An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 47. Extemporale Zone

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A weekend break in Berlin to celebrate my birthday and to give Canadian Samara some long-promised time on a larger land mass than the tiny island we now live on.

My third time in Berlin, this was a leisurely trip spent largely sitting around and masticating. She sure doesn’t bring this up often (like every day or anything) but Samara comes from a land of great grub and has moved to a land of decidedly sub-par food just to be with me. Gastronomic tourism is my little way of making amends.

We took an AirBNB in Kreuzberg, my favourite neighbourhood of Berlin, and took refuge from the cold at various bobo-friendly restaurants and bars.

My favourite place to eat wasn’t a resto at all but a marketplace. It was an indoor market hall where you can buy sandwiches for €3 and great coffee for €2 and eat and drink at various little public tables, watching the world go by. Intergenerational groups of locals did the same, enjoying small glasses of wine in the leisurely fashion not quite embraced by the Calvinists of Scotland and England. This being a market hall, I was also able to enjoy the presence of gigantic German sausages. I didn’t know where to look.

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On Saturday we visited the museum at Bauhaus archive. We love Bauhaus (who doesn’t?) and it fits in nicely with our current line of thinking about artistic production (social, art-meets-utility, minimalist).

Leaving the building, we spotted this stone tablet (above) declaring an “Extemporale Zone” (or “out-of-time zone”) in which “the representation of eternity in every instant is the uniting sound before utopia”.

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On Sunday I had to meet a journalist from Die Welt to be profiled for the newspaper with regards to my book, Ich Bin Raus. I think the journalist was largely on board, though we had limited time together so I probably just yelped something about escapology and hoped for the best.

As with other journalists I’ve met lately she asked about automation and the coming crisis in the nature of work, which is clearly a big topic at the moment and one I could talk about for a long time. Ultimately, I think we have to choose as a society between something approaching socialism (UBI) and the ultimate expression of neoliberalism (widespread precariat struggle) and I think I was able to communicate this in the time we had.

Monday morning and we touch down in Glasgow, ever-so-slightly larger. Burp.

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Literarisches Sixpack

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Here’s a post from a German book blog where they ask authors to name six of their favourite books in a feature called “Literarisches Sixpack”.

When asked to take part, I chose (predictably) At the Existentialist Cafe by Sarah Bakewell, How to be Free by Tom Hodgkinson, Among the Bohemians by Virginia Nicholson and three others I’ll let you discover for yourself.

The introductory text at this blog is in German but my book reviews are all in English. Warning: contains shamefully vain publicity photographs of yours truly.

On a not-unrelated note, a few people have asked if there’s a bibliography to Escape Everything! or Ich Bin Raus. There is. It’s here. Warning: contains an adorable photograph of a cute kitten.

Yes, the above photograph is a shelfie, taken this morning here in Escape Towers simply to illustrate this tiny blog entry about books. If you’re bored or just enjoy looking at bookshelves, see how many of the sixpack and/or bibliography books you can spot.

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Affective Forecasting

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It was one of the most boring weeks of my life. I was just dusting dirt off broken bits of brown tiles

Thus spake someone whose ambition it was to become an archaeologist. The quote is from a BBC news item reporting that “dream jobs” are often anything but. We should be careful what we wish for, the article says, because we don’t really know what these so-called dream jobs involve (or even, really, what we’re looking for in them).

The piece begins with a complaint from one such dream jobber who, always wanting to work with animals, landed a job at a Tasmanian animal sanctuary and found her days filled with depressing and menial tasks:

the reality of the work was quite different to what I had imagined. Instead of spending time each day getting to understand the animals and learn about them, I spent eight-hour days running between duties in the icy, winter rain, doing manual, sometimes heartbreaking, work. Many of the animals, such as Tasmanian devils and quolls, had been hit by cars and needed rehabilitation. I fed them, cared for them, avoided getting bitten — especially at meal times — and cleaned up after them. And, when they didn’t survive, we buried them and felt their loss. The work also extended beyond animal care; one of my tasks was to clean the public toilets. Was it my dream job? No.

