I recently completed a five-week contract at a countryside university. While I didn’t appreciate rising at 6:30 each morning, everything else about the contract was surprisingly nice. I liked the people, the work itself, even the commute. It wasn’t the classic inner-city slog thankfully, but a fine swing across open countryside by rail followed by a twenty-minute walk past the tidy shop windows of a small town.
Not all contracts are so nice, but I’m still left feeling that some temp work every now and then could be the lock pick for Escapologists who can’t (or don’t want to) give up employment entirely. Work for three months and, if frugal, take nine for yourself. It’s far less horrible than full-time work, always with a light at the end of the tunnel and a finite, well-defined project to complete in the meantime.
I’m now enjoying a period of languishing at home, where I’m tinkering with New Escapologist Issue 12, listening to a lot of jazz music, and generally having a fine old domestic time of things. Not bad at all.
I’ve accepted more contract work for later in the year, this time for a medical library. While I wouldn’t say anything so ridiculous and dishonest as “I’m looking forward to it,” I don’t feel afraid either and I’m somehow managing to keep feelings of anger and defeat firmly in place. Yes, I’ve been bullied into this whole thing by some ideologically-installed Westminster bureaucrat, but since I’m powerless to fight him I’ll simply ignore him. Besides, the extra money will be nice. Maybe I’ll spend it on an anti-xenophobia or free movement campaign.
These contract jobs mean putting my creative practice into a state of hibernation. I’ll keep the creative heart beating but in a minimalist way, a kind of safe mode. I’ve experienced employment often enough to know that while there may still be hours to write novels, there’s never the necessary energy or willpower or peace of mind. I’m wise enough not to go into this thinking “Hey, I’m strong enough to do both at once and have a social life!” It’ll never happen. So I’ve battened down the hatches by planning to do only what I know I’ll find manageable.
To start with, I’ve a long overdue need to send manuscripts and enquiry letters to publishers and agents. There will be promotional work to do for the new book too. This is the kind of work I too often fail to do in the land of the free. It always feels like such a chore. But since I’ll be getting paid to cheerfully push bullshit around all day anyway, I’ll be in the right state of mind to tackle such things. Operation Dung Beetle.
For actual writing, I’ve been keeping a private Nature Diary since April and I intend to continue it ’til next April. It’s a manageable amount of writing: just a few hundred observational words per day. I hope to edit it into a book, a sort of Escapological novel, once the year of contract work is over. Nature Diary of a City Slicker will likely be my next book (2017) after Escape Everything!
My general feeling as I write this in a sunny apartment (the lease on which we extended yesterday when landlady Heather popped in) on the leafy and pedestrianized West End street we share with art students and foxes, is thankfully, of everything being under control.
Yes, despite everything, I feel in control. I think this is down to the “batten down the hatches” attitude and not putting myself in a position of feeling overwhelmed. I highly recommend it.
As a teenager, I worked in a large music-and-video store. Part of my self-imposed work ethic was to keep the cargo bay empty. When a delivery came, I made it a priority to get it priced and onto the shelves or into the overflow warehouse immediately. An empty cargo bay meant we could tackle any delivery that came in, no matter how big or how complicated. Nothing could take us by surprise. We could take on all-comers. That’s how I feel today: in control, stripped back, versatile, ready. And it’s not bad.
Industriousness has served as America’s unofficial religion since its founding. The sanctity and preeminence of work lie at the heart of the country’s politics, economics, and social interactions. What might happen if work goes away?
This is from an interesting (if extremely long) article in the Atlantic, with very cool photos from a post-work future museum.
It starts with the kind of will-technology-make-human-workers-obsolete discussion we’ve seen before but goes on to an intelligent exploration of the post-work future, what challenges our work-obsessed society will face should we reach such a point, and how we might “recover” from it.
New Escapologist, like the “post-workists” mentioned in the article, is occasionally seen by its critics as insensitive for rooting for a world without employment in that so many people wouldn’t know what to do in such a world; that without being forced into a labour market through fear of poverty or complete loss of social status, we’d all just drift around aimlessly, occasionally stopping to puzzle over the “clunk” sound our heads make when they bump into each other.
My feeling is that New Escapologist has more respect for people’s agency than the critic who accuses us of insensitivity: we believe people will find ways to fill the gap left by the removal of work. The people of history had quite full lives before being corralled and morally-blackmailed into joining to the workforce during the Reformation and one way or another we’ll relearn how to occupy ourselves when the Protestant work ethic is more widely accepted as obsolete.
Alas, a study referred to by the Atlantic suggests that most Americans, when freed one way or another from the workforce, fill their time with television, browsing the Internet and sleep. Aside from this data, immersive video gaming is offered as as a genuine suggestion. So maybe it’s true. Maybe the critics are right and the majority of us is genuinely unable to occupy ourselves in a worthwhile fashion without being cattle-prodded into an office or a factory each morning.
To the non-working public I say this: are you going to prove right these patronizing naysayers or are you going to prove right New Escapologist and the post-workists, who have respect for your imagination, agency and willpower?
Post-workists are certainly right about some important things. Paid labor does not always map to social good. Raising children and caring for the sick is essential work, and these jobs are compensated poorly or not at all. In a post-work society […] people might spend more time caring for their families and neighbors; pride could come from our relationships rather than from our careers.
The post-work proponents acknowledge that, even in the best post-work scenarios, pride and jealousy will persevere, because reputation will always be scarce, even in an economy of abundance. But with the right government provisions, they believe, the end of wage labor will allow for a golden age of well-being. [Post-workist writer] Hunnicutt said he thinks colleges could reemerge as cultural centers rather than job-prep institutions. The word school, he pointed out, comes from skholē, the Greek word for “leisure.” “We used to teach people to be free,” he said. “Now we teach them to work.”
Posted by Lentus Ambulandus
“To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.”
Henry David Thoreau, urging us to walk the walk. To move beyond the mere contemplation of escape, to discard our subtle thoughts in favour of action, and to live according to the principles of Escapology.