Here comes the slow stepper. New Escapologist Issue Eleven: Small is Beautiful.
Featuring Justin Reynolds on William Morris, Neil Scott on Russell Brand’s revolution; Tania O’Donnell on book excerpts, a new story by Ian Macpherson; Robert Wringham on E.F. Schumacher and a beautified reprint of Bob Black’s important 1985 essay The Abolition of Work. 96 pages. £6 / €7.80 / US$10 / C$10
Now available in the shop. Subscriber copies will be dispatched soon.
On a recent flight, I felt a strange compulsion to peruse the shopping magazine “conveniently located in the seat pocket in front of me”.
It was the Christmas edition, and as I flipped through it, I recalled my childhood in rural Canada. Each November, my brother and I would comb the pages of the Sears Christmas catalogue, carefully highlighting the toys that we wanted. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were subjecting ourselves–and our parents–to a huge marketing scam, founded on guilt.
I like to think I’m wiser now. And the shopping magazine served as a hilarious proxy for the non-existent in-flight entertainment system.
For what home is complete without a 21-inch, 19-pound Santa table, at the very reasonable price of $129.00?
Or, for the nature lover, nothing says “Yuletide” like this 6-foot tall, plastic pop-up poinsettia tree. Yours for just $129.99.
And for the Ukrainian in your gift-giving circle, this little gem. Please don’t confuse it with an amputated, bronzed ear…it’s actually a fake dumpling.
I’m increasingly amazed/amused/dismayed at the sheer volume of crap being relentlessly peddled. Christmas, of course, is Exhibit A of mindless consumerism. We’re subconsciously ransomed into spending our money on mass-produced plastic decorations, and on gifts purchased at the last minute when our pre-Christmas angst finally forces our hand.
To fight this tendency, my wife and I have binned or donated 99% of our accumulated Christmas junk…there’s no tree, no lights, no Santa table, and no plastic pierogis chez Gagne. We have, however, retained the important parts of Christmas: food, friends, family.
We hold a secret gift exchange each year: names are picked from a hat, everyone gets one gift, and there’s a $30 limit. It tends to work better when it’s not just the two of us. I usually give books that I think will hold meaning for the recipient. Failing that, I make sure they hold meaning for me. This year, “someone” is getting Thoreau and Seneca.
My friend Izzy, a dedicated Escapologist from the UK who quit everything a couple of years ago to travel, has taken it a step further. She wrote to me recently about the simplicity of Christmas on the road, and the lasting impact that had:
I loved the fact that I didn’t have to write 100 cards, lick all those yucky envelopes, buy all those expensive stamps, or traipse round shops looking for things in desperate hope that people might want or need them, and, best of all, not getting in return a pile of tat (mostly) that I neither wanted or needed. So when we got home, I simply decided not to do it any more. I just send an email around saying “happy whatever you are celebrating this month” and give a donation to charity (one for the homeless).
I think Izzy nails it. We buy things for people because it’s expected, or because we’ll look bad and/or feel guilty if we don’t. If I’m honest about the gifts I’ve received over the years, I neither wanted nor needed them. Acknowledging that, I certainly wouldn’t want my loved ones to waste their time, money, and emotional energy on a gift for me.
What if everyone else feels the same way? Could it be that we’ve all been duped, and Christmas is just one big scam? It’s worth considering.
And since you’re probably well behind on your Christmas shopping, here’s a suggestion that will make life easier for you. This year, share the gift of leadership with your family and friends.
Take a stand and say NO! to gifts.
Making changes to our online shop is always an adventure. Such a fiddly and complicated business, after which I’m invariably moved to fix a stiff beverage.
Be that as it may, I’m proud to draw your attention to our new back issue packages. Gone is the old “complete back catalogue” offer (with eleven issues under our belt, it became a rather expensive product) and in its place are two new bundles: Issues 1-7 (£35) and Issues 8-11 (£22).
Far more affordable in every instance, I think you’ll agree. The bundles are also 10% cheaper than buying each issue individually.
