Top Gun: Maverick (2022) – Cinema Review

Y/N? Yes.

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Stars: Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman and Monica Barbaro.

Review by Damocles.

I feel the need … the need for speed.

Top Gun: Maverick is truly an unforgettable experience.

Easily one of the best action films to come out of 2022, Top Gun: Maverick is a master-class in proving that sometimes, just putting a camera in place for real scenes is enough to get your blood pumping.

But that has been the major selling point of Tom Cruise’s career. He is one of the truly last movie stars left on the planet in a world where characters are more iconic than the actor playing them.

The name Tom Cruise is alone to guarantee a certain number of seats in the cinema and the star knows it. Which is why he pushed for the delay of this movie to the big screen. He believes in his product, his star power and more importantly himself.

And the numbers follow that belief. Top Gun: Maverick is one of the highest grossing movies of all time, that doesn’t involve spandex or large universes. This is a sequel to a film that came out 36 years ago … and it doesn’t miss the landing at all.

This is a throwback to old-school film-making where all the action is happening for real. The high G-forces that stretch the skin of the actors, the speed in which the ground rushes by, the way how air rushes past the wingtips …. right from the get-go there is an authenticity to the film that makes it instantly gripping.

And it’s all captured right there for us the audience to marvel at. You can’t help but be engrossed in the action the moment you see those fighter jets do their aerial maneuvers.

Because this film is offering you an unprecedented look into what it is like to fly one of the most lethal and quickest birds in aviation history.

And in Joseph Kosinski, we have a seasoned director who is used to creating drama in the sky, with his more underrated films such as Oblivion (2013) and Tron Legacy (2010). Both featured incredible aerial sequences that served him well when crafting the action sequences in Top Gun Maverick.

His clean, measured and calculative style is on full display here, right from the opening montage which pays homage to the original, to his near beat perfect cutting between the pilots’ reaction and plane movement. His earlier work also featured highly realistic CGI work, that was almost seamless in how they blended with physical actors, Tron Legacy being a particular standout.

Top Gun Maverick is no exception. The rare moments that need to be augmented with CGI are seamless with the rest of the movie, a testament to the work of the visual effects artists and Kosinki’s eye.

The plot is simplistic and serviceable. It is almost elegant in how it hits every emotional story beat and the cast understands their role, to be memorable and fun, but not overshadow the true star of the film, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell.

In many ways, this film is so reminscent of the original, only this time Maverick does not go through a typical character arc, instead proving his worth in a world that is modernising against him and his rebellious ways.

All the performances are solid, but props has to be raised for the clear analogy to Maverick’s early days, Glen Powell’s Hangman is a stand-out performance, as the supremely confident, all American pilot whose ability is never diminished throughout the film, a surprising twist on an old story-beat regarding arrogant people.

Cinematography wise, it goes without saying that this is a beautiful film to behold, with all the aerial footage being a thrill ride from start to finish. It somehow never gets old, seeing the actors twist and gasp their way through tight high-G turns and a part of me is excited to see how Kosiniki can bring this level of immersion and intensity to the cockpit of car-racing.

With the romance of seeing planes soaring into the sunset, and the vast horizons that beckon, the score needs to be equally fun. In many ways, the standalone songs that were made for the film are the true highlights of the score. Lady Gaga, Kenny Loggins and OneRepublic all bring back that fun Top Gun flavour that made the original so fun. The actual original score though, is more equally bland Zimmer music that never really rises to the occasion of being memorable.

It was disappointing to discover that, considering they brought back Harold Faltermeyer, but never used any of his iconic synth style for the film.

Overall, Top Gun: Maverick is the truest summer blockbuster movie that doesn’t rely on flashy CGI to tell its story. Instead, it grips you firmly in the reality of naval aviation and the crazy risks and skill these pilots wield when in the air.

Adrenaline pumping, realistic and fun, Top Gun: Maverick is one of those films you have to see, to understand just why movies can truly transport you elsewhere for a solid 2 hours and never leave you bored.

So, thank you Tom Cruise for being as committed to your craft as you are, because this film will definitely inspire a future generation of filmmakers to depend less on CGI and achieve the impossible in reality.

A scene to recall: The moment Maverick showed the brass and his class how and why he is the Top Gun. TOT: 2 Minutes and 15 Seconds.

Plans and the Unplanned.

There comes a time when you look at yourself and think … why do I even bother making plans.

But without planning ahead, you’re just living life without purpose. And if you don’t have a purpose, then why live?

2022 was a year of startling purpose. It was a year of spite, perseverance, and ultimately a whole lot of luck was deployed and taken away at the same time.

There are many important lessons I learned throughout the year. The meaning of equilibrium. The approach I need for relationships. The depth of desperation. The cruelty behind good intentions. The cost of luck.

But the most critical teaching of them all, was the radical nature of change.

Beyond a shadow of doubt, 2022 was a formative year for me.

So allow me to break down why 2022 was such a dramatic year by the lessons I’ve listed.

The meaning of equilibrium.

I was born lucky. That’s an objective truth. From the moment I took breath and was delivered into a healthy, middle-class nuclear family, there was no mistaking I was lucky. My parents are attractive people, which in turn meant I have turned out decent. They don’t fight often, and are surprisingly affectionate and loving towards each other and me. They support me in everything I do and have instilled in me a sense of duty, sensibility and relatively quick intelligence.

Throw in the fact that I seem pretty lucky at cards, am graced with incredible friends, live in Australia, am surrounded by a city with the most sophistication in the nation and a whole lot of other countless elements, it is unequivocal that I am lucky.

My entire life, I’ve coasted along with this luck. Even in the pandemic years of 2020 to 2021, I was still lucky. I was promoted to retail sales manager just before COVID struck, which meant I could keep my job and still head out to work, whilst so many others were confined to their home. There were ample parks near me I could use to exercise … my mother is an excellent cook … the point is, despite the entire world current suffering, luck was still on my side.

So, you can imagine my rude surprise when I finally learned what it felt like to be marked by luck. To actually understand that there is a cost to everything and I had to pay for it, like everyone else.

I named this phenomena … equilibrium because 2022 truly proved Newtonian laws to me.

It became such a common theme, that it almost transformed into a disease in my mind. Whenever I was experiencing some good luck, I immediately braced myself for the inevitable bad luck that would sour whatever fortune I had.

Equilibrium for me ranged from the minor to the major. On my final day in the retail industry, a customer came back after I closed up shop and annoyed me for an exchange. There were payslip issues on my final week. During the course of a game, I would get my player out onto the board, only to be instantly removed.

But nothing compared to the biggest emotional whiplash of them all, when I had 4 of the greatest days of my life, at the Formula 1 2022 Grand Prix, only to be raided by the police the literal day after, turning my excited buzz into one of instant mortification.

Over the course of several years, as a military enthusiast, I had started a large collection of gel blasters. From my pride and joy, an all-metal HK 416 assault rifle, to a lovely Lee-Enfield No. 4, these guns were a passion project that was technically illegal in my state of Victoria, but perfectly fine in Queensland.

I knew the risks of collecting these, and in all honesty, felt no ill-will towards the officers who came in to claim them. After all, I had been mentally bracing myself for this moment, ever since I bought my first one.

But it didn’t lessen the sting of losing them all.

That was the true moment, the lesson of equilibrium struck me with all its force. Everything good came at a price. I was no longer exempt from this rule. The cliche: freedom isn’t free has never quite rung more true to me, than it does now.

The seriousness of my crime, of owning 18 “imitation firearms” was not lost on me. I was to be called in to court, face the Magistrate and explain myself. The possible sentence ranged from a diversion all the way to proper jail time.

When the officers left my home, guns in tow, I knew I was finally marked by bad luck and that 2022 was going to be the year, where I had to re-evaluate my relationship with Lady Luck herself.

Which brings me to my next lesson that I learned.

The cost of luck.

Lady Luck’s problem with me, was that I had taken her for granted. 27 years of life on this planet, and now, she decided she has had enough with my lack of gratitude.

So, she marked me and forced me to re-evaluate my relationship with her. Lesson after lesson of equilibrium came barrelling in and my thick head did not understand the intent behind them.

I was bitter, confused and puzzled. I had such a privileged quarter life, that it didn’t even occur to me that some gratitude was in order, that Lady Luck truly was blessing me with her presence for such an extended period of time, when she ignored so many others.

It wasn’t until the final months of 2022, I finally understood her. The goddess I had chosen to worship wasn’t some genie I could command at whim. She was fleeting, like a soft wind. When she was there, you appreciated her and took advantage of everything the lucky wind had to offer.

The soft chill, the gentle rustle, the quiet whisper.

But she was temporary.

Lady Luck is not some permanent fixture in your life. She had other places to be, other people to visit, more crucial things to do. But when you felt her close, it was time to bet big.

In my case, it was $2750 large. That was the cost of my lawyer fees and the fine I had to pay to earn my freedom back and essentially walk away scot-free from my crime. I was granted my diversion, due to the fact that I was cooperative with the police during the raid and my character references vouched for me.

Freedom isn’t free.

