Saturday, 30 May 2020

Well, what a giant fuss about nothing!

Back in the very late 90's, something occured that I still have nightmares about. I was payroll clerk for the smallest Kmart store in Australia. Smallest in floor area, and smallest in staff numbers. Mine was a part time job then, ensuring that "I paid people right." Calculating sick leave entitlements correctly, copping the flack when someone who switched from 12hrs/week to full time (38hrs/week), just after their anniversary, got paid only 12hrs a week annual leave because that's the rate they accrued it at, and having someone angrily knock on my window to loudly complain that I "ripped them off that payrun" - only to discover that their car payment came out the same day, and they'd only done a bank balance check, or they'd serially failed to clock off or on - on days they'd actually worked extra hours- and their manager had filled in the daily "odd clockings" report that they'd just worked to roster. Or they'd taken three days off sick, but had used up their sick pay accrual months ago.

It was a tough, thankless, and often very intensely anxiety-inducing job. But I was good at it. I still have awards from Kmart Payroll services, that weren't presented in staff meetings, but slipped through the little sliding window between the manager's office and my little shoebox of an office (that I thankfully shared with a great person), saying I was consistently (based on the few number of times I had to request payment adjustments, and how well I did with external audits) one of the most accurate payroll clerks in the nation. But within-store, it was quite a thankless task - mostly only having interactions with my fellow workers when, with a sudden loud tap on my window, I'd get a scathing "you didn't pay me right!" (On more than one occasion I had to politely ask my fellow office worker to leave the room whilst I delicately had to explain that either the debt collectors, or the department in charge of Child Support, should have informed them that their payroll clerk would be receiving a court enforced garnishee order (that they should have also received a copy of) to recoup payments directly from their wages!)

So, yes. Thankless for the most part - even when, in the background I made enemies of managers when I pulled THEM up for trying to pull shifts and practices against the Award/Enterprise Agreement they were required to follow - which is why I got little thanks from certain management too!

But I digress. I'm avoiding the nightmares of the late 90s. The nightmares over and above the ones I've just described. The horror of Y2K. I have shared this with only a few people, but it is, I think, timely that I speak up now.

Our store, and every single other Kmart store in Australia, had a problem looming as the year 2000 approached. I am going to only focus on my little part in dealing with my little segment of the big Kmart machine, but keep in mind that my story would be similar in the hundreds of Kmart stores in Australia and New Zealand.

Obviously, in payroll, you need to keep track of when people worked; days and times. So clocks play a surprisingly crucial part in the systems I used as lowly payroll clerk, but the ramifications in my job if those clocks suddenly "broke" would have far reaching ramifications on staff who expected their anniversary dates to register that they now have annual and sick leave again. That the fact they worked "yesterday" is still recorded, because it - the system - knows what day it was then, and what day and time it is now. That "clock" - which was actually numerous clocks; in the actual clocking-on clock near the staff entry door, in the computer that I had on my desk that would grab those clockings into ancient (but at that point still perfectly functional) software, which relied on its own clock to be synchronised and correct so that at the end of the pay week I could ensure that absolutely every staff members' (we had about 150 people on the books then) electronic timesheet was accurate, before having that piece of ancient (yet functional) software transfer all hours worked to another piece of ancient (yet functional) piece of software. That software allowed things like annual leave and the like to be entered (based on its own time-and-date-crucial accrual calculations and birthday/payrate adjustments for its own list of 150 odd staff). Again, this piece of software totally relied on an internal clock within the computer it was running on, to be right. Once all the additional payments had been entered into this ancient (yet functional) piece of software, I'd - along with all the other payroll clerks in all the stores - "press the button" to send the payroll file off to the Payroll department's ancient (yet functional) systems, to send everyone's weekly payments into their various bank accounts; into banks that were all running ancient (yet functional) systems themselves.

But the clock was ticking.

All the clocks that I - and the software I had direct investment and reliance in - were heading towards a day where the information they gave was not going to be correct. They essentially knew the date in the form of "ddmmyy" which worked fine in the sixties, but as the year 2000 loomed ever closer, the very real FACT (not possibility) was my systems were suddenly going to see days marked as 120100 as Friday, the 12th of January, 1900 rather than Wednesday, the 12th of January, 2000!

The Sign In/Sign Out clock had no software option to fix it. On the stroke of midnight, Friday, December 31, '99, it would tick over to Monday, January 1, '00 - the Year of Our Lord, Nineteen Hundred AD. Even if we were to tell staff "just ignore the Day it says it is", we'd hit more problems when it hit midnight on the 28th of February (because 1900 was NOT a leap year, but 2000 was); it would skip the 29th entirely! So, really, just with the problems of the clock not being able to be software-fixed for it to deal with it being 2000 (and four digit years rather than two) meant it absolutely needed replacing. Along with every other store's clock-in/out clock. At between $600-$1000 a pop, plus labour for installation including new cabling between clock and new payroll computer. The old one remained in place and continued to be used until we officially changed over.

The payroll computer also had a chip that tracked just the last two digits of the year. The possibility of rewriting the two pieces of (long unsupported and woefully inflexible) software to somehow deal with it was unrealistic, compared to purchasing far more modern, (we're talking "able to use a mouse with"!) off-the-shelf time and attendance software, and Payroll Software. This software would require a Payroll Computer to have a time chip with four digit years also. So, at huge, but if everyone wanted to "be paid right", necessary expense new systems and software were ordered, whilst other systems in the company and store were also expensively upgraded due to the determination that time/date critical functions WOULD (not "might") be impacted (right down to having the right purchase date on your receipt, and the manager being able to use a spreadsheet to do budget forecasts into the '00s!)

Whilst continuing to perform my usual duties on the old system through '99 (the year my first child was born), I was required to attend frequent external extensive training on the new systems. Head office internally produced software to migrate "some" of the personal data from both old software systems to the two new ones. However, there was still enormous amounts of manual data entry required, including all full and part-time staff rosters, people's pay grades, addresses and email and phone numbers that could be automatically migrated into the time and attendance, and finally doing a number of weeks where we were required to essentially do two parallel pay runs on the old and new systems to compare the two results, and assist head office in ironing out the causes of any discrepancies. It was grueling, total-anxiety-elevation-inducing, and it quickly became apparent the pitfalls of trying to save a buck on the tender for the new software! But we (and I say "we", because the payroll clerks throughout the state really teamed together, often with little support other than "are we under control and on schedule?" from direct management, and helped each other) finally switched from old to new systems a month or so before crunch day - but continued running and entering weekly data into both systems- with staff blissfully unaware that their most recent pay was produced using 21st century technology rather than tech from the eighties!