It’s strange how people so often fail to imagine the attendant duties of a job promising to provide financial security, closeness to animals or a fancy hat. As I’ve said before, just because you like cakes doesn’t mean you’d enjoy running a bakery.

Could this even be the whole reason jobs are held in such high esteem? If we can’t even predict the misery that will come from taking the bait ourselves, perhaps we also think that landing the dream job, either through arduous job hunting or a logical career progression, is the finest solution available for everyone else too.

The unsatisfied animal lover continues:

my experience was more common than you’d think. It turns out, we often fail to think about the tedious minutia that is likely to be involved in what we consider to be our ideal job and how it might fall short of our expectations. In fact, psychologists even have a name for it: “affective forecasting”. What this means is we often have an unrealistic hopefulness that new situations will make us feel significantly different in a grass-is-always-greener mentality.

Affective forecasting is an interesting concept—that we consistently fail to predict the future scenario most likely to result in happiness—but the dissatisfaction experienced having arrived at a dream job, I’m afraid, is not an example of it.

The reason we might come hate a dream job is not because it once looked like greener grass but because it’s a job. The whole idea of a job being a source of happiness is a lie.

Even if the central activity of a job is splendid (which it rarely is), you still have the repetitive tedium of doing it every single day under the punitive threat of not being able to make rent. And while you’re doing your job, you’re unlikely to be tending to the things that actually matter.

More accurate is the example given that lottery winners report dissatisfaction because they’ve failed to predict that money, after an initial honeymoon period, doesn’t buy happiness. This is interesting to me because I think people misdiagnose what’s so good about being rich. Where rich people are happy, it’s likely because they have good health, free time, privacy and freedom of movement. They’re not made happy by gold hats or fast cars. I’d wager that the lottery winners are unhappy because they found the long-anticipated gold hat and fast car wanting, but they’d be more than happy for their winnings if they were to focus on the metrics of health, free time, privacy, and freedom of movement.

Affective forecasting is another way of saying that we all too often don’t really know what they’re looking for. The solution is the life audit exercise mentioned in a certain book.

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Wasting Time

I’ve been thinking about time management lately because I finally got around to reading Getting Things Done by David Allen. I’d previously avoided this book because it’s cover is so ugly and because I doubted that it could teach me much, the whole thing being if not obvious at least obvious to me: organise your stuff into meaningful projects and actionable tasks. Well duh.

(I was right to have these reservations, though I found a nugget of value in the word “trusted” when Mr Allan describes a “trusted system”. This is key. You can only stop your mind working overtime, replaying and rehearsing unnecessarily, when you trust the system you’ve set up for recording and managing your ideas. Once you trust your little system to keep track of the essentials, you can flop back into lovely, proper life with all its contingency and serendipity and general fertile mess.)

I read the book because a friend thrust his old copy into my hand but also because time management is useful to understand if you want to survive through self-employment while also succeeding as a bohemian layabout. You need to use time wisely if you want to “waste” time thoroughly.

Anyway, timely Momus posts this little thing today, summing up some my own issues with productivity and time management versus life.

Because my time is valuable, I waste it. Because I waste my time I make good use of it.

A paradoxical maxim that occurred to me as I was setting out on a cycling trip, waiting for a ferry. When you’re setting out aimlessly on a trip, you have to throw away all ideas about the productive management of time. The valuable things (a photo you spot, a new shop you discover) will be contingent and haphazard. Now, I’m as Calvinist about the productive use of time as any self-employed person has to be. But I also know that, trying to be productive, one ends up in cramped habit routines that dull the sense of being alive. To save time, to master time, is to waste it. Trying to cram value into every minute ends up making my time worthless. That’s why I hate productivity and calendar apps. I need to “waste” time — by, for instance, setting out on a pointless, objectless trip — to really sense my own aliveness. I need to surrender to contingency to reach what is essential.

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Sock it to me

sockies

I’ve finally fulfilled a long-standing ambition. That’s right. All of my socks are now the same.

