Issue Six: completely and utterly available

Copies of Issue Six are wending their way to our beloved subscribers.

Rest assured, we’ve taken every step in motivating the postal workers of the world. The Postmaster Generals of every nation are currently being held in the New Escapologist oubliette and won’t be freed until all copies have been safely received.

Apologies are due for the ridiculous gap between launch and distribution. A lucky few of you will have your copies already but this week sees the main wave of subscriber distribution.

If you’ve not yet done so, you can order a copy at the shop. It’s no longer a pre-order. The stock is now ready to go.

This issue—Against the Grain—celebrates everything in the vein of our mascot, Jean des Esseintes. Featuring Reggie Chamberlain-King on Leonard Dubkin; Aislínn Clarke on unorthodox funereal practices; poetry to commemorate office life by Graham Fulton; and lavatorial fun with Jon Ransom.

The End-of-Life Statistical Debriefing

I sometimes fantasize about a rather square afterlife: a dataporn epilogue in which I’m given a wealth of terminal data about my life. It’s a kind of existential debriefing.

Sometimes I visualise this afterlife as an austere 1970s science lab, with ranges of analogue counting wheels, each halted eternally at their final numbers. Other times I imagine it as a live TV event: an enthusiastic presenter delivers a piece-to-camera from the top of Telecom Tower, finger pressed to her earpiece and declaring that, “Yes, the results are in!”

Every metric has been recorded: the number of times I went to the bathroom, the number of hours I slept, the number of good or bad decisions made, the number of moral victories or ethical betrayals.

Some of the metrics won’t really matter. Number of blinks or heartbeats are beyond my control and do not mean much either way. But some of the metrics in this databank in the sky will be causes of pride or shame.

A statistic for which I, the editor of New Escapologist, would take pride in being high would be number of days in flight. Every day spent living freely is a victory. If the celestial auditors are indeed watching, I hope they’re able to record that the total number of these victories outweighs the number of days spent serving forces other than my moral will.

A statistic I would like to keep low is Number of intentions unrealised. It’s very acceptable to abandon something deliberately, or to reform a plan partway through. But I hate it when things fall to the wayside, are forgotten about, or are simply never taken seriously as a possibility.

Alas, there is probably no afterlife and we’ll never be given such a cache of perfect data (and if we are, it’ll be largely pointless once our lives are over). If we want to collect data about our living patterns, we must simply resolve to document more. A longhand journal will provide qualitative data. A tally against certain metrics will provide the quantitative. At the end of a given period, we can analyse it all; draw conclusions, make predictions, and make changes to our habits.

To measure my “unrealised intentions” and to keep this statistic small, I have started maintaining a “Maybe Someday” list. Any ideas I have, whether big or small, go onto this list. I will later incorporate them into my plans or decisively obliterate them from my ambitions once and for all.

I’m also trying to reconnect with things I enjoyed in childhood: dinosaurs, chemistry, puppets, astronomy, fossils, wildlife. Maybe this way I can identify some early ambitions never acted upon, and have them scored from my shameful tally of forgotten plans.

There is something vaguely perverse about analyzing such water under the bridge. It’s like making notches on a bedpost, or examining the fresh contents of a handkerchief. But so what? A toilet that analyses your turds for nutritional excesses and deficiencies would be genius.

Relax and let the robots take over

I am afraid to even ask this, but since when is unemployment really a problem? I understand we all want paychecks — or at least money. We want food, shelter, clothing, and all the things that money buys us. But do we all really want jobs?

Isn’t this what all this technology was for in the first place? The question we have to begin to ask ourselves is not how do we employ all the people who are rendered obsolete by technology, but how can we organize a society around something other than employment?

Why play computer solitaire all day when a robot can do it for you?

This is an amazing column by techno-theorist Douglas Rushkoff. It’s incredible that an idea this optimistic, rational and outside-the-box can appear in a mainstream channel like CNN. Maybe it’s not so outside-the-box anymore. The tide is turning.

Gifts and Recommendations

Gifts are a problem for minimalists. A well-meaning gesture can leave you stranded with an unsolicited material object: another slight infringement upon your space and liberty.

The oft-cited solution is to encourage consumable gifts, like meals, booze, tickets, charity donations, experiences, and fruit. This largely removes the material problem without having to cancel Christmas.

Today (and this will seem like a digression, but there is a point to this) I spent several hours reading 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I find this author’s work utterly absorbing; and, assuming I do not die before finishing this latest book, I’ll have read every one of his published works. The one I am reading now isn’t even released until next month, but I was able to acquire a rare pre-publication proof. That is how much I love this author.

I learned about Murakami from Laura. Her recommendation was a superb non-material gift. It cost no money and did not involve a material object, yet it had a profoundly personal affect and has been received with gratitude. Who knows how long it would have taken me to find this author otherwise? Perhaps when I found him of my own volition, it would have been too late. You have to come to some things at the right time.

Can recommendations be the true post-materialist alternative to gift-giving? A thoughtful recommendation can enrich a friend’s life in a similar way to a properly thoughtful gift without adding weight to their inventory.

Recommendations (of books, films, techniques, experiences, places) are strikingly similar things to gifts and, unfortunately, they come with precisely the same challenges. Just as a gift must be utilised or ornamented for a socially-acceptable period of time, there’s also an obligation to engage to some extent with a person’s recommendation.

