First contact

I’ve only been away a week and a half, but it feels like a lifetime.

We’ve just returned from our holiday at Lake Cathie (pronounced Cat-Eye, apparently), where we shared a holiday house with some great friends of ours. And apart from a dozen tweets and a few Facebook updates it was pretty much technology-free.

We walked along the beach (which our son absolutely loved). We drove to nearby Port Macquarie for a pancake breakfast, and to play games of ten pin bowling. We sat around in coffee shops (or more accurately outside them). We enjoyed fish and chips by the water.

(We didn’t stop at the World’s Largest Bowl, though we drove past it quite often.)

Okay, so it wasn’t always like an episode of The Brady Bunch. There were tears, and even the odd tantrum. But overall it was still one of the best holidays I’ve had in a while, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Even now, as I battle to clear the hundreds of spam emails littering my inbox and otherwise reconnect with the online world, I still feel incredibly relaxed. It feels as if a tremendous weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

And a very small weight has been lifted from my nose.

The day before we had to leave, I went for a swim at the beach. I hadn’t really been in much at that point, because I always seemed to be wearing the wrong clothes, or have too many things in my pockets that could get wet (like my iPhone). But this time I was prepared, and I was soon being pounded by waves and having a great time.

Then one of the people we were staying with suggested we grab the boogie boards from where we were staying and take them for a spin. It seemed like a really great idea, and before long I was riding the waves on my board—along with riding the bottom of the ocean on my back. (I’m not very good at it.)

The first couple of times I got dumped by a wave I just picked up the board and went back in for another go. But after the third dumping it was time to stop playing and start praying, because I’d completely forgotten that I was wearing glasses.

And suddenly I wasn’t wearing them any more.

We spent the next ten minutes looking, but it was pointless. I was too far out for them to wash ashore, and it’s impossible to see to the bottom when waves are crashing into you every ten seconds.

So the final night of my holiday was literally a blur. And the next day my wife had to drive the first leg of the trip back home.

Fortunately when we got to Grafton (our designated stopover) we managed to get an appointment with an optometrist. And by that afternoon I was wearing my very first pair of contact lenses.

I still haven’t mastered the art of getting them in my eyes yet (the optometrist tried teaching me, but in the end he had to put them in), but I still like them a lot. Things haven’t seemed this clear since I started wearing glasses (even though they’re not the exact prescription I need), and they’ve convinced me to make the switch.

I’ll finally be able to forget everything I hate about wearing glasses, and instead concentrate on more important things in my life.

Like staying afloat on the boogie board.


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Advice I can no longer ignore

Today I was told to quit my job.

It’s not the first time I’ve been told. Over the years I’ve heard the same advice from family, friends, even the occasional boss. (I should point out the bosses all had my best interests at heart—it was never an order, or even a threat.)

They usually tell me after I’ve ranted about how much I hate my job, and that I’m this close to quitting. (And yes, I am holding my thumb and index finger about a centimetre apart when I say it.) They’ll listen patiently, nod in all the right places, and then tell me it’s time to get out of there and do something different.

And they’re right, of course. It’s not that the job is bad. It just isn’t the job for me any more. We’ve both changed, and it’s time to go our separate ways.

And yet I’m still there.

Oh I can give you a million reasons why. It’s a relatively secure job. The money isn’t bad. I can’t afford to just give it up when I’ve got a family and a mortgage to support. All good reasons to stay where I am.

But it seems they’re no longer good enough.

Today’s advice to quit my job came from a counsellor. We spoke for about an hour, and a lot of the truth I haven’t been admitting to myself finally came out. And once it was out, the solution seemed pretty clear.

Now I could ignore her advice, just as I seem to have ignored everyone else’s advice over the years. (Sorry, everyone!) But there’s one person whose advice I can no longer ignore.

Me.

I told you that yesterday that I went to see the doctor. What I didn’t tell you is that I was diagnosed with depression, though some of you may have guessed. (Now you know why there were so many long pauses in our conversation.) The good feeling I told you about only lasted a couple of weeks before it was gone again, shattered in a single meeting with one of my bosses. And instead of just falling back down to earth I kept going.

According to the counsellor, work got me down here. And it’s now the key to me getting back up to the surface, and maybe even back to where I was for those two glorious weeks.

I mentioned in an earlier post that freelancing will be my escape plan. I just didn’t think I’d need it quite so quickly.

From Thursday I’ll be on leave for a week or so, and I guess it couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ll be catching up with friends I haven’t seen for far too long, and I’m sure we’ll have a ball. But it will also be a chance for me to “pause and reflect” on what’s going on, and what I can change, at least in the short term.