What I’ve noticed though, is that right after this massive stroke of luck, my relationship with Lady Luck has now been repaired. I am now just sincerely grateful for when she comes by my side, and no longer demanding.

This improvement in attitude is what has redefined every single friendship I’ve made.

The approach I need for relationships.

Extroversion comes at a price. You only have a finite amount of energy in a day.

Best to chose wisely who you want to spend that energy with.

2022 wasn’t just the year where I started to hang out with my friends more, it was also the year where I prioritised who I wanted to hang out with more. I started to develop a better social calendar, plan catch-ups, and view friendships in different ways.

I became more selective of the vibe I wanted from people. Those who had my back, those who didn’t.

I’ve always been pretty picky about who I let into my inner circle of trust. But, because I started to go out with people more, I decided to widened it.

It was a bold risk, that paid off for some, and cost me dearly in others. In the grand scheme of things though, I would say that the circle growing ever so slightly has been a good thing. It’s nice to know that I can talk to more of my friends, to bring some much needed estrogen energy to balance out all the testosterone that I surround myself with.

In fact, it has been all the women in my life that have helped me the most in difficult times. Without their strong support, I’m not sure where I would be right now.

Their sensible advice on how to navigate matters of the heart have been invaluable and touching.

It’s also allowed me to understand them more and appreciate how unique they all are to each other. Some give me advice that is personal to them and others, opt for more conventional rules.

This identification of unique qualities in them, has also lead to be redefine some of my male friends. I can now positively identify what benefit each friend brings to me and how they can enrich me with their presence.

So many friendships over the years have been lost, simply because I wasn’t paying them due diligence and actually positively identifying why I was friends with them to start with.

To relate back to the theme of purpose, this was the year where I really examined everyone I knew and their purpose in my life. What I was willing to let slide, what I was willing to confront them over, and most importantly, what they meant to me.

By deconstructing my friendships, my personal relationship and how I interacted with people, I’ve truly learnt a lot about myself and the people I surround myself with.

Which brings me to the next big moment …. my personal relationship.

The cruelty behind good intentions

Saying goodbye to a partner of 6 years was unimaginably tough. Beyond the severance, there was the awful acknowledgement that there would no longer be any more shared memories between us.

But that was the biggest fallout of my critical reexamination of everyone in my life and what they meant to me. It costed me my girlfriend. A part of me couldn’t love her anymore, once I critically looked at her and that inner voice couldn’t be silenced.

So I had to let her go. I didn’t want to waste her time any longer, nor did I want to drag anything out further, especially if it was going to just cost us even more.

Saying the last goodbye to her, was the moment where I learned just how tough and relentless you had to be, to stay strong on your course. No matter how good my intentions were, the process was still cruel.

I’ve likened it to a stabbing, only I had to keep twisting the knife.

It was awful. The tears, the pleas, the broken heart … all of it tore away at me, and I still cannot believe how I held onto the knife and kept stabbing away.

The quote the road to hell is paved with good intentions have never rung more true to me, than when I broke my partner’s heart.

It still frightens me, just how harsh I became in that moment and how much it cost me to do the right thing.

I knew, deep down, that this was the humane thing to do, that prolonging anything, any further was the truly callous act, because she deserved a partner who loved her from top to bottom. She deserved better than what I was giving.

But it didn’t make it any more right, when I said goodbye to her for the final time.

The guilt may never fade away from this scar.

But that is the price I have to pay for making such a horrible call for both of us, and in a way, its why I have to make all these changes, worth that sacrifice.

Speaking of expenditure …

The depths of desperation

Whilst I might have been lucky during COVID-19 lockdowns, I was still robbed of 2 years, just like everyone else.

Which meant my actual life plans were now postponed by two years and to say that I was furious, was an understatement.

My once wishy-washy nature regarding my career, was now one of an unhinged desperado. From the very beginning of the year, I made a vow to get out of retail as soon as possible.

This meant that I committed to an insane 6 day work week regularly, and countless hours to build up my connection to the event industry, where I wanted to transition to.

Because my full time retail job wasn’t that taxing, I was able to relax at work, before charging into an event on the weekend or sometimes right after the store shut for the day.

Work became my life, because it was all I could focus on. The rewards were also triggering my mind, associating happiness with work, because I would receive such a dopamine rush whenever I could grind at an event.

This vow to grind away in events, started in March, with the very first event I found through a Facebook network. The first ever gig with the Untitled Group, For the Love. My first taste working for an event company and I was hooked ever since.

Events is where I belong.

After working the For the Love gate entry shift, I threw myself in with an reckless abandon that made me almost appreciate the slower pace of retail.

But that near-appreciation didn’t last long, because I was soon racking up so much experience that it was impossible for me retain that job any longer.

August was my final shift for Miniso, and I was never happier to leave such a dreary industry and enter a much brighter one.

It goes without saying that if I wasn’t so desperate to get out, I wouldn’t have been so motivated to push myself so hard through over-working.

There was a strange sense of despair to my desperation that made me put aside my physical health, mental and even self-reflection to get out.

The freedom that I’ve earned now as an event operator, only occurred because I pushed myself out of fear from becoming the very thing I despised … a guy who hates his job, but won’t move on from it.

That is not the prison I aspire to nor will ever want to be trapped in again.

It was that disconsolate drive to get out of a shitty job that powered me through almost everything.

From 24 days of straight work, to an incredibly busy social calendar where I barely saw my own home, my life transformed dramatically from lazy retail work to overworking in events.

Which meant that I also changed a lot.

The final lesson: the radical nature of change.

To identify the current Damocles is to acknowledge that 2022 improved him in almost every single facet. He is currently fitter, tanner, stronger and more driven than any version of him in the past.

He is also incredibly confident, but relaxed about his own self-worth and knows exactly just how valuable and useful he is to his friends, his employer and to himself.

This is such a radical departure from the earlier version of him, because in all honesty, the desperation, drive and purpose in which he decided to completely revamp his life would not have existed without the pandemic.

COVID-19 had a lot of far-reaching consequences, but for me, it completely changed the way how I viewed my life. 2022 wasn’t just about exiting the pandemic and trying to reassemble what once was.

It was about seizing an opportunity to completely change the way how I lived. Events were now coming back and they had just lost a lot of workers.

It was the perfect storm for a guy like me to come in and make my mark. So I seized it with both hands and then some.

I wouldn’t be working for Federation Square and Melbourne Showgrounds, if I didn’t take job interviews on my lunch breaks in a shopping centre.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today, if I didn’t have the drive to push forwards, despite the heavy workload and long hours.

I wouldn’t have the events experience I do now, if I didn’t take a chance on multiple companies and start to seriously build my work portfolio.

The Damocles that stand before the world today, is a direct result of hard work, grit and insane luck that happened throughout the year

I’ve become a radically different person. More extroverted, less prone to repeating mistakes, highly driven and still ambitious. If I can achieve this much change in a year, what can I do more in 2023?

That is the question that will need to be answered by the end. It’s a vague plan, but those are the ones that can truly tackle the unknown. Anything more specific and I’ll be unlikely to see it through.

I learned a lot of lessons in 2022 and all of them have been harsh and life-altering. But at the end of the day, they’ve improved me far more than I could have hoped for.

If I can survive that much development, then I am eager to see how much I can push this year.

As a 22nd squadron once proclaimed proudly …

Who Dares Win.

And I’m ready to defy the odds again.

~ Damocles.

Mythology

Midgard ….

Perhaps without ever realising it, I’ve always been long fascinated by religion.

In a world where so much is explainable by science, there is little regard for the wonderful stories that used to be humanity’s science to explaining how the world work.

Lighting … associated with Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. The passage of the sun across the sky explained as Ra’s journey into the underworld. Dreamtime as a creation myth.

When you start studying so many different myths as I have, you start to notice that there are quite a few similarities between them all. Almost all of them mention some type of “Great Flood”, which is a curious coincidence. In addition, the idea of a “giant serpent” whether is Quetzalcoatl, Jormungandr or the Rainbow Serpent, is quite prevalent.

But really it is the story-telling that grips me. These were some of the earliest stories ever told and shared amongst many people. The story-tellers have not survived, but these myths have and continue to grip me with their morals, twists and strange lessons.

In particular, I am partial to Norse, Greek and Egyptian mythology. There is so much to unpack in many others, such as Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Aztec, Mayan or even Russian folklore, but the three most famous ones are my own favourites.

What I’ve always found fascinating was at what point does a religion become a myth and is there really any difference? Is there any more power in praying to God, when he resembles Zeus? Does the sanctity of the Temple Mount hold any more real sway over that of Stonehenge? Is all the bloodshed sacrificed in the name of God, any more real than those of human sacrifices made in honour of Mayan Gods on their step-pyramids?

As a child, I was quite religious. When you have attended Church as much as I have, and read the Bible for fun, it’s difficult not to believe in a higher power. Throw in a father who was on his way to becoming a Jesuit, and a mother who was born in a strictly Catholic family, it was inevitable that I become a religious son.