The keen-eyed among you will have noticed my reference above to eleven issues rather than the factually extant ten. That’s because Issue Eleven: Small is Beautiful is almost ready to go, earmarked for release on December
I chose to forego the usual pre-ordering process on Issue Eleven, so you can’t actually order it yet unless you cleverly buy the aforementioned 8-11 bundle. Why so? I’m already up to my eyeballs in expectational debt over the book (now 68% funded!). Instead, I’ll let you know as soon as Eleven’s available.
Seasons Greetings, everyone! Ho Ho Ho etc!
Our print magazine doesn’t have a “letters to the editor” section. I long ago chose to shun the usual magazine ephemera (news, reviews, letters, ads) in favour of evergreen essays, opinions and stories.
I stand by this decision because it means our content can properly engage instead of distract, and also that our mags are still readable and relevant long after publication.
Still, I sometimes wonder if a “letters to the editor” section wouldn’t provide a sense of community around New Escapologist. It would confirm that there are other Escapologists out there: some successful, others struggling, but all with the shared and uncommon tendency to take escape seriously.
Well, luckily we have the blog. If you’d like to submit a Letter to the Editor, feel free to get in touch. Just let me know if you’re happy for it to appear on the blog.
Here’s our first LttE.
Good morning/afternoon Rob,
I’m extremely excited to dive into the back issues. I’ve been a follower of your blog for some time and have experienced a complete 180 in my mindset over the past 1-2 years in regards to escaping it all!
I am actually a Certified Public Accountant in the USA located in one of the wealthiest parts of the country. The way I was raised and the things I have noticed as I’ve matured have caused me to rethink my whole mentality and what it means to “Live the American Dream”.
Seeing countless “wealthy” individuals in my hometown driving the luxury automobiles and building the $1-million+ mansions, all the while being shackled to creditors and ultimately their desks, has forced me to rethink my direction in life and strive to focus on something more fulfilling than punching the time card, taking a paycheck and keeping up with the Joneses.
Thankfully, I have been able to share my new attitude with many of my friends and colleagues in the hopes of helping them to revamp their total fiscal mindset (and not the typical tax advice that a larger mortgage/interest helps for taxes).
However, as I’ve become more open about my thoughts, plans, new mindset, I’ve met with a strange reaction. I’m being perceived as the “weird” one! It has actually been completely entertaining to see people’s reactions and their defense of the current system.
Anyway, I’m sorry to ramble. My point is that I am excited to read more and would be very interested in helping you and/or contributing to your mission if there is a need. I am not looking for compensation, only for a way to express my thoughts and research and/or to help refine others’ similar thoughts/research.
Thank you again,
Dear L. Thank you for writing in. I like the quotation marks you put on “wealthy”, especially given your job as an accountant to the American rich. Since coming to Canada, I’ve met a lot of these “wealthy” suburban types and it’s hard to see how they’re anything of the sort. If they’re in debt to creditors, it doesn’t matter how big or well-appointed their house is. Surely purchasing power isn’t the same thing as wealth, even in the world of finance. It can’t be healthy. For my sins, I went to an event at the Ritz recently and rubbed shoulders with multi-millionaires. They’re all insane, incapable of intelligible conversation or even dressing themselves properly. I can only imagine they’ve been driven mad with anxiety over the vast sums of credit (Mirror Universe money) they’re handling.
If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.
Nothing should be made by man’s labour which is not worth making, or which must be made by labour degrading to the makers.
My friend June Thunderstorm and I once spent a half an hour sitting in a meadow by a mountain lake, watching an inchworm dangle from the top of a stalk of grass, twist about in every possible direction, and then leap to the next stalk and do the same thing. And so it proceeded, in a vast circle, with what must have been a vast expenditure of energy, for what seemed like absolutely no reason at all.
This is David Graeber on the “play principle at the basis of all physical reality”.
The idea is that everything we do in nature has a play ethic at the heart of it. Only under capitalism (or at least utilitarianism) has this become perverted by the economic imperative.
Remember Will Self’s advice:
Just breath. Walk. Think. Meditate. I really, really urge you to get out and have a decent walk, preferably to a random destination, one that is not economically compelled. That’s all I really have to say to you.
