Escape Everything! is frustratingly hard to get at the moment. In preparation for a paperback release, it’s no longer being distributed. Additionally, the paperback’s release has been pushed back to January thanks to Coronavirus.
There are some crazily high-priced copies for sale on various online marketplaces, but please don’t spend fifty quid on it. If you would like to buy Escape Everything!, the best way is to buy the hardback directly from our shop, or get the eBook version from the publisher, or look out for a used copy on eBay.
Actually, the phrase is “towels are for pussies” but I won’t use that version myself because, well, it’s a bit sexist, isn’t it? In its defence, the phrase was coined by a woman for the benefit of another woman with no men for miles around. And, now I come to think of it, it probably has a double meaning relating to sanitary towels, doesn’t it? But hey ho.
Oh! By “hey ho,” I didn’t mean…
Towels are for wusses.
“Towels are for pussies” is what the author’s sister used to say after they went swimming together in a natural lake. Drying off with a towel, when you could dry slowly and naturally in the sun, is bourgeois and hoity-toity. Not taking a dip just because you don’t have a towel is a failure to seize life.
The phrase stuck with me. Not only does the phrase fleet across my mind almost every day when drying off after a shower, it comes to mind whenever I think, “oh, I can’t do X right now because I don’t have X.”
Forget about X! Let nature handle it! Or at the very least, improvise.
For ages now, in the kitchen, I’ve been using a small coffee cup as a ladle. I don’t know why I don’t have a ladle. I suspect I once had one but either lost it or (if it was plastic) melted it.
I know I once intended to get a ladle but I kept forgetting, and my improvised replacement (the cup) does the job just fine. In fact, over time, I have become accustomed to thinking of that cup as a unit of measurement. Ladles, like towels apprently, are for wusses.
All I’m saying, I suppose, is that a certain kind of creative thinking or biting the bullet can be equal to (and, sometimes, preferable to) resorting to a commercial solution. Whether your surroundings are natural, domestic or otherwise, just use what’s around instead of delaying until you can go shopping for yet another thing.
I stumbled upon this interesting paragraph by Poe. The American writer, of course. Not the Teletubby.
It’s from his short story, The Domain of Arnheim in which the protagonist inherits a fortune and suddenly has the space and time to assess what is important in life:
He admitted but four elementary principles, or, more strictly, conditions, of bliss. That which he considered chief was (strange to say!) the simple and purely physical one of free exercise in the open air. ‘The health,’ he said, ‘attainable by other means is scarcely worth the name.’ He instanced the ecstasies of the fox-hunter, and pointed to the tillers of the earth, the only people who, as a class, can be fairly considered happier than others. His second condition was [romantic love]. His third, and most difficult of realization, was the contempt of ambition. His fourth was an object of unceasing pursuit; and he held that, other things being equal, the extent of attainable happiness was in proportion to the spirituality of this object.
Health, love, contempt for ambition, and the lifelong pursuit of something wonderful. They’re remarkably similar to our own good life tenets, aren’t they? This should not be a surprise. In Escape Everything! and the forthcoming The Good Life for Wage Slaves, I make the point that these “conditions of bliss” as Poe calls them are actually rather obvious and are present in all kinds of perfectly mainstream religious and cultural and philosophical system. They’re even present in Hollywood movies. The mystery is that people overlook them all the time or reach them through such an archaic and indirect manner as to lose sight of them for years and years and years.
Especially interesting in Poe’s protagonist’s view are his contempt for ambition vs. lifelong pursuit. Might one not say that the lifelong pursuit requires ambition? Is this not a contradiction?
My read is that the former is a matter “career ambition” (to be escaped) while the latter is something quieter and more personal (to be honed and inched towards over a lifetime). I do wonder sometimes about my own ambition to publish books and which of those two categories it might fall into. Am I a career writer now? Or is the writing just the export wing of something more important? I think it falls into the latter category but it certainly bares scrutiny and I’d like to test it a little more.
I recently read a book called Conundrum by Jan Morris, a travel writer who transitioned from male to female in the 1970s. One of the preserves of masculinity she sought to escape was career and what she called “public life” (i.e. business and politics). I don’t agree that these are “male” things at all, but that’s how she saw it in the 1970s. The point is that she specifically excluded a quiet life of domesticity, independent travel, and book writing from the grasping, empire-building world of careerism. And she escaped.
Jan Morris’ point of view is only one citation in favour of what I’m probably trying to justify, admittedly.
Meanwhile, Poe’s other point about exercise as a byproduct of doing something else will ring hollow in the ears of friend Reggie who, last week, tore a ligament after using an exercise bike. We’re thinking of you, Reggie!
The idea that office life is over is almost certainly overdone. Not everyone loves typing away on the sofa day after day, panicking about being out of the corporate loop.
Bloody hell. Imagine “panicking about being out of the corporate loop.” Excuse me while I fill a whole bucket with sick.