This actually transitioned all the way into my teenage years, when I bought a much more teen-oriented Bible which had useful annotations that “dumbed” down the story and added amusing and slightly edgy interpretations of famous stories, such as the Prodigal Son or Abraham’s sacrifice.

Perhaps it was a sign of concern though, that I was only fixated on the earlier stories of the Bible, in particular the Torah. The stories of battles, blood, vengeance held a lot of appeal to my imagination and all the stories in the New Testament just never quite held my interest as much.

Ironic really, considering how Christianity was formed around the teachings of the New Testament. Even then though, I was confused by the wildly contrasting tones the two Testaments had to each other. After all, if God is so infallible and perfect, why did he undergo such a huge character transformation between the two time periods?

From a vengeful, spiteful God who loved to destroy other ethnicities than his own chosen people (which begs the question why did he create other ethnicities to begin with …) to a much more loving God who was apparently willing to forgive certain acts, but only in certain circumstances, which if not met, would doom you to Hell anyway.

At the end of the day, religions are created by humans, who are contradictory, complicated and inconsistent. It only makes sense that religions, which originated from stories that have been passed down mouth to mouth, reflect humanity’s nature.

It eventually took a conversation with one of my best friends (more like an argument) for me to really allow the scales of religion to fall from my eyes though. After that fateful argument, I became an atheist.

It’s hard not to be one, when you learn about all the horrifically horrible things that have occurred in the name of a deity that shows little signs of existence. As a keen student of history, it’s hard to fathom just how much blood has been spilled in the name of Gods.

The scale of sacrifices made in the name of Gods and other spirits, only increased the moment religions became a power of their own. Suddenly, a Pope became an Emperor over hundreds of worshipping souls, a Caliph could and would move armies across Europe to gain more territory and an Inquisition willingly suppressed learning and teachings.

In many ways, religions were the original mega-corporations, with a hierarchical structure, a CEO that oversaw the entire company and wielded huge amount of influence and power. They even started marketing as a concept.

If you thought the Inquisition was an old, outdated concept that was most famous in 1478 Spain, then you’ll be surprised to know it exist today as the Diecastery for the Doctrine of the Faith … the first and last line of defence against heresy towards Roman Catholicism.

It’s always fascinated me how blind some people are to their religion though. For so many believers, they only see the local image and refuse to acknowledge the larger picture. The people beside you, the community outreach programs, the youth services. Never the larger corporation that runs them, the shady deals made by bishops or priests with their local population, the grey existence in which laws can and cannot touch religion.

To study your religion beyond what the priest, rabbi, monk or imam tells you, is a dangerous experiment, as the history of the religion proves time and time again, it makes a mockery of what it preaches to you.

But as I stated above, religions are made by humans. If they didn’t contradict themselves, it would actually imply that a religion was made by something not human.

Despite all my research though, I suppose I am still quite spiritual, despite not practicing any one religion. I am scientifically inclined, although I quite like the idea that in studying science, we are studying how God(s) creates and form life.

Which is why I always revert to the stories that I loved as a child. Because these stories helped me understand the world better and its rules. If knowing we are carbon-based life-forms help me understand my own place on Earth, these myths do the same with strange occurrences that have happened to me.

After all, why would I create 4 Goddesses in my mind that I speak to regularly? Eris the Goddess of Discord, Melbourne the Lady of my home-town, Athena who guides my wisdom and Lady Luck who bestows upon me all manner of fortune.

We all secretly believe in some mystical power. Reading your horoscope is a sign of that belief, as is engaging in superstitious practices before Lunar New Year or doing a tarot reading.

But for me, the reason why I collected so many books about folk tales, myths and legends is because they are incredible stories that have survived through the ages. There is a wonderful timelessness to them, regardless of culture, background or era.

The story of Thor disguising himself as Freya to get Mjolnir back is hilarious. The symbology behind the lucky number 7 still makes me believe in it. The epic behind Zeus’ overthrowing his father Cronos is a fable about prophecy and how fate is determined for us.

The destruction of the world through Ragnarok showcases how sometimes the world needs to be destroyed to be made anew. The fable of Momotarou, the Peach Boy who went on an epic journey to defeat a demon and bring riches back to his adopted family is just an incredible adventure story. The story of Osiris and Isis is a touching love story about how a woman fights to get her beloved husband back.

The tale of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves told in the context of One Thousand and One Nights, is the first example of a cliffhangers done right. The strange surrealist nature behind Puss in Boots, speaks to the odd nature between man and domesticated pets. The Monkey King is a fascinating story about redemption.

There are so many folk stories and myths that have continued to fascinate me today. Bluebeard, The Bunyip, Dracula, the Golem, Scrooge, Princess Mononoke, Rowan of Rin …. these names have been burned into my mind, because of their fascinating and dark stories.

In particular, I love the twisted ones, and am all too conscious about them when certain moments in my life made me question what would happen if I didn’t have such a good moral compass?

A great example is the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Despite my serious demeanour, I seem to have a natural affinity that draws children to me. They quiet down in the midst of crying when they see me, they smile broadly when I wave … in short, they just look happy whenever I acknowledge them.

Could I repeat the Pied Piper’s skill and lead children away to disappear entirely?

Of course not. But that is the strange moral lesson that echoes in my mind whenever I notice how easily children are won over by me.

It is that echo of a lesson that speaks to the enduring legacy of these stories.

It also explains why I love Neil Gaiman’s take on so many of these stories and how revisionist folklore has grabbed me just as much as historical fiction books have.

The Shrek franchise, Gaiman’s American Gods, my own current experience with the God of War games … I love how they have twisted and made fresh these stories that I am familiar with. New interpretations, new meaning, new ways of looking at these old tales … that is why these stories have persisted and are common knowledge.

These stories are always in a constant state of flux. Their meaning may be the same, but the way how they are told are always different. We all put our own flavour and meaning into them when we hear them for the first time and the repeat them to others for the last time.

That is the beauty behind myths. At its core, they are the same, but everything else … is subject to change.

Which just makes it all the more disappointing when you meet an overzealous religious believer who insists on an “official” version of a famous tale.

Because the story loses its lustre, it loses the unique flavour that could be imparted on it, and more importantly, the human element, the story-teller themselves is missing from the tale.

You can learn so much about a person from the way how they tell a story. It is the oldest, common and special ability humanity has … to tell a story to another.

Which is why I love myths but even more so, I love how people tell them.

~ Damocles.

The Journey to Letting Go.

Sitting alone on the beach at night, with a note in my hand, I took out my lighter and watched it slowly burn away in the cold wind.

The song that has defined 2022 for me, No Time to Die by Billie Eilish instantly floated into my mind. The whispered lyrics rang out in my mind as clearly if Eilish herself was next to me.

I should’ve known
I’d leave alone
Just goes to show
That the blood you bleed
Is just the blood you owe

We were a pair
But I saw you there
Too much to bear
You were my life
But life is far away from fair

Was I stupid to love you?
Was I reckless to help?
Was it obvious to everybody else

That I’d fallen for a lie?
You were never on my side
Fool me once, fool me twice
Are you death or paradise?
Now you’ll never see me cry
There’s just no time to die

I felt like crying, but no tears came running down my cheeks.

I was dried out. But that’s OK, because I was still grieving though, in my own way.

Tears have never truly been my outlet. To me, the big emotional waves that manifest itself physically though heaving sobs and tears, have never truly been big enough to threaten such a reaction from me. I genuinely do not know if I am capable of crying any more. I have regulated my emotional responses so much over the years, that it is difficult to tell if I can actually experience such extremes.

Which is why I’ve noted that whenever I am suffering from distress, I resort to the one thing that has sustained me for the entirety of my life.

Anger.

Anger has always been a defining element to my personality. I’ve learned to tap into that source of energy a very long time ago, when I realised that anger can be used in a healthy manner.

Being angry all the time, meant that I could channel a certain amount of aggression into everything I did.

But it also taught me how I could sustain it, hold onto that anger and really power through obstacles that would stump others. And if I did it right …. that anger could keep me going through the toughest of shifts, the hardest of work, the most menial of tasks.

There is no end to anger’s utility and usefulness. I can take so much, because of how angry I can become.

So, in this case, my anger was turned against me. I used it on myself. I couldn’t cry, couldn’t break down … so instead I got furious at myself. I shouldered most of the blame, understood that I was the architect of all the pain I’ve caused to others and myself and squarely deserved to feel shit.

There was no redeeming this, no apology big enough for the hurt I’ve caused, the time I’ve wasted and the grief I’ve designed.

No escape from the immense guilt I feel.

This is what it means, to hurt someone and I can’t really forgive myself either.

However, just because I can’t forgive myself, doesn’t mean that I will let this poison me.

My anger won’t allow it.

For you see, I was furious at myself for being so selfish, so unbearably cruel, but then I realised that I will never truly get over myself for this and that this awful feeling was now going to be a part of my life forever.

I had chosen to accept this guilty cross as part of luggage that I will carry till the day I died. That was the consequence for hurting someone else, in return for me being unbearably selfish and being freed from a healthy relationship that wasn’t quite enough.

