23 of the Most Influential Books I’ve Read So Far circa 2023.

I’ve been meaning to create this list for a while now, so without further ado, let’s get stuck into it. Since I self-identify so much as a bookworm, then you can definitely decipher what kind of reader I am from this list. Note, these are not listed in any particular order, but Kafka on the Shore remains the most life-altering book I’ve ever read.

Casino Royale (1953) – Ian Fleming

The book that started it all ….

Reading Casino Royale gave me an introduction to the world of Bond, the movies could never give me. It was in this book, I truly fell for the world of Bond and how Ian Fleming perceived it. This was a gritty, dark and oddly philosophical look into the world of espionage as I have ever read and it wasn’t difficult to see why these book turned into the beloved film series they are now.

It was Casino Royale though, that cemented my belief that the film version in 2006 was my favourite Bond movie, because of the way how they adapted the story and the faithfulness the film stuck to the tone of the book. Reading Casino gives you a taste of the high life that Bond enjoys, the cold attraction he has for women, the paranoid cynicism in which he views the world and how he is struggling to navigate the dark world of the Cold War. It is an incredible snapshot into how men like Fleming viewed the world back then, and how people thought.

Yes, it is controversial by today’s standards, but it has remained a valuable insight to me, on how far we have come since the release of the book. I love reading Casino, because it is a wonderfully paced story, short, concise and well-written. Every character is wonderfully alive, and I love the character arc of Bond at the end of the book.

Casino Royale effectively tells its story and ends of a bittersweet note. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, nor does it veer too much into the fantastical like the other Bond stories. But most importantly, it created and established a winning formula …. sex, danger and a touch of philosophy that makes the Bond series so great.

Fleming’s style is wonderfully descriptive and concise. He truly has the ability to truly transport you into the early Cold War era and show you just how espionage, philosophy and elitism all clashed together to create something truly memorable.

Kafka on the Shore (2002) – Haruki Murakami

The most important book in my life.

I was first recommended Kafka on the Shore by my oldest and closest friend. He described it as something surreal and dream-like.

The first time I tried to read this book, I couldn’t. I didn’t know what to make of it. I couldn’t get into the style, because it was so unique and haunting. Every sentence had this echo like effect, where it seemed like you had to read it again, to fully grasp what was going on.

But what truly gripped me, being the lonely, quiet guy, I was when I first read it, was the casual depiction of sex in the book. There was something matter of fact about how sex was treated and in the strangest of contexts. It should have been vaguely taboo, but in Murakami’s world, there is an earnestness to sex that is unlike anything I’ve ever read in any other book. Sex is something beautiful, primal and necessary. It isn’t something extraordinary, sacred or forbidden, it just is.

And that was exactly the key I needed to truly enjoy the book. In Kafka on the Shore, resistance to the novel means that you will never enjoy it. You just have to accept the story as it is. It will give you passages about fish falling from the sky, haunted Japanese WWII soldiers in a forest, a librarian who does not have a gender … all of these things are just woven beautifully into the dream-like experience that is Kafka on the Shore. And just like a dream, it is futile to question why things happen, except that they do, and you simply are along for the ride.

Kafka on the Shore reads, behaves and acts like a dream that you cannot control, nor wish to end. There is a tranquility and nostalgia to Murakami’s style of writing that is addictive and compelling. To read Kafka is to be in the mood to be completely and utterly transported into another realm of his creation. So many passages didn’t link together for me in my mind, but the experience of reading page after page was too good to stop and truly ponder what it mean in relation to the previous chapter. This meant that the book became this experience that was looked at as a whole, instead of favourite chapters that I liked.

Allowing words to come and go in my consciousness was such an incredible experience, that it redefined how I could read books forever. Kafka on the Shore changed my life, because it changed how I could read a book. That is how revolutionary it was for me at the time and still is. Even now, re-reading scenes from the book, I am struck by how much of the book stuck with me, how I can recall how I felt reading certain passages and sentences, and how oddly timeless the story is, because like most dreams you do remember, they retain their vividness in your recall.

To read Murakami is to experience dreams woven onto paper. The book is so important to me, that it would be the only thing I rescue, if my room went up in flames.

Ratcatcher (2006) – James McGee

A crime thriller set during the Napoleonic Era.

Reading Ratcatcher proved to me that an author needs to be a meticulous researcher to create atmosphere and believability. James McGee’s talent lies not only in his ability to create a fun murder mystery/conspiracy but also the way how he weaves his research into the atmosphere of the story.

There is an almost tangible way how McGee recreates Napoleonic era England that makes it such arresting historical fiction. By combining his historical research with a much more modern fast paced narrative, Ratcatcher stands out from similar series like the Richard Sharpe series made famous by Bernard Cornwell. This is a modern style story set in the 19th century and for that reason, I enjoy reading it more.

In many ways, Ratcatcher is responsible for my love of that era. I became obsessed with that period of history, from the technology, the clothes, the slang and even the events that happened. It was such a fascinating period of history, where the rights of men were truly being defined for centuries moving forward and warfare also featured my favourite mixture of weapons, swords and guns, being used in conjunction. The idea of a Rennaissance Man was truly encouraged in the Officer class of the military, on both sides of the conflict.

After all, to become an Officer, meant that men had to be skilled with blades and flintlocks, able to ride horses, command men, hold themselves to a higher degree of courage, honour and ability than the common enlisted man. They lead the way from the front, charging head-first into rifle fire, and were expected to duel another man to the death for honour.

Ratcatcher opened my eyes to an era of history that is only rivalled by my love for all things Roman. Tall ships-of-the-line dominated the horizon as far as the eye could see, cannon fire ruptured the eardrums of all those unfortunate to be close enough to witness the carnage of 19th century warfare, horses still roamed the streets and the forests, their hooves clattering on the ground, the bond between men and animals still strong and high class men and women and poor labourers could pass by each other on the street and be prey to the highwaymen with the deep voice, the dark cloak and the large pistol brandished in the shadows.

This is one of the most interesting eras in human history and Ratcatcher is one of those books that proved to me that it is worthy of recognition. If you want to read a fast-paced murder/mystery that has a dark, sexy and fascinating protagonist, Ratcatcher is an excellent read that will make you reach for the history books to find out more about Napoleon and how he changed the world.

American Gods (2001) – Neil Gaiman

Who doesn’t love fresh, new takes on old stories?

As my first Neil Gaiman book, American Gods blew me away with how Gaiman’s style is simultaneously economical, yet descriptive. Reading his books is like hearing an old-grizzed veteran tell an old story to you. The story doesn’t have any fat, but it is perfectly brief in its description where it needs to be, to prove a point.

Take for example, the very first lines in the book.

Shadow had done three years in prison. He was big enough and looked don’t-fuck-with-me enough that his biggest problem was killing time. So he kept himself in shape, and taught himself coin tricks, and thought a lot about how much he loved his wife.

With just three sentences, you can instantly tell what sort of character Shadow is. He’s tough, cool and sentimental. The archetypal thug with a heart of gold. But the way how Gaiman described him is incredibly evocative. In many ways, the whole reason I fell in love with the book, is because I fell in love with Shadow Moon. He is the character I’ve always wanted to be.

But what truly arrested me was the phenomenal way how Gaiman turned classic Gods and myths into this overarching tapestry set against the landscape of America. As a relatively new country, founded on principals that are still incredibly timeless to this day, America lacks a mythology that can be found in Greece, England or Norway.

So instead, they create a whole new one for themselves, much like Christianity did when it first came onto the scene. They took every single myth and creation story and made it their own. Gaiman’s extensive research on America and its’ fascinating history of creating its own mythology (Memphis, Tennessee for example is taken from the ancient Egyptian capital and was named for its relation to the Mississippi River) formed the basis for his magnum opus.

