“But I need it!”

I have a new catchphrase to make my girlfriend laugh. Whenever she asks me to refrain from something, I petulantly say, “But I need it!”

For example, if she wants me to switch off the air conditioner in our apartment, I adopt a non-negotiable tone and say “But I need it!”.

This probably isn’t funny to anyone else in the world. It only works here because my girlfriend knows me very well as someone who doesn’t need much of anything. The suggestion that I, of all people, need the air conditioning on full-blast is very funny to her because of certain tendencies central to my character:

– I am more inclined to adapt to an environment than to look for ways to neutralise it. To run with the example of air conditioning, I’m likely to ‘sweat it out’ for as long as possible before cranking up the AC. I think this stems from a childhood inability to deal with hot weather and a desire to overcome the problem rather than spend a lifetime complaining about it, seeking pity and pragmatically dealing with it on a day-to-day basis. If you can convince your body to survive in different terrains and climates, you’ll be less dependent upon the absurd levels of comfort to which we have access today, and consequently be more mobile. You won’t say “I can’t” [work in a bakery, read in the hot park, visit Africa] because of the heat. Banish your intolerance to temperatures, weather conditions, heights, pollens, other languages or cultures. Through adaptation, you will be defeated by fewer things.

– I am happy for people to borrow (and even keep) pretty much anything I own. If someone wants to borrow a book, I usually invite them to keep it. It’s better to be generous with such things: doing so eases the burden of ownership on myself, makes a friend happy and increases generosity of mind. Saying “But I need it!” is very alien to my character.

– I wrote an article on ‘escaping dependencies’ in New Escapologist Issue 3. In it, I advise people to kick soft addictions such as coffee or television and offer neuro-linguistic techniques (courtesy of our happiness editor, Neil Scott) to help them achieve this. I’m pretty good at escaping dependencies and very unlikely to say “But I need it!” in relation to the bag of doughnuts my girlfriend invited me to share yesterday.

This post isn’t intended to be an egocentric babble about how great I am and how virtuous my character is. I just wanted to write about the satirical value of “But I need it!” and the prerequisites required if you want to use it yourself.

Worry: a ‘Star Trek’ parable

Some time last year, I found myself reading Leonard Nimoy’s 1977 memoir, I am not Spock. The thing that struck me most about Mr. Nimoy’s portrayal of himself is that he’s such a persistent worrier. The book is chapter after chapter of reminiscences of minor concerns, most of which occurred several years before he sat down to write the book.

Nimoy would worry whether a line in the script was appropriate for his character, if the fans liked him enough or too much, and whether or not he would get a telephone installed in his dressing room. On and on, worries and concerns. Reminiscences of worries and concerns.

Another Star Trek-related book I once read was the annotated original 1967 script of The City on the Edge of Forever by my favourite Science Fiction author, Harlan Ellison. As an introductory essay, Ellison discusses his frustrating experiences working with the Star Trek cast and crew. He paints a very funny picture of William Shatner who apparently drove his motorbike up Ellison’s family driveway (leaving a skidmark that remains to this day, if I remember correctly), spent some moments flicking through Ellison’s script only to eventually remark that his character Captain Kirk doesn’t have as many lines as Nimoy’s Mr. Spock. William Shatner was the joyriding, devil-may-care egomaniac to Leonard Nimoy’s perpetual worrier.

Hop forward to 2009, to the release of the new Star Trek movie. Simon Pegg is on the Johnathan Ross show, talking about his encounter with the 78-year-old Leonard Nimoy. He describes Nimoy as something like “an old fellow” and mentions that he kept falling asleep between takes. Indeed, in the movie Nimoy looks amazingly ancient. Admittedly, he is a beautiful, wise-looking elf, but ancient nonetheless. It seems a privilege to us as viewers that Nimoy made it safely out of his house to deliver his five minutes of dialogue.

Meanwhile, Shatner is the main star of the television comedy-drama series, Boston Legal. He seems to be in every single episode, holding his own with a cast of young comic actors and frankly giving a brilliant performance.

In I am not Spock, Nimoy mentions that he and Shatner were born only four days apart and that they’re both Jewish. The Star Trek double-act are almost the exact same age and of similar cultural background. How can Nimoy look a hundred years old and Shatner be holding his own in a major network television show? I think it’s because of Nimoy’s penchant for worrying.

Maybe it pays to be an irresponsible Shatneresque cheeky chappy rather than a perpetual worrywart like poor Nimoy.

