson, but in this instance, she didn’t hold Bannon to account.

The ABC, being the national broadcaster, has a responsibility to present a range of views and opinions. They get unfairly criticised by the right for being partisan to the left. Here they present a right-wing view and get pilloried by the left. Somewhere in this democratic principles are lost, which is one of my great fears these days.

As I’ve noted before, we live in a binary age when everything is either black or white, right or wrong, left or right. Our public discourse has become unsophisticated and hostile. There’s little nuance and often no acceptance of contrary views. This is true of both sides. It’s dispiriting observing the battles between the rival views, and though I’m inclined to a left perspective I find myself dismayed still reading intractable and inflammatory views in support of that.

Let me make this clear. I’m not going to tell anyone how they should lead their life. As a general rule, I’m not going to abuse someone who disagrees with me, exceptions possibly being rabid bigots and fascists. If possible I’ll sit and listen and then unpick contrary arguments – I’d rather debate than pronounce. I believe in individuality and fear that if we get our way we might end up with a society of drones. I believe in difference, which is where creativity springs from. And, regardless of my personal ideology, I’ll attempt to approach every issue with a rational mindset. Finally, I don’t believe anything is one thing or another – we live in a world of degrees, imperfect and flawed but amazingly diverse. Any other notion is nonsense.