I have a few ideas already. Cut down the number of projects I’m spread across (I’ve never been much of a multi-tasker). Do more of the work I enjoy, even if it means other people ending up doing less of it. Maybe even move to another area that looks after people rather than technology.

And if none of that works, then I guess I’ll have to look elsewhere. Because I no longer want to be where I am.

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The results are in

Remember how I had that blood test a week ago? Well, tonight I had my appointment to find out the results.

Normally I’d be annoyed about having to see my doctor (who doesn’t bulk bill) just to get the answers. I’ve had tests where they just say “Yes” or “No” over the phone, but I still had to make an appointment, sit in the waiting room, and so on just to get the answer—a waste of everyone’s time.

But this time I didn’t mind, because I wanted to talk to him anyway. Well, not so much wanted to as needed to.

Of course, I wasn’t in any pain, so I didn’t mind being in the waiting room. I had my phone, and a good book. I was happy to just sit there and read for a while. Maybe medical centres should be situated near a library as well as a chemist.

Eventually I got called in to, and the doctor showed me the results. To me they looked like something you’d see at the Australian Stock Exchange, but they actually showed my blood sugar levels, cholesterol and a bunch of health-related stuff. Apparently.

The good news is everything was fine—all within acceptable ranges. Even my ECG was “perfect”. It’s a bit of a surprise really, considering what I have for lunch sometimes. (I can’t wait until there’s a decent supermarket near my office again.). But I wasn’t about to ask for a recount.

That was the “all clear” to put me on some medication. He wrote a script, but also gave me a bunch of free samples, which is always a bonus. (If I ever had the chance to go to a medical convention, I’m sure they have some very interesting showbags.)

And then we had a chat about some other stuff. The chat went for a while, because there were lots of long pauses during our conversation. And at the end he wrote a script for some more tablets. (No free samples this time.)

Not what I wanted. But apparently what I need.


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Addressing the chair

I’ve just completed a marathon editing session—five chapters and just over 9,000 words. Okay, it was a marathon session for me. Some of you could probably do it during your lunch break.

But I really enjoyed it (probably a lot more than I should), and I learned a lot. And not just about the manuscript topic, either. I also learned:

  • I can only do it for an hour or so before I need a break. The good news is I only need a 15-minute break before I can start again.
  • the universe doesn’t collapse when you shut down Tweetdeck. (Of course if it did they’d be a thousand tweets about it when I started it up again.)
  • If I’ll be doing any more of this work I’m going to need a new chair.

At the moment I’m using one of our kitchen chairs that has only one adjustment—pushing it closer to my desk. My old office chair fell apart a few years ago, and I’ve never quite gotten around to buying a new one.

A lot of people I know have raved about Herman Miller chairs, and the Aeron model in particular. They sounded awesome—right up to the point where I found out how much they cost.

I pretty much gave up on the idea. But after sitting in front of the keyboard for the best part of a day I’m re-evaluating my decision.

And there’s a place that sells them just up the road from where I work.

So one day this week I might actually try one out (I’ll probably have to hand over my credit card in case I try rolling one out the door). Hopefully I’ll get to sit in one at a desk to make sure it does the trick. I may even steal some fake computer equipment from Freedom Furniture so it feels just like I’m sitting at my office desk.

But if they ask me to do any editing, I think I’ll pass. Unless they’re willing to pay me in a few form of currency—Aerons.

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It takes me back…

Yesterday’s post brought back a lot of memories, and so I thought I’d indulge in a little reminiscing.

No, I didn’t sit down and watch a season or two of Babylon 5. We don’t have the first season on DVD yet (does anyone know if they’ve fixed the problems with the Region 4 version?), and I’m not sure I could ever go back to watching it on video.

Instead I fired up my computer and played some of my beloved Amiga games.

Now my PC is less than a year old, and while it may not be able to handle Crysis (but hey, can any computer?), it can run most games—including Fallout 3. So why am I going back to playing games that came out 20-odd years ago?

Have you ever heard a piece of music and been taken back to when you first listened to it? Whenever I hear the “Icehouse” album I’m immediately taken back to the lounge room of my parents’ house. I’m sitting on the couch, listening to the album crackling away on our record player while drinking a glass of milk with a dash of vanilla essence.

