Help the helpers

“Daddy? What is it you do again?”

My daughter looked up from her drawing and fixed me with her questioning stare.

You can’t explain what I do to a four year old. Even one who had watched me all morning: resetting passwords, setting up new users, installing software, checking performance reports,etc.

Saying “I’m a system administrator” isn’t going to work. Not today. Despite what she had seen while she was drawing and writing and being polite to every single one of my workmates.

Especially when she had convinced me to take her into work that day.

I thought for a second. I got nothing here. The answer when it came was as natural as breathing.

“I help people do their job,” I replied. So satisfied she went back to her drawing : pen and pencil circling and meeting each other on the paper. Maybe she will stay the day, I thought. But by lunchtime,  she’d had enough. So I took her home.

That conversation stayed with me for years through my career. From system administration through PC support through  service manager finally to trainer.

But I was wrong.

The clue to the answer began with two successive groups of trainers. They needed to know how our web site worked so they could train others.  And naturally I helped them: trainer guides, instructions even eLearning videos.

But something was missing. In both cases, I felt I had not really helped them. Yet I had as said to my daughter helped them to do their job. 

So what was missing?

I did notice in many of my subsequent roles, I was what I called the support trainer. The one who deals with the tempers of mismanagement, creates a separate training project schedule, creates or finds a better training scheduling system,  organises and tracks all the myriad documentation, etc, etc. All of which I dismissed at the time as doing the administrivia no one else wants to do.  Or being a responsible eldest child. Or helping people do their job better.

The answer when it came was during an orientation session for my present role.

Another person was asked, “Why did you join?”

Her reply was  mine. “I wanted to help the helpers.”

But, but , I spluttered to myself, that’s my answer.  Which I had only found out a few weeks earlier, in reflecting why I had accepted the role.

Help the helpers. That’s what I do. Besides what else is there?

Version Control

It began as an easy and fairly innocuous job. The only downside was that it had to be finished by Monday. But I was just the technical writer and my role was secondary. Or so I thought. 

The content was being emailed to me by another person. A communications document for a new software implementation. All I had to do was wait: then review, resequence and summarise. 

So the emails went backward and then forward. Each time I received the emailed document, me being me, I created a new version. Besides being good practice, it meant that the email trail was a change journal. Version control. 

Each time, I made the requested changes and sent it back. No slip-ups if any content was lost. Or so I thought. 

Sunday came and went, Monday too. Tuesday morning, at coffee my colleague says to me,”Your name has been mentioned.”

I looked at him puzzled. 

“So-and-so said that you deleted content from the communications document.” 

I stared. I shook my head.

“I have the email trail. I made a copy each time I received the document.” Version control. Or so I thought. 

I’d been iced. 

So-and-so didn’t discuss anything with me. Our supervisor didn’t discuss anything to me. The next I heard about it was when our managing consultant convened a meeting. 

“Version control,” I said as I explained. Or so I thought. But I had been iced cold. 

Copy and Paste

The greatest public humiliation I experienced was at the hands of an ex-wife and her then boyfriend. But that didn’t prepare me for my greatest workplace humiliation (also known as the copy and paste incident).

It occurred during a meeting. I was presenting the changes I had made to an intranet to a group of people. At that time I was working with two subject matter experts and sundry members of that group, taking content from Microsoft Word and re-presenting it to a Wiki.

I had made it clear in my interactions with this group that they provide the content and I reformat, restructure and resequence it for the intranet. And I had also ensured there was a process of approval. Each and every email was suffixed with the intranet link and a postscript, to the effect of if you wish to make any changes, please contact me. Which was universally ignored by this particular group of people.

During that meeting, one of the participants complained that I had changed her content. My response was mild. The content was in Word, it was being moved to an intranet, inevitably it would be changed as writing for the web was…

Until I was interrupted by the manager of the group. She in no uncertain terms directed me to copy and paste. She asked me if I understood her directive and carry this out. The pause that followed was a lifetime. I thought to myself, “That’s the end of me.” And it was.

Letters to an artist : John Keats

John Keats!

They made me read you and after Chaucer and Donne (who I ended up liking eventually), I wanted to refuse.

I loved poetry having fallen in love with Milton’s, “On His Blindness” and John Masefield’s, “Sea Fever,” but even after having written poetry of my own, the reluctance was strong towards this one.

I balked at the flowery, old-fashioned way you had of saying too little using too many words in too much time. Unlike my teenage poetry at that time, no, not me.

 I resisted the dry dissection of iambic pentameter, similes, allegories and allusions. Only when did the teacher mention assonance did I listen.

Until I strayed from the prescribed studied texts and decided to find out for myself. I borrowed the Wollongong Reference Library copy of the Complete Keats, opened it at a random page. “I stood tiptoe on a little hill, the air was quiet and very still…” After that I disappeared.