Thematically following that revisionist route, Gaiman created this fascinating world between Old and New Gods, fighting for relevancy in today’s age. Like most people who are familiar with old mythology, reading American Gods was a huge breath of fresh air, that combined the reverence for the old stories whilst twisting them in today’s context.

It’s an incredibly novel and unique spin on old stories and I loved seeing how Shadow Moon navigated this world, like the fish out of water he was. The whole story was very much like a huge historical acid trip, that gave you memories of how people perceived these old Gods, but played with them, in unique and sometimes horrific ways that taps into the primal fear that we all hold for Gods and the power of religion.

American Gods is one of those stories, that sold me on the magic and style of Neil Gaiman and why he is one of the most influential writers in modern history. He truly is the old wizard who is cranky to tell you stories, but the moment he starts, he will weave magic with his words.

The English Assassin (2002) – Daniel Silva

Classical music in written form

Daniel Silva is one of the most influential writers in my mind, because he has redefined what class means to me. Not class in sense of “social structures” that people always harp on about, but class in the “elegant, posh and chic” sense.

His style is as I described above, classic music in a written form. There is an elegance and almost musical sense in the way how Daniel Silva writes. Unlike so many of the other thrillers I’ve read, Silva weaves his story in an almost operatic sense and scale. There is a clear crescendo to his stories that rival the high notes that a soprano must reach in Mozart’s Magic Flute aria.

I chose this story amongst all the Gabriel Allon stories, because of the duality of the characters within. The titular English Assassin is a classically deadly anti-hero, carving a small, professional niche for himself. He doesn’t allow himself to get attached, emotionally or logically. He merely conducts contract kills with all the lethal efficiency of a machine.

This contrasts with the more tragic, tortured and romantic Gabriel Allon, whose tortured past catches up with him, in the form of his ever demanding mentor. Tasked with looking after a talented violinist during an investigation which involves stolen art during WWII in Switzerland, Gabriel must contend with the English Assassin and a wider conspiracy to keep ill-gotten art in the hands of the Swiss elite.

There is a beauty in which Silva interweaves the two men’s stories and similarities and I remember reading the first chapter and instantly falling in love with Allon, Silva’s style and exhaustive research into the plight of the Jews during WWII.

In many ways, Silva’s work is a testament to the enduring impact of the Holocaust and through his style and stories, I’ve learned far more about the Shoah than I had ever imagined. In addition, I’ve also grown a deep appreciation for classical pieces of art, whether it is my current love for Puccini operas, or Old Masters artwork, reading the Allon thrillers have made me a much more classically learned scholar than I anticipated.

In so many ways, the English Assassin is a throwback to the early glamour days of Europe, where it was still the heart of intrigue, danger and beauty, where even small islands like Corsica held a magic to them that could not be found anywhere else in the world. Reading the Allon thrillers, made me nostalgic for an old Europe, where beauty and espionage came together in harmony that cannot be replicated.

If you love sweeping conspiracies, a melancholy yet romantic anti-hero and all things classical, the English Assassin has to be your introduction to Silva’s Gabriel Allon series.

No Front Line (2017) – Chris Masters

Investigative Journalism done right.

Growing up, I was enamored with one particular unit: The Regiment. The infamous 22nd Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) of His Majesty’s Armed Forces. It was these hard-hitting men that inspired me to enlist early on in my life (I didn’t make it in). The moment I wanted to join the Army, all I dreamed about was joining the hallowed ranks of the SASR.

Reading this book, which has respect but not reverence for the famed unit in the Australian Defence Force, allowed me to see the unit more objectively and better understand their capabilities. They are not superhuman, nor the myth that I idolised as a kid, but real men and women who have undergone the most intense training and are forged under the most intense pressure.

More importantly, No Front Line truly allowed me to appreciate what fighting a contemporary war is like, something that is so different to the romanticised version in my mind.

Chris Masters’ style throughout is blunt, journalistic and factual He is a journalist, following the lives of extraordinary soldiers in some of the most dangerous operations a unit can face in the military. Yet, he never allows himself to get carried away by politics, judgement or awe. He is an objective outsider, looking in, and critically examining every aspect of what makes these men and women the elite spear in the ADF’s arsenal.

For me, reading this book, allowed some of the wool to fall from my eyes, when it came to idolising the SASR and its members. Because I came to realise that to become a member of the Regiment, meant that I had to possess something extraordinary within to be selected. Reading the book and the trials these men went through, made me realise that I do not have that special ingredient to make become a Blade.

It also made me more aware of just how dysfunctional and unwieldly the Army is, as an organisation, and as an institution. From rivalries with the 1st Commando Regiment, to additional rules and conventions that must be abided by in combat, modern warfare is as much about checks and balances as it is shooting straight and calling in airstrikes.

No Front Lines gave me that holistic look at Australia’s most elite military unit and their history in Afghanistan, and how that war marked these modern warfighters in ways that still being discussed to this day. From their war crimes, looser discipline in comparison to the rest of the Army, their courage under fire and their tenacious spirit under fire, No Front Line is one of the best investigative pieces of journalism I’ve read, that truly explores the good, the bad and the ugly about being a modern soldier and all the complexities that come with being the best.

House to House (2008) – David Bellavia

War has never felt so visceral and no book has captured brotherhood quite like this.

When I was in high school, every Friday, my family used to take my brother and I to Borders, a multi-level bookstore in Chadstone that was more like a library than a proper store, because the amount of people that loved to stay there and read was obscene.

My brother and I’s favourite section was the military history genre. It offered a view over the surrounding houses, wasn’t too hot when the sun was setting and rarely anyone stayed there.

One day, my brother picked out House to House and couldn’t put it down. I was curious about what was so good about this book, and upon reading the first page, I was hooked. This was as raw an account of warfare, as spoken from the perspective of a simple grunt in the war machine that is the U.S. Army marching around in Iraq.

It’s difficult to really express how gripping the book is, but all the people within are what truly sells the book. David Bellavia has a talent of bringing to life these “characters” in his squad that make them real and unique.

He remembers and honours their bravery, courage and steadfastness by highlighting what makes them stand-out in his account, from an Army Engineer who preferred to use a guitar instead of an M4A1, and did his best to not kill anyone, despite using the biggest explosives in the Army’s arsenal, to a quick flashback to his platoon commander providing covering fire using a basic M16A4 with nothing more than a pair of iron sights, whilst his own carbine was dripping with attachments and smiling over at Bellavia, saying it was just another day in paradise.

It was these moments that struck Bellavia and in doing so, stick with the reader. House to House is a book I’ve re-read multiple times and still get a thrill out of reading, because the memories that Bellavia recount, are written so well, they almost fool me into thinking I was part of the squad that rolled in Fallujah, clearing house by house for weeks on end.

Unlike so many other military autobiographies, there is a humble element to House to House that lends perspective to the fact that despite Bellavia’s bravery and intense actions that earned him a Medal of Honor on that fateful night against 4 insurgents, he was merely just one firefight amongst the thousands that happened across the town of Fallujah, that featured the most urban combat since Hue City in Vietnam.

House to House is an emotionally charged read, that allows you to really understand the mindset and desperation that a regular soldier feels when engaged in combat. This isn’t a story that cares about the training, the weapons or gear. This is a tale about a man and his brothers being thrust into an endless hell of kicking down doors, not knowing what lies beyond and doing their best to survive, through the power of their fear and brotherhood. It is why the members of Bellavia’s squad leap off the pages, because he knows that this is his only way of paying tribute to them and their immense courage and the impact they had on him.

House to House isn’t just an epic story about how these fighting men fought and died in Fallujah, it’s a tribute to the average infantryman who often gets slept on for their own courage and prowess, when all the current media does is glamourise special forces units and cast regular soldiers aside.