Even though, after all this vital trouble, effort, anxiety, and expense, I was confident (now) that payroll, at least in our store, would appear to survive the "dreaded threat of the Y2K bug", we were still required to stockpile enough cash in the vault, for that payrun and the next, to print the old fashioned pay envelopes we used to have to use pre pay-directly-to-bank-account, so that in the event the banks had glitches, we could still pay by cash. We didn't have to resort to that two-hour-plus procedure, fortunately! 
It was interesting to see how well the old system coped when the day of doom ticked over: it didn't. If all that was done to get payroll to not skip a beat on Y2K-D-Day, hadn't been done, no-one would have been "paid right". I played a bit with date functions on the old machine's spreadsheet software. It couldn't tell what day it was to save itself! The exerted efforts and frustrations of underpaid, overworked, dedicated payroll clerks meant nothing "disasterous" seemed to happen when the big day finally arrived. But certainly, at least at a store level, there was no "Phew! Well, that all paid off! Well done everyone!" No. Instead there was a chorus of "Well, what a giant fuss about nothing! What a waste of money. What a waste of extra wages that could have been spent elsewhere (or not at all)!" In the staff room, as people watched the news announcing what a total non-event Y2K was, staff were heard to comment "It was just a ploy of the computer companies to get huge new sales! It certainly got Colin a new machine to play with! Why can't we go back to the old clock-on machine, now all this has blown over; it was easier to use!"

Y2K went down in history as a Non-Event, but as a lowly payroll clerk, I know the blood, sweat and tears that went on in the background in my department to make the OUTCOME appear a non-event.

Now, I'm no nuclear power station manager, or airline company operator, or bank interest-rate calculator, or rocket launch scientist, or any kind of life-date-critical-computer-controlled-system-type-person (although, thinking back at certain staff I had the joy of "not paying right", my life would certainly have felt in danger if my own massive, unseen undertaking hadn't been undertaken!) I can be VERY certain that they, too, conducted far more massive expensive undertakings to ensure that Y2K appeared a "non event" WHEN the Doomsday Clock ticked over. And much like myself, but to a far greater extent, they must have been flummoxed by the reaction to their unrecognised efforts and fumed at the comments of "Well, what a giant fuss about nothing! What a waste of money. What a waste of extra wages that could have been spent elsewhere (or not at all)!"

Why do I write all this, twenty years after the fact? The events and reactions playing out today regarding COVID-19 have caused this startling realisation of similar and frightening public reaction, where the greater the effort to contain potential disaster, the more successful that containment becomes, which bizarrely creates a reaction of "Well, that was a lot of fuss over nothing, because the disaster was far less than originally predicted!" It seems as if (and this is even when the actions to mitigate disaster are far more publicly visible than Y2K) there is an inability to make a correlation between actions and results. There are complaints that all the forecasted figures haven't eventuated, thus the experts were wrong - COMPLETELY failing to recognise the actions made to stop those figures eventuating! As the Australian comedian Charlie Pickering put it, it's like saying "because we put up pool fences and no one drowned, we wasted our money on pool fences."

The comparison with Y2K only goes so far though. Efforts, recognised or not, were effective, and the public can move on whether they believe any effort happened or was effective, or was worth it without giving it another thought - at least until December 31st, 9999! The problem with saying "The death toll from COVID-19 isn't what they predicted, so we're fussing (lockdowning, iso-ing, boarder-closing, whatever) over nothing!" is that it's that very fussing that has made it appear as if it's a fuss over nothing. Unlike the Y2K bug, this ain't fixed yet, no matter how successful we've been in stamping it out. We can't afford to be complacent yet. We can't.

Thursday, 27 February 2020


(I originally wrote this as a Facebook post back on 16 Aug 2018. Posting here for ease of finding.)

Imagine you're on a bus. (I know that may be difficult for some of you, but humour me.) Something occurs to you that causes you to feel the need to take urgent and immediate action - in much the same way you would react upon seeing a child step out onto a busy road. Hold that "feeling" and stretch it out for a few minutes. You REALLY, REALLY, HORRIFICALLY URGENTLY need to do something about that "something" that occurred to you! Your legs are throbbing with adrenaline, your heart is pounding, you look frantically out of the window of the bus, and... see something you've never noticed before, on a route you've travelled hundreds of time. It's a football field you've seen many times during the day, but never before have you seen it at night under lights, as you suddenly see it now; it instantly conjures up the feeling you're in the middle of a scene from "Field of Dreams"! Then you realise you've been distracted- YOU have an IMPORTANT THING to URGENTLY ATTEND TO!!!
Now- what was it!!! The urgency is still there, your legs are still ready to run, your mind is racing again- but for the love of All Things Bright and Beautiful you CANNOT remember what it was!!! So all your focus, attention, energy and adrenaline are turned towards trying... Trying to remember! You are SURE it was vitally important... Unless.
Unless your mind is just being a mongrel.
You get home, still anxious, but now trying to tell yourself your mind is just being a mongrel, and there never was something requiring your immediate attention. There wasn't. You'd remember it if it was so very important, so there really wasn't anything.
Was there?
You eat your dinner, lovingly prepared by a wonderful, patient partner, and then try to destract yourself doing something you would normally enjoy. Maybe... driving a Toyota Supra along a beautiful section of Italian countryside? Maybe a friendly race with other drivers out enjoying the freshly-rain-dampened road? Usually something you'd normally enjoy (because- if you're perfectly honest with yourself- it's the only "place" you really feel safe "behind the wheel of a car") - but not tonight. The heart hasn't stopped racing, the legs are still in fight/flight mode, and you are just angry. Angry at the Artificial Intelligence that just cut you off on a corner. Angry that your GPS is giving you really vague directions. Angry that some fool decided to plant a palm tree "right there where you can't help but hit it." Angry that the race that is meant to be distracting you from your anxiety is just feeding and growing that anxiety, so you make dumb mistakes, that you then blame on "distractions" that happen around you - but not a lit-up football field this time, but your partner who has just come home from yet another trip out playing mum's taxi (because there is no dad's taxi, because see-above) and is just playing with the cat. And you recognise how much of a jerk you just were, and turn off the game. It certainly wasn't helping, which doubly hurts because you've lost (at least for a while) a coping mechanism. You fumble around with a round-about sort of apology to your partner, and explain (also to a cluey child who is present, and old enough to know what's going on) the lead up to what they were hit with. And it seems empty, and foolish, but they seem to get it.
Anxiety sucks. It is hardly surprising that depression is it's bedfellow. It strikes without warning, in the middle of a thought, in the midst of happiness or sadness, often with no discernable trigger. Asking "what prompted that" is meaningless. Sympathy and attention is not wanted, just a hope for an increase in understanding.
Your reality may vary. This is mine. Except now I'm trying to write this with a cat on my chest. Yes, the cat is real.
I think.

Monday, 16 September 2019

"So, what are you doing with yourself now?"

(So few people are subscribed to this blog that this is the easiest place to put this post in case I need to "explain my circumstances" to someone. If you do happen to stumble upon it and decide to read its riveting contents, knock yourself out. In fact, reading it may well have that effect!)

The question, though fully expected, still catches me like a possum in the headlights.

"So, what are you doing with yourself now?"

Most people who follow me on Facebook know that I was made redundant ten or so months ago, but since then my feed has been full of self-taken photos of beaches and mountains and other bushwalking-type images. So the question is probably a reasonable one (barring the question of, "Who's business is it, anyway!"), but I still hesitate a moment as I run through my said-in-my-head repertoire of replies:
"I work as a Sub-Contracted Mercenary and Assassin for a Group of Chartered Bounty Hunters."
"I'm a Submarine Propulsion Technology Consultant for the Swiss Navy."
"I and my team, are in charge of Reversing the Polarity of the Neutron Flow in the Large Hadron Collider"
"I'm a Horse-Whisperer at Flemington Racecourse"
And then I fumble with a mumble of an answer, "I'm still sorting things out," or "I'm between jobs," or, fudging between the ridiculous answers and the feux-truth, "I'm doing some photography/ conference videography/ photo restoration." The cold, hard truth though, is that after months of living off a redundancy, mixed with facing up to gruelingly impersonal demoralising interviews, waiting, more reviews, waiting, and more interviews, I have been formally placed on a government Disability Support Pension.