These games do pretty much the same thing, except they take me back to the rooms I stayed in while I was at university. A bunch of us are crammed in there, my Amiga hooked up to a friend’s guitar amplifier cranked up so high the in-game explosions literally shake the walls. There’s pizza, and garlic bread, and bottles of Coke—probably the best meal we’ve had all week. (The on-campus dining room wasn’t exactly known for its culinary expertise.) And above it all is the sound of laughter as one of us pulls off an amazing stunt or explodes in a ball of pixelated flames.

I sold my beloved machine years ago. But thanks to a bunch of dedicated people on the Internet I can still play all those classic games on my new computer. (When my wife sees me playing them she just shakes her head and walks away.) And while the graphics have dated, and the music doesn’t have quite the impact it once did (but is still pretty damn good), it still takes me back.

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Facing the truth

In the mid-90s I was a huge fan of the sci-fi show “Babylon 5”. I first heard about when creator J. (“Joe”) Michael Straczynski talked about it in his Writer’s Digest column, and I liked what I read. And so by the time finally aired on Australian television I was really looking forward to it.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

This is how it was meant to be done. An entire five-year series planned from beginning to end. No more “Oh, look. There’s a new character on the ship. Guess who’ll be dead by the end of the episode.” Joe thought nothing of wiping out major characters, or entire races.

(Geek alert: I was also excited because they were using a Video Toaster and my favourite computer at the time, the Amiga.)

But what I enjoyed just as much, if not more, were the behind-the-scenes discussions. Joe was a big fan of the Internet, and he talked a lot in online forums about how he created the show, the various themes he used, how some of the episodes mirrored real-world events and issues, and so on. I collected a lot of what he said, and I still have them sitting on my hard drive.

But out of everything he said in those discussions, there’s one paragraph I’ve never forgotten:

“Basically, I have this theory that there are five kinds of truth.  (This is Joe’s Theory of the Five Truths.)  There is the truth you tell to casual strangers and acquaintances.  There is the truth you tell to your general circle of friends and family members.  There is the truth you tell to only one or two people in your entire life.  There is the truth you tell to yourself.  And finally, there is the truth that you do not admit even to yourself.  And it’s that fifth truth that provides some of the most interesting drama.”

That fifth truth he’s talking about, the one you’d probably call denial, is one I’ve struggled with a lot over the years. It’s funny that I have real issues about lying to other people, but don’t think twice about lying to myself. Unfortunately running away from a truth doesn’t make it any less a truth. I’ve been trying to out-run it for a long time, but now it’s catching up with me. Or maybe I’m just sick of running.

In any case, it’s time to finally face it.

So I’ve made a few calls, and set up some appointments with people to help me find that truth. Some of it will come from others when I ask the right questions. But a lot of it will come from me when other people ask the right questions. (In my case, the truth is in there.) I may not like the answers (denial is a powerful force), but I think I’ve reached the point where I really need to know.

Of course, what happens from there is another story.

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A quiet day

A quiet day today. It’s hard to do anything when your head is pounding so much it literally hurts to move.

Spent most of the day in bed, drifting in and out of sleep. More like naps punctuated with gulps of water to wash down the headache tablets. And with the head pounding like it was, even swallowing was an effort.

When I wasn’t sleeping I was thinking. Thinking about friends who are having a tough time. Wishing I could help. Knowing I probably can’t.

More water.

As the day drew to a close, so (fortunately) did the headache. And after a quick shower I slowly re-joined the human race. Spent some time with the family. Finished some editing I’ve been promising someone.

And now, I’m off to bed.

Here’s hoping tomorrow is a bit louder.

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Not tonight dear

Looks like I’ve managed to give myself another headache.

Medication is holding it at bay for the moment, and I’m about to send in reinforcements. But I have a feeling it isn’t going to disappear without a fight. It could be a long and painful night.

But what’s really frustrating is I have no idea what caused it in the first place.

It’s not dehydration. It’s certainly not caffeine withdrawal (it’s been one of those days). And I haven’t had a late-night drinking session since before Christmas.

So I’m guessing it’s something that happened at work (or maybe something that didn’t happen). If I could think without wincing I might be able to work it out. But right now all I want to do is take some more medication and go to bed.

We have one of those thermometers at home that you can just rest on your forehead and it instantly tells you the temperature. (Well it did until the voice part went kaput. Fortunately it still shows up on the display.) Well, I’d like something similar that can tell me why I’ve got a particular headache so I can stop it happening again.

Or better still, something I can press against my forehead in the morning that will tell me if I’ll get a headache so I can avoid it altogether.

If there’s already a gizmo on the market that can tell me, let me know.

But for goodness sake, do it quietly.