No Hero (2014) – Mark Owen

The U.S. Navy S.E.A.L autobiography that inspired me to apply military discipline to my event work

Perhaps one of my biggest gripes with American Special Forces Units, in particular, the U.S. Navy SEALs, are their perchance to blow their own horn a bit too much. There is no unit more glorified and over-hyped than the SEAL teams and their supposed expertise at everything, despite …. coming from a Navy background.

Yes, Navy.

Not Army, but Navy.

When you go out there, you don’t see many films, books or podcasts featuring Pararescue, Rangers, MARSOC, Green Berets or Delta, but look at any catalogue of popular movies or books out there and they will invariably feature frogmen.

This is not to say that I have no respect for SEALs, but I do wish there was less saturation from them when it comes to dictating the story of Special Forces unit in contemporary warfare.

So, what made me pick up this one then?

It was the fact that it was written by one of the guys on the team that conducted the UBL raid. And it’s difficult to not at least open up to the first page, when you hear about one of the most famous raids in human history.

What I ended up getting though, wasn’t really an account on the raid itself, but more on how a boy from Alaska, became obsessed with the military after reading several books and watched films and struggled his way into a SEAL Team. It also gave me incredible insight into the processes of how a typical military raid is conducted, how it has evolved and the type of work that is done before and after the doors have been kicked in.

I finished the book, more appreciative of just how applicable military processes and techniques can be applied to the civilian world. Things such as reconnaissance, after-action reviews, simple mantras, can all be adjusted to my event work.

For example, reconnaissance in the event field, can be done with regards to traffic management, peak hours, the layout of the ground for temporary infrastructure, sight lines that offer the best views for instagram photos, etc.

After-Action-Reviews (AAR) were conducted by SEAL Teams after the completed a mission, an exhaustive and ego-free debrief that ensure future missions could be conducted even smoother, a key learning tool that I have applied in my own event work.

No Hero isn’t an ordinary autobiography of a remarkable SEAL, it is a tutorial on how military knowledge, procedures and discipline can be applied to the civilian world and a sobering reminder to me, that in many ways, all of our best practices and standard operating procedures come from warfare.

Neuromancer (1984) – William Gibson

If paranoia and cocaine wrote a book together.

Neuromancer has the privilege of being one of those books that I didn’t quite understand fully, but the writing, tone, style and complete immersion factor was so damn addicting that I completed it in one sitting.

Known as the original progenitor of the theme of cyberpunk, Neuromancer is as compelling and strange a read as they come. Gibson’s skill in creating and bringing to life the unique world of Sprawl is incredible. Reading the story, you are absorbed by the depiction of a world that is wholly unique, fascinating and laced with intriguing fictionalised slang, computer terms and edgy characters.

After all, how many stories do you know has their protagonist an drug-addicted anti-hero hacker, whose emaciated body is laced with poison and lives only in the shadows of a metropolis called Chiba City?

I picked up the book on a whim and was not prepared for the sheer nervous, paranoid energy that infected the story from the first sentence to the last. In many ways, Neuromancer reminded me of how good a story can be when an author is gripped by the same feverish, manic energy from start to finish. You don’t care too much about the alien jargon, the slightly confusing style or even the plot in a sense, you are just locked in this ride and you cannot get off, until the crazy stops.

And this book is crazed. The epic scope, the dark conspiracies, and technical nature of the plot, reads like a crazed man’s fever dream, but written in a way that is entirely believable in the world of the Sprawl. I love how it truly adds a strong punk factor into the world. This isn’t your typical sci-fi novel, where there are clean space-ships, glossy robots and cool laser guns. Neuromancer has a strong grunge aesthetic to everything, a looseness that only comes from cowboy attitudes or rock & roll mentalities.

Everything that is described in Neuromancer has this degeneracy to it that makes it compelling and unique amongst most sci-fi worlds and is why it has spawned the entire sub-culture of cyberpunk. The characters dress in leather, and are replete with tattoos, piercings and cybernetic enhancements that make them grotesque but in a bizarrely attractive way. Punk-rock and rap rule the airwaves, and the overall aesthetic of the world is one of perpetual night, shadows that are only lit by neon and a city that never sleeps.

Neuromancer is one of those books that is completely unique in how it unfolds and I loved every single, frenzied, paranoid and frenetic moment of it.

The Ninja (1980) – Eric Van Lustbader

Sex, violence and a bit more sex and violence. With a dash of martial arts wisdom.

The Ninja is your titular 80s action novel. It’s a snap-shot of what was all the rage in America’s most debauched decade. In the case of the Ninja though, you get a fascinating story of a hero torn between East and West and how he tries to marry both cultures in his mind. It is your classic English hero, growing up in Japan, being raised by Anglo-Chinese parents and learning some of the deadliest martial arts in the East before migrating to America and trying to start afresh.

Whilst this sounds like is your typical 80s B-movie shlock protagonist, the Ninja differentiates itself by diving deeper into the mythology and psychology of a man who truly is torn between two cultural identities. Lustbader’s extensive research into martial arts and his graphic depictions of just how deadly they can be in the right hands, creates an incredible action novel that is philosophical and insightful into the mindset of Eastern philosophies.

Then, you cannot ignore the graphic depictions of sex scenes that, for an aspiring writer such as myself, taught me a lot about how to write them. Lustbader’s style takes an almost sensual violence to his sex scenes. They are hot, heavy, graphic and fast paced yet never seem lewd or crass. That is a skill in of itself, as I find that so many other sex scenes are either too light on descriptions or oddly un-erotic because of how grotesque they read.

In many ways, the Ninja was one of the first books I re-read multiple times, because so many of the scenes were so compelling. I loved the flow of the book, the mixture of sex and violence, with cursory philosophical insights that really elevated what would have been a much more standard thriller. I learned so much from reading the Ninja, from how to write more graphic sex scenes, to understand intriguing martial arts techniques that actually serve me today.

The Ninja is an incredible read from start to finish and if you still long for the days of martial arts movies that would invariably combine Japanese mysticism and American landscapes, you have to get a copy.

Strike Back (2007) – Chris Ryan

I read the book cos I loved the cover of a man in a balaclava, combat fatigues and holding an MP5SD.

Chris Ryan’s Strike Back is a lean, mean, violent read that is instantly fun to read, because it skips any frills and fluff and gets right into the action. The combat sequences are terse, fast reads that speaks to the authenticity of the author’s famous pedigree and experience. There is something old-school about the way how Ryan writes his books.

This is a man whose genuine real-life experience as a former SAS soldier during the early 90s and 00s informs the story and gives it a hard edge.

What I found fascinating about this story though, was the cockney element that gave the main character, John Porter a much more believable feel. He swears, uses simple language like “sod it”, “bloody” and “mate” and is constantly at odds with his environment in a fun but understandable way. He knows that he stands out in the Middle East, that he is the last person anyone expects to lead a rescue mission, but he owns that fact and gets on with the mission anyway.

It is that element that made the character so much fun to read, despite the violence, action and general insanity of the plot. After all, this is a story is about an ex-SAS soldier turned homeless bum, whose past mission catches up to him, when the child-soldier he spared, ends up threatening a renowned journalist in the Middle East. And through that one connection, comes a chance for him to redeem himself.

But that zany plot and Porter’s general likeability are also the main reasons why I think Strike Back remains one of Ryan’s best-selling novels and why Cinemax ending up making a very fun action/military series based on the book.

In a lot of ways, Strike Back glorifies the ability of a single SAS Blade and his ability to even the odds, regardless of how stacked they are against him. It’s the sort of fun, informed escapism that is the perfect sustenance for a boy who dreamed of joining the military.