No Swiss Navy or Whispering to Horses, but also no "solid self-sufficient-income self-employment"?!? What am I doing, you ask? I'm a pensioner at fifty-one, and we're surviving.

For twenty-five years I worked at the same place, on a low wage, paying taxes, surviving. I'd often be asked through those years that very same question, "What are you doing with yourself?", as if your very value to society hangs in the balance - your answer immediately determining a pass or fail. And I would answer, and watch the look in the eye as the coin was tossed. But I always knew in my depression and anxiety-ridden mind that it was a double-tailed coin; a fail fait accompli. 

The judging then comes. "You're smarter than that; capable of far greater things than that; why are you not doing A or B, or even C? You're a natural at those!" These things are sometimes even said verbally by the other person, saving me the agony of yet-again saying them myself in my head for the thousandth time or more! And yet, there are no accompanying carefully pre-prepared replies to share. That would suggest a mind that plays fair. 

Now (being placed on a Disability Support Pension), those questions -spoken or unspoken- will be asked louder, and with more incredulity. And with added judgement; maybe in their minds, but definitely in mine. "A disability Support Pension? What? I see no wheelchair! No cane or guide dog! You slacker! You bludger! You drain on the public purse! YOU ARE BETTER THAN THIS!" You may not say any of these things aloud. You may not even (and may whatever merciful God you might believe in, bless you) say these things in your head. But that is all for naught, for I have already said them for you, in mine; many, many times over. But paradoxically I have enough self-evidence and external diagnosis to also give me the truth, even though it is that very truth that makes it hard for me to accept.

A recent wind storm ripped through an area of forest I often walk the tracks of; ironically I take these walks to relieve the symptoms of my disability, and consequently self-judge (for my family and friends) that this very activity is more evidence that there is nothing wrong with me. The day after the storm I walked my oft-travelled path, only to be confronted by obstacles of fallen tree limbs, and even whole trees. Some of these trees were very familiar to me, and I was shocked at how strong the winds must have been to fell these seemingly immovable, strong timbers. It was only upon closer inspection of a few that had been snapped off at their bases, that I realised it wasn't just the strong winds that dropped these trees. Under a layer of solid-looking, invincible-seeming bark was a compromised, rotted out, weakened interior. It was only a matter of time for these mighty-in-appearance timbers to topple.

Yes, it is a simplistic analogy. But I reluctantly accept it has merit. I have seen the report that reads "Colin has fragile mental health and he meets the DSM-V diagnostic criteria for chronic anxiety (Generalised Anxiety Disorder), Panic Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder and sleep disturbance (Insomnia), which all lead him to feeling helpless and hopeless as his medical and mental health will never improve to a level which would permit him to return to the workforce in any capacity now or in the future." And still I hear "Faker!"

I have read the report that says, "Colin (has developed a) lifelong fear and anxiety due to hypersensitivity of his autonomic and sympathetic nervous system as a result of his 'fight and flight’ response being permanently turned on historically and indeed most definitely currently… Colin's conditions mean that he is in chronic and permanent state of fear, anxiety and panic all the time with his conditions flared with even the smallest task or daily living activity out of his comfort zone." And I hear, "Bludger!"

I have read the report that reads, "it is clearly evident that Colin be eligible for the Disability Support Pension given that his mental and medical conditions will never be fully resolved - he will never recover from his medical nor mental conditions as they are progressive in nature, and it is thus highly unlikely that he will ever learn to seIf-manage his anxiety, panic, and depression, as a result of these conditions being linked to the wiring of his brain rather than a chemical imbalance correctable with medication or an environmental stressor which can be changed." And yet I still hear the voice cry loudly, "You drain on the public purse! YOU ARE BETTER THAN THIS!"

I share this, not for sympathy, but for understanding. Understanding that whatever I do that seems "normal" or even "adventurous" or "overly ambitious" are my often-futile (buying a motor scooter to gain greater self-mobility? Trying to get an overly-ambitious short film made?), BUT occasionally wonderfully spirit-rewarding and sticking-it-to-my-stinkin'-mental-illness (finally getting a slightly less ambitious Short Film made, and still having most of the cast and crew still speaking to me? Pushing myself and my son to do a weekly podcast? Recognising that something is "special" enough to photograph, and actually photograph it? Donating blood products? Or, more essentially, just getting out of bed? Getting out of the house?) attempts to at least thicken that outer bark; to do whatever I can to improve my outer-resilience, because my inner is pretty well fried. Apparently. Or I'm just a pathetic slacker. It's hard to tell when you aren't confidently able to identify your genuine reality. My mental illness lies to me, for good and ill, constantly.

Now you know all this, may I ask a few things of you? It may seem counter-intuitive, but nine times out of ten a suggestion of "Have you tried X? I hear it's very effective/ my cousin uses it / it completely healed my own (sounds a bit like you've got what I've got) mental illness." I am very willing to ask advice of individuals, but this post is not an open invitation for unsolicited advice. I could certainly write a post at least as long as this one covering all the things I've given a good ol' go at, so it's more than likely that I've tried "it".

Also, and this may seem unrelated, I implore you that if you are currently in any way supportive of the yet-again proposed drug tests for welfare recipients, and a Cashless Welfare Card, I ask that you spend as many hours as I have sitting in a Centrelink waiting area. You will quickly realise it is NOT filled with "junkies squandering your taxes on meth and ice". It is filled with "You"- but "you" who has just been laid off, or injured and suddenly unable to work, or replaced by a robot/computer/consolidated team running out of Melbourne. It's filled with people like You, and definitely people like me. If you want "easily-potential-you" or definitely-me to have to be watched peeing into a cup for a drug test that has been a huge waste of money in places like New Zealand, or to only be able to buy things at designated stores using a restricted (and most likely privatised-and-making-a-rich-person-richer) debit card, then so-help me, unfriend me now. The utter humiliation and frustration of enduring the Centrelink "system" -which is now a jumbled mess of cobbled together "smart ideas" from decades of election promises, including the expectation that everyone young and old should be able to navigate their way around an app that seems purposely designed to befuddle, confuse, and crash - is already cripplingly dehumanising. Add drug-testing and payment restrictions to the already down and poor and you are not capable of true "friendship" in my books.

If you've made it this far through my ramblings, I thank you. Understand that most days I'm doing okay. Ask me to do stuff with you; there's a good chance I'll decline - but please keep asking. I don't do "peopling" well, but it's another potential way of thickening my bark.

Also understand that today, as I write this, was not one of those "I'm doing okay" days. The last few have been particularly sucky, in fact. If you need that as an excuse to filter this post, though, I suggest doing so with caution. It may have reduced my abrasiveness filter (for which I am sorry if that is truly the case) but I believe all I've said is what I intended to say in the first place - but maybe with half the words!