I didn’t know that, of course at the time, that the burden of this guilt was initially far too heavy for me to carry, let alone walk.

But that is where my anger comes in. Because it forces me to shoulder the load, to learn to accept the load for what it is and find a way to make it feel lighter.

I was now angry at myself for throwing too long of a pity party.

I needed to get over myself and really start the process of healing.

I made my decision, faced the consequences and now it was time to move on.

To delve too deeply into this pain, meant that I couldn’t do anything. It was time to go back up for air. I was sick of drowning.

It’s why I wrote a note to her. Because no words, no essays, no speeches would be enough to convey how terrible I felt.

On that note, were two words that I knew would never come true. Forgiveness is an element that is beyond my own control. To be forgiven, needs to the blessing of another.

I am never going to get that blessing. But that is the curse I chose when I broke things off with her.

Even now, nearly 2 months later, I am still reeling from the effects of what I’ve done. A casual joke can sour my mood instantly and cause me to relapse into a fugue of sadness, guilt and regret. It opens an internal floodgate where feelings I’ve thought I put to bed, come rushing back and threaten to overwhelm me.

In many ways, this experience has taught me how impossible it is to truly hold onto happiness when you are threatened constantly by negative emotions. They will sour every moment, poison your thinking and threaten your sanity.

But that has only galvanised me to work harder to fight against the wave of sadness. I now hold onto my happy moments even stronger; I force myself to shoo away those negative thoughts and I am actively striving to ensure reflective moments are more positive than negative.

It’s the only way for me to hold onto sanity and really allow myself to move past. It takes a conscious effort to ensure I am not constantly threatened by sadness, whenever my friends want to discuss my former relationship or there is a light joke made about a break-up. But it’s something I have to do, because anything else isn’t healthy nor rational.

Being able to let things go to me, isn’t so much about forgetting nor ignoring the past. It’s very much an acknowledgement of the past and ensuring that I don’t look back on it with malice, regret or anger.

Letting go, means I need to leave behind my anger, my pain and my guilt. It’s a slow process, and in many ways, with no destination at the end. All that matters, is the journey itself and whether those negative feelings truly abate with toxicity over time.

Much like nuclear waste half-lives, this is an infinitely slow process, but it is the only way to rid myself of these feelings properly. Without forgiveness to lighten the load, this is something I have to come to terms with slowly, carefully and with proper examination.

It won’t take another relationship, nor some fancy mental trick. Nor will meeting her again solve anything.

This is a cross that needs to be taken apart piece by piece, splinter by splinter, nail by nail, over many, many hours of reflection and examination.

This is the only way I can look back at my actions, my relationship and my choices without feeling an overwhelming amount of pain and guilt. Those feelings will forever remain, but I will be able to look at myself in the mirror and be at peace with what I see.

Writing that note and burning it alone at a beach, is just one tiny step in that journey to letting go.

It may take months, years, a decade even … but in many ways, when it comes to self forgiveness, there isn’t really any other way of dealing with it.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t be happy, nor carefree. I can still enjoy the moment, embrace the present and get excited by the thrill of a new journey.

It’s important for me to remember that, and truly acknowledge it.

I’m not beholden to my past, my choices and the consequences that came with it.

As long as I learn from them, and never repeat such an error again, I know that I can shorten the journey a bit.

Life is a marathon but there is no real clock timing you.

All it takes is some careful application of will, self-belief and a desire to be better and eventually I’ll cross the line.

In a lot of ways, I don’t regret anything. Everything that has happened has made me stronger and that is really all I can ask for, when I am on such a long journey.

~ Damocles.

Infamous

Sometimes I forget just how infamous I really am.

When I study my behaviour, actions and history, there is no denying the reality that what I’ve done and continue to practice will always make me infamous. There is quite literally too many unique aspects of me to ever fade into obscurity.

There is no real way to write this rambling essay on myself, without sounding arrogant and unbearably self-centred, but understand that, this is the only way to truly discuss the problem with being even slightly influential.

Leadership roles have thrust on me ever since I learned that taking charge was the only true way to gather 12 unruly teenage boys in a quiet Chinese restaurant and get the orders completed for the poor waiter.

This initial taste of command, has evolved to a long litany of roles in which I’ve always been the “older brother”, the one who made all the big decisions and ultimately put a lot of other people at ease, freed from the burden of responsibility.

From ordering for my group of friends, to leading a festival, to even commanding total strangers who turned up to work as labourers for an event, command seems to follow me around.

Throw in a penchant for military style clothing and styling, a no-bullshit attitude and a competitive streak that dictates my workstyle has to be harder, faster and longer than everyone else, and you’ll find me a relatively unique character amongst many generic people.

There is no denying that my unique attributes and hardass attitude has given me a reputation amongst the community I work for. I have a tendency to scowl whenever I work, an indirect result of me focusing on harnessing my inner anger to fuel my work. Without that inner anger, I would not be able to achieve half of what I can do in a full shift.

The sheer efficiency at which I work out, has often exhausted and surprised by bosses, who struggle to find tasks for me to do once I’ve completed their list in shorter time than expected.

But that is just how I operate. I like doing all my difficult tasks at the beginning of the shift, so I can relax later. For me, work is a sprint, not a marathon and I like how it feels to know that my final 2 hours out of 8 can be done at a more relaxed pace.

However, in the off-chance that I do need to maintain that speed, my anger within will sustain me throughout the entire workload.

Fast and furious. That is a surprisingly apt way to describe me at work. Everything is done at a swift pace and there is an undercurrent of rage behind every movement.

It’s just something I learned as a younger man. Being happy wasn’t a good mental state to be in. Tapping into the darker elements of my personality was something that could be sustained for much, much longer period of time. It’s helped me to mentally focus on the job at hand and get past all the bullshit that any job has. Whether it’s a terrible manager, a rude customer, an angry protestor, an irate food vendor or just an idiot who wants to waste my time, having a deep well of anger that I can tap into, allows me to control it more and not lose control.

I suppose the fact that I don’t bother to hide this darkness within, that I actively drink from the well of anger, is part of the reason why I am infamous. The scowl, the military precision, the undercurrent of rage bubbling beneath every action … it’s no small wonder so many people in the community have heard of me, yet lack of the courage to come up and test my mettle.

I suppose the rumours of my temper, lack of patience when it comes to idiocy and overall recalcitrance doesn’t help. In many ways, I’m still atypical of young, angry men who have the potential for great violence, despite their stable upbringing and natural luck.

You know the sort … the ones who fall in with bad crowds, develop a fixation for lost causes and are more eager to lash out than talk things through. Boys who are unnecessarily rebellious, more eager to stir up trouble than toe the line and are often a strain on society than an asset.

I’ve never really grown past that side of me, and it’s reflected in how the community at large views me. They don’t know how thoughtful I can, how considerate or kind. All they see is an angry individual, whose angry demeanour is only matched by his lack of respect towards his elders and is stubbornly headstrong and fractious.

I’ve unwittingly cultivated this persona for so many years and allowed it to grow to mythical proportions that it’s now out of my control. My name is synonymous with a reluctant, ruthless and rebellious leader who has little time for politics, interpersonal problems or anything that gets in the way of the job.

But that is essentially true. My leadership style is brutally direct and straightforward. It doesn’t bother with ego, feelings, emotions or politics. I simply do not have enough time for it. I suppose, it’s why many people don’t view me as their friend afterwards, because why would they?

I used them as tools to an end, and they did the same to me. It keeps things simple, professional and efficient. Whatever their personal lives and problems are, I have no interest, unless it will directly affect the outcome of the task.

That impersonal touch to my leadership style though, ironically makes my personal moments all the more touching and raw when they do appear. The people under my command see it like a glimpse of the man behind the tough armour. They appreciate the nanosecond of vulnerability, before the plates of armour close up again and they are confronted with a tough exterior once more.

But it makes for a very pleasant work environment, one in which people can truly just focus on their task at hand and ignore everything else. Under my command, it does not matter one bit where, who, what or why you came to be. All that I ask for, is for you to not be asshole to the other team members and do your job.

Your identity is stripped down to the tasks you have been assigned to and how competent you are at delivering them.

There is a reassuring feeling about how much I don’t care about your personal problems. Because under me, you can put them aside and just focus on the job at hand. Life is simpler, easier and much more satisfying because you can actually achieve something under my supervision.

That is the base appeal behind my infamous style. Because beneath all the anger, the scowl, the ruthlessness and dispassionate judgement, is a place where you can actually thrive.

But you have to put in the work and those who aren’t brave …. will never see past the surface level of my reputation and understand why I inspire such loyalty.

I know that I am infamous amongst the community, not just for being my father’s son, but also because I’ve carved a much darker slice of history for myself. To know that my name is held in the same regard as many other prominent community members, but with a much fearsome caveat is something that I’m oddly proud of.

Because in this life, amongst so much uniformity, I always strive to be unique and divergent. I hate being lumped in the same category as everyone else and to be as distinct as I am, even amongst all the more accomplished young people, is ultimately a good thing.

