A Handy Acronym

Stephen King says that FEAR stands for “fuck everything and run”.

That is all for today. Class dismissed.

Powysland

Some of you will remember the article we ran in Issue 8 about the work of John Cowper Powys. It was written by Tim Blanchard who has now gone on to write a whole book about JCP, which is now, naturally, in the hands of Unbound. Congratulations, Tim.

John Cowper Powys is something of an Escapological character, so here are some applicable passages from Tim’s manuscript:

We make such a fuss, he said, about the importance of political events, our careers, our finances and all the material things to our happiness, but pay little or no attention to how we think about and feel the world around us. We fill our waking hours with a cacophony of duties and varieties of prescribed leisure and entertainment, and miss out on the many gifts of perception and response.

and:

What mattered most to Powys is what’s been crushed by the relentless wheels of rationality and its systems of education and entertainment: the unimaginably long, slow and patient absorption of being, that relationship between the human mind and the inanimate which was formed among billions of pre-modern minds over thousands of years, and comes to us only as an unnoticed inheritance. Along with it have come many practical abilities – and the capacity for reason itself; but also the larger sense of meaning, of solace, and emotions like kindness, forgiveness, pity, maybe even happiness itself. These “primordial wells of deep delight” have been clogged up, warns Powys. We are destroying in the space of centuries what has taken millennia to build through webs of intricate impressions of places and things. We’re destroying a priceless inheritance, carelessly.

We look forward to the publication of Powysland in 2018.

The Dud Avocado

Our bedtime reading at the moment is The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy. We chose it because we liked the title, the cover and the phrases that jumped out at us in the bookshop.

The book is about a young woman’s decadent period in Paris. The first chapter contains a flashback in which our heroine invites a wealthy uncle to bankroll her two years of freedom.

He agrees but on the proviso that she graduate from college first. It’s a nice passage:

One sees this sort of conversation not infrequently in books of the mid-twentieth century, so I presume they actually happened sometimes.

I wonder why this kind of permissiveness — even with strings attached — is so uncommon today. I mean, what would it cost parents and aunts and uncles to give a much-loved child some freedom?

Expense, I fear, is not the reason: it’s a now-established skepticism towards “doing nothing”. Two years off? But you’ll not be earning! You’ll not be pushing forward! You’ll fall behind! Worse, you might find out about something new and — gasp! — go off-course!

Having said that, how often do we ask? I know never did. Too proud. Too incapable of gratitude. Besides, I’d have been laughed out of the room.

★ If you’d like to re-live the glory days of New Escapologist, please pledge to my Patreon campaign to immediately access 4 new essays (and 4 dusted-off classics) as well as getting a brand new essay at the end of this month. Thanks!

An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 50.

Sorry for not blogging in a little while, lovely readers. I’ve been very lazy and — aside from writing the latest New Escapologist essay — have taken almost a month off. I highly recommended it.

We spent a couple of weeks holidaying in Montreal. It was good to be back in my second home and my wife’s first home. What can a young body do in such beautiful surroundings other than lounge on terasses and balconies and on the lush, green mountain? Very little is what.

We were there ostensibly for my brother- and sister-in-law’s wedding, which they had outdoors in the sunshine followed by a great party indoors with lots of good-quality booze. In fact, it was too much good-quality booze in my case, and I had to mysteriously absent myself from the family brunch the next day.

Later in our stay, we popped into the McCord Museum for an exhibition of original magic show posters. I expertly and repeatedly told my companions that this was the very site on which Houdini — the Master Escapologist, about whom I should know everything by now — took the punch to the guttywuts that would kill him a day later. Not only was I certain of it, I was also sure this fact would be the lynchpin of the whole exhibition. In the event, it was mentioned only at the very end of the show that Houdini was in fact walloped at the no-longer-extant Princess Theatre on St. Catherine Street. How could I have been so wrong? I hope my pub quiz team don’t hear of this or I’ll be ritually (and rightly) paddled for this failing in my special subject.

I was, at least, happy to see a pair of handcuffs used by the Master (labelled “Houdini’s handcuffs” as if he had a favourite pair – in fact he usually took regulation cuffs from local police officers) patented exactly a century before my birth. Cool.


It was very good to be back in this dreamy little island city and I wondered why on earth we ever came back to grey old Scotland. But then I remembered the harsh Montreal winters and how I missed all my friends and how it’s useful to make money every now and then. Bugger.

No sooner were we home in Glasgow did we have to hop on a train to London so I could record one of those online courses for the Idler Academy. It was a nice day of recording in the lovely surroundings of a beagle-filled house on the Thames. As you can see, I worked really hard that day. I’ll let you all know when the course is available (because I’m contractually obliged to).