With love,
Submarine Propulsion Technology Consultant for the Swiss Navy

Saturday, 22 June 2019

The Impossible Task

This post is a "reprint" of a Twitter thread that I have stumbled upon a number of times over the last year, and reread each time. I share it here mainly for my own benefit for finding it again, and maybe increase the chance that someone who needs it may stumble upon it.

I claim no responsibility for the content, and have maintained the enforced Twitter "Paragraph" structure as much as possible, except where the author indicates a flow on to the next post, where I have joined them up. I have also put a break in where M. Molly Backes returns to the thread a few days later to respond to the overwhelming reaction her original thread caused.  The illustrations are also in the same location in this reproduction as they are in the original Twitter thread post.

I thank her again for her succinct words, that ring so very true for me, and hope she is OK with me sharing them here. The title I have taken from the post itself:

The Impossible Task

A Twitter thread by M. Molly Backes

Aug 28, 2018

Depression commercials always talk about sadness but they never mention that sneaky symptom that everyone with depression knows all too well: the Impossible Task.
The Impossible Task could be anything: going to the bank, refilling a prescription, making your bed, checking your email, paying a bill. From the outside, its sudden impossibility makes ZERO sense.

The Impossible Task is rarely actually difficult. It’s something you’ve done a thousand times. For this reason, it’s hard for outsiders to have sympathy. “Why don’t you just do it & get it over with?” “It would take you like 20 minutes & then it would be done.” OH, WE KNOW.

If you’re grappling with an Impossible Task, you already have these conversations happening in your brain. Plus, there’s probably an even more helpful voice in your brain reminding you of what a screw up you are for not being able to do this seemingly very simple thing.

Another cool thing about the Impossible Task is that it changes on you. One time it might involve calling someone, but maybe you can work around it by emailing. Another time it’s an email issue. Then when you think you have it pinned down, you suddenly can’t do the dishes.

If you currently have one or more Impossible Tasks in your life, be gentle with yourself. You’re not a screw up; depression is just an asshole. Impossible Tasks are usually so dumb that it’s embarrassing to ask for help, but the people who love you should be glad to lend a hand.

If you have a depressed person in your life, ask them what their Impossible Tasks are & figure out ways to help—without judgment. A friend once picked me up, drove me the two blocks to the pharmacy, & came in to help me refill a prescription. TWO BLOCKS. It was an amazing gift.

The one good thing about struggling with Impossible Tasks is that they help you to be gentler & more empathetic with other people in your life, because you know what it’s like. You know. The trick is to turn that gentleness & empathy toward yourself.


Sept 2, 2018

Hi everyone! I am overwhelmed & deeply gratified by the response to this thread. I have loved hearing from so many of you, & it has been beautiful to see you lifting each other up. I have been trying respond to everyone but I'm afraid there are simply too many to keep up with!

To answer a few common questions:

1) "Impossible Task" is not an official name, just what I've always called it. A psychiatrist might use the term "executive dysfunction."

2) Experiencing this does not necessarily mean you're depressed; it can be a side effect of many conditions including anxiety, ADD, ADHD, OCD, PTSD, autism, grief, stress, fatigue, chronic pain, etc, and/or a combination of the above. If you're concerned about your particular experience, I recommend seeking professional advice (& yes, I realize that can be its own Impossible Task!)

3) Different strategies of treatment--including medication, talk therapy, CBT, meditation, exercise, smooching puppies, etc--work for different people. What works for one might not work for another, & what worked for you in the past may not work in the future.

Let's not be too prescriptive with each other, because statements like "This worked for [whoever], why doesn't it work for you?" or "My cousin was depressed until she started training for a triathlon--why don't you do that?" often feed our inner voices of guilt & shame and lord knows that none of us need MORE guilt rattling around in our brains.

4) Unfortunately, there is nothing you can to do fix someone else. You can't "make" someone get better, no matter how much you love them. It sucks, I know. And sometimes, you can't even help them!

People who are struggling with depression, anxiety, etc, may not allow you to help them with their impossible tasks because they're so embarrassed about them. That's ok! In those cases, you can always leave the door open to future help, & just love them fiercely in the meantime.

5) If you're currently struggling with one or more Impossible Tasks, you're not crazy, you're not lazy, & you're not alone. Try to be gentle with yourself. Beating yourself up isn't helping! Consider asking someone to help--sometimes just having company during the task can help.

6) And finally, despite what depression tells you, this won't last forever. There will be a day when you're able to tackle a whole stack of old mail, or drive straight to the post office, or get out of bed without effort. There may even be a day when you WANT to! Those days usually come incrementally, not all at once. But one day, hopefully in the near future, you'll feel like your favorite version of yourself again, and it will feel like seeing the sunshine for the first time in ages. It's coming, I promise. Until then, hang in there.

Take care of yourself, even if that means cutting major corners in your life, or not being "productive," or living on Netflix & takeout for a while. It's okay. And try to let others take care of you, too, even when you don't believe you deserve it.

Remember that people want to help you because they love you, & allowing them to do something for you is its own form of kindness. Don't rob your friends of the chance to feel good by helping you do something that's impossible for you but a cinch for them!

Last thing: whenever you're tempted to beat yourself up for being "lazy," remember that you fought harder to get out of bed & get yourself dressed today than the average person could even imagine. You're not lazy. Your mountains are just that much steeper. Keep going. ❤️

Saturday, 19 January 2019


Two years back, I was working on a small pet project. For years I'd wanted to get a group together and make a short film. Two years ago today, I posted on Facebook the following. I repost it here so it's easier for me to find and remind myself that I DO finish things sometimes, and it's worth it!

People have asked me, how did the Second day of Shooting go yesterday?
Not as planned. Or... Not as not planned. I kept second-guessing myself with a heap of things, constantly indecisive, and wasted people's time and effort, petrol and temperaments in the process. Weather and temperature and time of sunset were problematic. We got some good footage, but didn't wrap filming. The blooper real should be good though!