Employment is pragmatism

Probably my favourite piece of wisdom from Robert Kiyosaki is that taking a job is a short-term solution to a long term-problem

The long-term problem we all face is money: the modern resource required for survival and dignity.

The short-term solution to the need for money is to seek employment. Sadly, most jobs don’t pay enough to for you to live with the dignity promised by television. Even if your job does pay enough, it only allows you to ignore the long-term problem for a month or six weeks. During this time, it is difficult to focus on more permanent solutions to the long-term problem. Meanwhile, your youth is ticking away. Your creative dreams are decaying. Employment is pragmatism.

The long-term solution is financial education – knowing how to invest and save; knowing the difference between an asset and a liability. Financial eduction is the appropriate course of action if you want to solve the long-term problem.

Job Security is an illusion

“And what are the realities of modern life? Well, the chief one is an everlasting, frantic struggle to sell things. With most people it takes the form of selling themselves – that’s to say getting a job and keeping it.” – George Orwell, Coming up for air.

One of the things to which people like to cling – even if the reality of escape should present itself – is job security.

Loss of job security is one of the fears that ties you to a desk job and prevents you from setting up your own business or taking a period of voluntary unemployment. After income, it’s probably the most-cited thing that people go to work for. But what exactly is it?

Wikipedia puts it in cold terms: “Job security is the probability that an individual will keep his or her job; a job with a high level of job security is such that a person with the job would have a small chance of becoming unemployed.”

This is factually accurate but the real nature of job security is tantamount to false hope. So you have a high level of job security, but in actuality you always have to live with the risk that you’ll be made redundant or fired unjustly or forced to retire. It happens. Even if you work for a massive conglomerate and have a contract as long as your arm, your job can vanish if your employer decides it.

People think that self-employment is risky but at least such risk can be managed. The self-employed are not at the whim of employers. Yes, they are at the whim of the markets but a good entrepreneurial education and a knowledge of investment will give the self-employed the skills to manage that risk. There is no analogue action for an employee to take: you’re a passenger with no access to the cockpit.

Job Security is an illusion. How do we overcome this illusion?

As advised in Issue Three, use your job as a career gym. Don’t just take the paycheque like a happy worker. Use your job to learn transferable skills. Make yourself re-employable in the event that you should lose your job, want to change your job, or want to voluntarily escape it.

I suppose the fear of losing job security is higher if you’re living from paycheque to paycheque. This is the argument for saving: if you can make adequate measures of frugality and save a decent proportion of your income, you will gradually overcome the fear of losing job security with every passing paycheque. If you have money in the bank, the possibility of losing your job will concern you less. Eventually, you will have enough money in the bank to give you the confidence to leave your job in the most dignified manner possible: a letter of resignation.

Hello, new readers

The recent guest posts and a new dedication to frequency has lead to an increase in our online readership. I’d just like to say a friendly “Hello!” to those new readers.

You’ve probably already explored the more static parts of the site, so you already know what we’re about. To get a feel of the blog, here are some entries of note:

An Escapologist’s Diary, Part 1 – arguably the start of my personal escape story.
Interview with Judith Levine – free content from our first print issue.
What comes after escape? – brief suggestions of how to spend the good life.
An Escapologist’s Diary, Part 11 – our weekend at the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair.
Never forget – what’s not to be missed about office life.
Feminism and Escapology – Holly Meier explores the overlap.
New Escapologist launch party – review and photographs from our Issue Two launch party in Glasgow, Scotland.

No more mindless submission – a guest post I made over at ‘Early Retirement Extreme’.

Comments at the blog are always encouraged. I generally reply to comments, even on older posts. Let’s get a conversation going.

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If you really like what we do, you might also like to consider a subscription or single issue of our printed publication.

Welcome aboard, folks.

My 2010 reading list. Or: you are what you eat

Escapologists should impose a degree of discipline over what they consume if they want to live deliberately. Be aware of the nerd maxim, Garbage in, Garbage out.

A couple of people asked about the self-imposed reading list to which I referred in a previous post. For the duration of 2010, I am exclusively reading the titles on a pre-planned list.

I don’t particularly recommend this practice: it’s just an experiment. The rationale behind the experiment, however, is worth imparting here.

The list was a 2010 new year’s resolution. It was a sequel to 2009’s resolution to record everything I read.

It had become clear that I’d spent a year consuming mediocre material, often to honour the recommendations of other people. As someone who values reading, this was an insane situation, needing to be taken by the lapels.

