Sunday, December 11, 2016

My awesome daughter

Disclosure: This is a biased account by a father about his awesome daughter.

Yesterday I missed seeing Jazzy’s annual gymnastic display. My alarm woke me up in time, but I arose in a fluey fogginess and I just couldn’t do it. I could feel that sense that if I stayed awake and forced myself through, I’d end up really sick and completely out of action for days. I knew how much it would mean to her for me to be there, but I just couldn’t. I collapsed back in the bed and slept deeply for another two hours. Disappointing all round. What can I say.

I did however make it to the afternoon session. I missed seeing the routine that she’d spent the last few months working on, but I did see something else. Quite a lot in fact about the amazing young woman that I have the privilege of calling my daughter.

Last January, Jazzy broke her arm. A piece of her elbow broke clean off, floating nearly a centimetre from where it was meant to be, like a little island separated out in the sea from the mainland. This was compounded by it not actually being diagnosed as broken for a good three months or so after the fact (a whole other story – thanks Warrandyte physio!). An operation ensued, followed by a long and slow rehabilitation. She has been unable to put any weight on it for almost a year now. Quite a significant impediment for somebody whose favourite time is spent swinging on gymnastics bars and flipping across the floor. Like many parents, I’m overly proud of my children. I love their successes. Parents tend to feel that their kids’ successes are in some way also theirs. I share this trait with those other parents. But my pride in Jazzy during this year, has stemmed not so much from her success, but from her fight in the face of adversity. Her persistence. Dedication. Courage. Without being able to use her arms at all, she has continued training twice a week for the entire year. For months she was able to do only repetitive leg strengthening work, while watching the other girls in her group flipping around all over the place. While this may be "only sport" and is not as significant as adversities that many others are experiencing, it showed a steely reserve inside that will stand her well when life throws difficulties her way. She had to forego the competitive part of the sport for the year, missing out on the two competition days, but going along in any case to support her team wholeheartedly. Generosity of spirit. Part of a team. Yesterday’s display was a culmination in a year of effort to get herself back in action. All the more disappointing to have missed it.

In the afternoon session that I did make it to, Jazzy’s stuff was all over. At least, she felt it was. But that’s not how it looked to me. There she was, leading the displays of other kids as one of the club coaches. Out the front, abounding in confidence, running the show. This year she’s become a fully qualified gymnastics coach and has been working on up to five days a week teaching kids of varying levels to do amazing things with their bodies. Helping their techniques and confidence to try and perform to their maximum abilities, while having fun at the same time. She’s become totally comfortable in her role as a teacher of young children, running classes, designing routines and also taking on the task of running gymnastics parties at the centre for the really little kids. Dedication to her craft.

Between the sessions yesterday, I saw what to me was the most telling of all. Jazzy kicking back jovially with the other coaches and the gym owners. Sharing jokes and conversation. A sixteen year old comfortable as herself in the company of adults with whom she has created her own relationships. Relationships that are visibly built on mutual respect. No longer a child. Clearly one of them. The people at her gymnastics club love her. They see in her those qualities that I do. They too recognise the enormous amount of dedication and effort that she puts in.

It’s quite amazing as a parent to see the developmental leaps that your offspring make as they forge their ways through life. From learning to talk. Learning to walk. Riding a bike. Finding themselves in some way or other and discovering what they like to do. We want the best for them. We know that stuff will go wrong from time to time, but we hope that on balance, things will mostly be bright. Somehow on turning sixteen this year, some kind of super-turbo overdrive switch seems to have been flicked for Jazzy. While acknowledging my undoubted bias, I feel that right now my daughter has awesomosity oozing out of every pore. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Farewell my beautiful friend

At my 21st

I met Bruce in 1982. 

A week before I met him, I was sitting in a 120 seat lecture theatre at RMIT, in first year civil engineering. The lecturer was writing relentlessly on the four panel blackboard, with all the students just copying down his notes verbatim, for the horrendously tedious two hour duration of the class. In the midst of this bored morass of people, I saw two guys who were joking around and laughing uproariously. They looked like they were having a ball, while everybody else looked like they wanted to gouge out their eyes with knitting needles. I made up my mind that next week during this class, I was going to be sitting next to those two guys. And so it was that I clocked Bruce. I made it happen the following lecture and the ensuing weeks’ classes for this subject involved games of pen car races and flick golf, the three of us oblivious to the ramblings of the lecturer, too busy in our own hilarity. And laughter was a common thread of our relationship for more than 30 years. We spent hours in the music room at RMIT listening to Monty Python and Cheech and Chong. Occasionally cutting the sessions short for a couple of Cheech and Chongs of our own. In fact classes seemed pretty secondary in those years of uni. We discovered that we had a radar like telepathy as partners in the card game 500 and were rarely beaten in the many hours spent in the RMIT coffee shop. I eventually worked out that engineering wasn’t for me and moved on into the IT world. Bruce on the other hand, seemed to have an aptitude for design and graduated as a civil engineer.

