That Custom of Entertainment

My earliest memories of alcohol were smelling it on the breath of one of my neighbours, Ken. My brother and I played with his kids a lot, and it was always a bit of a risk knocking on his door to invite them to play. His temperament changed like the wind: sometimes he was friendly and inviting, other times he told us to piss off, but almost always he was wearing a white singlet, his eyes were bloodshot and there was a can of beer in his hand.

My parents weren’t really big drinkers – maybe once or twice a year, my father would have some wine or beer with a friend. Sometimes my brother and I would sneak a sip. Invariably I found it disgusting, but my brother pretended to like it so I did too. We both wanted to be grown-up, I think, and it had been made clear to us that alcohol was only for grown-ups and we thought we were ready. Childhood’s weird like that.

All throughout my life though, the message had been drilled into me through my mother’s fear: only bad people drink alcohol. It’s dangerous. It’s something scary, to be avoided in the same way that you wouldn’t want to be around a glowing radioactive isotope. No amount is ever okay: one sip is terrible, one whole glass is just a disaster.

I remember my mother’s shocked face when when I ordered a glass of whisky along with my uncles at my cousin’s wedding. I was 22 at the time, and while she didn’t outright forbid me, after every sip she’d say that I didn’t have to drink any more. After I’d finished half of glass and was thinking about stopping, she pounced on my hesitation and moved it away from me, before I could decide for myself.

I thought about rebelling: about going somewhere private with my friends and drinking a whole bottle of vodka or whatever, just to rub it in her face, to wrest back some control of my life. And I guess I did a little. I drank one or two Vodka Cruisers after graduating high school. I’d have a small glass of Baileys every couple of months, trying to acquire the taste as I sought comfort or sophistication. I’d have a sip of Jack Daniel’s and coke at a party, but the smell reminded me too much of my neighbour Ken, and I never really enjoyed any of it.

The fact is, in those environments I never felt safe. The people around me, work colleagues, people from school, my brother and his friends, they were never people that I trusted. And so, surrounded by these almost-enemies, I’d become very scared as they became more and more exuberant, had fewer inhibitions, less control over their words and actions. I’d want to leave, because the vibe of the party seemed to be about getting drunk and doing regretful things and then laughing about it in the morning. None of that gelled with me, and I started practicing telling people that I didn’t really like parties, so thank you for the invitation but I wouldn’t be attending.

I broke this rule once, taking a chance by going to an after party with people I’d come to love. I’d been volunteering with them all week to help disadvantaged kids have an amazing time on camp, and each and every one of them seemed so incredibly kind and polite and generous. Then at the afterparty, the masks seemed to fall and it seemed to me that everyone was ready to become mean and crude and vulgar at a moment’s notice. I didn’t really attend any parties after that.


The first time I really enjoyed drinking was when I went down south with a group of pretty good friends. We weren’t super close, but they were all decent people. We drank Jaeger bombs and champagne, played ridiculous hide and seek, scratched each other’s hands in a bloody game of spoons, and passed the evening in wild delight. It was the first time I ever got so drunk that my reflexes were affected, and I was endlessly fascinated by the delayed response time: I’d wave my hand in front of my face and giggle that it took a split second for my hand to react to the command.

I still don’t really know what “drunk” means, but to me, I think of it as falling over when I try to walk, or having my response time dulled noticeably. But I guess it’s true that while that may be my upper limit, there are certainly people who drink until they vomit or pass out, who have no memory of the night’s events. It’s kind of hard for me to conceptualise because I encounter such people so infrequently, and at a great distance.

But recently, I caught up with some friends for dinner, and (between the three of us) we just managed to polish off one glass of wine. I probably only drank a quarter of it, but even so I had trouble finding my feet when I stood up to leave, and decided I’d better let my friend drive. I have to say though, it was such a delightful evening. Everything seemed unreasonably funny, and I felt calm and happy and confident. Rather than changing my personality, the wine seemed to enhance my sense of self: like I could be more of myself without worrying about anything. To loosen some of that meticulous self-control I always strive to maintain.

And writing those words scares me a little. I can imagine how easy it would be for me to start using alcohol as a crutch in social situations. To chase that comfortable, relaxed high on a regular basis. I know from experience that I am prone to addiction, and I think it would be incredibly hard for me to stop drinking. That fear I have is important, because I know what’s at stake, and how easy it is to fall into that pit.


What does the fear say to me?

