Thanks to reader T for recommending Vivarium in which a young couple go shopping for a house… forever. Bwahaha, etc.
The film has a 5.8 rating on IMDB and even my favourite film critics, Mike and Jay, who are normally open to Twilight Zone– and Star Trek-like conceits, gave it a lukewarm reception. But it’s pretty good! It captures the fear of spooky suburbia quite well for me.
It is Escapological in that the characters are literally trying to escape a situation, but it’s also about a fear of mediocrity and settling and the pressure to embrace the suburban, boomerish dream.
It probably rings especially true to people with kids or those who feel a pressure from others to reproduce. In the film, the couple’s baby is delivered to them in a cardboard box as if from Amazon. The baby grows supernaturally quickly into a superbly creepy child to whom they struggle to relate. They don’t really know where the child came from or how it grows so fast or what kind of person or situation perpetuator it’s turning into.
I like also that the new suburban development to which they’re moving is called “Yonder.” As in, “over there,” “out of it,” a name grounded in the thinking of the Escapologist who wants out of The Trap or the system but doesn’t want to leave urban life completely.
“Quarantine has forced me to slow down in ways I haven’t since I was a kid. From high school and college, through my 20s and a master’s program, I have been on the go constantly for half my life. I always said I was one who liked to be busy, but the last two months of forced slowdown has really called on me to think about what I want my life to look like.”
Reader Antiona draws our attention to the findings of a Vox magazine reader survey about the lockdown habits worth preserving once lockdown is over.
Such habits include consuming less, slowing down, prioritising relationships, finding the time for ethical action, taking regular exercise, cooking properly, spending more time in nature, and working from home.
Well, that’s the practically identical to our own decade-old ideas about how to live well! Good to see the world catching up. Again.
You might remember from Escape Everything! that the same conclusions are usually drawn by people approaching the end of their lives and my saying something like “it shouldn’t take an existential crisis to come to these conclusions.”
This may be so, but crisis certainly puts a flame under people’s bottoms and makes everyone reassess what’s important, what should be rescued from the burning building. All I’ll say now is: don’t forget about these important things until the next crisis.
Don’t let a return to work and the reopening of non-essential shops eclipse this all-important crisis-baked knowledge.
I like walking. You can stop and look at menus in restaurant windows and make eye contact with dogs. If you stay vigilant, you can pick up a surprising number of stray quarters. But most walks are not adventures. Most walks are to the grocery store to pick up diced tomatoes. I would like to say I am perpetually enchanted anyway, because I think that would be a testament to my character — She just finds magic everywhere she goes! — but I’m not. That is why I need the coffee.
I tend not to walk with coffee. Just as I tend to horse my popcorn before the movie starts so that I can concentrate on the film, I drink my coffee before I go walking. I find it a distraction from what I want from walking.
However! I enjoyed this article (brought to my attention by McKinley) about the joys of walking with coffee. The author clearly enjoys it as an activity and her enthusiasm is delightful. She also makes nice points about walking and coffee independent of each other. Most importantly, I just like essays about simple things, especially when they’re in the area of “quotidian sensory experiences.” It’s like something from Jerome K. Jerome’s Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow. Just lovely.
Walking doesn’t improve the taste of coffee, but coffee improves the experience of being in the world. It blunts the harsher edges. Without coffee, there is “public space” and “private space.” With coffee, the whole city is your living room.
As a long-time supporter and fan of New Escapologist (and Escape Everything!, which I re-read periodically), I thought of you as I watched a film last night and am writing to share the details in case you and your readers fancy watching it too.
Vivarium (2019) is a dystopian critique of the suburban dream. The Guardian gave it four stars which I think is about right, if for no other reason than I’m still thinking about its dark message today.
I became acquainted with New Escapologist while I was still in corporate servitude. It planted a seed, nurtured further by Escape Everything!, that over time grew into an urge to leave it all behind.
I have since left employment, sold virtually all my possessions and moved from Australia to England with my partner (I’m British by birth but they are Australian) to live in a small but stylish one-bedroom flat in [a non-capital city]. We laugh, darkly, that we are climate refugees and find the UK climate more agreeable than the searing heat of an Australian summer. Our friends viewed it all with a combination of pity and scorn.
I have never once regretted doing it because I can now concentrate on perfecting minimalist living, making art and hoping that Covid-19 might trigger a lasting change in the way the world operates. I fear that I’m being overly optimistic on that last point.
Thank you for everything you do.
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.