Introspection follows:
Most of you know I suffer with anxiety and depression. They are constantly feeding on each other,  both sharing the role of cause and effect. I have long bouts of being frozen with anxious inaction, thinking, " Do something... You're wasting time... You are SO going to regret this Not-Actually-Doing-Anything!!!" But if I actually break through that (and for the first 6 months of being payroll clerk, or starting a new job, or having an interview, or an exam, that break through usually involved violently throwing up first) and actually commence something, I am constantly bombarded with thoughts of "this will all end badly... you suck at this... You know you'll just end up quitting like you always do... Quit now before you make a complete fool of yourself... Let's face it, no one believes you can do this... You are surrounded by people who are incredibly kind trying to help you out, but you are wasting their time - and whatever modicum of friendship they may share with you. This is no good... You. Will. Fail."
Mental illness is incideous, and not just mentally but physically debilitating. The last two days of filming, I have started the morning feeling much like anyone would who has two exams, their wedding, the birth of their first child, their driving test, and their first sky-dive all happening that day. It is seriously that bad, and probably understating it. My medication helps me stay the course a lot better than I used to be able to- hey, I don't tend to throw up anymore!-  but mental illness is not just "in your head". It manifests itself in quite severe physical ways. (Anyone who has watched me try to wield a pen could vouch for that!)
So if it is so debilitating to even contemplate putting myself through this, why would I? I asked myself that (yet again) in the shower today, still shaking with the agonizing feeling of "I just can't do this!" that has riddled my life for so long. And I had a bit of an "Aha!" moment. It consisted of just three words: "Tour de France". 
Every year Wendy (my long-suffering wife) stays up 'til all hours watching this grueling race, and every year I watch a bit, and nearer the end watch in incredulity at the ones at the back, the ones who have been riding for weeks with no hope at all of actually winning. And every year I ask myself, "Those guys are knackered, they are killing themselves, they have no chance of a place; why do they keep going?!?" The aha moment was that the answer to both of my questions is the same. 
I'm still not entirely sure what that answer is; I suspect that the fear of regret plays a part, but also know that regret can be a cruel diet for depression.
It may be part of the human psyche to conquer things. I don't know, but I do know this: This film is not going to be the "masterpiece" I have in my head. I don't think I have the "tools" to do that. But I do think that there have been some skills developed during this experience- not just me, but the rest of the crew- that have made this worthwhile. I also know that there is, I think, just an evening's worth of filming left. And I think WE are now more skilled to do it (coming from someone who has never been a team player, due to feeling more comfortable to "inevitably fail" alone, and has therefore found it hard to share out the challenges) and understand more what is involved (the ages waiting, followed by everything happening at once!) I'm hoping that I can convince myself that you also genuinely want to see this through, even though you now have a scarier idea of who you're dealing with: A scared weird little guy trying to complete a Tour de France from the back of the peloton, with a broken collarbone and severe saddle sores. But I need to get it done, and keep the momentum to do it.
Gilbert, Fletcher, Paul, Tyson, Thomas, and Nathan (yes, I still very much want you!), please keep pushing me; we need to do this before Fletcher disappears on his mission, or the Baleno (his very sick car, which features in the film) dies; whichever comes first!

Spoiler Alert:
The short film was, indeed completed. A premiere screening was held in my local Church's recreation hall, with the permission of my local church leader - which, considering some of what goes on the film, was quite a surprise, but for which I'm very grateful to my Bishop! It was invite-only, with cast and crew each adding names to the list. We managed to fill the hall, and even my Doctor (who helped push me along, and is very involved in my mental health care) and her husband came along! I was, of course, a mess, but they seemed to enjoy it.
The film can be found on YouTube, and if you push past the black screen opening credits that go on too long, to where the film starts, it might keep your attention! It can be found here.

Saturday, 16 September 2017


A very, very dear person said to me on Facebook recently, “I'm thankful for your courage in your various posts about marriage equality. It's not easy being open on social media - I know I'm a chronic ‘people pleaser’ and will often forsake my views for more harmonious interaction with other people.”; I'm not feeling courageous; in fact I had a panic attack earlier, contemplating how to put all these rambling thoughts that are bouncing around my Cranium together. I also feel uncomfortable with the possibility of having less than harmonious interaction with other people. I guess it's just that I've become so weary and tired of seeing people I love and respect get hurt, from both sides of the “marriage equality” argument, but also continue to see the spread of half-truths and outright lies from both sides.

So this has been hard, and I'm still none too confident I'm going to be able to articulate my thoughts on why I, as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or “Mormon”, have landed on the side of the “Yes” campaign regarding marriage equality. I will openly admit that I'm a pretty poor example of what an LDS member is (it's funny; our church has managed to accumulate almost as many “names” as the LGBTQQIAA(!) community has); I do not blame my parents for this, and believe they actually did well to “raise [me] up in the way I should go”. But I, like everyone else, have my failings, caused both inwardly and outwardly, and thus I can easily be dismissed as “barely a Mormon” anyway. That would be hurtful, but possibly fairly accurate; I certainly castigate myself with the same self-accusation. But I think there are some redeeming features that drag me from the bottom of the unredeemable sinner pile. I would like to think that, at least occasionally, I endeavour to remember that “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them…” The ol’ Golden Rule: “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself” (the positive or directive form), or, “One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated (the negative or prohibitive form).

So, one thing I'd like to clear up first; I fear that many church members somehow missed a fundamental shift the church has made concerning “Homosexuality”. I grew up with the writing and talks of Spencer W Kimball and Bruce R McConkie, with statements  concerning Same-Sex Attraction such as

"God made me that way," some say, as they rationalize and excuse themselves for their perversions. "I can't help it," they add. This is blasphemy. Is he not made in the image of God, and does he think God to be "that way"?’,  “homosexuality (along with a long list of other things; Bruce R McConkie was quite exhaustive in his ‘Sex Immorality’ section in his thankfully now out of print ‘Mormon Doctrine’) (is) condemned by divine edict and (is) among Lucifer's chief means of leading souls to hell” “But it can be corrected and overcome.

Alas, there are still many members who believe that this is still the church's stance, that it is a choice, that can be cured. Homosexual Conversion Therapy is still bandied about in certain ignorant quarters. It is not a Choice, and nor does the Church continue to hold that belief. On the official Church website we read:

“Feelings of same-sex attraction are not a sin. Elder M. Russell Ballard stated:

Let us be clear: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that ‘the experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including [those with same-sex attraction]’” (“The Lord Needs You Now!” Ensign, Sept. 2015, 29).

While same-sex attraction is not a sin, it can be a challenge. While one may not have chosen to have these feelings, he or she can commit to keep God’s commandments. The parent of a child who experiences same-sex attraction or identifies as gay should choose to love and embrace that child. As a community of Church members, we should choose to create a welcoming community.”

“For someone who experiences same-sex attraction or identifies as gay, counseling may help the person approach his or her sexuality in healthier, more fulfilling ways. However, counseling and therapy are not needed by everyone.

While shifts in sexuality can and do occur for some people, it is unethical to focus professional treatment on an assumption that a change in sexual orientation will or must occur. Again, the individual has the right to define the desired outcome.” (emphasis mine)

And where once family-banishment seemed commonplace upon learning of a child's “unnatural” sexual orientation, the church offers wonderful guidance, pleading the opposite reaction (see .)

So, we as a church have come a long way concerning something that affects roughly 10% of the world's population; roughly the same number who are left-handed. Think about that for a moment. Think how many people in your local congregation are left-handed. (I'm waving my left hand wildly!) Statistically, we also have in our congregation the same amount of people who, whether you, or they, like it or not, don't sit in the pew marked “heterosexual”; repeating Elder M. Russell Ballard's words, “‘the experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people”.

And then, “The attraction itself is not a sin…” - and here is where God's law, and civil, law-of-the-land law diverge - “but acting on it is.

That's tough. Here you are, a member of what you believe to be the Church of Jesus Christ, but you've been born with desires that you cannot act on without offending God. Those limitations are also placed by God upon everyone else, but everyone else has an option to act on those desires; they can get married. Not so those with Same Sex Attraction. These brothers and sisters who do sit amongst us are mighty strong who choose a life of celibacy, and have my awe-filled respect.

All that (and yes, it was a lot) being said, what of those not of our faith? What right do we have to deny the right of civil union of two consenting adults, who are already, legally allowed to act on that “complex reality of same sex attraction”. What right?  