This means pairing them up after laundry will be a breeze and there’s now zero risk of leaving the house with a paisley-patterned right foot and a TIE fighter on the left like some sort of sock-illiterate clot.

This might seem trivial to you, reader, but to me it saves a lot of precious synaptic action early in the morning. It helps me to harness the zombie.

Why did it take so long to reach the relatively simple state of sock perfection? Well, there was a policy clash for one thing. Ever experience those? Operation Omnisock dictates that you throw out all of your socks in one big go. But I also have a frugality ethic and it felt wasteful to bin the motley crew and spend money on a whole bunch of not-strictly-needed new socks. After all, the trusty old socks had done nothing wrong.

Of course, this is precisely why there’s a need for replacing the whole drawer in one go. When you have, say, ten pairs of decent but non-identical socks, you end up replacing some of them sometimes and enabling a constant stream of sock use and sock replacement for years and years until you yourself are worn out and condemned to landfill.

It is up to you to wrestle control of this maddening situation and to escape eternal sock hell.

Wear and tear took their natural course this week and, understanding the significance of being down to five pairs, something awoke in me and I leaped into action like a crazed, invincible sock-replacing ninja.

Anyone who thinks I’m bored is wrong.

I think the delay in reaching this state was also down to a kind of scepticism about efficiency gains dependent on standardisation. I like diversity and I like having certain kinds of choice. I don’t doubt the efficiency of the personal uniform (the idea being to remove the decision-making process of getting dressed, freeing you up to start making apparently more important decisions) but I doubt whether we’re really living once that kind of decision-making has been removed from life. It’s surely better to have fun with getting dressed according to your mood, it being part of the substance of life. I mean, why not just replace all that inconvenient food with soylent and have your pesky sex drive nulled with diethylstilbestrol? Why, then you could really get on with stuff!

But back to my socks. I bought 15 identical pairs on eBay for £6. When they arrived, I slung the retired five. The nuisance of pairing is gone, baby, gone. Life is bliss now. It’s like having your brain removed. Pass the soma.

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Meanwhile, on the Continent

Ich Bin Raus, the German language edition of Escape Everything! has been doing well in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

We made it into the top 100 of the Amazon.de book chart and ordered a second print run after just a month.

Here’s a scrapbook of press cuttings, largely interviews and reviews.

In case you’re wondering though, I’m not rich yet.

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Russell Brand on the Protestant Work Ethic

Who among us does not think we’re trapped in a cycle of working for no real reason, detached from personal joy?

Delighted to see Ol’ Russ talking about the Protestant Work Ethic, about how “Capitalism uses [it] as a sort of rocket fuel,” and that “leisure and sharing” are valid alternatives.

Sharing and more leisure time. Those are the only things you need to consider. Anyone who talks about those things… give ’em a little bit of a break.

That’s endorsement!

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Can I Have a Pound?

It’s been pointed out that my latest entrepreneurial idea is remarkably similar to my first. Everything comes full circle.

It struck me at the age of ten that one could eventually become a millionaire by simply strolling up to someone, convincing them to give you £1 and then repeating the process a million times.

The solution was purely mechanical. To become a millionaire, you must first become a kinetic sculpture capable of performing the same rotation one million times. So I set out to become a child millionaire.

Not bad. It might have worked as a child too, since all of my living expenses were covered by my parents but it’s probably too late now.

And yet.

The aim this time is not to become a millionaire but to keep New Escapologist going as a post-print project. If you’re willing to contribute a pound (or $1.35) a month, I’ll send you a brand new Escapological essay each month written by yours truly or the occasional special guest. Your contributions will allow me to continue writing about Escapology on a regular basis as well as keeping this website and blog going and (hopefully, eventually) granting me the time and space to write another book.

It’s a bit like how we funded Escape Everything! through Unbound (another plan that failed to make me rich) but with tiny monthly contributions instead of a big one-off. We did it before and I daresay we can do it again.