It’s still strange knowing though, that at one point, I was disparaged, mocked, disrespected and cursed for my actions by hundreds of people. I suppose I should be thankful that all my experience and mental training prepared me for such a moment and all that toxicity rolled off my back like water to a duck.

It also helped that my opinion of the community I’ve served for many years, was quite low and due to my inherently rebellious nature, I’ve always held people in contempt until they’ve earned my respect.

So, in a lot of ways, I only added to my dark reputation. I still stood tall, a proud insurgent against everything they threw at me.

At the end of the day, no-one controls me nor will anyone ever come close to doing so.

If that is what I am known for, then let it be heard everywhere.

~ Damocles.

The Depressing Atmosphere of Monash Clayton

I actually started my career as a music critic. It was the thing I did through university to keep myself sane, as I trudged from dreary lecture to dreary lecture amidst the communist bloc architecture of one of the world’s most deeply uninspiring campuses, Monash Clayton in Melbourne. – Andrew of Time & Tide (Now Magazine: Issue 4 2021/2022)

Having recently bought a Dox SUB 200 as a retirement gift from my extra-long stint in the retail industry, I was gifted a magazine from the Melbourne based store, Time & Tide.

To my astonishment that quote jumped out at me, reminding me of what I’ve felt during my university days.

So, without further ado, let the rant ramble on ….

Monash University has a myriad of campuses, however during my stint there, from 2012 to 2017, life was predominantly centred around the main campus, Clayton.

For those who are unversed in the neighbourhoods of Victoria, Clayton is a large suburb in Melbourne’s south-east. There is literally nothing remarkable about the area at all, except that it is home to the second most prestigious university in Victoria. Cheap Chinese food can be found at Clayton Market, catering towards hundreds of students, and in terms of landscape, there is nothing to see except endless low to middle income houses.

It is an area completely devoid of personality.

Which stands in stark contrast to Monash’s more illustrious competitor, Melbourne University, which is in Parkville. A literal area with dozens of parks nearby, lush greenery nestling between old heritage buildings and the CBD within minutes away. A student could comfortably enjoy a study break amongst tall green oaks, then venture in a castle like building for a lecture before heading out with friends into the city for cheap Korean food.

Meanwhile at Monash Clayton, there is no denying that this is a much newer, modern institute. There is an artificial element to how seemingly convenient everything is, yet if you dig deeper, it is anything but.

Whilst Melbourne University’s Parkville campus is a literal rabbit warren of a place, there is an old-school charm to that. You are meant to get lost in the halls of academia and feel it’s’ rich history, knowing that you are following in the same steps of renowned scholars and academics.

Monash Clayton though, is simply far too open. Going from one lecture hall to the next is an effort in exercise. You can’t get lost at Monash Clayton, because everyone uses the same paths to get to and from places. Travelling from the Arts building to the Engineering area, requires the same path through the dullest name for a campus centre ever …. Campus Centre.

It becomes an almost running joke, how often students must cut through the Campus Centre to get from one end of the campus to the next.

Everything is simply too orderly for an academic institution. The footpaths, are enormously wide, as are the green spaces. But this only creates a strange sense of emptiness, because of how little the foot traffic is. The green spaces are often not that used, due to Melbourne’s inclement weather, and are poorly protected against the elements, because Monash deemed it unnecessary to have many tall trees all around the campus.

What this creates this, is this strange atmosphere of emptiness and life on the surface of the campus.

The main reason for this though, is because everyone is inside one of the three libraries available to students at Monash.

The Law Library, which is tiny and futile.

The Hargrave-Andrew Library, which is an exercise in how much space is wasted on books that no-one ever reads and requires a lot more space for STEM students to study at.

The Sir Louis Matheson Library, which is focused on Arts, and is again, a useless architectural endeavour due to the sheer lack of power points and desks available to service all 50,000 or more students who need them.

So, you can imagine, just how cramped, the libraries get, when every single student is competing with one another for power points for their laptops and notebooks.

And with such a big population crammed within these library halls, it is anything but quiet.

This lies in stark contrast to Melbourne’s design, where almost every single outdoor furniture has a power point waiting for the student beneath.

Thus, alleviating space inside the libraries for students to study and encouraging these sleep-deprived, procrastinating teens to go outside and get some Vitamin D.

The health benefits are numerous for Melbourne University students. The convenience is there too.

Monash students however, get no such luck. Everything is far too spaced out, and few and far in-between to properly enjoy oneself on campus. It does not aid in the atmosphere of the place, when you spend half your day struggling to find a power-point for a laptop battery verging on 2% life, only to then be unable to study or focus properly when a large group of students are celebrating Diwali or protesting about something inane and stupid.

And when you’ve finally given up, and decided you need a break, you go outside, only to realise you are still stuck on campus, and cannot be arsed to go via a stinky bus to nearby restaurants that will give you food poisoning.

So, you trundle back inside the library and do it all over again.

That scenario that I just described, is a typical, miserable day in the life of Monash university student.

Now allow me to compound that misery with some extra salient facts about the Monash experience.

Fact 1.

Monash students are typically insecure. The reason why, is because all of us secretly longed to get into Melbourne, but our grades weren’t good enough, so we had to settle for this backwater campus.

This means that there is a chip on everyone’s shoulder. We all wished we were elsewhere, but we’re not. We’re stuck here for the next three years, simmering with resentment over the knowledge that we simply weren’t good enough for Melbourne University. Our competitiveness with Melbourne doesn’t even stem from a healthy pride in Monash. It’s literally built on jealousy.

Fact 2.

Monash University’s relatively modern existence means that the architecture is shit. And I meant that with a capital resounding S H I T. So many buildings on the Clayton campus are horrifically ugly. My interest in architecture is a direct result of spending far too many years, surrounded by ugly buildings. The worst offender is what the Time & Tide author, wrote about …. the home of Arts on Monash, the Menzies Building.

It is a phenomenally ugly design, reminiscent of brutal, Soviet-era East Berlin communist bloc buildings. How can it be home to Arts, if it is anything but artistic? The Soviets were known for the lack of appreciation for artistic endeavours … the irony of it all, was not lost on me.

Then there is the bizarre mole-hill of a building known as the Ian Potter Centre for Performing Arts, whose circular nature reminded me of the Teletubbies home hill.

But it is really the unremarkable nature of the rest of the campus that really sells why Monash Clayton is such a depressing place. None of the buildings stand out, none of them have enough seating rooms to alleviate the libraries and they were always so desolate when you entered them. The souls that were inside the buildings that weren’t libraries, were like spectres wandering the halls. They were all too focused on their work, to notice you and you felt strange being in such a huge building, but it was deathly quiet and still.

I haven’t even touched on the lecture halls eithers …. with rickety chairs, crummy stands and entrances that were always clogged with incoming and outgoing traffic the moment the bell rang.

Just atrocious designs all around.

Fact 3.

Whenever the exam period would arrive, Monash would invariably book the Caulfield Racecourse as it’s home for all academic grading.

Not only was this inconvenient to get to, but it was also a stark reminder as to how the Caulfield campus was much, much better than its bigger, uglier sister at Clayton. Caulfield was like the slimmer, happier, sunnier younger sister. There was a central area to the campus that was all lawn, and properly addressed the movement of the sun at any given time of the day. The train station was literally next door to the campus, which meant the most hated form of public transport, le bus, could be avoided.

The campus was architecturally interesting, with a much more contemporary design that had layers. There were less students on campus, which meant more power points were available and the subjects being taught there was much more fine arts focused, which meant workshops and media rooms were plentiful.

Caulfield tempted me so much, that I actually enjoyed my time there much more than Clayton, working extra-long hours to complete my journalism course and actually having a university experience I liked.

It also had a damn Japanese drinks dispenser, which automatically elevates it above Clayton.

Fact 4.

The sad, depressing atmosphere of Clayton is an actual phenomenon that is felt amongst everyone on campus. There is a sense that you are trapped on campus. It is because, it is such an all-encompassing place. You study, eat, sleep, work, play sports, have sneaky sex in the toilets, engage in fights …. all on the one campus.

The moment you get off the bus and get on campus? You are stuck there, with no real means of escape from your timetable. You can’t sneak off to enjoy cheap Chinese with your friends, you can’t take a breather or a walk in the city … You can only leave the same way you came in, on a bus.

And the loop keeps on cycling every single day.

In many ways, Monash Clayton is like the Hotel California of campuses.

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
“Relax, ” said the night man
“We are programmed to receive
You can check out any time you like
But you can never leave”

Fact 5.

All the above aren’t facts at all, just the rambling opinions of a very bitter ex-Monash Uni student, who hated his time at a tertiary institution and wished he spent those years doing something more productive.

In conclusion, Monash University represents to me a colossal black hole. Devoid of personality, atmospherically depressing and truly a waste of time.

Even the recent swathe of upgrades that Monash has poured into creating new, fancier and architecturally interesting buildings like the Learning and Teaching Building has not done it any favours. It is still a very ugly, lonely place.

My advice?

If you are going to visit any place in the south-east of Melbourne, just go to Chadstone Shopping Centre then high-tail back to the city ASAP. There is nothing here of note.