Enough to inform him about all the cool, dangerous missions that he might get involved in, but not realistic enough to bore him about the drudgery that happens in the military or just how hard it is to become a SAS soldier.

Strike Back fuels the appetite for many aspiring soldiers out there, and not many people do it better than Chris Ryan, in fuelling the mythology behind the 22nd Special Air Service Regiment.

Seven Ancient Wonders (2007) – Matthew Reilly

As epic a modern treasure hunt can get with an SASR protagonist to boot.

Seven Ancient Wonders is arguably one of my favourite premises to a story I have ever read. It is also the first Matthew Reilly book I’ve ever read and ever since that fateful day, where I accidentally stumbled across the author himself, at a random book signing, he has made his mark on my life ever since.

Matthew Reilly novels are to books, like Michael Bay’s excessiveness is to film. There is no limit to the insane creativeness of his imagination.

Allow me to introduce you to the plot of this book.

Seven Ancient Wonders is an epic adventure of a small coalition force fighting against the might of the U.S. Military and the European Catholic faction to find all 7 pieces of the Golden Capstone that once existed atop the Great Pyramid of Khufu, and were hidden across the iconic 7 Ancient Wonders. By assembling the Golden Capstone atop the Pyramid, you not only prevent a solar sunspot from heating up the planet of Earth, but you can also performance a ritual of power, spoken in an ancient language, that will grant your homeland infinite power.

HOW GOOD IS THAT PREMISE.

Needless to say, from the moment I started reading, I was hooked. It was everything I ever wanted in a story. A classic underdog hero, facing up against a terrifying villain, in a modern setting, with ancient booby traps and inventive, crazy action set-pieces.

Nothing could be better, until of course, Reilly created a huge series out of the premise and kept the crazy ride going all the way through 7 books.

But it was the original that captured my heart; from the unique premise, to the creative takes on booby traps and ancient history and the cast of characters that were hard not to fall in love with. In particular, I loved the fact that they were such a diverse team and acted like a family. One of the key driving elements of the story, was Lily, a little girl whose ability to read the Word of Thoth, an ancient language, made her critical in the race to assemble the Golden Capstone.

She was the adoptive daughter of the main character, Jack West Jr., a tough, taciturn Australian, whose service in the SASR and the U.S. Military complex, made him the leader of the small coalition. The way how Jack and Lily grow together, as well as the multicultural team around them, is easily one of the best parts of the story and really creates a more compelling drama, amidst such an action-packed treasure hunt, that spans the globe.

There are truly not enough words to describe how much I loved this book as a teenager and how Matthew Reilly shaped the way how I read action novels. His imagination and insane break-neck pace is what got my entire group of friends at school in reading more books, an achievement that I recall being praised for by my English teacher who was struggling to get more students to read.

It was Reilly that catapulted by drive to read as much as I could, learn all kinds of guns and really expand my imagination on what is possible whilst keeping things semi-realistic. So, I have to give major props to Seven Ancient Wonders for starting that journey and being such a huge impact on my active imagination.

I cannot recommend this book enough, if you are even a tiny bit interested in any of these buzz words: action, ancient history, military, guns, fast and furious and Michael Bay on paper. This is just one of those books where I can proudly say an Australian wrote this and he did an incredible job.

Atlantis Found (1999) – Clive Cussler

As swashbuckling a story you can get, with a splash of Neo-Nazis to make it even more fun reading.

This was my first Dirk Pitt novel and let me just tell you, it was a doozy.

As you can tell by now, I have a fervent love for adventure novels, and Clive Cussler is one of those titans in the industry that has never let me down. His books are just so damn fun and classic. They are epic in scope, without losing sight of the fun chemistry between Pitt and Al Giordino and how their friendship can stack up against insurmountable odds.

It’s the classic story of an invincible protagonist who is never rattled by the situation and outwits his opponents with style and aplomb. I can’t help but love the character of Dirk Pitt, his witty one-liners, his resourcefulness and charisma is almost unmatched in fiction. I mean, there is something to be said about Pitt, that he stands tall against so many crazy villains that Cussler has invented throughout the course of the series.

In Atlantis Found, the villains are a novel take on Neo-Nazis in 1999 and it’s incredibly fun to see Pitt go up against them, especially with just how insane Cussler went with how evil they are; from using U-Boats against ice-breakers, cloning perfect versions of themselves and of course escaping to Argentina and creating massive arks that will enable them to survive an incoming cataclysm so that they can mold the world as they see fit.

An insane plot to be sure, and somehow Cussler tucks in a fasincating take on Atlantean lore to boot.

When you read Cussler books, you know you are just in for a good yarn. I use the word “yarn” for a reason, because it is distinctively American in how it plays out, and yet all the better for it. There is no pretense in how much Cussler love his characters and his imagination truly allows them to shine in the craziest situations. It is a unique voice in adventure fiction, because Pitt is an self-insert character for Cussler’s dream.

A tall, rugged, man with a deep love for the ocean and its adventure, and a perchance for collecting classic automobiles and artefacts.

It was Cussler that convinced me that a lovingly restore old car, will always grab my attention far more than the latest trend in automobile design. Something about their curves will always arrest me on the spot and while I didn’t quite develop the same fascination for the open seas, I still believe in the old adage that the ocean’s vastness is comparable to that of space and share the same amount of danger, intrigue and mystique.

Dirk Pitt novels are just your classic swashbuckling yarns and I am still saddened that Cussler is not around anymore to push out more novels.

River God (1993) – Wilbur Smith

THE definitive historical fiction on Ancient Egypt. No other story comes close to matching Smith’s magnum opus.

There are certain books that I believe are modern classics. River God is one of those. Along with James Clavell’s Shogun, these historical fiction epics are in the same vein as heroic poems of old. They cover so much time and detail in such rich authenticity that you are unable to stop reading and take every single facet of the story as truth.

That is the power of historical fiction. The author’s painstaking research, adherence to the rules and customs of the time period, combined with their imagination, create a totally believable slice of alternate history. It is the perfect way to experience history and become immersed in a world that you know once existed.

After all, that question about “if you had a time machine, where would you go?” is answered in a way, with historical epics.

River God follows the slave and eunuch, Taita, on his journey to serve his mistress, Lostris, whose beauty enables her to rise from teenager to Queen, amidst the invasion of Egypt by a foreign army known as the Hyksos. It’s difficult to fully articulate the sheer scope and ambition of Smith’s narrative in this book, because it covers so many events.

The first half of the book is centered around Taita guiding Lostris’ marriage to the Pharaoh and his desperate attempt to hide her relationship with a charismatic general, Tanus. Then the book pivots and throws in the technologically superior Hyksos army who drives Lostris, her newborn son Tanus and the greater Egyptian army into exile.

All of this, and Smith has the talent to tell the story in the first person and cement the epic’s emotional core with the achingly lonely love story Taita has for Lostris, but is unable to do anything about, due to his status as a slave and eunuch.

There isn’t much else I can espouse about this book, beyond just how original and creative it is. It truly feels like Smith tapped into a vein of ancient history that we all have long held a fascination with. The way how he explores all facets of ancient Egyptian history, from the poor neighbourhoods, the politics surrounding the position of Pharoah, the military tactics, the religious overtones everything had and even some casual Egyptian slang, all from the eyes of a very talented and ingenious slave is simply a delight to read.

If you want to read an ancient Egyptian historical epic, there is simply none better than River God. It will transport you into the world that you’ve only imagined when staring at the Great Pyramids.

Killing Floor (1997) – Lee Child

Economical, addicting and charismatic … just like Jack Reacher himself.

It is said that a Jack Reacher book is sold every 9 seconds around the world.

There is no denying the enduring appeal that Jack Reacher has on the greater population of crime readers. I should know, because I have bought all 26 of them, since ripping through Killing Floor.