But for those lucky enough to have the choice to work from home, the collective near-death experience we’ve endured as a nation may be prompting a re-evaluation of what matters. Commuter dads [for instance] who once rarely saw their children awake have got used to the casual intimacy of being around them all day long.
Nope. Sorry. I’m going to need another bucket. Not for the sentiment (which I agree with) but for the phrase, “commuter dads.”
Don’t worry, things improve. The columnist asks if office life will soon be a thing of the pre-pandemic past. Spoiler: it won’t be, but some Escapologist-pleasing changes might yet be afoot.
The piece goes on to describe some of the post-lockdown measures currently being proposed to revolutionise working practices in light of the need for social distancing. Among them are a wonky but surely beneficial “four days on, ten days off” modality and our old friend, the Four-Day Week.
Personally, I’d settle for the sort of open-ended furlough for workers (and non-workers) of all stripes in the form of UBI. Eh, readers?
Forget idling. The new word for taking it easy is “lampin’.”
It comes from J. B. Smoove’s character on the always-brilliant Curb Your Enthusiasm.
As part of a singular explanation of how “lampin'” made it onto the show (and in which he gives us the additional treasures of “cold lampin'” and “Lamptons” almost inadvertently), Smoove explains:
I told him the difference between chillin’ and lampin. If you’re chillin’, you could be standing up chillin’; if you’re lampin, you’re laying the fuck back.
So now you know.
Oddly enough, Curb is responsible for another pro-doing-nothing phrase: “I’m in my sweats!”
It’s yet to take off in the way of lampin’ but it’s almost as good. Larry blows into Jeff’s house, insisting that he help with a crisis, but Jeff is already in his pajamas. “I’M IN MY SWEATS!” he shouts, and will not be moved. It’s an immutable law. Once you’re you’re in your sweats, you’re done for the day.
Some days, I never even get out of my sweats to begin with.
To help promote the German book, I was asked to put together a short playlist of work-related songs for social media. Here’s the list. The German for “work songs” is apparently Arbeitslieder. Cool.
So here are five top songs about work. I’ve tried to pick some slightly less obvious stuff so you won’t see like Dolly Parton’s 9-5 on this list.
5. The Fall: Couldn’t Get Ahead. I’ve been a fan of The Fall since 2005, so I’m a relative newcomer. But as time marches on, I become more and more obsessed. This song, from their 1985 album, “This Nation’s Saving Grace,” uses the phrase “couldn’t get ahead,” which is used by managerial executive types to describe their struggle towards productivity, but the other lyrics just seem to be about spending wages, getting drunk, and falling into a bush. I used to play it at the office all the time.
4. International Noise Conspiracy: Abolish Work. This song from Swedish rock band, INC, is clearly based on “The Abolition of Work,” a 1988 essay by Anarchist intellectual Bob Black. Half of my own work rips off Bob Black too, so this record is a kindred spirit:
3. Tom Waits: Kommienezuspadt. This is from Waits’ “Alice,” album which is a soundtrack to a play of the same name. I have no idea what the play is about and I don’t care, but I’ve always assumed it to be a dark rendition of Alice Through the Looking Glass. My interpretation of this song is that it represents the White Rabbit (“And we can’t be late!”) dragging us into a mechanical, factory-like underworld, which is how I feel whenever I have to go to work. (Tom Waits also gave us Can’t Wait to Get Off Work but that is not the record I want to champion today).
2. Sparks: At Home, At Work, At Play. This song is about being busy to the point of absurdity. The lyrics make me laugh: “Time really flies when it ain’t that much time / You better shave half your face at a time / And brush the front of your teeth, leave the rest.”
1. Louis Armstrong: Lazy Bones. This old 1955 song is like a magic spell to me. If I’m ever feeling ambitious or if under the false enchantment of money or business, I put this record on. It calms me down and reminds me that you don’t need anything more than you have already and that life is better when you’re lazy.
0. Oh, go on then. Here’s Dolly:
Robert Wringham’s Das Gute Leben is a book about work and life. It was released this month by Heyne Hardcore.
I don’t know if you can still remember me but we started the last year together at S’s New Year’s Eve party and had a short but great conversation about the possibilities of living a free life. You might know me as the German gypsy with the mustache. 🙂
When I was back in Germany after our meeting I immediately got your book. It was a lot of fun to read and you write with a great style. It encouraged me to do what I had planned to do anyway: quit my job, buy an old camper van and drive around with my girlfriend.
I’d also like to have more time to realize the dream that you have already made come true: to write books (I’m working on it). I also mean to make more music again. And to teach people in workshops the method of mindfulness, which is very valuable for me to gain inner freedom and enjoy life.
I wanted to say thank you for the energy that your book and our meeting gave me back then. I now live with my girlfriend in an apartment in Berlin-Kreuzberg (when we are not travelling with our camper van).
Ah, that is a good life. Seeing the world with a loved one, writing books and making music. You win!