Nothing but the cries of thousands of students who wished they were somewhere else.

~ Damocles.

Bunny.

Yesterday marked the first time I saw the infamous Playboy bunnies in action.

And I felt nothing.

You would think that the sheer amount of eroticism on display would stir something inside of me, but all I felt instead was a strange mixture of apathy and vague appreciation. Seeing so many diverse types of women in scantily clad lingerie and various states of undress, really did not distract me from my work.

But let’s provide some context first. What was I doing at an event where Playboy bunnies were even present?

I was invited by one of my closest friends to assist with a catering job. Being an events operator with a casual schedule and is being constantly bounced from workplace to workplace, I enjoy the randomness of it all, seeing things that I normally wouldn’t and getting paid to do so, to boot.

In this case, the event featured a large strip pole stage in the centre, with tables encircling the stage and about 70 Playboy bunnies that would cater to any taste. The sheer amount of skin on display whipped at me, when I first walked out, holding plates of food for the 200 odd male guests.

There was just all sort of bodies. Tall, slim, busty, curvy, lithe, svelte, petite, voluminous, statuesque, … tattoos could be seen everywhere, from full length sleeves, to a tempting knife nestled between the cleavage of a woman.

The variety of colours was also electric. Neon orange bikinis meant that you were unable to tear your eyes away, electric yellow mesh one-pieces meant that it wasn’t really covering anything of importance, to more classy black spandex that had an exciting severity to it.

Then there was the themes. Naughty schoolgirls mingled with a Harley Quinn, a dominatrix waltzed by, holding hands with a delighted older gentleman and an older Asian woman flirtatiously sat on the lap of a man and dazzled him with her faux accent. I remember staring at this Grace Jones like Amazon, her ebony skin glowing under the flickering lights, her tall, athletic body a work of art.

Every 15 minutes, a new strip tease would come on stage. At first it was a burlesque performance, which was then followed by an sexy routine from a athleisure-clad girl with a basketball. Then came your classic belly-dancing act, from a Middle Eastern woman with dramatic eye-liner and shadow and an equally extravagant crimson sequinned dress that flowed around her long legs.

It was all meant to be distracting.

Yet, there was a dispassionate way in which I viewed every single attractive woman in that venue. I thought that I would be stirred by so much erotic sensuality on display, but instead it was like wandering through a living art gallery, where I picked apart what I liked about what I saw.

In all honestly, there was only one woman that caught my interest, mostly because I considered her face to be the most attractive I saw that night.

Blonde, slender, tattoo-free and wearing a black mesh one-piece that suited her curves, she was covered up a bit more than her sisters, with attractive contouring to highlight her naturally sharp cheekbones, strong jaw and straight nose. She had full lips, brown eyes that seemed a bit more defiant than usual and there was a challenge to her that I liked.

She knew that she was a bit too good to sit on your lap like that. You had to work for her.

Which brings me to the realisation that struck me as I was serving food, amongst so much debauchery …. I really do prefer knowing a woman before seeing her naked.

I need an emotional connection before I am turned on.

It’s strange to have such a deep realisation when you are catering staff in a glorified strip club, but then I can’t pretend that my mind doesn’t work in weird ways.

It also indicates that if I am ever to be married in the future, a stereotypical bachelor party would be off the cards. Strippers do nothing for me, unless it’s coming from a woman I have a connection with, which in this case, would actually be my fiancĂ©.

This also answers the strange question I’ve always had about sex workers. Would I perform well in bed if I ever decided to hire a prostitute? The answer is, unless she somehow magically opens up in the initial half hour of talking and we form a deep emotional bond …. performance would be negligible.

I suppose that is very feminine of me … requiring foreplay and emotional intimacy before sex.

As I looked around the room, I could only feel puzzlement at how easily each of the men were led away for a private strip-dance for a princely sum. I just couldn’t quite reconcile in my head how a few false entreaties for their ego was enough to warrant losing their money to a stranger.

What was so erotic about it?

I have to acknowledge the big caveat here and note that I was in a professional mindset the entire time, running to and from the kitchen, carrying plates away and clearing tables. You really can’t indulge in scandalous thoughts when you have a job to do.

I suppose it didn’t help either that it was my fellow female waitresses that I found more attractive. Call me old-fashioned, but when a girl is more covered up, and it’s just her facial features that arrest you, I find myself a lot more drawn to them.

Because half the mystery is finding out if the beautiful face compliments the body.

Half of the thrill for me is the pursuit. I like breaking down the barriers a woman puts up before me, the genuine flirty banter, the accidental electric touches, the subtle ways we communicate our desires to each other …

It’s why, and as bad as this sound, I will always say that my favourite type of woman is a bitch.

In my limited experience, there is nothing more than I love than encountering a bitch.

To me, she represents the ultimate psychological defence. She knows she is attractive, however her standards for people are extremely high, leaving her disappointed with most of the human race.

She is often abrasive, opinionated, tough, and intimidating in all the right ways. She has a bit of an ego and isn’t afraid to wield it mercilessly.

Despite her brusqueness though, inside is a woman who just wants to meet a partner who can really match her, wit for wit, insult for insult, and just disarm her completely.

She is a romantic after all, despite evidence to the contrary and there is that insecurity about her, that deep down, she knows that she is pushing away a lot of potential suitors, in the hopes that the right one will somehow blast through all her defences and surprise her with how accurately the suitor can read her every move.

The bitch will then get flustered and confused. Her normal confidence will be slightly off-kilter around the suitor, because no-one has ever made it past all her defences.

It is that moment, where the bitch gets her comeuppance, where she realises that she has actually met her match, and that the guy or girl standing before her is able to read her and be her equal ….

I love it.

Because it’s so gratifying to know that your charms eventually won her over.

I can’t get that thrill from a Playboy Bunny.

Attraction is the result of chemistry between two people. You can get that anywhere, from a glance to a conversation.

Seduction is all about conducting a lot of hard research, trial and error and finding out what the other person loves.

Temptation is all about creating something palatable for your partner from all your seductive knowledge.

I live for the moment when I can tempt a bitch.

It’s the best feeling in the great game of flirting.

Nothing will ever top it.

Not even a bunny.

~ Damocles.

29 and on the cusp of prime.

Federation Square from the roof. One of the perks of the job.

My birthday has come and gone in a whirlwind of work.

It so happened that my birthday landed right in the middle of a 3 day work bender, where I have pulled 10+ hours every single day, doing nothing but physical labour. I have ended up pushing myself so hard, that I lost a kilogram of weight, and have had at least 1 Red Bull per day to keep going. On a more positive note though, I am sporting a surprising lack of bruises, a much darker tan and a lack of blisters …

So really, I got off pretty easy.

Waking up today, to a much more relaxed shift, I could feel the pins and needles coursing through my hands and feet, and spent an inordinately long time massaging them with a theragun into a workable state again.

As I sat there on my bed, displeased with the fact that, despite working so hard, my body clock chose to wake me up far too early, so that I was still running on 5 hours of sleep, just like the other two days, I thought about how I started my birthday.

It’s the been the main positive this year. Being kept so busy, that people raise eyebrows as to how I am still standing before them, with a wry smile and decent posture. I’ve pushed myself to massive extremes this year, mostly in a physical sense, because I will always try to ensure I work out at least thrice a week, to minimise injuries at the workplace and make my labour a bit less intensive.

Mentally, it’s bit a lot more up and down than I wanted. But again, if I am looking at things in a positive manner, then I suppose there is denying that I am a lot more capable, tougher and will-driven than a lot of other people.

In my small circle of friends, I don’t know really know of anyone who has quite tackled so much, with so many severe consequences to their future riding on the line. In many ways, my birthday has been so inconsequential in the grander scheme of problems that have assaulted me this year.

It couldn’t even be celebrated the way I wanted to, with a Halloween theme, a nice barbeque and all my friends around.

Too much has happened, most of it self-inflicted for me to really feel good about throwing a big party.

As it were, I had to attend this work event that I was a key part of on the night of the birthday anyway.

That has truly been the par for the course this year. A lot of wonderful things always tinged with a strong melancholy. A lot of brave smiles that is hiding the exhaustion and anger that is simmering underneath.

Exhaustion from work, life, love and drama … anger at it all, because that is the only emotion that can help me keep one foot ahead of the other.

I felt that primal rage yesterday, as I entered the 15th hour of work. My feet, sore, callused and aching, was kept moving lightly across the Melburnian concrete footpath by sheer will. I refused to let myself hobble or limp.

I could march forever, and I was going to do exactly that.

But as I marched from one event venue to the other, from the uneven cobblestones of Fed Square to the rich carpet of Crown Casino, I realised just how sad it was that I had grown older by a year, and yet I wasn’t really paying any attention to it.

My life had devolved into such an endless grind of work, so much so, that the classic milestone of a birthday seemed insignificant.

What happened to me …. it used to be such a special time for me to indulge in my own private event, something fun that I loved to plan and design.

Nerf gun shoot-outs, Halloween costumes, endless amount of candy and snacks, good barbeque, chill fun party games …. long chats about everything and nothing …

It’s been 4 years since I last held a party and there is something remotely tragic about that fact, like I can’t really indulge in my inner child anymore and just relish a day that is entirely centered around me.