Do something just for fun, if not everything.
“If your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book, I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary,” said Tim Kreider in 2012, his point being that most modern jobs are as pointless as they are dull.
Well, Tom the Dancing Bug has responded by showing how a Richard Scarry book might look if Busytown had been populated by the kind of dot-eyed, uncreative twerps they’d like us to be.
Remember, this is not inevitable! You can do anything you fancy! Life is absurd! You are free!
Part 0 provided background.
Part 1 discussed the benefits of planning.
Part 2 established your long-term aim: what does it means to live well?
Part 3 showed you how to analyze the relevant aspects of your situation.
Part 4 presented ways to compare potential courses of action.
And here we are. The final post!
So…your overarching aim is to live well. You’ve identified what you want that to look like. And, having thought long and hard, you’ve decided upon the best course of action for getting from here to there.
Surely that’s it…
There’s one more step to complete in order to achieve escapological planning nirvana: you need to actually articulate your action plan. How–in terms of resource allocation, sequencing, and prioritization–are you going to carry out your selected course of action? Think of this as your mission statement, a manifesto-style declaration.
The Elements of a Plan
Borrowing from Part 1, here’s an example of how such a declaration might read:
My aim is to live well through simplicity, self-sufficiency and community involvement. I will achieve this by embarking upon an ambitious plan to become an organic farmer, as follows:
Phase 1: I’ll optimize my finances by maintaining my current job, by embracing scorched-earth minimalism, and by focusing only on core leisure activities.
Phase 2: I’ll quit my job, I’ll move to a place conducive to my long-term goal of self-sufficiency, and I’ll find interim work that pays the bills. No later than July 1, 2017 I’ll purchase a small parcel of land.
Phase 3: I’ll develop an organic farm and I’ll turn my attention to being a productive member of my local community.
Common to all phases is the maintenance of my fitness and my close relationships, because without those things, I am nothing.
My main effort is the accumulation of savings for the purpose of buying land.
My desired end state is to produce 50% of my family’s food consumption on my farm, and to be a positive force within my circle of influence.
You’ll note the following characteristics, which I consider essential to any plan:
1. A statement of your overarching aim and the enduring effects that you want to achieve.
2. A clear statement of your selected course of action.
3. Broad sequencing of events, or phasing, with dates if possible. Does one thing have to happen before another? Does one aspect of your plan depend on the completion of another? Are there important aspects of your plan that are common to all phases? State them.
4. Prioritization in the form of a stated main effort. This is what you’ll focus your attention and effort on when you have to prioritize among competing activities. It’s likely the lynchpin to your whole plan: fail at this portion of your plan, and the rest cannot happen.
5. A clear and measurable end state. This is the performance metric by which you’ll judge your success. [The end state above is lacking, somewhat, in that “positive force within my circle of influence” is not measurable.]
6. Every aspect of the plan should be there for a reason. After all the analysis you’ve done, there should be nothing in your plan for which there isn’t an explanation, and a trail of bread crumbs leading back to earlier steps in the process.
7. Most importantly, it needs to be a bold statement of intent. When the going gets tough (and it usually does at some point) you want this to be something you can refer back to. “Where am I going? Ah, right. Back on track.”
The Planning Cycle
No plan is forever, and no plan survives contact with reality (as they say). If your analysis was sound, your plan will be robust. It will withstand a certain degree of change. But…but…life happens, and from time to time, you will be confronted with what is known as a significant change to the situation (“honey, I’m pregnant” or “man…farming actually sucks!”). This will, of course, require a plan revision. Which is okay, because you’ll be starting from a position of strength and knowledge.
Even in the absence of significant change, you should review and revalidate your plan on a regular basis. Maybe tweak things a bit. Are you assumptions still valid? Do you have new information? Are things as you thought they were? My wife and I actually take time to formally review our plan on a quarterly basis. Wine and spreadsheets…a winning combination.