“Don’t drink! Alcohol is bad for you, and anyone who drinks is bad!”
“I don’t like being around people who are drunk. It’s scary, and I hate having to look after them.”
“One drink could lead to two, and two could lead to more, and then you’ll become a drunk, and that will be very hard for you and your family. You’ll be a disgrace, and no one will love you.”
“There are so many stories, from work and from the news, of people getting drunk and doing terrible things. Killing people, crashing cars. You don’t want to be like those people do you?”

(And, just while I’m thinking of it, the reasons I haven’t done illicit drugs are all of the above, plus the thought “You’ve heard of stories of people having bad reactions after using even once. You don’t want to take that chance do you? Especially if it results in a lifelong experience of psychosis?”)


Some of those fears are mine. Others belong to loved ones who have passed them to me. I don’t really know how to let go of them, but… I think I do. I want to be careful when drinking, but I also want to drink again. To enjoy delightful, maybe slightly wild adventures in safe and good company. To lean into what Cassio called the “custom of entertainment”, without ending up calling it “the enemy [that people put] in their mouths to steal away their brains! That we should, with joy, pleasance, revel, and applause, transform ourselves into beasts!” (Yes, I re-read Othello Act 2, Scene 3 just for those lines.)

I have many questions and no clear answers. If you enjoy drinking, or have overcome such worries yourself, I’d love to hear about it.

In a Word

Someone once described me as “measured”, and it was one of the kindest gifts they ever gave me. If I had to sum myself up in one word, I think that might be it.

In karate when I see an opening, it’s like I carefully measure out exactly what percentage of my strength to use when I hit them: just enough to land it, not enough to harm them.
In counselling, I respond with exactly the right amount of empathy, and say precisely what I think might be useful to their healing.
When writing, I mentally lay out all the words that might suit my purpose and carefully choose the right ones to convey my message and tone.

This is what “measured” means to me.

The word “composed” also suits me wonderfully. I’ve learned that the way one holds onesself can get one pretty far through dangerous waters.

My Quirk

There are people in some circles who know me as The Mountain Goat.

Those who know me best are not surprised when I take short detours during hikes. I run across logs suspended over ravines, climb boulders leaning over cliff faces, and bound from my to rock to cross a raging rapid. It’s because my superpower is this: I can traverse difficult terrain faster than anyone else I’ve ever met.

To put it in video game terms, I think my Class Specialisation was to unlock the perk that highlights the objects I need so I know how to make a path. The dry, flat, stable rocks with enough surface area to be a foothold appear in red to me, and the wet, steep and unstable rocks all appear in yellow so I can easily avoid them. In this way, I can literally run through unstable terrain, choosing where to place my foot as it’s falling. And I’ve almost never lost my footing doing this. Furthermore, I instinctively know how much energy a certain incline will require when I take in the angles at a glance, and within a split second I can change course to choose the path that will use the least energy (even if it has a few tricky leaps to start with).

My quirk is best deployed when I’m moving upwards: it’s easy to scale a waterfall or bound up a creek, hopping from rock to rock (knowing how much pressure to use when I land so I don’t slip on the wet surfaces). It’s much harder trying to go the other way.

But you know? If I think of climbing down as “ascending while falling”, it’s actually way easier. I throw myself from rock to rock, trusting in my superpower to run the equations for me and keep me safe until I find myself on solid ground again.

I think there’s a metaphor in there somewhere about life. Oh well.

The Future That Might Be

I have this vision of me in a small room. During the day, sunlight floods through the windows, and somehow it makes the room feel lighter, too. It’s sunset now though, and the room is bathed in a warm glow as I sit at my desk writing notes from the day’s clients.

All of them have come to me in distress, and while they are with me they put down their burdens and know peace for a time. And they carry some of that peace away with them. But more than that, they leave with knowledge, too. And amidst the knowledge, the seeds of self-love are nourished as they do their best to make brave choices.

I wear the black pants and business shirts of those managers who have gone before me. Those who failed me as role models. I see in my mind’s eye the men they were, and how I am already more than them. How I refuse to stop growing, and how I will continue to surpass them in every way that matters to me.

I take a sip of water and lean back in my chair, appreciating the flowers that fill the space with a gentle fragrance. My eyes wander over the bookshelves, laden with useful resources which I lend to people. My eyes catch on the couches, a horrible bright orange that are enormously comfortable despite their bold colouration. My heart sighs happily, and in that sigh it says “Thank goodness we made it. We made it, we made it, we made it.”

And so we will.