I was late to the party, but I definitely made up for lost time, by buying the entire series within a year.

So, what is the goddamn appeal behind these books?

I would like to pinpoint that it is the character. But in all honesty, it’s the premise and what it represents. Jack Reacher is the hero that everyone is familiar with. The loner who walks into town and promptly removes the plague that has afflicted the town. The plague could be a widespread corruption, a sinister corporation, a classless crime gang or a deadly, wealthy family.

In the case of Killing Floor, it is a wealthy family whose grip on the small town of Margrave enables them to get away with a massive counterfeiting scheme. Reacher, whose sole reason for stopping by this tiny dot in the middle of Georgia due to a rumour about Blind Blake’s death, soon finds himself embroiled in the Kilner’s family crimes, after he is accused of murder.

Written in the first person, Killing Floor is an incredible insight into a character, that later in the series, is often seen as taciturn and stoic with a dry sense of humour. As the series has progressed, Child has preferred to write the Reacher book in the third person, which leaves his earlier works as the purest insight the mind of his titular protagonist.

Killing Floor is as much a blueprint for the success of the series, as it is a solid crime thriller, which unravels and unpacks the mysteries at a very slow, methodical pace. You’ll see exactly how a younger Reacher tackles the situation in front of him and why he is such a brilliant character and unlike the later books, you’ll see exactly how he processes every single situation in front of him.

I cannot recommend Child’s work enough. He’s the perfect description of economical writing and how you can truly be brief and precise, yet descriptive enough to sell a story. I’ve taken away heaps of lessons on how to write more tersely thanks to the Jack Reacher series. The books are also a wonderful way of viewing America in a different light, to the usual glamour of Hollywood. After all, Lee Child is British and it is his unique perspective, of a foreigner looking into a country, that lends his books so much credibility.

Stormbreaker (2000) – Anthony Horowitz

A teenage James Bond … the perfect gateway drug for a teenage me.

I adore the Alex Rider series. It’s campy, fun, over the top and written by a author whose work has spanned many genres. Horowitz has dabbled in horror, detective novels and even published two official Bond novels after Fleming’s death. It was the Alex Rider series that really started my love for espionage genre and I devoured them hungrily throughout my high school days.

I wanted nothing more than to be recruited by MI6 and be turned into a lethal weapon at the tender age of 14. Despite how campy the books were though, there was a real love for the original source material of James Bond. I could tell that through Horowitz’s style and strict adherence to classic Bond film tropes …. a silly, fun henchman, a campy, ridiculous villain, fun gadgets, a sassy quartermaster and an fun, exotic location.

It was also a darkly humorous and serious book, so much so, that I ended up falling in love with the quote on the cover of the book … you are never too young to die. This dark line has stuck with me ever since, a warning against the idea that we are some invincible character, because we consider ourselves the protagonist in our own story. Instead, it was a sobering reminder that death can come in many different forms, and sometimes we are truly powerless against such fate.

Beyond that dark life lesson though, Stormbreaker served as a strange tool that get all my fellow friends into reading. After all, this was a highly relatable hero, our age and going on exciting missions that we could only dream of. The style was edgy, quick and witty. Alex was the perfect foil for our young minds, cool enough to want to impersonate, yet close enough in attitude to relate to. It didn’t help either, that Horowitz knew exactly what sort of innocuous toys could be used as gadgets, such as Gameboys, cool BMX bikes and even pimple cream.

Alex Rider taught me a lot of things, but chief amongst them, was the fact that if your uncle taught you multiple languages, enrolled you in self-defence classes, took you snowboarding, BMX biking, rifle shooting and different cultures … chances were, he was grooming you to be a teenage spy.

Honestly … fatherhood goals right there.

Shogun (1975) – James Clavell

I learned everything about Japan through this book. No other story comes close to capturing what makes Japan, Japan.

Shogun is one of those magnum opus that the more time you invest in it, the more it rewards you. I had no real concept of Japan and its’ unique culture until I read this incredible novel by James Clavell.

Set during the early years of feudal Japan, Shogun is told through the eyes of an Englishman, the first ever to set foot on Japanese soil and how he becomes an invaluable tool for an upcoming daimyo to seize power and become a Shogun. It is through this unique fish out of water lens, that Clavell unleashes his incredible research and study into Japanese culture.

For those who know nothing about Japan, I would argue that reading Shogun will give you a critical understanding of what Japanese culture is all about and how the tenets of their warrior code, bushido is interwoven into every aspect of a Japanese person’s life. Key concepts like karma, wa, and bushido are all brilliantly explained by Clavell’s use of characters, their arcs and place within the grander story.

This was one of the rare novels that my father recommended me to read, during my late high school days, and it took me weeks to finish, because of how long and dense the novel was. But what a world I was transported to, every time I reopened the book and found myself embroiled in feudal Japanese politics, mind games and memorable characters.

To this day, I can vividly recall how my mind would create castles that these characters would fight in, the way how Blackthorne slowly becomes more Japanese as he assimilates himself into their culture, and how I found myself enraptured by so many adult themes, of politics, sex, sinister motivations and forced politeness due to saving face.

Shogun left an undeniable mark on me as a person, because it opened my eyes to the unique world, aesthetic and common logic of Japan and provided me with fascinating lessons into Asian culture and just how different it is to Western ideology. It was Shogun that allowed me to learn about what it means to be Asian, and all of this was explained richly by a man who has done an incredible amount of research and invested so much of his passion into creating this unique story.

In many ways, Shogun was my first real taste of an epic novel, something that spans years in its scope and is so unfathomably big in how ambitious the story wants to be. It is why, the more you read it, the more you found yourself unable to tear yourself away.

I learned so much about Asian culture through this book and I bear no ill will, that it took an British writer to teach me. Sometimes, just like in the case of the Jack Reacher book, you learn more from an outsider’s perspective than the view from inside the bubble.

Memorial Day (2004) – Vince Flynn

A post 9/11 power fantasy about a CIA assassin, done right. Why? Because it’s House of Cards but with guns.

Mitch Rapp is one of the most ridiculous and fun anti-heroes ever created.

Allow me to sell you his resume.

He is a former All-American lacrosse player and Iron Man Triathlon winner, whose high-school sweetheart is killed in terrorist plane hijacking.

Seeking revenge, he becomes a member of the CIA and over the years, becomes an elite assassin that works alongside Tier One special operations units, whilst being given complete autonomy over his actions, that include kidnapping, enhanced interrogation, assassination, blackmail and even downright cold blooded executions.

This is an aggressively American power fantasy. A creation that, if it wasn’t for the political aspect, would have disappeared amongst thousands of other Tom Clancy clones. However, Vince Flynn injects incredible political commentary and knowledge that gives these big military/espionage stories a whole new layer of depth. For in the Mitch Rapp series, it isn’t the fact that American troops are inept, it is their political system that hinders them.

Rapp is constantly fighting against procedures, red tape and political ego-stroking to prevent terrorist attacks abroad and on home soil. His fight isn’t just against the enemy, it is also with those in Washington who wish to use him to climb the political ladder.

It is this extra layer that really makes the tension in the Rapp series. Rapp can see his target, reach out and end the man before he does any harm. But he cannot do so, without permission from the higher ups, who are concerned about the political fallout of such an action.

Memorial Day was one of the first Mitch Rapp books I’ve ever read and the Special Forces raid on a small village in Pakistan will go down in my memory as one of the most impressive things I’ve ever read, combining all the complex nuances of a huge military raid, involving helicopters, different squads, and even a quick section from the terrorist perspective. This was such a huge influence on me that I have used it as a blueprint for all future military style stories I have written since.