The dual premiership Moutofits
Around this time, Bruce discovered the didgeridoo. He’d had a fascination with it and one day just picked one up in a shop and could immediately get the right sound. I’d just started to play the guitar and Bruce wasn’t yet even able to circular breathe. But that didn’t stop us. With a group of other novice musicians with a similar lack of mastery over their instruments, we ambitiously decided to form The Band From Outofit. This was Bruce’s first musical ensemble and while our musicality may have been questionable, our enthusiasm was hearty. We regularly busked on Friday evenings in the Bourke Street mall and if we made enough money to finance a bit of a party that night, then it was considered a huge success. Eventually our band added a few more party people to our line-up, abandoned the musical venture altogether and morphed into a mixed indoor cricket team called The Band From Outofit Play Cricket or, because that wouldn’t fit on the scoresheet, The Moutofits. This was a much more successful endeavour and in our first two seasons we won back-to-back premierships. Bruce was our keeper, taking it on because nobody else would and handling it with aplomb. With the bat he came to be known in our team as Gibraltar. Solid as a rock. Completely reliable. And this pretty much epitomised Bruce to a tee. He was as solid and reliable a person as I’ve ever known. He embodied the qualities that I value highest in people. Respect. Loyalty. Strength of character. He loved a good argument. Generous of spirit. And laughter filled.

Jazzy's Australianisation Cermony
Hava Nagilah on didge & slide guitar
Having become sufficiently more competent on the didge over this time (he could even circular breathe by now), Bruce went on to play in the band Big Wide Sky and was on his way to a career in music. He played at our wedding accompanied by Jock on guitar, prompting my father to say that he thought it was the first time that Hava Nagilah had ever been played on the didgeridoo. Tori and I moved to the UK in 1995 and around that time Bruce began touring Europe as a do it all didgeridoo man. He was playing concerts, teaching people how to play, selling his finely crafted didges and even teaching others how to make their own. He came to visit us in England a couple of times (I even managed to rope him into helping us move house on one of those occasions) and I got to the Berlin Didge Festival twice, as well as to the legendary Swizzeridoo festival in the hills outside of Zurich. Amidst the partying that went on whenever we met up, I came also to learn how much of a celebrity Bruce was in the international didgeridoo scene. He was comfortable and highly respected among the didgeridoo legends such as Charlie McMahon, Alan Dargin and Mark Atkins. He had many fans and he featured in internationally produced didge books and magazines. He even had his own character in a French didgeridoo comic book story. Very importantly, Bruce was always a strong advocate by his actions and words for reconciliation with Indigenous Australia. He valued the culture that the didge came from and was always highly respectful. In turn he was respected highly by Indigenous didge players, a number of whom played instruments made by Bruce in international concerts. He spread the word on Indigenous issues and helped bring a better understanding and level of empathy of this important issue to those around him. This continued on more recently when he had a regular gig on a cruise ship between Australia and New Zealand, where he would play concerts and present to the audience on the instrument and Aboriginal culture.

Exchanging vows
One of many dinners
The one constant I haven’t mentioned so far in this thread is Lynne. I met Bruce in 1982 and they were already a couple. I had the honour of being a part of their bridal party in 1990 when they got married and gave a speech that day in front of many of the same people who are here today. Clearly that was a much happier time. I’d just started going out with Tori and pursuaded Bruce and Lynne into letting me bring her to the wedding. Bruce told me then that he could see that I was serious about this girl and said of course she can come. Over the years since, the four of us have spent many great times together. Shared many experiences and had a lot of fun. From the Glastonbury Festival in the UK, to running around as naked mud people at Confest. To just having dinner and lounging at each other’s houses. Over the last 11 months, Lynne has been Gibraltar. Solid as a rock for Bruce. Always by his side. Always filled with cheeriness and positivity even when things looked at their most bleak. Full of love. Never has the fulfilment of vows given on a wedding day been more absolute and completely delivered.

Glastonbury 1997
Bruce died on July 18th, which is my birthday. A few people have expressed to me sympathy that my “special day” was tarnished by such a sad event, but I actually look at it differently. While the day that his death occurred was undeniably devastating, going forward it means that I will always be thinking of Bruce on that day each year. I will always have a toast to your life mister and the great times that we shared together.