That book and your poetry became my post-school meditation. That book probably got me through the dreaded Higher School Certificate. I would open that book and lose myself.

I slowly realised your struggle as I read your biography. How you cupped and held a small spark against the encroaching darkness of surrounding death. How the tragedy around you focussed you more and more on the task at hand which was to write words that vaulted over and above everyday life.

Yet your struggle was with your inadequacies, obviously health and later love but also how to best call out your talent. Only many years, when I read what you wrote about Negative Capability (See did I fully understand.

I realised that your touch carried across generations when my daughter appropriated my personal copy of the Complete Keats. I didn’t ask for it back. I thought perhaps she was studying him, but I couldn’t or wouldn’t ask. Besides I hoped it might have a similar comfort and inspiration to her as it was for me.

She did return it to me.

Only recently I realised when I found again my love of poetry that she had found hers. It must have come from somewhere. Perhaps it was you.

The Last Line (Beth McMullen : Obstinate Little Tart)

“Excuse me.”
I look up. I’m zero words into a five hundred word short story, which means…any interruption is perfectly welcome.

“Do you know you look like David Marr?”

I’m laughing now. At the woman waving her debit card. She was about to buy a coffee and has mistaken me.  For David. 

Not David my twin brother. But David Marr. The journalist and author. 

“You’re the second person that’s said that to me,” I reply. “Although I can’t hold pen or quill or keyboard to him (or something).” Well that last was what I meant to say. 

You see I was meant to be writing. At Writers Bloc, 107 Redfern Street, Redfern NSW. 5th September, 2019.

And I’m telling Beth McMullen, she with the identikit eye about the first time. In Canberra, where a random man accosted and accused me of being David Marr. 

And I said he was happier than me. For he had left News Limited, for the Guardian, I think.

Unlike me. I was doing the gig from hell. Well one of them. I make sure that I leave that bit out. You see I don’t want to say much about me. 

After introducing herself Beth says she’s doing a show. Here. Tonight.

“That’s me in the poster over there,” she says.”The Crying Girl.”

I don’t say anything. Yes that’s her alright. But her show isn’t called the Crying Girl. It’s called something else which I can’t read.

“What it’s about?” I ask.

Always get other people talking about themselves, I remember. Then they won’t find anything about you. Yeah Nah. 

“Tragedy and Comedy.”

“Dramedy perhaps?” I think. But like the sixth sentence, I only thought of that later.

I write my five hundred words. Quite an odd assortment of words as it turns out. One on a canine career change. The other on how to defuse a Hollywood bomb!

And I think why not?

The last time anything like this happened was in Brisbane. A random told me about the Laramie Project. “Sort of like an oral history?” I asked at the time. “Go and see for yourself,” was the reply.

I did and was completely emotionally numbstruck. And probably was the only straight person there. But no one disowned me… And maybe something might happen. Thought dismissed, I say to myself. Nothing ever does. 

So I break open my debit card…$15.00, one ticket, Beth McMullen in Obstinate Little Tart. And that thought is still scratching at me. All the way in on the train. 

I arrive after 8:30 and before 8:45. Almost the only one there. Until everyone turns up ten minutes before. Now I can hide in the crowd.

9:00pm now and a little after that, we all file in. I chose a chair down the back. I want to stay unobtrusive.

Beth McMullen appears. With her backers : the three highlighters : pink, white and yellow.

She starts off almost unobtrusively. She describes how she was named Beth. And from that she fashions her journey.

And for forty minutes, she proceeds to tell us of the bumps, bruises and her nearly broken heart. Usually preceded by a word or two written on the wall.

“You obstinate little tart,” she says. I’d never say that but I felt it. For they’re hardly the words you’ expect from a loving parent. More like one who sees the child as a threat. But that’s my take at the time. 

And I listen as it all unravels. And listen as it all becomes clear.

And I’m numbstruck again. Not homosexuality and hate crimes in Laramie Wyoming. But patriarchy and its emotional price line played out in northern NSW. And Beth’s journey back. Similar to mine but different too.

Let me put it this way. If you’re a man, and you see Obstinate Little Tart, it will make you uncomfortable. And you know what? You should be. As I said to someone afterwards.

Which should have been the easy post script.

Show’s end I’m out. I’ve left. I’m about to go. I’m heading one way and I see Beth. Heading the other way. Towards me.

I think this would be a great time to become unobtrusive.
But remember. I look like David Marr. Still. And I’m recognised.

“Courage…vulnerability,” I think I said to her.

I continue, “The hardest part is not to pass on what happens to you to others…” So much for being unobtrusive. So much for saying nothing about yourself.

Beth nods. I haven’t said what I meant. Then it happens, unbidden, uncalled for and unforced. 

“The curse stops with me.”

And Beth McMullen wordless now thanks to me, is just staring at me.  

“Oh no. I’ve done it now. I’ve said the wrong thing.” Or the other thought appears…perhaps I’ve happened on the perfect set of words.