What made the series and this book so compelling though, was the fact that I got to view my military obsession in a different light. It wasn’t all about kicking down doors, throwing flashbangs and slotting terrorists with two shots to the head. Nor was it just about intelligence gathering and using satellites to find wanted people. These books were an insight into just how unwieldy, complicated and slow things can be in the political landscape, and how that can affect soldiers in real time.

Knowing these elements, is why sometimes, when I look at the POTUS in the Situation Room on the news, I know just how serious and critical a decision can be made in that moment. Lives can be lost, people can get away with heinous crimes, people can be forever altered and all of that hinges on a single man’s decision, after weighing up a thousand different consequences, actions and intelligence.

It is like playing God. The Rapp series gave me that appreciation for not only all the sacrifices military members must make, but also just how much the stakes are raised, simply because a man all the way in Washington D.C. is pausing for 7 seconds to make a life-altering decision.

Rogue Element (2003) – David A Rollins

The first proper thriller I’ve ever read, and fun fact … the first sex scene I’ve ever read too.

This was one of those books that I picked off my father’s bookshelf and was pleasantly surprised by for a number of reasons. Firstly, because it is written by an Australian author, for an Australian audience. Secondly, it showcases aspects of the Australian intelligence and military that is often overlooked. Thirdly, the book has an incredible premise regarding Indonesian aggression towards Australia after the East Timor fight for independence. And finally, the book itself is an incredibly tight and smartly written thriller, bouncing between multiple perspectives and views over a disaster, the worst type, a downed passenger 747 in Indonesian forest.

Rogue Element is memorable to me, because it is the first book I ever read that really showcased the capabilities of the SASR, the premier elite fighting force in the Australian Defence Force. I was enamored by the way how I understood the casual Australian slang and the way how these men in the novel carried themselves. But beyond that aspect, I also loved the jungle survival element that the survivors of the crash had to endure in the story. There was an intensity to their scenes, whilst being hunted, that really captured me and forever put the question in my mind, what I would do if placed in such an harrowing experience.

After all, you cannot read a book about a passenger plane being shot down, without wondering what you would do in such a situation.

Where Rogue Element shines though, is how Rollins never loses the important threads that work into an investigation of this magnitude. The book is crystal clear in how it navigates such a huge scope. You never lose sight of the survivor’s desperation, nor the larger government and political ramifications surrounding this disaster. Everything flows from one perspective to another and it is a very immersive and fast-paced read. Everything is paced beautifully and clues and pieces fall into place very neatly one after another.

As my first ever proper thriller that wasn’t written by Matthew Reilly and incidentally one of the first ever sex scenes I’ve ever read, this is an excellent showcase on how being worldly is a crucial tool for any writer.

You cannot write a book about Indonesian aggression towards Australia, without understanding both international governments, and every single key piece that the two global players will use against each other …. intelligence agencies, international treaties, special forces units … having a good solid grasp of all of these and pairing them with a realistic imagination will create a fun thriller like Rogue Element.

Scruples (1978) – Judith Krantz

My first ever venture into the genre known as “sex and shopping” and I’ve not been the same man since.

I have never read a book that featured as many sex scenes as Scruples, nor have I read any like that since. If I am honest, Scruples reads like a book written by a woman who wishes to enjoy the ultimate American success fantasy …

So please read this quick recap. The protagonist Wilhelmina Hunnewell Winthrop (I know, as upper class American a name can be), known as “Billy” grows up poor and ugly, but is lucky enough to recieve 10G from an estranged aunt who tells her to spend it foolishly. Moving to Paris, she undergoes the classic ugly duckling transformation and blossoms into a curvaceous and elegant woman.

Upon her return to America, she moves to New York, where she essentially becomes addicted to sex, thanks to her roommate and gets a job where she meets and sleeps with the CEO of a big Enterprise. The experience is so whirlwind and heavy, that the CEO divorces his wife, marries Billy where they spend the next couple of years living lavishly.

However the CEO suffers a stroke, and whilst he is in a coma, Billy develops a compulsion for shopping in Beverly Hills and after her husband’s death, decides to do something an open a luxury boutique store called … Scruples. The business is a huge success because it offers a whole new retail experience never seen before in the area, as well as cutting edge fashion trends from Paris, and eventually leads Billy into the arms of a film producer, who she falls heads over heels for.

The story ends at the Oscar, where the film her new lover is producing is about the win, Billy’s store is making a killing and essentially it is a happy ending for all.

Throw in a major romantic subplot revolving around a hot fashion photographer called Spider who is described as a “devout heterosexual” (a term I have shameless plagarised on multiple occasions) and a fiery French stylist called Valentine and more insight into the rich and powerful world of American elite and you got yourself Scruples, my first ever “bonkbuster.”

If you found yourself enjoying just how ridiculous the plot unfurls, then I highly suggest a read. I’ve never read since, that was as half entertaining, ridiculous, hilarious and completely alien to my world view since. This was akin to opening the curtain to a brothel and not realising just how intoxicating the world can be when you are greeted with such a view.

Scruples is scandalous, fun, and written at a breakneck pace. It’s a glamorous read that almost makes you think such a lifestyle is possible, if luck was truly on your side all the way through your life and you were hot and smart enough to capitalise on all the right opportunities.

The main lesson this novel taught me, is that if a woman is blessed with curves, a forward sexual confidence, can embody classy elegance and is given enough money, she can and will conquer any obstacle in her way.

And I can’t help but feel faintly jealous of that superpower.

Lorna Doone (1869) – R.D. Blackmore

My favourite romance novel, because it’s a romance but it’s also a sweeping adventure story.

I first read Lorna Doone as a children’s abridged edition. It featured classic style art that really sparked my imagination of what it was like to live and breathe during the 17th Century, amongst the moors of Exmoor. I was also entranced by this epic love story that spanned several years, and against a violent backdrop that was the Doone clan and their endless robbery across the land.

It is difficult to describe the epic scope of this story, but at the end of the day, it is a romance novel. The love John Ridd has Lorna Doone is beautifully pure and expressed in classic English fashion. The way how John talks about Lorna is beautifully sweet and aching, and in many ways, it is an excellent read for both genders, because of the way the romance is told, earnest and honest.

Yet, there is plenty more beyond the incredible romance. There are action scenes, slow sprawling passages that really build up the atmosphere of the era and dozens of obstacles that need to be faced before Lorna can meet John at the altar. Even then, Lorna has a mysterious past that connects her to the Doone clan and there are many real historical events, such as the Battle of Sedgemoor, and the death of King Charles II that help immerse the reader more in the story.

In many ways, Lorna Doone’s style and narration really helps you immerse yourself in what people loved to read in the past. This is a novel that really lets you inhabit the era that it was written in and is all the more beautiful because of it.

It is an underrated classic and easily one of those novels that absolutely defined how I saw and treat romance in my mind. As sappy as it sounds, I truly hope that my partner will be the Lorna that I always wanted to have in my life.

Digital Fortress (1998) – Dan Brown

Cryptography …. this book taught me all about it and more importantly, how to use Caesar’s Cipher

Just like so many others were, I was enthralled by Dan Brown’s thriller, the Da Vinci Code when it came out. If it taught me anything, sometimes a competent writer can get away with creating a bestseller, simply by premise alone. Who wouldn’t want to read a book about the Holy bloodline that has been carried down by Jesus and the way how the legendary Renaissance man, Leonardo Da Vinci created this sprawling treasure hunt to find the descendants of the most holy man in history?

But I never really re-read it again, because it wasn’t that good. The same though, could not be said for Digital Fortress. The premise itself isn’t that great but it was the learning that really got me. I learned about supercomputers, cryptography, ciphers, mathematical equations, languages, the NSA and code-breaking all in a enthralling novel.

Previously, all I knew about the NSA was that they supposedly had a Third Echelon, which employed “Splinter Cells” agents with trident night vision goggles. But it was Digital Fortress that really opened my eyes to the power of computers used in surveillance gathering.

