A Secret

I've never told anyone this story.

Earlier this year I found myself in Auckland, again, and I wasn't happy. A combination of work stresses, life stresses, and niggling joint inflammation were putting me in a funk. On top of that the introverted side of me was screaming in agony, working elbow to elbow on a big desk with my project team for long days with no natural cover. I mean, I was seriously exposed there. I worked in an open plan office building which lacked not only walls but also half the floors and ceilings. Somehow I ended up with my back and my monitor visible from four different storeys. When each day ended I would amble back to my hotel room with nothing to do but kill time until the next day started. It was depressing.

At least by this stage it wasn't winter in New Zealand anymore. It wasn't hot, or anything close to that, but I could at least go for a walk at lunchtime and not get rained on or freeze. And so one lunch I found myself walking in Victoria Park, and then I found myself sitting under a tree on a bench in Victoria Park. In hindsight the tableau was comical: me sitting, scowling in the cheery sunshine surrounded by lush flora and smiling, exercising people on the lunch breaks. That's how it was, though.

The sun felt good, really good, and I didn't want to move. I pulled out my phone to kill some more time in the way I killed a lot of time then: playing Pokemon Diamond on a DS Emulator. I was taking out some hapless trainer with my Crobat when the breeze kicked up and the brushy branch of the tree above brushed me about the head.

It wasn't a painful blow. The tree was no sapling, but its branches were thin and leafy and it really only tickled. Still, I scowled deeper and shoved the branch away. Another gust later and the branch came back, stroking my face, clawing at my shoulders. It didn't just glance by. The wind swirled in some unpredictable way that made the branch feel like it was tousling my hair, embracing me, pulling me in for a hug.
"No, tree," I said. Haplessly, it proved. The branch would not relinquish its cuddling grasp of me. I slid a foot further down the bench, away from the tree and into the warm sun. The branch followed with its exploring, fiddling fingers and before I could stop it I was being tickled under the chin, batted, you might even say clumsily groped.

Before I knew what was happening I was smiling. I couldn't help myself. This tree was like an incorrigible puppy full of nothing but innocent affection and energy. I gave myself up to the moment, to the tree and let it pat me, let it have me with no resistance. I let it love me.

As quickly as it started the wind died down again. The tree stretched back up to its original position. The sun struck me, and I realised I needed to get back to work. Still, there was an extra bounce in my stride back to my shared desk. And I was still smiling.

By the end of the day, alas, any renewed optimism had been eroded. I slunk back to my hotel in anticipation of stewing sourly, putting off running on the treadmill, and then another night on the soft and lumpy hotel bed. After I'd turned out the lights I couldn't sleep. Not an uncommon situation for me when I'm in an airtight hotel room, but this was different. I kept thinking about the tree. I knew it had been nothing, just a serendipitous suck from a high pressure cell in the atmosphere when I was in just the right place. The tree didn't really like me, or have any feelings for me at all. I knew that. It didn't stop me from thinking about it though.

A point came in the night where I'd passed the threshold of no sleep. Down on the streets I could see nobody, Auckland is not a city that never sleeps. A police car cruised slowly down the hill, otherwise nothing.
I dressed quietly but quickly, jeans and the same t-shirt I'd worn the night before. I rode down the elevator and passed the desk staff who smiled at me, but said nothing.

It was a short trip back to Victoria Park. I walked quickly, not because it was cold, because I wanted to see the tree. I wanted to reach the tree before the rational part of my brain realised what was going on and ordered me back to bed. The rationality never kicked in, though. Not even when I passed through the park gates and onto the path that looped around the ovals.

"I'm almost here, tree." I thought, one united thought. Tonight I wasn't going to find myself anywhere, this moment I was going somewhere instead. I had purpose, although I hadn't worked out exactly what I was going to say to the tree when I reached it. Small talk to start, probably, play it safe and...

My feet had carried me to within view of the tree, it's white bark lit up by the reflection from the moon under the cloudy night sky. I didn't take a step further. I couldn't believe it. There, under my tree was another man. He was dressed in business pants, a buttoned up shirt. The tree's branch wrapped around him. His arms were around the tree. That was a freeze frame, but they were a flurry of motion. I couldn't tell where he ended and the branches began.

"Slut!" I screamed at the tree, which stirred a few homeless people nearby.
"Go back to Australia, mate," the man enveloped by the tree yelled back, muffled. He put extra snarl on the 'mate' part.

I ran back to the hotel, but I didn't cry. Eventually I found myself asleep.

I'm glad I don't need to go back to Auckland again.

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I don't want to rehash too much about my annual springtime arousals, but today was a good day. I saw ducklings and cygnets, both early enough in the season that the stragglers of the flock hadn't been devoured by predators yet. The sun shone steadfast most of the morning. At lunch I decided I'd earned a break and I went for a stroll through the sunbeams along North Terrace.