And Beth answers, “That was the last line.”

The Last Melbourne Cup

Apparently Melbourne Cup 2018 is being soaked by heavy rains.

Melbourne Cup 2017 for me was tear-soaked.

That day, I was working at Westmead Childrens’ Hospital. I had bought my cup of coffee and walking back to my office when I noticed something odd. Police vehicles were pulling up at the entrance. Ambulance sirens and helicopters could be heard in the distance. 

Me being just a trainer and not wanting to impede in anyway, I returned to my office. I was greeted by the news that the hospital was being placed on bypass due to a traffic accident.

There would be no Melbourne Cup that day.

What surprised me was that even when the hospital returned to normal later in the day, I wasn’t interested anymore.

Later upon reflection, I wondered. For me, there are far more important matters at hand.

For you punters and revellers, enjoy by all means, but remember the line from Educating Rita…”There must be better songs to sing.”

Three Coincidences Too Many

I think at some stage, I’m going to write a book called, “It Shouldn’t Happen to a Trainer.”

The latest instalment was inspired by a story where primary and secondary teachers have to pay for their own classroom supplies. See

That was the beginning of yet another training day from hell…

After several phone calls and multiple disclaimers of responsibility, I finally got access to the training rooms.

Fifteen minutes before start time.

The first thing I noticed apart from the dipilated unkempt classroom was that there wasn’t any stationery.

A quick runaround the floor determined that due to corporate cutbacks there was no stationery anywhere.

I ran downstairs and bought some much to the joy and amusement of the newsagent.

So far so good.

The next problem was the discovery that none of the three overhead projectors were working.

Another run around. I was able to find the only working portable overhead projector on the floor.

I was quite relieved. I began to relax. Because by then the presenter had arrived as well as the trainees.

More fool me. For when the presenter set up, he turned to me and as asked if I had a connector from his Mac to the overhead projector.

Another runaround and I found the only two people on the floor with Macs. One of them loaned his connector.

Up until then I thought this project was a bit challenging. I was constantly turning away the nagging thought that the company wasn’t really supporting the project.

After those three coincidences, three too many, I knew for sure. Upon reflection there was more I should have done..starting with breaking into the classroom…perhaps asking the presenter if he had a connector. 

The training ironically went extremely well.

The project didn’t. It was postponed. Twelve months later it finally went live. A few years later it was sold off and closed down. Three coincidences too many.

Bring Him Home

Do you remember the first time you heard a song? The song that each and every time afterwards…

The question…and my answer…

That night I had the TV all to myself. The children were asleep. She was asleep. I wasn’t going to disturb her that night. Just dust out on the couch till morning. I channel surfed until I stopped the remote in mid-note…

Les Miserables : The Dream Cast in Concert was my solace for the night. The best of the best singing their way through perhaps the most touching musical ever.

Except…I only knew of it. I had never heard Les Miserables in full.

Which makes me probably a pretentious Philistine. 

And it was nice, and enjoyable and took my mind off my worries.

Until I heard Bring Him Home.  Even the first words are confronting. To anyone who believes and has been let down in the faith. To anyone who cannot believe. 

As the song melted its way through me, I realised who it was for.  Six weeks beforehand I’d heard the news that a former workmate had died quite tragically. It had happened while I was interstate. It was too late for me to pay my respects to him.

That song went straight through me. I cried for my friend that night.
Everytime I hear that song, I remember him and weep a little less.

Candy Royalle

I saw Candy Royalle perform four times. The first was at the Friend in Hand in Glebe where she was co hosting an open mic night. She performed this amazing poem that together pinned me to the wall with its passion and left me short of breath with longing.

Then I saw her at WestWords and she performed a signature poem about how the coloured people would triumph through love and diversity. I laughed my head off even it would happen there and then. She talked about sometimes life gets in the way when one can’t write (but didn’t mention her illness).

I saw her again at Kings Cross and then at the Sydney Writers’ Festival (I got the second last ticket for that one). Both times I was the only white guy in the audience but felt like all the poems (hers and the others) had been written just for me.

She answered my unspoken questions: what is a poet really ? Why be a poet? Why write the words? Every poet should aspire to do what she does! And yes she did and yes I know and yes I am. 

See Julia Baird’s tribute…she expresses it better than me…

Unspoken Listening

I’m safe now I’ve become her listening.

Secure now for how can she find my flaw?

I fold myself, hide and nod for more.

I witness her wisdom travelling.

Although I’m not entirely listening,

I nod, say yes, ask again, make the wrong guess,

Despite all her words nevertheless.

I see her past knots unravelling. 

I see now: I’m under observation,

It isn’t watchfulness nor surveillance,

She listens to me in her conversation!

And I thought her guesses coincidence!

I thought my silence ensured my safety! 

Her listening divined the unknown me!