To me, it makes almost ludicrous sense that an organisation like the National Security Agency exist and has the power to literally tap into any communication device around the world. It houses petabytes of data that has been gathered all around the world and in constantly monitoring “foreign agencies” for more intelligence.

So upon reading learning about the NSA’s capabilities in Digital Fortress, I realised that the phone, computer and any other random electronic device I have ever interacted with, was probably already tapped and used as an open source of data on me.

I just had to make peace with that. There was also the bizarre realisation that, this has been my approach to a lot of conspiracy theories like this. I wasn’t really bothered by the fact that the NSA or ASIS could tap into my phone and discover all sort of data about me, because in the end, I knew I wasn’t important enough to warrant such intrusion.

However, the main reason why Digital Fortress remains my favourite out of all the Dan Brown thrillers, is the surprisingly sweet love-story that permeates throughout the book. I’m not sure why it resonated me with so much, but something about the lead characters chemistry got me.

But I know that it is because so much of the plot is quite convoluted with lots of false leads and dead-ends, hence I had to hang onto something whilst navigating Brown’s maze.

Make no mistake though, Brown’s maze is incredibly well researched and tightly written. It even came to a point where this novel almost convinced me that I could pursue a career in intelligence, because I became obsessed with codes after. But I shall be the first to admit though, that I am not that good at them, but am always enthralled when I can finally crack one.

There is always something amazing about seeing a whole bunch of gibberish turn to something understandable once you’ve cracked the cipher’s key.

It is thanks to Digital Fortress that I even learned about the magic of cryptography and that is something extremely niche that I have a passion for ever since.

Berlin Noir (1993) – Philip Kerr

The perfect noire book, set in the most fascinating place and time in history …. Nazi Berlin.

Technically three novels in one, this is one of the best omnibus ever created. Easily one of my favourite series ever made, the Bernie Gunther novels are simply incredible for a multitude of reasons.

They are beautifully written with a self deprecating sense of humour and the perfect amount of cynicism that lends Bernie the air of your classic noire detective. In addition, the setting of Nazi Germany is just so inherently rich in its appeal. The simple fact that you are reading a story of a man who opposes Nazi Germany, yet must navigate and even work with the feared SS and Gestapo is such a rich juxtaposition that it is automatically arresting.

Throw in classic noire tropes, and a style that is evocative, descriptive and exhaustively researched and you get a powerful crime thriller that cannot be topped for its originality, atmosphere and sheer readability.

No other crime book I’ve read, except for Chandler himself, has so perfectly encapsulated the cynicism, dark humour and sad romance of a noire detective than Kerr’s creation in Bernie Gunther.

Reading Berlin Noir, is a lot like stepping into the past, but a heightened one, and one that you have never quite seen because who has the gall to really dive deeper into Nazi subculture?

Philip Kerr not only dives headfirst with his immaculate research but colours every single notable historical character, such as Reinhard Heydrich with enough psychopathy and humanity to make him realistic to the real historical figure. This approach, is beautifully layered and careful, enough to make you see the human beneath the myth of the monster, whilst never losing sight that he is a Nazi.

In many ways, Kerr took a massive risk with the setting, but he was secured by his creation of Gunther, whose cynicism and dark humour serve as effective foils to the Nazi regime. He is scathing in his criticism of the government, yet understand he is nothing but a pawn in the larger picture and one wrong move, will result in permanent removal off the board.

However that doesn’t stop him from making flippant remarks and letting his big mouth run where it shouldn’t.

It is this wit from Bernie that makes him so endearing, as he navigates his way through murders, missing persons, femme fatales and dark conspiracies that often result in the villain getting away and Bernie ruefully wondering what this whole escapade was for.

And mark my words, the conspiracies that Kerr creates for Bernie are dark and twisted, which only adds to the atmosphere and world he has created.

Berlin Noir is one of those volumes that I feel any avid crime reader needs to read. It is gripping, wonderfully intricate in how the plot unravels and an incredible insight in a world that is often overlooked and rarely explored.

If you love the noire genre, find a copy and open up the page to the first novel, March Violets and find yourself immersed in the shady shadows of Berlin in 1930s Nazi Germany.

Author’s Note:

So there you have it, 23 of the most influential books I’ve read in my years on this planet for 2023. I hope you’ve enjoyed this nostalgic journey with me and gotten something of an insight in my favourite books, genres and tropes.

I might repeat this again sometime in the future, but for now, I am happy with how much I’ve wrote about each other, even though I could talk about them for much, much longer.

Till the next one!

~ Damocles.

The Trust in the Barber

The power to ruin your day … month even, in the palm of a stranger’s hand and scissors.

As I sat there, trapped in a chair cloth, and staring at my own reflection, I realised just how much power a barber wields over my short-term experiences going forward.

As always, I flashback to the moment when I decided to roll the dice and get a haircut at a local shopping centre unisex hairdresser.

My request for an undercut went … horribly wrong.

I remember looking at the mirror with an increasing amount of concern as the hairdresser continued to fuck up cut after cut, until the sight of my awful haircut was now too far removed what I imagined it should look like that I stopped her and said that was enough.

But the damage was already too much and there was no denying just how amateurish the whole style on my head was.

Aghast at the result, I tried to go to my usual barber whose instant feedback told me all I needed to know ….

What fucking pelican did this to you mate?

He did his best but couldn’t save it.

The timing of course, could not be worse. I was applying for a new job within the next 3 days and I looked like I had just left prison and had most of my hair shaven off.

My new manager was astonished at how bad it was, but fortunately during my trial shift, I worked so hard, that I impressed her enough to grant me the job.

But the lasting memory here is, just how much power there is, to ruin or improve your fortunes for the next few weeks, in the hands of a stranger.

And it is not only an aesthetic thing either … one mishap, they could cut your ear, burst a pimple or even draw blood across your throat with a close-shave.

Your life literally lies in their hands.

It’s fascinating how much trust we place in our hairdressers. Their entire profession is built around trust. We always go back to the same barbershop or salon and request the exact person who did our hair the last time. Some customers are so particular, that they will skip another free barber, just to wait for the guy who did their hair last time, extending their wait time by another whole half hour.

The importance of getting a good haircut is paramount.

For someone of my “aesthetic” shall we say, it can mean the difference between people considering me attractive or just plain average.

Knowing that fact, and realising when a haircut is done right, to my specifications and aesthetic, it is a huge relief to walk away happy, after parting with a considerable amount of money for a few snips.

And this is coming from a male perspective … and a lazy one at that.

I don’t put any products in my hair, whether it be dye or gel, nor do I style in a particularly extravagant way. It’s been the same for the past 6 years …. ever since I fell in love with Cillian Murphy’s style in the iconic Peaky Blinders.

A skin-fade on the side and just cut it short on top. Thank you.

15 words and then I fall silent and watch the barber go to work, shaping my head anew.

It’s a lazy, attractive style that suits me the best. I don’t need to do anything to it in the morning. Shampoo, conditioner and voila …. hair maintenance is performed during the shower. It also shows off my head shape the best too, and I have noticed the glances at me from the public are more frequent once I get a fresh cut.

But most importantly, it is functional in a fight, with nothing for people to grab if we get into a scrap.

During the COVID lockdown, my hair was the longest it had ever been since high school and I even took the drastic measure of buying a razor and cutting it off myself. The difference in weight and appearance was remarkable.

But in all honesty, it still looked shit and there was absolutely nothing I could do about that.

If you think that this is a strange topic to discuss, I can’t help but point out the history of hairdressing and its importance to us as vain human beings.

Ever since the ancient times, hair mattered a lot. Ancient Greece stressed the importance of the job in society. African people consider it a way of talking to the divine, because it was the closest part of your body to the heavens.