It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. (Seneca)
I think it’s important that we take time to think about life. Sooner, rather than later. We all have this inner dialogue running in the background, about what’s important, what we want out of life, where we are, and where we want to go. We should strive to bring that conversation forward, and to actually have it with ourselves and with our loved ones, deliberately and proactively. That’s what this series has been about. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.
Alas, by the time the magazine is in your hands, the exhibition will be almost over. So I’m mentioning it now.
William Morris: Anarchy and Beauty will be at the National Portrait Gallery until 11th January 2015. Sounds like it might be worth a look if you’re nearby.
Part 0 provided background.
Part 1 discussed the benefits of planning, and outlined the process.
Part 2 focused on your long-term aim: what does it means to live well, and what are the desired effects that you want to achieve?
Part 3 showed you how to conduct an analysis of relevant factors.
If you haven’t read the preceding instalments, please do so, otherwise this one won’t make much sense to you.
But assuming you have read them, and done some thinking along the way, you may now find yourself at a fork in the road. Having determined what it means (for you) to live well, and having analyzed the factors relevant to your situation, you might be thinking of several possible courses of action. The next task is to compare those different alternatives, and select the one that’s best for you.
A Few Thoughts About The Way Forward
When I refer to a course of action, or COA, I’m talking about a possible way forward to achieving the desired effects that you’ve outlined for yourself, and thus, the good life. Returning to the previous posts in the series, we considered an escapologist who wanted a life of independence, simplicity, and health, and figured they might achieve those effects by owning an organic farm. Farming is an option, but only one of many. COA 1: Organic Farm would need to be compared against the other COAs that our fictional escapologist developed during their analysis.
Your COAs may be drastically different from one another. Or they may be variations on a theme, with differences related to timing, the sequence of actions, and so on. If all of your proposed COAs are along a similar vein, it probably means you have a pretty good idea of what you want to achieve, but lack the nuts and bolts of a detailed plan. COA 1: Clean Kill might be the high-risk option whereby you quit your job today and immediately start farming. COA 2: Water Torture might be the more measured approach, where you maintain your shitty job for a few more years and take farming courses in your spare time.
One COA you should always consider is the status quo. This is important, I think, because your analysis may well have shone a positive light on your life, or aspects of it that you want to maintain. Conversely, if the status quo isn’t what you want, then including it among COAs for comparison will surely be the final nail in its coffin.
Finally, much of the discussion thus far has centred on the means by which we make money, be it employment or some other endeavour. While work is a significant part of our lives, it’s not the only part, and the COAs you consider don’t necessarily have to contain a work component.
My preferred way to compare COAs is to use a matrix with some sort of scoring mechanism. I list my COAs across the top, and list the assessment criteria down the side.
What assessment criteria should you use? Whatever you think makes sense. As a minimum, I’d advise you to ask yourself the following questions:
How effective will this COA be? Assuming all COAs have equal probability of success, how do they stack up against each other in terms of achieving your desired effects?
How quickly can this COA be implemented? And is this important?
How likely is this COA to be successful? How much risk is there? How much of the COA in question is dependent on others, or on chance?
How much ass pain does this COA involve? Because if it’s going to be a lot of work, and cause a lot of stress, what’s the point?
You could use a numerical score (1 = low ass pain, 5 = yer killin me), or you could use a ranking system (of all the COAs under consideration, which involved the greatest ass pain? the next greatest? and so on). Both have their merits, so try both systems and see what you come up with. If one criterion is more important than the rest, consider a weighting system.
To demonstrate how this works, let’s return to our fellow escapologist who wants a greater degree of financial freedom, good health, and a simple life. But imagine, if you will, that their analysis led them to consider three vastly different COAs: 1) organic farmer; 2) minimalist urban barista; and 3) bohemian writer.
Here’s how the comparison might look:
If our notional escapologist friend ended up with these results, they should give strong consideration to COA 2. If nothing else, such an exercise will expose the relative merits and weaknesses of each COA. The trick is to choose assessment criteria that are meaningful to you, and based on the end result you’re trying to achieve.
That’s it for this week. In the next and final instalment, we’ll wrap things up by looking at key aspects of your final plan, as well as ways to measure performance.