Also in London, we peeked in at the famous Cereal Killer hipster caff on Brick Lane (where, as we sat in the window, a man selling ice cream from a bicycle-and-cart tutted disdainfully at the absurd cereal restaurant before gaily shouting “ice cream!” from his bicycle seemingly oblivious to the irony) and visited the brilliant Queer British Art show at the Tate (where one of the lovelier paintings, it must be said, is on loan from Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Gallery and we can happily see it whenever we like) and took a pointless but long-anticipated legend-tripping pilgrimage to the actual site of the Enfield poltergeist haunting. Oh! And I was stupidly excited to see the Pesticles statue at Hammersmith.

Home now and fairly knackered. Another month off might beckon.

★ If you’d like to re-live the glory days of New Escapologist, please pledge to my Patreon campaign to immediately access 4 new essays (and 4 dusted-off classics) as well as getting a brand new essay at the end of this month. Thanks!

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Letters to the Editor: The Quanswer

To send a letter to the editor, simply write in. You’ll get a reply and we’ll anonymise any blogged version.

message-in-a-bottle

Hello Robert,

I am an AV Technician — means nothing to me either. The “A” part is for “Audio,” on which I did a course many years ago. I’d set out wanting to learn something about producing my own music in my own studio if I ever got to build one. I never did. Even so, I persevered and got a qualification (woohoo) in something I wasn’t interested in. I suppose I wanted to have a qualification to prove myself to others.

I then came to London in search of a job I didn’t want in radio. I enjoyed working with gifted and talented people and held the first ever internet radio show, so I was in the right place for the wrong reasons. I met someone who told me about AV – and I went on another course to learn about the “V”. I soon felt I was in the wrong place with the wrong reasons. I am still persevering. Why?

A lot of what you say and write, I know already in my mind but am less able to express in words. You seem to do it fine, like Alan Watts or Nietzsche or even Mooji. So here I am, re-assessing what to do work-wise, and your message is resonating. I have at least found a Quanswer (question answer) to my search. So thanks for the website and writings.

Like you, I have attempted stand-up [comedy] a few times and it’s a buzz to bomb and to have some instant creative outlet. I am still attempting it, but its not really the best comedy out there — okay, its one of the worst but I am still enjoying it.

I haven’t really attempted at being a [professional] stand-up or even thought about pursuing it, but after meeting [a famous comedian] I started to look into it. I even did a course here in London (yes, another one. I am so readily conned by courses, yet I get easily bored of study). I find it hard to write and perform my written stuff. So a lot of the times I go out raw and I hit the floor quickly. Hard stuff, but enjoyable. When I compare myself to proper comics, it seems to be about finding that persona – just not sure yet.

All the best,
Michael


Hi Michael. What you’ve experienced is fairly typical. You start with good, creative intentions but then make a series of pragmatic, not-half-bad decisions until you find yourself in a cul-de-sac. If you’ve read my book you’ll know about the life audit. I’d suggest this exercise as a good place to start in figuring out what to do next.

I think what you do in stand-up is more valuable than anything you (or anyone else) will do in AV. It’s art, baby. I’d rather be a shit artist than a great dullard. Here’s an inspiring quote from Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the patron saint of art in my town of Glasgow: “There is hope in honest error, none in the icy perfection of the mere stylist.” I suppose he means it’s better to try something bold and in earnest and to get booed off the stage than to slave away doing a perfect, marketable job of something that doesn’t particularly matter.

Here’s a thought regarding the finding of the comic persona, and also with irresponsible reference to your tendency to be seduced by courses. Why not go on a Gaulier clown course in Paris or Brighton? They teach you to “find your clown”. Loads of great comedians have done it: Nina Conti, Simon Amstell, Dave Thompson.

There. It finally happened. I suggested in earnest to someone that he run away and join the circus.

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Perverted by Language

The company you work for is not your friend. It is not your champion, and despite the messaging in those HR emails, your company is not your family. Your company is a monolith with a singular goal: to make money for its shareholders (or in the case of privately held companies: to make money for its owners). No amount of company softball games, or gym discounts, or trust fall exercises can change that simple fact.

This is excellent. Terrence Doyle on the Orwellian language of employers (and the system at large).

America—especially corporate America—is the land of building shit up, and then immediately tearing shit down once it has lost its polished veneer. America hates a patina. Because it’s a land run by advertising and marketing, the compulsion to abandon perfectly good things has spread like an aggressive cancer into our private lives. Take the term starter home, for example. Buying one home and living in it forever is apparently not good enough—one day you may become a millionaire, and your decent two bedroom ranch just won’t do. Or, you know, buy one house and live in that perfectly good house forever! Do not let corporate lingo—and general Keeping Up With The Jonesing—influence the way you feel about your position in life.

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