By making a pre-planned list for 2010, I could discipline myself to read exclusively for pleasure and to read a few classics I’d previously not got around to.

It was also a good way of explaining to people why I couldn’t read the books they were keen for me to borrow. Recommendations from friends are seldom without merit, but it’s never good to commit hours required to read a novel out of obligation. It has also been fun to entertain people with this slightly eccentric methodology in the pub.

Being a realist I’d allowed for two deviations from the list by including a couple of empty slots. In practice though, I’ve veered from the list on about six occasions. This is experiment and not a challenge, so I don’t see such deviations as ‘failures’ but as a ‘finding’. So far I’ve read about half of the modest list (which is about right for June) and those few extras. The extra choices evolved pretty organically from the list: mostly other books by a listed author.

I don’t think I’ll run another book list next year, but the experiment has shown me that there is value in disciplined consumption.

As strange as it feels to say this as a former librarian, I also think it’s possible to read too much for the sake of personal titillation, which is why my list is so unambitiously short. Reading novels is still just entertainment and shouldn’t be construed as being somehow ‘higher’ than watching films or surfing the web. I don’t think reading novels is the thin end of the wedge to reading more fibrous material either: if you want to read raw Descartes or Seneca, you don’t need to munch through Dan Brown to get there. Try not to consume more than you produce, lest you become intellectually obese. Be like an earthworm and keep a steady in/out ratio.

Financial action: do less instead of more

My partner and I are planning to visit friends and family in Britain. Our original calculation showed that we’d have to sacrifice 1800$ each for this fortnight-long trip in August.

The high cost is partly due the expensive time of year for transatlantic flights, but an August trip allows us to enjoy the Edinburgh Festival Fringe so we’re reluctant to change our dates. (Such a cut-back would compromise the quality of the trip, resulting in the illusion of economy).

1800$ represents several months of unemployed living to me. In a way though, I’m glad of the financial challenge. Rich Dad advises that we stop thinking along the lines of “I can’t afford it” and start asking “How can I afford it?” instead. The conventional wisdom is lazy and stops you from thinking. The open-ended question forces you to rise to a challenge and to exercise your brain. So I began to think about an AdWords campaign capable of generating the required revenue.

Some back-of-the-envelope calculations showed that we didn’t have to launch a money-making campaign at all. Frugality will save the day after all. Admittedly, this is the laziest way of ‘making’ money there is, but it would be silly to ignore.

– we saved 25% by shopping hard for the cheapest available flight
– we saved 50% by planning acceptable financial cutbacks for the June-August period, including the duration of the trip
– the final 25% doesn’t need to be saved since it equates approximately to our regular living expenses

We’ve theoretically paid for our trip by doing less instead of doing more.

An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 12.

Yesterday, I stayed indoors because of the amazing rain. This incidentally resulted in a day of zero expenditure, if you overlook the 12$ daily rent.

Here are some of the things I did for free:

– Read the final quarter of George Orwell’s Coming up for air. It was a library copy, which I had retrieved on foot).

– Watched the torrential rain from our balcony. I had to stay close to the wall to avoid getting wet but it was remarkable to watch and listen to rain like this. Even though I’ve largely acclimatised to Montreal’s sunshine and French language, the heavy rain is always a reminder that I’m abroad

– Edited four articles for the pending fourth edition before passing them to our sub-editor for approval.

– Posted yesterday’s blog entry and spent a little time reading Matthew‘s blog.

Baked bread (not technically free but at 70¢ for two loaves, it’s hardly worth acknowledging as an expense).

– Took a nap. Possibly the sweetest afternoon activity for any non-worker. I kept the balcony door open and drifted off to the sound of foreign rain.

– Played twenty minutes of free online Pacman, my favourite computer game ever. This version (designed by Neave) is an unlicensed clone of Namco’s original, but I think it’s the best version ever made. I don’t generally advocate spending time playing computer games but I have an occasional penchant for Pacman and Asteroids. I like to make up stories about these strange and simple games. I believe the pilot of the Asteroids spaceship is a criminal sentenced to the penal servitude of rock-breaking in outer space with only an amazingly fragile hull between him and the eternal void. Not bad for 2KB ROM code.

– Ate home-baked cake (again, at a negligible cost) while listening to the weekly podcast of Richard Herring and Andrew Collings: a comedy double act who’ve provided hundreds of hours of free entertainment since they went live in July 2008. It is shabby and hard on the ears but that is kind of the point. I’m looking forward to a month-long visit from my friend Dan in October, with whom I’ll make a smaller contribution of a similar fuzzy quality.