One of the other axioms that I have endeavoured to live by, is also one of my favourite pieces of modern day scripture; this is scripture that we believe has been given by God through modern day prophets. It is actually one of our "Articles of Faith", a concise listing of thirteen fundamental doctrines of Mormonism composed by Joseph Smith as part of an 1842 letter sent to "Long" John Wentworth, editor of the Chicago Democrat, and first published in the Latter Day Saint newspaper Times and Seasons. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), later canonized the articles as scripture in 1880. Article of Faith 11 reads:

We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

Holding to this has resulted in friendships through my life with (amongst many others) Baptists, a few members of the Salvation Army, a Jehovah's Witness, a couple of Pentecostals, a bunch of agnostics, a nonconformist conglomerate of atheists, and a wonderful Muslim Turk who made the best Kebabs in Fairfield, NSW- just don't call them souvlaki!

Article of Faith 12, just out of interest, reads:

We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

(So if you see a “good Mormon” doing sixty through a school zone, they are not only breaking the law, they offend God in the process!)

Which brings me to a scripture that has a great deal of meaning to me, that in a lot of ways intertwine these two articles of faith. I'd say that second only to Doctrine & Covenants 89:12-13 (Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly; And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.) one of the most ignored of all modern day scripture seems to be this: it's found in The Doctrine and Covenants (a book of modern-day revelation), contained in a section excitedly called 134. Within the Section’s preface, we read: A declaration of belief regarding governments and laws in general, adopted by unanimous vote at a general assembly of the Church held at Kirtland, Ohio, August 17, 1835.

The whole section is not very long, and well worth a read, and can be found here:

The verse in particular that does the intertwining of Articles of Faith 11&12 in Section 134 is verse 9:

We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.

And therein lies the rub.

And it's a rub that cuts both ways, to mix metaphors, amplified even more so with the hypothetical claims of certain Anti-Equality camps; that of the “slippery slope” that could well allow demands by some for the legal acceptance of polygamy.

Because we, as LDS, are a people built on the back of polygamy.

From the LDS church’s webpage “The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage” (again, well worth a full read to grasp more fully the parallels our gay friends and family members currently face):

For much of the 19th century, a significant number of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints practiced plural marriage—the marriage of one man to more than one woman. The beginning and end of the practice were directed by revelation through God’s prophets. The initial command to practice plural marriage came through Joseph Smith, the founding prophet and President of the Church. In 1890, President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto, which led to the end of plural marriage in the Church.

The end of plural marriage required great faith and sometimes complicated, painful—and intensely personal—decisions on the part of individual members and Church leaders. Like the beginning of plural marriage in the Church, the end of the practice was a process rather than a single event. Revelation came “line upon line, precept upon precept.””

To quote from the manifesto itself, canonised as scripture:

The question is this: Which is the wisest course for the Latter-day Saints to pursue—to continue to attempt to practice plural marriage, with the laws of the nation against it and the opposition of sixty millions of people, and at the cost of the confiscation and loss of all the Temples, and the stopping of all the ordinances therein, both for the living and the dead, and the imprisonment of the First Presidency and Twelve and the heads of families in the Church, and the confiscation of personal property of the people (all of which of themselves would stop the practice); or, after doing and suffering what we have through our adherence to this principle to cease the practice and submit to the law, and through doing so leave the Prophets, Apostles and fathers at home, so that they can instruct the people and attend to the duties of the Church, and also leave the Temples in the hands of the Saints, so that they can attend to the ordinances of the Gospel, both for the living and the dead?
(Emphasis added by me)

My first rhetorical hypothetical (seeing as we seem happy enough to predict hypothetical outcomes) question for you all is this:

You're a kind, loving, Christian, non-LDS US family in the late 1800s, living next door to a nice, very large Mormon family that's currently practicing polygamy. Would you be one of the sixty millions of people opposed to them continuing? If a voluntary postal survey was dropped off via Pony Express, with the question:

Should Mormons be allowed to continue practicing plural marriage?
□ Yes                         □ No

What box would you tick, do you think?

Let me ask a second, rhetorical hypothetical question:

You're a kind, loving, Christian, LDS Australian family in the early 2030s. Marriage equality between two consenting adults had already been made legal a decade previously. The slippery slope has been slid, and in a surprising and somewhat controversial move, the Prophet of the Church requests its members to request of the government the right for Church Members and other faiths that have traditionally practiced plural marriage to do so in this country. Extensive polling shows 70% approval by the Australian populace, but the Government of the day can't do what they're paid to do, learnt nothing from the voluntary non-binding postal survey fiasco, and there, in front of you, delivered by a completely privatised Australia Post Drone, is a voluntary non-binding postal survey, with the simple question:

Should consenting adults be allowed to practice plural marriage?
□ Yes                         □ No

Be aware that there is strong and vocal opposition to this, no matter the polling. Which box would get your tick this time?

Yes, this is all hypothetical, and I certainly don't wish to know the answer to these two questions. I just want you to think it over, and identify how you feel.

I reiterate Doctrine and Covenants Section 134:9

We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.

So what of The Family: A Proclamation to the World? If you had managed to drag yourself away from this gripping essay, and read the full Section 134, the next verse perhaps answers that question:

We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship.

And the fear of the impact on children? I am honestly not being flippant, but how much of these terrifying statistics is the result of same sex marriage? My admittedly very small experience with same-sex couples raising children have put my own nurturing efforts to shame.

All this I say from the very blinkered perspective of one who believes he will never see a same-sex marriage performed within an LDS chapel, let alone a Temple, and will defend the Church's (and all Churches) right to take that stand. Just as strongly as I will continue to fight for the rights of two consenting adults - including many wonderful, loving, caring, shy, terrific friends and family - outside of the church to be able to have a civil marriage in Australia. Because it strikes me as totally and ridiculously bizarre that, because I am legally married, I can in this country break one of the Big Ten and (God-Forbid) legally commit Adultery, when so many of my friends and family can't, because they can't legally be married to those they love!

DISCLAIMER: I’m no expert in nuffink except writing long, poorly punctuated ramblings. I represent no one, and no party, in said rambling. I suffer from mental disorders severe enough for you all to completely discredit this rambling, carte blanche. Any offence caused by said rambling is completely unintentional. Minds far superior to mine could probably poke holes the size of Kerberos through any of my statements. That being said, I never said this was my argument; just the reasons why I, as a Mormon, marked the yes box on my voluntary, non-binding, non-vote, evilly divisive postal survey, that even when over will leave us all back where we started.  Thank you for getting to the bottom of this; if you did, and actually read it all, ask me for a hug. It will take me even further out of my comfort zone, but you'd deserve it.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

The One With the Vice Principal

Hi. Not sure how you got here, but hi! This post is a little long, and quite personal. I wrote it when I was sick, so my editing is woeful, as is my ability to discern what I should and shouldn't put in. Some may consider these two things to be the same; in this case, they are not. There is a subtle difference.  I ask one thing. If you are going to battle through this post, please imagine you are sitting in a small theatre, and I am delivering this on an empty stage, as a monologue. There is a point at the end of the next paragraph where you are given the option to leave without going on.  If you are not up to “hearing” three thousand words after that point, leave. If you decide to remain, I ask that you sit through the rest without leaving, or throwing Jaffas.  It will take you fifteen minutes, tops. The fact that I am naked on stage may further influence your decision. If it's any consolation, the only way I'm going to make it through this monologue is to imagine that you are too. Are we sitting comfortably? Then let's begin.