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Expectations versus Reality

There’s a great scene in the movie “(500) Days of Summer” where they show two versions of the same scene side-by-side. On the left is what the male lead thinks will happen (“Expectations”), and on the right is what actually happens (“Reality”). And of course, reality doesn’t come close to matching his expectations.

When I started this blog, I too had expectations (or more accurately, “delusions”) of how it would all pan out. After a successful day’s freelancing (even if only during my lunch break at the regular job) I’d come home and spend some quality time with my wife and son. After dinner, we’d bath our son (more quality time together), give him his final bottle and put him to bed. We might watch some television together, or just have a quiet chat.

And then I’d come here to write another blog post.

It could be about anything—a report on how the day went, or maybe just something on my mind that I want to talk about. But whatever the topic, it would be my chance to relax and unwind. It would be my dessert, or maybe that final drink before bed.

Unfortunately the reality hasn’t come anywhere near my expectations.

Thanks to various pressing deadlines (not to mention lunchtime meetings), I’ve been lucky if I get to eat lunch, let alone work on my freelancing. By the time we’ve had dinner, bathed our son and put him to bed, it’s close to nine o’clock. By the time I finish the blog it’s well after ten, and then I go to bed and crash until the alarm goes off at five-thirty the following morning.

(On weekends we switch off the alarm, and get woken up by our son instead. But it’s still around the same time.)

And so, despite promising myself this would be the year I’d become a freelancer (if only part-time to begin with), the whole thing has pretty much stalled.

And now I’m trying to find the time to get it going again.

So what are my options? Well, one option would be to stop blogging, or at least slow down the posting a bit (I’d still like dessert every once in a while). That would give me an extra few hours a week. How productive I’d be is another story, because by the time I sit in front of the keyboard I’m already falling asleep (as some of you have probably worked out by now).

Another option is to try and find more time during my day. I spend 40 minutes on trains each day, and providing I can get a seat I could at least draft some notes, or even do a bit of research. (If I tried doing either of these while standing up I’d end up hurting someone.)

Daylight Savings finishes soon, which should put an end to the lunchtime meetings. (It only happens because we’re an hour behind our head office.) If I ignore my email, switch my phone to voicemail, ignore my instant messages and wear my noise-cancelling headphones, I can probably get another hour a day.

I have some long service leave up my sleeve, and so if I really wanted to (and my bosses gave me the go-ahead) I could take a fortnight or so off to work on the freelancing stuff. But I don’t think now is a good time to do something like that. I’m still very green, and so I’d waste a lot of the time fumbling my way around. I’d much rather wait until I know what I’m going so I can make the most of the time I have.

I could take another day off each fortnight, making it a four-day week. It sounds fantastic, but I’d have to take a serious look at our finances (and try not to laugh too hard) before I could do something like that.

Of course, the ideal solution would be to give up the regular job and just write all day instead. But while poverty might be worth considering when you’re young and single, it isn’t really option when you’ve got a family and a mortgage.

Sorry if it seems like you’ve just caught me thinking out loud. But this is what’s been on my mind lately, especially with the regular job heading in a direction I don’t particularly want to go. This is my escape plan, and by the looks of things I’ll need it sooner rather than later.


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Pleasure and pain

Today I got a taste of what it would be like to write for a living. Or, in this case, edit.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’m editing a book manuscript for a friend of mine. So far it’s been a bit hard finding more than a few hours amongst everything else going on—the regular job, family commitments, etc. But today I got to spend pretty much the entire day on it.

I didn’t get to spend quite as much time on it as I would have liked. Our son had a restless night last night, which meant we all had a restless night. (Parenting tip: Got small children? Buy a king-size bed if you can possibly afford it. Believe me, you’ll thank me later.) So it took a little while (not to mention a large Ice Break) to get the brain in gear.

There was also the small matter of having a blood test, which always makes me nervous. (A few years ago I had one and managed to faint not once but twice. In the end I had to lie down in the recovery room for an hour or so. Not a very pleasant way to spend a morning.)

But with that little drama out of the way (no problems this time around), I got a good four or five hours editing in before I had to pick up my son.

And I have to tell you, it felt pretty damn good.

Don’t get me wrong. I still want to be a freelancer, writing my own articles and getting them published. But I’ve always enjoyed editing (and not just because I like the colour red), and I think I’d be quite happy doing it professionally—at least for a while.

Who knows? Maybe it’s a combination of the two that will see me finally break free of the regular job and live the dream of being a full-time writer.

Though hopefully without the blood tests.

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