– Drank home-filtered water from a mason jar and pretended alternately to be Epicurus and Robinson Crusoe. Anyone who suggests my day of solitude drove me temporarily insane might be onto something.

– A daily ten-minute French language lesson using MP3 versions of Michel Thomas‘ method tapes.

– Spent quality time with my rainsoaked girlfriend upon her return from work. We made dinner and watched Star Trek DVDs from my compact and well-stocked DJ case.

Yesterday was like one of those ‘wet lunches’ at school when the teachers allow you to stay indoors and play board games instead of getting wet at lunchtime, except that it was an all-day ‘wet lunch’ and it was pretty alright.

Walking everywhere

“Why don’t people, instead of the idiocies they do spend their time on, just walk round looking at things? […] all the while the sort of feeling of wonder, the peculiar flame inside you. It’s the only thing worth having and we don’t want it.” – George Orwell. Coming up for Air

This month, I decided to eliminate the expense of public transport and to walk everywhere instead.

Before June, I had been recharging a travel card each month. Admittedly, the ‘Opus Card’ is a snatch at 70$ for unlimited access to excellent bus and metro services, but that’s still 70$ per month (£46 in my native currency, representing 2.5 hours of labour) I could use on something else or leave in the bank, so I decided to pick up the gauntlet (or rather my shoes) and start walking.

As I’ve said elsewhere, the cost of shoe leather is negligible (especially when you buy handmade shoes for something in the region of 250$ and can have them re-heeled occasionally instead of buying poor-quality new shoes every couple of months).

I’ll admit that walking everywhere is pretty extreme action. Most people would struggle to get by without a car let alone forgo public transport as well. But, again, it’s only your circumstances that dictate this and circumstances can be modified. I know that people have to get to work in a timely fashion and that those who live in the suburbs or countryside can’t rely on public transport, but that’s (bluntly) the result of choices you made and can still change.

Since I do not work, I have the time and energy to walk anywhere. In my favour, Montreal is a small city and I have so far not found the need to spend more than two hours walking from our apartment to any significant location.

If it rains or snows, I either dress appropriately or simply change my plans and stay indoors. If it’s hot, I make sure I take along a flask of water (refillable for free at public drinking fountains – that’s what they’re for).

So far this month, I’ve caught two busses due to being pressed for time on one occasion and submitting to peer pressure on another. Total cost: 5.50$. Even projecting forward another two busses in the second half of the month, I’ll still have saved 59$ over the course of June and 413$ between now and the end of the year (half the cost of a flight to London).

This is ostensibly a money-saving exercise but there are also physical and intellectual benefits to walking:

Walking makes me fit so I don’t have to burn time and calories on a treadmill. Choosing different routes also allows me to discover and enjoy previously uncovered parts of the city.

You see things differently than if you were in a bus or a metro carriage: the other day I saw a culture-jammed advertising poster morbidly combining an ‘American Apparel’ model with the skinless corpse currently promoting Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds exhibition. Brilliant.

When walking, you can enjoy some downtime. You can process your thoughts and the information you’ve acquired since your last walk. It clears the mind. Personally, I do not listen to music as I walk, preferring to engage exclusively with the sounds of my thoughts and the city.

Like most people, I sometimes have trouble getting to sleep. Thankfully, having a tired body and a clear mind after a daily walk has curbed this problem.

Try it. Eschew transport for a while. Go à pied.

Alchemy for simpletons. Or: the minimalist loaf

To most intents and purposes, I’m a pretty good cook. I’m great with vegetables, fish, pulses, pasta and puddings. When it comes to baking bread, however, I’m a complete dunderhead.

To me, baking bread is closer to alchemy than cookery. Instead of ingredients, you have base elements: water, salt, flour, microscopic-organisms, heat and precious, precious hope. Perhaps for this reason, my oven has produced many a floury quagmire and blackened cobblestone. I’m wanted for mass-murder by the yeast FBI.

Naturally, I find this incompetence fairly unsettling. Baking is something of a minimalist/frugalist/self-sufficientist linchpin. If you can somehow convert these base elements into a golden, glowing loaf, you’re symbolically empowered to do pretty much anything.

At last I have banished my incompetence. Today I produced twin golden-brown rustic loaves. Allow me to share the procedure that even a simpleton like me managed to follow:

Read the rest of this entry »

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