It’s funny how nostalgic you become when its’ your birthday. You start reminiscing about earlier memories, thinking about which one was your favourite, which was the best way to celebrate a certain age and milestone. You miss the friends you’ve lost along the way and ponder about what might have been.

I suppose, even in the midst of all this selfish happiness, you always end-up with a bit of melancholia. It’s just natural to mourn the loss of youth.

Celebrating getting older, and being alive for another year seems like such a trivial concept, until you realise that so many people never got to where you are.

There are countless people out there, who never made it to 29 and are immortalised in their family for being forever 26, 22, 15, 7 or even 3.

They never got to survive and live 29 years on this planet.

I used to be more dismissive of my birthday. What was the big deal, I always said. It’s not hard to eat, breathe, drink and just continue on living. It’s really not much of an achievement.

But that was me being dismissive of my luck, my own choices and my health. Many people struggle with one of those three elements or all of them at once.

Some are just incredibly unlucky individuals who were involved in freak accidents that never let them see 29.

Others have made bad choices in life, whether it’d be work, friends, lovers or personal struggles … and took their own lives before hitting 25.

And a select few are just cursed with health problems that make hitting 18 a miracle in of itself.

The older I get, the more grateful I am for the choices, people and environments that I either unwittingly or willingly allowed to be a part of my life. Some of those choices have been tough beyond compare and it has been difficult to truly comprehend the magnitude in which they upended the axis of my orbit. But made them I did and I have to live with the consequences.

A lot of people will never know the impact they had on me, whether it be from a passing comment or insult to a heartfelt compliment. But I know who they are and what they mean to me and how they have improved me, regardless of how large or small their influence was at the time.

I just can’t forget some things, no matter how hard I try. The tears on a woman’s cheek, the sounds of the water rustling across sand, the way how my breath seems to catch whenever I think about something particularly painful ….

It is these melancholy feelings that dominate how I am feeling on my birthday.

Birthdays are meant to be a joyous occasion, but for the past few years, they’ve been nothing but gentle reminders of my past. I’m mourning the old me, but without any bitterness or guilt. There’s no point in adding either of those feelings onto my past, because if I do, I’ll never forgive myself and learn to let go.

I’ve let go of a lot things this year. It’s almost like I am trying to prepare for my 30s in the cleanest way possible.

29 … the final year for me to really get my act together before I can finally put to rest the strangest challenge I’ve ever made for myself, the B30 Challenge.

There is nothing to distract me now. I’m all alone in this fight. No-one is in my corner backing me, and that’s OK.

My eyes are forward and I’m slowly gearing up for my final round.

This isn’t a happy birthday. This is the ring of the bell.

~ Damocles.

Cinis ad cinerem, pulvis in pulverem.

One day, and he accepted the fact, he would be brought to his knees by love or by luck. When that happened, he knew that, he too, would be branded with the deadly question-mark he recognised so often in others, the promise to pay before you have lost: the acceptance of fallibility. Ian Fleming, Casino Royale (1953)

After being delivered a significant setback to a rather distressing legal case, I’m sitting alone in my room, Italian hard candy by my side, a ice-cold glass of water slowly condensing, and an unlit herbal cigarette in my mouth.

The only sounds you can hear are my hands religiously shuffling cards, the echoes of Fleming’s words causing my brown eyes to squint in concentration as I riffle through them. There is an angry set to my jaw, a muscle rippling along my cheek as I focus my energy and senses.

The very first game is of tantamount importance. It will provide me evidence, reassurance and a semblance of hope.

Four cards are laid out on the table.

The first two are mine, the second pair … the dealer’s.

I can already sense it, before I even pick it up.

It’s a natural 21.

I don’t even hesitate to flip it over ….

Upon seeing the pair of clubs, I allow myself a cruel smile.

I haven’t been bought to my knees yet.

Some things have remained undamaged despite what the world was telling me.

In some ways, I suppose I’ve always been a secret gambler at heart.

I’ve never placed a single genuine bet in a casino before, out of fear of addiction, but there is no denying that I love the call of playing cards and how genuinely exciting playing them can be.

It is a strange experience, at once, very sensual and sensory and cold and clinical. You need to be in touch with your inner thoughts, desires and will, manifesting and imposing your luck into reality, whilst understanding that logically such an occurrence is rare and that you need be aware of the odds.

Luck isn’t a deity that belongs to you. She is flippant, whimsical and elusive.

To catch her, you need all your strength.

I’m beginning to understand how I’ve been approaching my relationship to Lady Luck wrong this year. I’ve been far too worshipful. Far too reliant and slavish.

I need to seize control of this relationship once more. The power dynamic has been far too skewed in her favour, which has made me far less attractive and insipid, causing her to be bored with me.

Lady Luck isn’t a deity you pander to or pursue … you simply accept when she comes into your life and take full advantage of that momentary kismet.

Otherwise, you go back to playing the odds. You need to be clever, clinical and calculated in your daily life. If Luck truly favours you, she will visit you more often than others. But that is not a sign of favouritism. She is and will forever be out of your reach.

I have been slack with my off time, relying far too often on the frequency of Luck’s visits instead of playing the game the way how people are meant to.

It was this realisation that made me win that all important Blackjack hand above. Because I had finally taken ownership of my luck again. I wasn’t relying on a deity any more. It was time for me to create my own luck and then be grateful when Lady Luck steps in and boost it.

This kick to the kerb has been just one of the many that has assaulted me this month, let alone year. If 2022 is plagued with misfortune like I said previously, then let it come. This is just another problem that I have to face with meticulous planning, quick thinking and rapid deployment of grit, determination and will.

And it will be resolved, just like every other damnable problem this year.

If 2022 is truly as horrific as they come, then in the next 3 months I am going to be kicked to the floor again.

So I might as well get used to picking myself up from off the floor because I have ended up down here so many times.

Only this time, whenever I dust myself off, I shall be squarely reviewing my every actions that lead up to the moment and not blaming a mythical deity for my own poor judgement and planning.

After all, there is really no one else to blame except me when it comes to losing.

Fail to prepare … prepare to fail.

Today’s harsh reminder was just another brutal wake-up call about how I’ve gotten complacent in a lot of things. Too much time listening to others, instead of acknowledging my own feelings, needs and desires.

And truly not enough writing.

It’s one of those pitfalls when you literally don’t do enough self-reflection … lessons aren’t learned, self-esteem starts to plummet and you end up not knowing how you are lost, which is important, because knowing how you got to this strange location is the key to leaving it.

We all look in the past for answers to the present. It’s a classic story trope, where characters research clues hidden long ago, to solve modern mysteries.

Self reflection, and in my case, written self-reflection helps me find those clues so that I can resolve my current dramas.

In this case, I’m re-discovering what made my relationship with Lady Luck and I work. I never answered to her … she answered to me when it was convenient for her.

There is a cruelty to our relationship that makes it healthy and beneficial for both of us.

But when she is not by my side, which is far more often than I think, I need to be my own person. I need to be more than my beautiful lucky crutch.

It is said that you need 825,000 pounds per square inch to form a diamond.

Heat, pressure and carbon …. nowhere in that equation is luck.

I can’t be a polished carbon life-form if I am too reliant on luck being in the equation.

It’s time to reignite the passion I used to have for life again. I want to own once more, that same cold, confident and ruthless drive that has propelled me to most of my successes. I need to unlock that potential in me that I know has always been bubbling away there.

As I am writing this though, sometimes, even I can’t quite fathom how fickle my mind can be.

I mean, reading this, you are supposed to believe that one lucky hand in blackjack, is now responsible for the complete return to form of Damocles. That all he needed to get his drive, determination and dedication back was one good hand.

I suppose when you’ve been kicked to the kerb as many time as I have recently, the smallest reversal in fortune is enough for you to keep playing the game, to try your hand again the rest of the table.

The greatest lesson I seem to learn from all of this, is that I truly can be professional, despite feeling like utter shit. There is no denying that there have been incredibly low moments at work, but I’ve had the strength and mental capacity to block out the negativity and sadness and keep on doing my job with a smile.

Composure … it’s something I’m proud to have.

Even when everything around me is falling apart, I’ll always retain my fierce spirit and never compromise on what I think are important.

Even when handed devastating news, that set everything back by a month and will cause me to get into more of a legal quagmire … I’m remaining steadfast. All my mental training in the years prior …. all my techniques … they’re all best tested and standing up to the test.

I’m not smoking, drinking, falling for loose women or engaging in other forms of self-destructive behaviour.

As the Brits are apt to do when everything goes to shit … make a cup of tea, understate the situation and remain calm.

I like to think that I have the same steadfastness.

And I’m oddly proud of myself for that.

A rare moment indeed, because I’m often far too critical of myself.

So for once, I’m going to say that I am proud that I haven’t broken down, despite all the misery that has befallen me.

As I write that though, just when my pride is hitting the apex of its strut, another curious line from Casino Royale enters my mind.