“Can I have a pound?” I asked my dad, who was in the mid-stages of building a scale model of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the original of which had been designed and constructed by his boyfriend Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

“What for?” he asked.

I told him my plan. He sighed and told me it was time for a chat about how money worked.

Kablingy had, in his opinion, to be worked for. Just like Isambard Kingdom Brunel might work hard to build a bridge or a tunnel or even an aqueduct. An aqueduct was a bridge that carried water, and they didn’t just fall out of the clear blue sky without hard work.

Please visit our page at Patreon today to see exactly what’s on offer and, if willing, to contribute a pound.

Homework Strike!

Today we praise the Spanish children and parents currently considering a homework strike.

The homework load of Spanish children has long been a sore point with some parents, who argue that the burden is too great, places too much pressure on pupils and eats into family time.

It’s been a few years since anyone at New Escapologist (maturing, childless, once largely truant) had to worry about homework but we couldn’t agree more.

There was always too much homework from school, most of which was work for it’s own sake and more about instilling discipline than learning anything, worthwhile or otherwise. It was stressful, time-consuming ad ultimately pointless.

“We’ve lost a bit of common sense in this country when it comes to talking about education and we’ve got a system in which boys’ and girls’ free time has disappeared,” said José Luis Pazos, president of Ceapa.

“They should be happy when they’re little and learn that life isn’t just about someone telling you that you have to suffer inexplicably,” he said, adding: “The model needs to change because society has changed.”

It’s bad enough having to muddle through algebra and trigonometry at the age of 14 in school without bringing the dam stuff into the sanctity of home.

Sprogs of the continent, we stand with you!

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Outliers Party Report

Last week, we threw a party to celebrate the thirteenth and final print edition of New Escapologist. And what a night!

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Photo and poster design by Neil.

Over the years, we’ve hosted many parties and events. This was one of the best.

The chosen venue was McPhabbs, whose basement has a cozy, speak-easy vibe. Friend Fergus had suggested it since he runs a comedy night there, but it was also perversely appealing in that I’d once been to McPhabbs for a work function in the pre-escape days so it felt good to return on these terms instead.

Once the room filled up, I welcomed everyone with a quick speech about the magazine and its new direction. I then read a couple of chapters from Escape Everything! including the book version of Don’t Break the Chain and the story of my first job as a Dudley News paperboy.

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Our eudaemonoloy editor Neil Scott took to the stage next with a specially prepared speech about his work on the mag including his insistence on the title “eudaemonology editor” and some of what he’s learned in the role about happiness and productivity. It was a great piece.

Tim Eyre then gave us a reading of his piece from Issue 10 about my charge that he’s an absurd individual, dressing as a dandy and writing for The Chap magazine while also listening exclusively to death metal. “I like the music,” he says, “but not the style.” Who can argue with that?

Both Neil and Tim included anecdotes about their involvement with New Escapologist and it all worked rather well.

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Remaining photos by Nick E.

The big feature of the night was live music, first from our very own sub-editor Reggie Chamberlain-King and his friend Malachy Costello, both of whom came from Belfast to perform; and then from LD Beghtol whose set included “Prole Axed” and “The Apocalypse is my Boyfriend,” potentially familiar to you as the sheet music from Issues Seven and Thirteen.

LD came all the way from New Jersey to see us, for which I’m very grateful. In fact, the whole event grew up around the fact that he was so keen to come over and perform his New Escapologist numbers. A real pleasure to have you in Scotland Uncle LD.

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Despite (or perhaps because of) so much greatness, one of my favourite moments of the night was when guitarist Barry dropped his instrument at the end of a song, punctuating the piece nicely with an unintended full-stop before endearingly ensuring the audience that “um, that wasn’t supposed to happen.” It was (I’d say) a highly necessary and welcome cock-up in an otherwise seamless evening. Very Wabi-sabi. Amusingly, a fine kilt-wearing chap called Mark caught the moment on video!

The Outliers Party really was one hell of a night. It was well attended by wonderful friends, old and new. The perfect celebration and send-off.

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