It has been quite some time since I have written in my “very  occasional” blog, but there has been something that I have felt a need to share since attending a local college performance of Patricia Cornelius' You Still Here?, which  centres around young people in Tasmania in the Eighties as they consider their employment opportunities, life, and sense of home within our island state.  It was a great performance, and perhaps especially resonated with me, as the Eighties in Tasmania were MY teenage years. Also, being in such an intimate theatre that Elizabeth College is blessed (and, perhaps, cursed) with, I couldn’t help but be caught up in a nostalgia trip of the the whole vibrant “thespianity” (it's a word; honest!)  of it all. For it was in those teen years also that, to use a terrible cliché, I developed a love of the smell of the greasepaint, the sound of first night opening curtains, and the glare of stage light.  So there was an almost overwhelming flood of memories and emotions that night; some wonderful nostalgia, but also the surfacing of deeply-buried memories and guilt-ridden regret. It was hammered home even more by the role that was played by the friend I went to watch; I expressed to him afterwards how impressed I was with the dignity he brought to the character (which could easily have become an overplayed caricature), and that I might explain to him one day how gutsy and important a role it was, and why it resonated with me so much. Upon reflection I felt the need to go a little further; to put this on public record and maybe seek a little redemption also. It may be picking at old scabs, and like watching a slow motion train wreck, so if you find life squeamish, Look Away, Look Away! For this all may seem a series of unfortunate events.

In the play, my friend had the challenge of portraying a gay teen, contemplating his future in a State of Australia where homosexuality was still a crime. It is an uncanny coincidence that, on the day I write this, Tasmania is celebrating the twentieth anniversary of its decriminalisation, in 1997.  Only two years before my eldest child was born. It seems incredulous. While I incredule(!) over it, I should also point out that, no, this is not a “coming out of the closet” manifesto; that revelation may have halved the few remaining readers who have struggled this far, but in many ways this story is -dare I say queerer?- than that!

The events I refer to are muddied by time; I'm almost forty-nine as I write this, and I was only sixteen when the following transpired. The memories have been reformatted and re-photocopied in my head many times. I shall make every effort not to over-sensationalize things, but any “quotes” I may use will certainly not be verbatim, but instead, dramatic reconstructions. I also have a habit of excessive use of punctuation; I especially like the subtle curves of the semi-colon, and seem to use them 100 percent more than I should.

Looking way back then, I can’t help but regurgitate, with thanks to Dickens, another now-cliché:  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way...”

High School in Tasmania covers years seven to ten, with college covering years 11, 12, and if you're pacing yourself (or really have a tough/lazy/crazy time of those two years) also year 13. I attended a high school out of area, and as such only knew a handful of people there in the transition from primary school. It was a fresh start, and, not being a great maker of friends, quite a daunting task. I was twelve,  and surprisingly very quickly developed a firm friendship with a great, funny, talented guy; basically a great mate. What I did not know was that he had been labelled in his previous school by the kinds of kids who like to do such things, and because those kids followed him to highschool, he wasn't able to shake that label off. And so, being friends with him, I inherited the label too. At twelve years of age, I became a “poofter”. I use that word, much as I find it loathsome and disgusting, because that was the label that was used. “Gay” came later. Grade seven? I was a dirty poofter.

Even after a string of girlfriends those first few terms (my friend and I seemed to play tag-team there; what was it with that?), to a certain influential segment of that year group we were gay, with everything that that, with their overactive imaginations, entailed. It was incredibly incongruous having somehow developed the label of “Casanova” at home, but at school be the opposite! Even after that mate (in the very Aussie sense only) moved away after that year (which, most confusingly amongst all of this, just absolutely broke my heart), I was stuck holding the label.  All my school shirts seemed to have it embroidered across the breast pocket in eighties-pastel-pink.  I think I managed to deflect it from the few other friends I had in high school, but it was one that I never managed to shake.

On my grade ten central Australia school trip, early in the year, we spent a night underground in an opal mine in Coober Pedy. It was in the pitchest of pitch black that I heard the taunts of familiar voices whispering threats of “the poofter is in for an uncomfortable night tonight!”; they probably slept well that night, but every rustling sound of a sleeping bag had me flinching.

Near the end of the same trip, as we reached the outskirts of Adelaide, there was a mass exodus of guys from the coach to use the roadstop restroom; it had been discovered at previous roadstops that dispensers of the condom variety were common in such places.  There were now only a few nights left on the tour for chances, real or imagined, to make use of them, so these guys wanted to be ready. Or seen to be ready. Or seen to be macho enough to be seen to be buying them! I thought little as I could about it, until that evening at that night’s camp spot. I was in the shower block alone; showering, strangely.  There was suddenly a bustle of activity outside the stalls, as a gang of  “yearmates” came in. The ringleader immediately called my name from outside.  I have no idea how they knew I was in there, but was thankful that my clothes and towel were in the locked double cubicle with me, as they were the usual targets in scenarios like this in the school change-rooms back home. Unfortunately there was a big gap between the top of the cubicle and the roof. “Tell me what this is, ya poofta!”, the ringleader called over the wall. I ignored him, as the others cried “he probably doesn't even know!”, and various other taunts. And then he called out again, “Tell me what this is, or I'm climbing over that wall and I'm going to use it on you!”  I was naked, the shower still running, absolutely terrified at what this thug of a man (although I was around 6” by this time, this creature towered over me) was about to use on me in my exposed state!

I looked over the top of the stall, quickly identifying the half-dozen usual suspects that I would have no hope of running the gauntlet against, and then looked at what Biff (yes, names changed etc.) held aloft. It was a small, square, shiny packet.

Oh (whatever expletive my “closeted potty-mouth” brain was using in my head in those days)!

The laughs and taunts increased again, then fell, as Biff stepped close enough to look down at me over the top of the wall. This, I remember vividly: although completely naked, and having this thug stare down at me, I made no attempt to cover myself up. It was as if I felt that my dignity, whatever shred might be left of it, would be better maintained by not doing so, than by making some pathetically feeble fumble. That being said, he didn't look anywhere other than straight into my eyes. I have never been good at that; eye contact does my head in, but I think I was too scared to not do so here. I was fully convinced that the headspace this guy was in meant he was ready and capable of doing anything to me. He asked again, “Tell me what this is, or I'm coming in to use it!” “Yeah, except he'll probably enjoy it!”, spewed one of the brute squad. And then I told him; for the next thirty seconds or so I reeled off every name I'd ever heard for the humble condom, in quick succession. I don't think I could do it again, and I don't think I made any up, but I think I even used some names that they hadn't even heard of before! It seemed to catch Biff completely off-guard, but also gave him a convenient escape from any carry-through-of-threats. “You're​ lucky, you poof! I was saving this for (insert very unlikely girl's name here).”

And they left.

And I bawled. As quietly as I could.