In the past, I have found recommendations frustrating. They derail trains of thought, snag at attention spans, add items to to-do lists, increase expectational debt and anxiety. In 2010, I rather eccentrically planned my year’s reading in advance. Part of the reason was that I’d have an excuse not to accept people’s recommendations and to quickly change the subject: “Sorry, I can’t read that book. I’m doing this crazy reading experiment. Let me tell you about it…”

So recommendations don’t remove the social problem of gift-giving, but they can replace the material problem. Let’s try it. Have a pact with a friend to exchange recommendations (tailor-made for the particular individual) on birthdays instead of gifts. You’ve got a year to come up with the perfect recommendation so it shouldn’t be too trying. I imagine it will help you get to know your pals better and see how well they know you. If you want a material embodiment of this ‘gift’, you could write a library shelf-mark in a nice card.

Teaser for an upcoming event

Hello Emilia,

I am looking forward to this very much. My talk will be titled “The Escapological Eutopia: Five Dodgy Prophecies”. The weird spelling of ‘Eutopia’ is intentional. The talk will paint an optimistic mini-portrait of a future characterised by social equality, a displaced workforce, pedestrianised cities, post-materialist shopping precincts, and the collapse of borders between peaceful nations.

Here are my measurements, taken by a London tailor: http://wringham.co.uk/about/vital-statistics/

Let me know if any measurements are missing or if you need any further information.

Looking forward to meeting you,

Rob
www.newescapologist.co.uk

An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 29.

Every weekday morning, at about 10:15, the postman buzzes the ground floor intercom.

As the only unused person in the building, I have become responsible for letting him in. Sometimes I’m preparing the breakfast when he buzzes, but sometimes his buzzing wakes me up and I have to get out of bed.

This morning, I decided to ignore his buzzing. I’d been up late attending to the pressing business of watching Jeeves & Wooster videos, and was far too sleepsome to worry about activating leg muscles and so on. Someone else would have to deal with it.

But they didn’t. Nobody let the postman in. So there was no post today.

I’ve only been living here for six months. How did the postman ever deliver his load to these flats before I was here to let him in? Did they only start receiving post six months ago? What did they think was happening? “Something’s just come through the door, Jeff. It’s all wrapped up in brown paper. And what’s LoveFilm? I’m scared.”

This reminded me of something I observed years ago but never reported here: the fact half of the planet expects you to work 9-5 while the other half expects you to be continually available.

If you need to meet with a bank manager or even do something as perfunctory as deposit a cheque, you have to be available at some point between 9 and 5 (or 10 and 4, if you need my local HSBC). If you’re expecting the delivery of a new washing machine or a fruit juicer or whatever, you have to be at home between 9 and 5 to receive it. If you need to visit the post office, a government office or a public library, you’d better be available during the conventional working hours. You often can’t even do it on the weekend.

How does anyone achieve even the smallest personal maintenance task while also juggling a job? When I had a job, I would use the office mail room, telephones and computers to conduct personal business. But this is against the rules. I only got things done by being a renegade. If I’d been caught using the mail room to send my own stuff around, I’d almost certainly have received a disciplinary.

Today I discover that even the postman needs someone to be at home. And yet! The other half of the world – the education system, the job centre, even your own family – seems hellbent on getting you out of your pajamas and into the blasted workforce.

To be a functioning member of society, you have to sell your hours of 9-5. But in doing so, you essentially remove yourself from society by being perpetually unavailable for anything. Is that how society works? The employed serve only the unemployed? If so, the jobbies should be thanking the skivers for keeping them in a job.

Read the rest of this entry »

Walking Again

[He has] broken the unspoken rules of an environment shaped by the car: the act of walking was creating a more human geography.

Sorry to return to my Escapological obsession with walking, but this interview with Will Self implicitly (and to an extent, explicitly) sums up a lot of what I like about it.

Blimey, this is our 200th post. Why not celebrate by buying a mag?

Grumpy

“I liked finding places to escape,” says comedian Kate Nash remembering her office job, “little nooks and crannies… where you could tuck yourself in and not be found, otherwise you just become just a number. You absolutely have to keep a sense of your own autonomy. You have to break the rules.”

Here’s The Grumpy Guide to Work:

Failed Escapes

The lures are obvious: freedom, fulfillment. The highs can be high. But career switchers have found that going solo comes with its own pitfalls: a steep learning curve, no security, physical exhaustion and emotional meltdowns.

This is a very interesting article about people who’ve tried to escape the rat race and failed.

It’s a sobering reminder that escape from a conventional day job doesn’t always work and you’ll sometimes be forced to go back to the old job, tail between your legs. This is why my career gym idea (see Issue Three) is so important.

Some of the failed escape stories are somewhat mystifying though. One woman left an unthinkably lucrative $450-per-hour job in a law firm in favour of a $1-per-hour home business. Why? Her home business idea was in event management: hardly the dream job. She should have stayed put for a couple of years and saved up enough money to never work again. Where are her savings? What did she do with that incredible hourly wage?

I think some people also confuse an ideal with what would actually be a pleasurable activity. Just because you have an enthusiasm for artisan cupcakes doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy running a bakery. I like coffee but I don’t see how running a coffee shop (ordering beans; cleaning tables; talking to dick-head customers; managing the accounts; getting sued for sexually harassing the staff) would be much better than rotting in an office somewhere.

Of course, there is no shame in a failed escape. So you have to return to the day job, but you’ll have tasted freedom and you’ll have some great stories to tell at the water cooler. Best of all, there’s nothing stopping you from refining your plan (or ripping it up completely) and trying again.

Choice

Opting out is an individual choice. You don’t have to form unions or demonstrations. You don’t need to convince anyone or get violent in the process. You just say no to credit for starters. If you feel evil, you can save your money and join the owner side, which I have done. You can also work to become completely independent of the system which I would like to (this is harder than simply buying into the financial system as it currently exists because you need to make your own system to replace it—this usually takes the form of a self-sufficient homestead.)

This is from Jacob Lund-Fisker’s excellent wide-angle take on the present wage slavery situation.

Warning: contains actual stuff about how banking and usury work.

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