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.


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,

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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When the Day was Fixed for My Departure

I’ve just finished reading Quentin Crisp’s The Naked Civil Servant for the first time and enjoyed it, as I’d always imagined, tremendously. Towards the end of the memoir, Crisp relates a time he held a job at a publishing firm before leaving to write a novel.

For those of us who’ve struggled to fulfill a contract among people seemingly better adapted to the daily grind (and then being ashamed by their utmost kindness at the end of the ordeal), these choice quotes will resonate:

The other members of the staff adopted the ruse of filling in the hours by doing the work well. This device never occurred to me. Even when I saw from their example the endless time-consuming possibilities of attention to detail, I could not bring myself to try it.

When the day was fixed for my departure, I received a present from the members of the firm who knew me best. I thanked them with unfeigned amazement. They were the people who had suffered most from the annoyance of having me sit on the corners of their desks screaming with laughter when I could find nothing better to do.

I had been teasingly asked if I’d intended to go round to every department and shake hands with the entire firm. I had said that I did not but that I would like to see the boss himself before I left … I wanted to thank him for being so long-suffering. As I stepped into his office, he said, “I just wanted to say how tolerant I think you’ve been.”

I left work partly in order not to be doing it and partly because I wanted to write a novel. Until now I had never had the time. I had never been able to collect enough money to live for a year without a job. Now this was possible.

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An Incredibly Boring RPG

Thanks to friend Kathleen for drawing our attention to this super quote. It’s from the introductory pages of In Real Life, a comic book by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang.

The quote concerns the reality that people now routinely make money in online video games through selling favours or in-world currency to other players:

It’s not surprising that gamespace has become a workplace for hundreds of thousands of “gold farmers” who undertake dreary, repetitive labor, to produce virtual wealth that’s sold to players with more money and less patience than them. The structural differences between in-game play and in-game work are mostly arbitrary, and “real” work is half a game anyway. Most of the people you see going to work today are LARPing (live-action roll playing) an incredibly boring RPG (roll-playing game) called “Professionalism” that requires them to alter their vocabulary, posture, eating habits, facial expressions — every detail all the way down to what they allow themselves to find funny.

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The Seamless Merging of School and Work

I haven’t been visiting schools and drowsing during headteachers’ PowerPoint presentations for nothing this past quarter century. I know full-well that the purpose of both British education and British employment is the same: to keep us busy and purposive from cradle to grave.

This is rather good. It’s a chilling (and very funny) ten-minute radio programme about the work ethic in schools, written and read by our old chum Will Self.

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Goodbye Things

We think that the more we have, the happier we will be. We never know what tomorrow might bring, so we collect and save as much as we can. This means we need a lot of money, so we gradually start judging people by how much money they have. You convince yourself that you need to make a lot of money so you don’t miss out on success. And for you to make money, you need everyone else to spend their money. And so it goes.

So I said goodbye to a lot of things, many of which I’d had for years. And yet now I live each day with a happier spirit. I feel more content now than I ever did in the past.

Is another book about minimalism strictly necessary. NO. But never mind. There’s wisdom here and the photos are nice.

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“I haven’t been employed since 1988. I’m still trying to recover from the trauma. Sometimes I wake up and think: ‘Oh my God, I don’t have a job.” My life is a vocation; I can’t imagine doing anything else. I have the freedom to explore whatever idea I want, take really random gigs and projects which change my life in some way.”

Aha, this is great. Author Douglas Coupland — he of Generation X and Microserfs — on the future of work and his personal experience of not working.

“The nine to five is barbaric. I really believe that. I think one day we will look back at nine-to-five employment in a similar way to how we see child labour in the 19th century. The future will not have the nine till five. Instead, the whole day will be interspersed with other parts of your life. Scheduling will become freeform.”

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Less Work for More People

It might sound fanciful but these issues are at the heart of a problem that’s afflicting our society: many of us work too much. How often do you get to the end of a week feeling exhausted? And how deeply do you dread the long week stretching ahead of you when you go to bed on a Sunday night?

Today we’re delighted to see the Green Party of England and Wales supporting shorter working hours through a three-day weekend. Marvellous.

It is worth remembering that history is littered with the political and economic establishment dismissing radical ideas like this out of hand. The two-day weekend, statutory sick pay, maternity and paternity pay are all hard-won rights – they weren’t inevitable. A glance back at the Tories’ reaction to the idea of a minimum wage in the 90s should remind us that regressive forces dismissing an idea is no obstacle to it quickly becoming mainstream.

Honourably, the party is currently led by Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley — on a job share.

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The Knacker’s Yard

From a piece in The Economist:

Today’s horses are not entirely without work. Some still find gainful employment; a few are very valuable indeed. For people to fare better, and retain more than a rump of work reserved for those of exceptional ability, they must prove a better match for clever machines than horses were for mechanical equipment. And societies should perhaps respond with more determination and care than horse-owners did a century ago.

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Who Wins?

In a world without work, some new science suggests, being busy will be the ultimate status symbol.

The article reporting this news also suggests that the new findings are at odds with the old Thorstein Veblen theory that the ultimate status symbol is leisure, the winners being those who can afford to spend time doing nothing.

What do we, Escapologists hoping for a toil-free future, think of that?

Well. As we already know (see Escape Everything!), work and consumerism are two sides of the same coin. They’re the same economic transaction seen from opposite ends. So the new science isn’t at odds with Veblen at all: the person with the most leisure time and the person with the biggest workload will be seen as equally impressive. It is already the case and it will still be the case in a post-work future too.

The kind of leisure currently and increasingly seen as a status symbol doesn’t involve lazing around like a lotus eater or slowly walking a tortoise like a 19th century fopp. Social capital is only dished out for those who actively participate in leisure industries. The gym, tourism, shopping. Nobody admires the efficient soul who gets through the week without breaking a sweat.

Moreover, the kind of work and busyness currently rewarded with social capital isn’t the useful work of wiping elderly bottoms or raising helpless children, but non-essential busy work. The CEO, seen as a great leader and a productive member of the international society, is extremely busy despite their work being essentially useless and even harmful to their own health and the world in general.

So in the post-work future, who will be seen as the winner? Those with the most leisure or those with the most hair falling out from busyness? It’s the same guy.

The only way to break the cyclical curse of this is to be an Escapologist and learn how to idle properly.

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