A number of weeks later, back at school, one of the smaller members of the brute squad who was out on his own cornered me in the school yard and started his own taunts. It must have been a bad day because I suddenly lost it, grabbing him by the arms, swinging him around and slamming him repeatedly against the wall yelling “I. Have. Had. Enough. Of. THIS!!!” (And this was months before William Shatner did the same with his foot into Christopher Lloyd's​ face!) I might have hurt him a bit. I certainly hurt his pride. I immediately feared gang retaliation, but it didn't happen. I'm guessing he didn't tell. Pride? Guilt? Respect?! Who knows? But he certainly avoided eye-contact with me forever after that.

I never really understood the longevity of this box I lived in, nor was it something I thought I could really discuss with anyone else; not that I thought anyone could do anything about it anyway. I honestly don't think it was helped by my love of the performing arts; rightly or wrongly there seems to be a perceived correlation between the performing arts and a propensity for attraction to members of the same sex. Your mileage may vary. But it was this love that leads us (thankfully!) to the ending of this tedium.

At the end of August the school's major production was staged, over two nights. I scored one of the leading roles, and struggled desperately with learning the lines; I guess I managed better than the other guy who was supposed to be playing the same part on the other night, as I ended up playing both nights. (Bizarrely, the only lines I still remember from the entire three act play belonged to someone else!) The rest of the cast were predominantly in year ten like myself, with a few exceptions. One of those was an extremely flamboyant lad from grade eight. I use the word “lad” somewhat loosely, because if I recall correctly he could sprout facial hair on his top lip in a way that I would only come close to many years later. He was also (and at this point I risk identifying him fully, but hope he will understand, and forgive me) an absolute Boy George fanatic, as if the Culture had been Clubbed into him! He was effervescently larger than life. He was also teased and taunted mercilessly- for being gay. My biggest regret is that I have no recollection as to whether I actively participated in said bullying. I regret I have no recollection, because it makes me terribly afraid that I did; making me guilty of inflicting upon someone else the very hell I, myself, had had to endure. At the very least, I did nothing to stop it; and in that environment I think I may have been in a position to have actually done “something” about it.  What I DO remember was being secretly jealous of this guy. He just oozed self-confidence on stage, and above all emanated an incredible impression that he was comfortable in his own skin, and wasn't going to let anyone change that. He was fourteen then; I still haven't come close to achieving that! It may mean nothing to him, but if there is anyone who has read this far, and still knows him (and I think you'll know if you do) please pass him a link to this? I owe him some respect and an apology!

If you thought “Yay! He's achieved catharsis! AND- more importantly- that's the end!”, you haven't watched Aliens.

A few days following the final performance, I noticed a grade seven kid following me.  I stopped walking. He stopped. I started again. He followed. I stopped again, and resisted the urge to continue the age-old tradition of picking him up and sitting him on top of a locker, as had happened to me as a year seven annoyance. “What!?”, I asked.
“Ummm, I just wanted to tell you what a great job you did in the play.”
“Yeah, I don't know how you managed to learn all those lines!”
“Nah, I don't either! I mucked up a few.”
“Well, I thought you did great.”
“Thank you.”

I asked his name, we chatted a little, then it was a “see you around”, and I went on my way.

I did see him around. Quite a bit. He was a loner, and I guess I felt that a bit. I'd say “hi!”, and ask him how he was going. He was often evasive, but occasionally opened up, and I listened. He was a nice, shy, struggling kid. I guess I felt idolized a bit, and it felt strange. And good.

A few months (and a number of exams) later, the year tens were counting down the days to end of high school- a month earlier than the rest of school. It was a time of half-baked lessons (reports were already written), boat trips, and beach activities. During one of those half-baked lessons, it happened. A call came over the PA, for me to go to the vice-principal’s office immediately. I had managed to keep my head down fairly well for four years, so this was a bit of a shock to me(!), and, as reflected by the chorus of mocking “Ooooooh!!!”s, to the rest of the class.  I went downstairs, and knocked on the VP’s office.  As soon as he answered the door, I knew things weren't good. The look he gave me was one of smug disdain. This smugness continued in his voice as he asked me in, and told me to take a seat.

“Look, this is somewhat awkward, but I've just finished talking to a very upset grade seven student who I believe you know.”

For the love of all things bright and beautiful, I had no idea who or what he was talking about, and hoped the look on my face reflected that. What I got was a look of patronizing “oh, please!”

He named my little fan-boy. He then said, “he's really upset that you are leaving this week.”
“Oh. Wow.”
“Yes. (pause) So tell me, so I can better understand this all…” And then the puzzle-piece that explained everything; the attitude, the looks, the vocal tone. And the sudden, cynical raised eyebrow. “... what exactly is your relationship with this boy?”

And I suddenly found myself in an episode of a show I had been allowed to watch by my parent's a few years earlier- famous in my mind up until then as being the first time I'd ever seen a portrayal of two people (quite discreetly) making love. “To Serve Them All My Days”, a brilliant British drama about a shell-shocked WWI veteran from Wales returning to England and taking up a post as a teacher at a boarding school. It includes a scene where a crazed Headmaster commences a witch-hunt for older boys being “overly familiar” with younger boys in the dorms. I knew enough by then to understand what was going on in that show. I therefore also knew enough by then as to what the vice-principal was insinuating. In that moment I felt far more vulnerable, stark-naked exposed, and in “deer-in-the-headlights” danger than I did in that shower stall six months before.

Four years of living with the label by my peers, and to top it all off I'm copping it from the VP, but with far more serious, accusatory undertones. This was not a bullying taunt. It was a legal challenge.

I told him “what exactly” my relationship was, but by then I couldn't tell what he was thinking. I didn't have a lot of time to give it any thought anyway, because he looked at the clock on the wall, and said, “Well, there's fifteen minutes before this class period is out. He's sitting on the side of the soccer fields. Please, go speak to him.” He stood up, and strangely shook my hand as he let me out of the office. As I left, he said “Good luck.”

I wish I knew what I said to that boy (heh. I call him boy, but now realise at my current age how little difference three years makes!). I can't remember. I was still processing the conversation that I'd had with a “responsible adult, in authority” suggesting, albeit indirectly, that I was involved in an act that I knew was illegal in Tasmania. And all that that entailed. That's what was racing through my head.

But I do know this. I manned up at the end of whatever I said to him, and we embraced. Tears fell from my eyes onto the top of his head, as he sobbed into my chest. This was not a “gay” or “sexual” hug; it was the heart-rending embrace of two man-children heading into uncertain futures, in different directions.

Was he gay? I don't know, and now that he legally “can” be, I don’t care. So much. Because there's still an awful, terrifying divide between what is now legally accepted, and what is socially accepted. And that divide isn't closing anywhere near fast enough. Any of my peers that grew up “poofters” in the Eighties, I salute you. Especially those who stayed in Tasmania. I do not claim to have anywhere close to a full idea as to how it has been for you, but I think I have a small inkling. And for those teens struggling now with this label, whether imposed by others, or self identified- closeted or out- I salute you too, with a virtual man-child hug. I ache for your struggles.

Prior to You Still Here?’s opening night I jokingly asked, “I just hope there's no teenage angst in it…”
My friend's​ reply? “Well, a minimal amount”
Heh. He did good.