Vale Bruce Rogers. My beautiful friend.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

An enforced pause to the busy

Another day, another year, another flight. The long haul from Sydney to San Francisco. It’s like a salvation. Locked in to a seat for 15 hours without the ability to manically run around like an idiot trying to do a million things at once. No external access to anything. No ability to do any of the tasks on the extensive list of things to do. Life has been crazy. Busy. Busy. Busy. When I think of the Zen that Buddhists seem to aspire to, I feel that I couldn’t possibly be further from that if it was a conscious effort to try and be. Three full time jobs is the way that work feels. A day job, albeit of unknown potentially limited duration. But seemingly I’ve done a good job and they want me to continue on for another year. It may happen, or it may not. A software company that needs my attention and efforts to make it all work. An IT consultancy company that somehow has been going for over twenty years now. Most businesses fail and go broke in less than two years. I’ve grown a business that has bought me a house and provided for a nice lifestyle for over twenty years now. But it’s always about the next year. What does it hold? What will become of us? Will there be enough cash to support the life that our family is used to? And does it really matter if there isn’t? Young mouths to feed. A footy addiction to support. As well as a few other addictions. A boy who is not yet five to add to the teenagers in our midst. A beautiful wife with struggles of her own. This child rearing business is a major task in itself. So much that a parent gives of themselves to the child. Usually with no real acknowledgement back. I know well, because I am a non-acknowledging child myself. This life business is complicated. But then, perhaps I am overcomplicating what actually should be quite a simple task. Living life. On top of the work, I have these last three months been a full time student, having started a psychology degree. It has gone to the top of my list of important pursuits of my life. It took me nine years of the 80s to finally get a three year degree through the flurry of parties, but this one I feel in a hurry to achieve. It feels a worthwhile pursuit to move towards possessing a skill that will help me to help people. I work in a field currently where people mostly wear corporate masks. I look forward to a time where financial reward becomes less of a priority and I can start to be seeing people as part of my working life when they are being their true self. I’ll be able to hang up my own corporate mask at that time too perhaps. Somehow in this period of excessive busyness I’ve also become a maths teacher for Jazzy, spending two nights a week doing lessons with her, trying to help her navigate her way through year 12 maths, while she’s actually in year 10. She was going to throw it in. But now she’s gutsing it out. Putting in great effort. Showing the incredible fighting spirit that is truly at her core. I’m proud of her turnaround and happy that I’ve been able to contribute. Whatever will be. I feel a strong need to be actively involved in my children’s education. I guess that’s how I’ve ended up on both of their school councils, somehow being president of one of them. I feel strongly that my major role as a parent is to try and help prepare them as best I can to make their way in the world.

I don’t think that this level of busyness is particularly healthy. But what to do? Too many of the work related options are of unknown quantity. Any one of them could fall over into dust at any moment. So I grab them all. And it fills a great deal of my time. Is there enough time left for me? And for me and Tori? And for me, Tori and the kids?

My forest is my salvation. I live in a beautiful place. I get to walk along the river most days. Unless I get too consumed in the other.  Breathing in the heady smell of eucalypt. The clutter all washes away and resumes perspective. All the many blocks of my life feel to fall into place like a successful game of Tetris. Watching rosellas flitting around the trees. Laughing with the kookaburras. Searching for that elusive shy wallaby. Or even more evasive koala. But always the river. And the trees. Every day the path looks different. Changes in the weather. Different creatures to walk amongst. Sometimes a flurry of damsel flies. Occasionally an echidna. The promise of snakes, but so far, apart from the odd ones I come across that have met an unfortunate demise, they too remain elusive. At my favourite clearing, there is qi gong. Some meditation while taking in the rocky cliff across the river. Qi to my belly to nourish my soul. A perspective of how little of all of the other actually matters, though like many, I have a great propensity for building up its importance. These days, after the qi gong, on the walk back through the forest, I often call my good friend Bruce and send him my forest vibes. He has a battle of his own at the moment that he’s taking on admirably. He is in mortal combat with stuff going on within his own body. And he is going to win. There is no other choice. He is unsurprisingly resolute. Brave. Strong. My heart goes out to him. It always has. It always will. I love you Bruce. And I’m looking forward to us kicking back with a slim and looking at this period in the rearview mirror.

This life business. Many people do it tough. What is it that makes it so? It should be as simple as one foot in front of the other. Having shelter and food on the table. Everything else should be a bonus. What makes it so complicated?

How fantastic it was to get up north for a week and visit Paul and Linda and their wonderful crew. Who says you only have one soul mate? I have many. I feel fortunate of that. Kindred spirits. I’ve always felt that these guys are just like us, living a parallel existence. Beautiful people. Paul always reminds me how much I love playing music with somebody else, rather than hiding away in musical isolation. Playing guitar together drunkenly into the wee hours. Playing with complete sobriety and purpose through the next morning. Playing on my own in his presence. He makes me feel like a real musician. I guess I’ve been playing guitar for more than 30 years now. I suppose it’s time that I accept my level of competency. There’s no better emotional release for me than playing guitar. Perhaps excepting putting down a whole lot of rambling words on a page and spewing out my thoughts. That seems often to do the trick. If you’ve made it this far and actually read them, then you know what’s going on for me at this stage in my life. And if you have, I thank you. I know that I have people around me who care. And for that I am truly thankful. I might put my seat back now, take another sip of the surprisingly good Qantas economy class shiraz, listen to some music through my noise cancelling headphones and drift off to thoughts that don’t make it to the page. After all, there’s nothing else to do. Thankfully.