And if you look at it functionally, we don’t have much hair anywhere else, and it is an essential factor when judging the attractiveness of a person’s facial features. How we style it, like I’ve mentioned before, can be the crucial difference between a date and a quiet night. After all, there is only some much styling one can do with the pubic and chest hair … and those aren’t even seen on a regular basis.

If you look at the history of hairstyles too, you can see an incredible evolution of what has come and what is in current style. Men and women have gone from the 80s big hair style to the freedom to essentially wearing whatever retro or vogue style one wants. Dye is now more popular than ever, and there is an almost androgynous element to many styles that is popularised by the influx of Asian pop music in the mainstream.

Even going bald, and accepting that gracefully is almost the norm now.

To hammer in the importance of hairdressing in today’s society, I want to stress that in order to become one here, in Australia, you need 18 months of full-time study before you can become one.

18 months … to wield a pair of scissors and a comb.

I used to think that it was a simple job, after all, I cut my own hair during the lockdown, but the skill gap between my shabby effort and that of a professional is painfully obvious. The moment the lockdown ended, I walked out and into a barbershop and have never touched the razor again.

I never used to consider getting a haircut a priority, but nowadays, I can’t help but feel better about my own appearance, by scheduling in a monthly appointment. My hair grows relatively quickly and I actually detest how messy it can get up there.

Even when wearing hats, I notice that I look better with less hair. It is incredible the boost of confidence I get when I get a fresh fade. It just makes me feel lighter, better and more ready to tackle the world.

Hence I don’t mind the monthly maintenance cost.

So, think of this post in the vein of a PSA …

Show some more respect to your hairdresser and remember that they have the power to ruin you for a whole month. Or improve your standing in society for a solid 2 weeks.

So, you better tip them well.

~ Damocles.

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.

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.

9/11

I like to categorise age by the September 11 attacks.

It sounds incredibly strange, but to me, 9/11 marks a fundamental shift in how we experience our lives.

I’m at the age where the term “young man” no longer quite applies. To be perfectly frank, if you forgive this momentary ego stroke, if I had completed my enlistment many years ago, I would be a career soldier now, at the peak of my war-fighting abilities and prowess, with quite a few deployments under my belt.

As far as reality is concerned though, I am actually quite close to my peak events operational capabilities. I can almost do every single aspect of event labour, from ropes management to marquee set-ups and about 100 useful other tips and tricks to apply to any event I work at.

I am quite easily, the most experienced events operator at almost any festivities I find myself working at. Marathons, Festivals, Shows, Raves …. there’s almost no situation where I am not useful.

I suppose the point I am trying to make here, is that I am more or less at the top of my game. Which is exactly where I want to be close to the age of 30.

They say it is lonely at the top, and that is scarily accurate when you meet people who are younger than you.

It just seems so strange to me, meeting people who have never experienced the world-axis event that was 9/11.

The world before 9/11 was a much more trusting one. Entertainment was lighter, more colourful and fun. People were less paranoid, less interested in the nitty-gritty of the world and much more trusting. Growing up in the 90s, its also difficult for me to reconcile the quantum leap in technology that has happened in less than 2 decades of existence.

I remember rewinding VHS tapes, seeing pixels animate themselves on the Nintendo 64 and being fascinated with Pokemon cards during lunch breaks. Lego was cheaper, more imaginative, because as a child, I had no interest in keeping sets confined to their instructed sets … I was too busy breaking them apart to make my own things, forging epic battles between ninjas, Jedis, Siths, terrorists and dinosaur SWAT units to care.

The world seemed a bit brighter back then.

Then 9/11 happened and everything became a lot darker. The world became more paranoid, films started to become more grey, airports were now security havens and in general, instead of a positive go-getter attitude that once defined the 90s, the early 00s became more nihilistic. A sensation that has only grown exponentially with the creation of the internet.

In fact, I would argue, that the moment those Twin Towers fell, something inside humanity snapped.

Whether we liked it or not, America at the time, was considered the greatest place to live on Earth. Everyone, in some shape or form, believed in the purity of the “American Dream.” That if you worked hard enough, you would earn your success and buy that picket-fence house.

However, to see America struck so deeply and painfully, dispelled the allure of that dream. It was like the shells from our eyes had fallen away and we were no longer enamoured with the incredible mythology that surrounded America.

Instead, all we were left with was the knowledge that if the mightiest of us can fall … so can we all.

It’s why I pity every single child that has been born post 9/11. They never had an idea of a life that was a lot simpler and less complicated.

The world post 9/11 is a much more traumatised one. We no longer had an ideal to aspire to. In place of inspiration, came politics, which is simply code for division.

Films, music, art, news … everything became a lot more politicised. People scrutinised everything more. The advent of the internet meant that 24/7 news cycles became a lot more pessimistic and harsh. Soon, you weren’t just aware of the tragedies in your own country, you also had to know about the geopolitical situation in a country 12,000 kilometres away from you.

Films, once escapist and fantastical, soon started leaning into grittier, more “realistic” themes. Stories about the government betraying its own people, secretive intelligence programs and whistleblowers started to appear, sowing more distrust in the government and its agenda. Action sequences, once grand and epic, became more scaled down to realistic, tense firefights that showed the “one-man army” approach in a more tactical manner.

Music, got angrier and more heavily politicised, with angry lyrics decrying governments for their actions abroad and domestically. Art followed a similar vein.

What all of this has invariably led to, is a deconstruction of what your country is and how people identify themselves.

It’s not enough to just be an American any more. Now, you need to be an ally of a movement, a political supporter, a pronoun and an activist of some cause.

Imagine being born into this world, where all of this is the norm. You feel enormous pressure to fulfill all of these duties, or else you become a shit person. You can identify as as variant in all of these things, but because they exist only online, they also mean nothing. Everything online is an exercise in nihilism. Your identity, work, personality and careful curatorship of what you like and don’t like, is as unimportant as the next person’s persona.

In becoming all of these things, you just become another byte of data for the algorithm to manipulate and feed.

People who were born after 9/11 have no concept of a reality where none of these terrible things exist.

It really shows. They act seemingly older than their years, because they’ve exposed to a lot more horrible things than people my age were, when we were younger.

I’ve noted that children and people who were raised in a post 9/11 world tend to be diametrically different to people in my age bracket.

In the sense that, they tend to act a bit older than their years and they try a lot harder in general. They care more about certain causes, but ironically because of the internet, can only do so in the most shallow of manners. They will be the first to change their profile pictures, the first to lambast you on the internet for your views and start a hashtag trend going.

They’re also characterised by poor memories, shorter attention spans, less engagement in the long haul and more easily distracted. Throw in additional unnecessary trauma merely for existing and a perchance for overcommitting to things and poorly communicating their subsequent cock-up and you got yourself a typical post-9/11 baby.

I naturally blame the internet, but also how a post 9/11 world has shaped the internet and its’ anarchy.

Because 9/11 truly changed the way how humanity thought, fought and now lives.

It’s just strange for me, meeting people who have no context outside this reality, that to them, the 90s was an historical decade that never existed for them.

They only know this twisted, heavily politicised and strenuous time.

Deep down, I pity them all. If only they had some idea of what life might have been like, when the world was a more hopeful place, they wouldn’t be as confused as they are now.

But then, on the other side, their optimism can be boundless, because to them, a more accepting and hopeful future is coming soon.

Unlike the cynic in me, who whinges about what was lost.

Hindsight truly is a curse.

Better to be blindly hopeful and work towards that aspiration than to be unbelieving that anything good will occur in the future.

Because at the end of the day, hope for a better future is what might create change.

I suppose my role, as an older guy, is to make sure that change is actually a good one.

~ Damocles.