With this picture painted you can imagine my surprise when I passed through a pocket of trees and one in front of me dropped a fat, brown leaf which drifted slowly to the footpath.
"Um, tree, do you know what month it is?" I muttered only half in jest.

A moment later, a deep voice from behind asked me, "Do you speak to the trees often?"
"No!" I thought instantly, but then recalled the last journal entry I'd posted.
"I guess I do, sometimes," I said, turning about. "It's not something I want to be known for, though"
Behind me there was no one listening. Just another tree, a bigger one, watching me with bemusement.


"Well, I'm 30 now," started a Journal entry I wrote like two years ago.

I spent much of the past few years feeling like I was already 30. I couldn't pinpoint exactly why, such mental imprecision was just one of my symptoms. There was the general aches and pains, my desk surface a growing lichen of invoices and bills, every time my email dinged it was another meeting request or superannuation update. I'd also just bought a new red car. Nothing in my life seemed to match what I saw 20 year olds doing on TV. The regularly occurring music festivals at Olympic Park drew my ire. It was too loud, everything was overpriced.

Did I mind being 30? Not really. Except for the obvious - the unstoppable retracting of my chronological pull-cord - being prematurely three decades old didn't seem so bad. I appreciated the finer aspects of life, like sunlight, quality wine, exercising moderately, fibre-rich cereals, peace and quiet. I was full of wisdom and work experience, yet still young enough that I could sleep less than six hours a night, understand new technology and I never had to worry about defecating in my pants. I figured I was in my golden years. I guess it's easy to feel good about being in your 30s when you're still actually in your 20s.

Now I really am 30, and since that draft was wrote, there's been land purchasing, international travel, dog ownership, carbon tax repeals, more injuries and about a hundred more trips to the hardware store. How much maturing can you shove into a human without the oldest stuff coming out the other end? I feel like I'm going to find out.

The thing is, now that I am legitimately 30, I still feel 30. That's pretty good. I'm quite happy with my life, my ability to buy groceries when they're on special, my basic understanding of mortgages, my family, and my ability to say no to people. I think I was born to be in my 30s. Like, if Heaven exists (because someone at Apple designs it as a feature for the iPhone 50) and everyone who dies appears there at the age that most suited them, I'd be 30.

I was kind of afraid that this week would be the first week I felt 40.

Today at work it was my job to take this photo of ducklings.

image 1377 from bradism.com

At 11 in the morning I was walking down a sunny avenue, camera in hand, getting paid to search the river for baby ducks. This was a teamwork workshop that was turning out better than I expected.

Earlier, immediately prior to this Springtime stroll, I'd been in a windowless meeting room with 20 peers from the application services teams talking about teamwork. We were randomly split into four teams with a task to take photos of "friends", "family" and "teamwork" in some kind of Amazing Race style challenge. Immediately I recalled the family of ducklings I'd passed on my run last week, and I proposed we go find them. That was the extent of my teamwork for the session, as my next suggestion was that we split up.

I found the ducks in less than ten minutes. I kind of impressed even myself. Also, at work "knowing where to find ducklings at any time" may become my legacy.

Today I was also paid to convert our existing middleware environments into source controlled config files that could be deployed automatically to new and existing virtual machines using system administration automation frameworks. That was fun too.

Like my words? Want to buy one of my books? I think you'll like this one:

If you met yourself from the future, what would you ask your future self?
What if they wont tell you anything?

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Someone once told me, and I'm paraphrasing a little, "Brad, your journal entries are terrible but sometimes the last line is good."

Could this be correct? Is almost everything I write simply dross that delays a fleeting, tingly nugget of brilliant literacy?

To find out, I wrote a program to take the last sentence from 15 random entries and to combine them into, apparently, what will be my greatest journal entry ever.

The Last Sentences
What an empowering and humid day.

I may not have a nice whiff for the next few weeks, but today things have stunk as good as ever. I will get there, eat Sizzler, catch up with cousins, watch Bulldogs, eat more sizzler, drive home. Hopefully I didn't just earthquake jinx myself.

I microwaved my lunch in the office kitchen today like I was James Bond. It took me about five minutes to fill the sanitary bag with shampoo, but it should be at least five weeks before I've emptied it again. Oh, and did you know it's possible to talk on the phone for 30 minutes? The shell... it's actually a beard!
"A Mochary," he whispered.
Coffee and sunset has become like red and purple clothing, I like both, but never at the same time.

Good work you fucking moron.

So there I was, down $125 but happy at least in the balance of the world. And as I lay there, with practically the cooked contents of a children's petting zoo in my stomach, I realised why it was that the animals don't like Christmas, and why I do.