Sigh. Remember parties though? Under lockdown, they feel like something from another age. Rest assured, we will party again. It will feel uncanny at first and we’ll all shuffle around, unsure if hand-shaking or cheek-kissing were ever even a thing, but we’ll get over it.
Something I like about the Tiny House videos on YouTube is the diversity of the stories being told. People who end up building or buying these tiny houses all come to it from different directions.
(In fact, this was something I used to like about New Escapologist as a magazine too. We’d receive writing from stock marketeers and dumpster divers, digital evangelists and technophobe shed dwellers: all arriving at the crossroads of magazine with the idea of escaping The Trap).
With the Tiny House movement, some people arrive through misfortune, others are choosing it proactively. Some have arrived because they’re 25 and don’t want to embark on a life of Wage Slavery, while others have already lost thousands of hours to it and have sold up in favour of cash in the bank and early retirement.
Others (my secret faves) arrive on points of ecological principle. They usually build homes from trash to make a point about waste or build an off-grid home to absent themselves from the ecologically costly business of work and consumerism.
The woman in this video has set up (for barely any money) an ecohouse and completely escaped. It’s extreme but she’s clearly happy and, like the hermits and vagabonds I mentioned in Escape Everything!, she demonstrates to us that something is possible. We don’t have to live lives of quiet despair if we’re determined and resourceful and clever, and when we open our hearts to what others would see as radical but is in fact something closer to the natural state.
I admire her attitude and worldview even more than what she’s achieved materially. She describes the world of work and consumerism not as “the real world” but as “The Madness – because it’s not real,” and she says it with admirable and clearly-tested conviction.
She also describes herself as a “conscientious objector to so many things.” I’ve never quite seen it put that way before, but it’s correct, isn’t it? One can say, “I will not be a part of this,” and then, peacefully, quietly… go.
Another thrilling escape story from that “fuck you and your job” forum thread:
I stormed off upstairs, put on my jacket and strode out of there. [The supermarket check-out manager] spotted me walking out and appeared concerned, saying, “He’s leaving, he’s leaving.”
I received a call and voicemail from the admin staff, asking to come back because I hadn’t clocked out. I officially left the following day.
Funnily enough, I was in there last week and noticed most of the tills have been replaced by self-service checkouts; they possibly added few more since the penultimate time I was there (about a year ago). I think there originally were about twelve tills, now it’s four.
The tills were fucking tedious. Relentlessly scanning food along over and over for several hours was a nightmare. If an item wouldn’t scan through on more than one attempt, the alternative was to type in a 30-digit code as an impatient customer stared at me. This put enough pressure on me to mistype the fucker and start again.
I give this story a special mention to lend slight additional credence to my (rightly) disputed claim that supermarket checkout work is horrible and deserves be automated into oblivion.
The poster’s remark about having to manually type the illegible barcode numbers? I am no stranger to that. A notable occurrence of this embarrassing form of workplace torture involved the Cadbury[‘s] Creme Egg.
Unless something has changed in the fifteen or so years since I worked a cash register, the barcode of a Creme Egg cannot be scanned on account of the foil-wrap packaging being all crinkly and deformed, and the product itself being, well, egg-shaped.
The barcode number for a Cadbury’s Creme Egg is 50201600. I vividly remember this number (“Five-Oh, Two-Oh, One-Six, Oh-Oh”) from having to type it into the cash register manually some thousands of times. It is tattooed on my brain. It is a scar. I wonder if I could sue the company for an on-the-job injury?
Occasionally, when I’m in a shop, I pick up one of these sludge-filled ovoid sweetmeats and peek at the barcode, weirdly nostalgic to confirm that the number is still the same after all these years.
Oh, this is fun. A forum thread of clever, grumpy comedy fans discussing times they (and others) have quit jobs in style.
A terminally unemployed mate who finally decided to join the rest of us at the only place nearby that was offering paid work at the time, a huge greenhouse growing tomatoes, aubergines and the like. We were very encouraged that he had taken this important step and confident that it would be the springboard that set him on the right path in life.
Day one: morning break, he was in the corner of the canteen almost scratching his entire face off as his various skin complaints had flared up in the heat and turned his head into a giant flakey raspberry.
Day one: lunch break, he wasn’t there. I later found out he got stung on the arse by a wasp and told his line manager to go and fuck himself.
Another poster gives us an additional link to even more stories of gorgeous walk-outs:
I worked […] at a mismanaged grocery chain that is now out of business. I was a cashier but they had a 16-year-old girl working behind the fish counter (which was illegal) and who was not being paid properly for the work she was doing (because she wasn’t supposed to be doing it!).
On Sunday, the beginning of the pay period, she clocked in, wrote I QUIT in cod, haddock, and tilapia filets in the seafood counter, and clocked out. She framed a photo of her masterwork and her last paycheck for $2 and hung it in her bedroom.