‘Surround yourself with human beings, my dear James. They are easier to fight for than principles.’ He laughed. ‘But don’t let me down and become human yourself. We would lose such a wonderful machine.’

I can’t help but smile cruelly at that. The sheer emotional gambit I have run so far would have crippled most people. I suppose I really am a machine at times.

No point in stopping now to be more human.

~ Damocles.

Apostatize

2022 has been characterised by misfortune.

Most of which is self-inflicted.

When I look at my brown eyes in the mirror, there is an intensity there that is softened by all the shittiness that has happened this year. My spirit is still strong, defiant … but it’s also tired and bruised from what I’ve put it through.

A key part of my balancing act in life, is to keep my natural arrogance in check through various mental exercises. The most important of which, is self-reflection and ensuring that I own up to any measure of blame.

This self-flagellation often means that I beat myself up regularly over mistakes that I know I could have avoided or done better.

It also comes in strongly whenever there are huge existential crises in my life. Whenever I look at a relationship, I know that there are always two sides to the story, two reasons why there is a fight and two ways of communicating.

It is up to me to take ownership of my side of the story, my reason why I chose to fight and why I chose to communicate my feelings that way.

A fight erupt over something as trivial as different cereals, but I have to own up to my reasons. The blame could be attributed to my friend by 70%, 90% or even 99% …. but the point is, I need to acknowledge my 30%, 10% or 1%.

Because without doing that, I will never learn how to communicate better with the other person and be a better person myself.

The only problem with that so far though … is that 2022 has had far too many crises for me to realistically handle all the self-blame.

Lady Luck has always been my patron Goddess. As strange that sounds, I actually do hold onto some old-school religious ideas, like the concept of a Pantheon of Gods instead of a singular one. I can’t quite seem to let go of that spiritual connection.

And within that Pantheon, there is always one that holds a special place in your heart.

Mine is named Lady Luck.

The other three I “worship” are: Melbourne, Eris the Goddess of Discord and Athena the Goddess of Wisdom and War.

To touch on all three briefly …

Melbourne.

I like to believe that every city has a soul, a spirit. The more you connect with this spirit, the more the city will unveil itself to you and be an exciting place to visit every time. Melbourne has always had this classical femme fatale visage in my mind. She’s elegant, always ahead of trends, is curvaceous and mysterious. She hides all her best secrets down laneways and it is up to you, to hear her siren calls and discover the best she has to offer.

I normally speak to Melbourne when I want her tempestuous weather moods to change and stabilise.

Eris, the Goddess of Discord

My adoration for Eris only goes so far. This is a relationship of neglect. Often there is not enough trouble for me to truly be switched on all the time and not be bored by my usual life. Which is why I often have to come to her and beg for something drastic to happen.

This irrecoverably blows up in my face and I then go running to Lady Luck to fix the mess. This is a relationship created out of boredom, where I want more excitement in my life, but Eris refuses to grant it, knowing that I can’t always handle her style.

Athena, the Goddess of War and Wisdom.

My favourite out of all the Greek Gods, Athena has always struck a chord with me, how she inspires intellectualism with natural inclinations to hunt and art. Beyond her symbolism with freedom, Athena’s origin has always fascinated me.

My relationship with Athena is one of simple adoration and aspiration. She inspires me to pursue a warrior-poet lifestyle and that just because I can fight, doesn’t mean I can’t do so with intellect as well as a sword.

Finally, my favourite Goddess of all,

Lady Luck

There is a genuine relationship here, with actual words and actions being exchanged on some level. Whether it is truly the work of a Goddess bending reality to suit me, or some type of strange subliminal telekinesis and mutant ability in the form of probability-warping, I got no idea, but there is no denying that sometimes things work out for me that normally would not occur in any other shape or form.

I’ve been blessed with this relationship with her, since a very young age, ever since I’ve acknowledged her.

Like most Goddesses, Lady Luck isn’t someone that I can just call upon whenever I need her. She requires careful readings of her mood, a precise understanding of her nature and an unwavering commitment to her and her alone.

I have been unfailingly loyal to her.

However, 2022 is the year where she and I have tested the boundaries of our relationship to the extremes.

As I’ve mentioned above though, it is not Lady Luck’s story that I am focusing on. I have to aim the magnifying glass on myself and see what I have done wrong, to see why this year, Lady Luck, has on multiple occasions given me huge emotional whiplash.

Beyond the obvious ones, such as the Formula 1 weekend that culminated in a raid, or the even smaller instances like a board game, perhaps the biggest whiplash I’ve experienced this year is the age old debate between career and love.

It is said that you remember the bad memories better than you relive the good ones.

However for my 2022 experience, it has been both at the same time that has caused me no end of consternation.

It has created within my mind, a paranoia around the feeling of happiness. For every extremely joyous moment, I am instantly struck, hours later by some terrible misfortune.

Let’s take one of the better weekends of my life, where I spent a Sunday at a racetrack, volunteering as a Flag marshal.

Having survived a near crash, spent the entire day relatively dry, despite the monsoon like weather and experiencing nearly 8 hours of incredible wet-racing, upon immediately climbing into my car, I was assaulted with severe back muscle pain, that left me unable to move properly for 2 days.

Where this pain came from, or the cause of it, I have no real idea, but it was deliberating enough to cripple me for a full day.

Joy …. Pain. The whiplash from a mental perspective is immense.

Every single good memory I have had this year, has been made less blissful by the immediate slap in the face by Lady Luck herself.

The apex of this mountain though, has to be the self-destruction of a 6-year relationship.

Our anniversary was meant to be a celebration of our past and present but it was the beginning of the end for me.

Again, it seems twisted that on the day of our anniversary, we had one of our biggest fights and was so close to breaking it off.

To add insult to injury even more, when she finally came back months later, hoping to resolve things with me … I broke it off the day she landed.

Another joyous occasion ruined. The day she came home to me, to repair everything, was the very day I decided to break her heart.

I still can’t look at myself in the mirror when I think about that. I’m not sure I’m even capable of being forgiving myself at the moment.

The day I lost her, was the day I lost a lot more than I originally anticipated.

A part of me was put down. I did it to myself, compressing and squeezing every last bit of that tiny piece of humanity, into nothing, so that I could really go through with the break-up. The guilt, the shame, the bizarre strength it took to overcome all those emotions in the moment … I lost a crucial part of what I felt like a core part of me, my sympathy for others, my ability to empathize.

I essentially traumatised myself. It was like using a hot brand, and searing it against my skin, a part of me forever marked by what I did.

I’ve also lost my feelings for another person as well. A part of me was wondering and wandering, excited to be in the presence of something new.

But that is gone now too. I’ve realised that the other person isn’t quite right for me either. At least, not what I need or want at the moment. They’re just incapable of offering me that kind of support.

Because the sad reality of this all, is that at the end of the day, I, alone, am the only one who can resolve this mess I am in.

And in order to do that, I need to really set boundaries for myself, learn not to push unrealistic expectations onto others and really keep my emotions in check. No one can fix the mess that I’ve created for myself.

Only I can.

It sounds strange to go through so many emotions, feelings of love, regret, guilt, crushing, nervousness and anger in such a short span of a week.

I keep fighting against myself, catching myself feeling one way and brusquely putting it aside to continue work. Then I will be OK for the next few hours, then comes an errant memory, over 6 years worth, and I will go back to feeling awful again.

The cycle will then continue. I will feel terrible, then put it aside, OK and stable for a few more hours, then terrible and immediately plugging that shit away.

If someone asked me why I simultaneously killed off all feelings of love inside me, I couldn’t give them a clear reason.

At the time, it felt like the right thing to do. Even now, the logical part of me is still arguing that it was.

It, being of course, the intense desire to be alone. To live a life without a partner.

But the heart refuses to listen and instead continues to assault my brain with immense waves of guilt, pain and internal suffering. I can’t sleep properly, eat comfortably or really enjoy myself in anything.

Life has become a bit duller.

You throw atop of this, my relationship with Lady Luck, which is now filled with paranoia and suspicion. I’ve suffered too much at her hands this year to really trust her. Perhaps, I’ve been worshipping the wrong Goddess the entire time, and it turns out I was actually paying homage to Eris, who has taken the guise of Lady Luck.

Shit. Perhaps that is a theory worth exploring further soon.

To sum things up, 2022 has been a chastening year. For all the incredible opportunities that I’ve had have this year, from making new friends, exploring new elements of my personality, landing two jobs that have opened up my world to the events industry, it has been marred by incredible loss.

The loss of some of my most prized possessions, the loss of my former introverted strength, the loss of my long-term girlfriend, the loss of my feelings and most crucially, the loss of a part of my soul.

When you compare the two, my gains and losses, I’ve parted ways with a lot more than what I’ve gotten back.

Look at yourself. Look at what you’ve asked yourself to give.

Do you even know truly why you are going through all of this?

I suppose the answer doesn’t really matter. Life is full of meaningless meaning and I suppose the sooner I embrace that, that there isn’t some sadistic, comforting purpose behind this pain, the sooner I can move on.

What a fucking shit year.

~ Damocles.