My thoughts on A Way Out

*spoiler-free review*

A Way Out took me by surprise – I had expected it to be a long campaign full of meticulous planning and perilous execution. Instead it turned out to have quite simple and very forgiving mechanics as one character would distract a guard and the other would casually and easily get away with whatever mischief they were doing. It was still pretty fun though, and on this mechanic alone I would have given it a 3/5 review. However in the final few chapters of the game, they really started shaking things up, introducing multiple approaches to solving the same problems, and then including some bold cinematography as the camera did some very memorable wizardry during an escape section of the game.

What really stood out for me though was the mini-games scattered around the world. I didn’t find any of the characters particularly notable, nor did I feel particularly compelled to explore every corner of the game. I played this with my best friend, and so first time he found a mini-game where you could spam X to do dips, a sudden and fierce rivalry erupted between us. Throughout the rest of the game, we kept score of who could get more points in darts, baseball, pong, Connect-4 and a variety of other contests the game included. Greatest of all, we found ourselves in a virtual arm-wrestle, perfectly matched for 15 minutes straight as we both desperately spammed X until we were exhausted. Back and forth our contest went: he’d pull ahead, I’d close the gap. It looked like we were going to have to end the campaign on a tie.



And then, blessing of all blessings, the story threw us one last contest in a twist ending that brought the whole thing together. (I don’t want to brag, but I can’t resist taking this opportunity to tell you I came out on top, making me the Ultimate King of Gaming.)

A Way Out is a pretty simple game. The characters barely have any depth or motivation, the world is pretty bland and uninteresting, and the combat isn’t remarkable in any way. But for bringing two people together and generating a game-long rivalry? What a masterpiece. 4/5 from me.

Something Great and Beautiful

In my last blog post, I concluded by musing about the ineffability of tea ceremony, about catching glimpses of some great and beautiful truth. And I think it’s like this.


Every week, my teacher takes her students to a gallery where she shows us a work painted by a great master. For an hour, we study it closely: the blend of colours, the strokes of the brush, the angles and curves of the lines. Sometimes we try and view it as a whole, and other times we pour over its finest details. We imagine what the artist wanted to capture, the image in their mind that they transferred to the canvas.  And then at the end of the hour, she covers it gently with a cloth until we come back to view it again.

My teacher cannot tell us why the painting is beautiful, any more than I could say “The night sky is beautiful because it is dark and has many stars.” Words utterly and completely fail. But when I see a picture like this one (taken for the ABC two weeks ago), I begin to understand.



Sensei cannot tell us why tea ceremony is beautiful. But by studying it, I am filled with the same feeling: that I am studying one cog in a great machine, and if I look closely enough I begin to comprehend its workings and design. And I am overwhelmed with its perfection.

The Present Future

Sometimes when I’m at a tea ceremony lesson, I seem so connected to the present moment that I can solve problems the instant they come into existence. It’s like having a moment of perfect clarity that if that snowball were to start rolling it would cause an avalanche, and so as the snowball is starting to form I disperse it. It feels like a kind of magic foresight where for a moment I can see the future, and know exactly what is required to prevent that future from becoming.

I’ll see that the water is a little low, and top it up quickly and quietly so that it’s ready for the next person to use without them having to worry.

I’ll notice there’s a tiny speck of tea powder on the floor and wipe it up with a tissue before it stains anyone’s clothes or utensils.

I’ll notice that no one has been designated as an assistant, so I’ll quietly move my osensu (fan) out of the way so that my bundle of kaishi (paper) is easy to access. Before anyone even has the chance to look around for who will retrieve the tea, I am already sliding into place with a new bowl and my kobukusa (small silk cloth).

It’s a dozen tiny moments like those that make me feel intimately connected to the tea room and everyone within it. Like before a thought has even finished forming in the mind of my teacher, I have understood it and already begun to act on it. It is a rare feeling, and only comes when I am at my sharpest on my very best days.

And I don’t always get it right, either! Sometimes I think I’m perfectly placed to solve a problem when all I’m doing is stumbling into the way of other people. Or I’ll think, “Sensei would find it helpful if someone would take care of that”, and I’ll jump in when she was deliberately waiting for someone else to notice so that they could learn the lesson themselves. Sometimes when I take the initiative, it is very presumptuous, and very mistaken!

But sometimes it is like magic. It makes me think of the “harmony” described in the phrase “Wa kei sei jaku“.

The more I practice, the more I get the sense that tea ceremony is not something that can be understood with words, or even action. Every time I see a ceremony, I get a glimpse of something indescribable, a sliver of some great and beautiful truth. It must be very difficult for my teacher to help her students discover what cannot be taught!