Needs

I love quitting things. Possessions. Habits. Jobs. But you know that.

At the moment, I’m trying to overcome a health problem by temporarily quitting things to see what happens: bread, alcohol, caffeine, prescription antihistamines, hot showers. Giving up hot showers has been the toughest so far but the one that makes the most difference. Try it! It’s Hell!

Anyway, all this has led to my marveling once again about the importance of decreasing one’s requirements for life. It’s no fun quitting bread, but who really needs it? It’s liberating to see if you can go without something for a while.

Consistent, back-of-the-mind reflection on what you do or do not need is Escapology 101 and just part of the machinery of living as a free person instead of a worker-consumer — but it really is good to do and it’s worth remembering to do it if you don’t.

It’s also, it seems, suddenly topical.

Leo Babauta has been posting sporadically to his mnmlist blog and his Lowering Your Life’s Requirements entry just plopped into my feed this morning. He’s quitting coffee and booze:

I saw a long line at Peet’s Coffee, and decided I didn’t need the coffee to be awake, happy or alive.

When something becomes a need, a requirement, it locks us in. We have to have it, which means we start structuring our lives around it.

For lots of us, it’s more than just coffee: we need a glass of wine (or beer) in the evening, we need some quiet time alone, we need things to be neat, we need to watch some TV to unwind in the evening, we need the Internet for entertainment and news. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, but soon the requirements for a happy life start piling up. What are your requirements, things you can’t do without?

Then I notice that Russell Brand’s been plugging a book called Recovery: Freedom from our addictions. It seems to be a memoir about his personal struggle with drug addiction but also a sort of self-help guide on how to apply the 12 Step Programme to quitting less dramatic addictions like Twitter-checking, pornography and sugar.

And then I find that Mark Boyle, the “moneyless man” I mention in my own book, is writing for The Guardian again. His little essay series, written from the perspective of someone who has completely rejected modern technology, contain such plums as:

most of what afflicts us today – cancer, obesity, mental illness, diabetes, stress, auto-immune disorders, heart disease, along with those slow killers: meaninglessness, clock-watching and loneliness – are industrial ailments. We create stressful, toxic, unhealthy lifestyles fuelled by sugar, caffeine, tobacco, antidepressants, adrenaline, discontent, energy drinks and fast food, and then defend the political ideology that got us hooked on these things in the first place. Our sedentary jobs further deplete our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing, but instead of honestly addressing the root cause of the illness we exert ever more effort, energy, genius and money trying to treat the symptoms and contain the epidemics.

Knowledge of what you need and what you don’t need is escapological in that it helps your great escape from worker-consumer culture into the good life but they’re also acts of escape in themselves; the escape from coffee, the escape from tech, the escape from dependencies.

Look around. What can you do without? Would life be better without it? How so? Would it save you some money, save some time, help you to be healthier, make you stronger or less frustrated when you can’t get it? Would it help you move into the good life?

Try escaping something for a limited time at first and then escape it forever if you want to.

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Long Conveyor Belt

This is ‘The Long Conveyor Belt’ (2007) by Misty’s Big Adventure, a band with the same accent as me.

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Rules and Freedom

Here’s our great friend DC on the seemingly paradoxical issue of rules that facilitate freedom.

To say “I’m no longer going to let myself do X” can feel like we’re trading enjoyment and freedom for some drab moral aspiration like purity or perfection.

We’ve all experienced the pain of living under unfair or unsympathetic rules, especially the ones imposed on us as children by teachers and grownups. Having our freedom curtailed, often for reasons we don’t understand or didn’t agree to, is painful.

But setting rules for yourself is completely different. Freedom is the whole point. Who’s more free? The person determined to live on significantly less than their means, no matter what, or the person who shops like a “free spirit?”

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Time = Happiness

From an article at BBC News:

Using money to free-up time is linked to increased happiness, a study says.

In an experiment, individuals reported greater happiness if they used £30 ($40) to save time – such as by paying for chores to be done – rather than spending the money on material goods.

Psychologists say stress over lack of time causes lower well-being and contributes to anxiety and insomnia.

So lets put our efforts, as hinted at by the research, into accumulating time instead of stuff, yeah?

Yet, they say even the very wealthy are often reluctant to pay people to do the jobs they dislike.

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Footage of a Man Dropping a Potato

I just watched a Channel 4 documentary called How to Retire at 40. Wow. I recommend watching it, not because it’ll tell you how to retire at 40, but to because it’s a useful reminder of how bad regular television can be.

Aside from the occasional digital box set (Mr Robot, Twin Peaks) and cherry-picked YouTube show (Best of the Worst, Binging with Babish), I’ve not consumed much in the way of telly over the past decade. This is because television is WOMBAT and, unless you genuinely love it, a distraction from the good life. There are better, cheaper, more intelligent ways of doing nothing.

In this programme, a trio of grinning, boggle-eyed presenters who speak up-and-down and up-and-down patronise the audience and their interviewees and give something like 10% content to 90% waffle — intros, recaps, rhetoric, point-laboring, commercial break, establishing shots of Wolverhampton and footage of a man dropping a potato. The actual message (that we “super save” or “trend spot” to escape the rat race) is so cursory as to be barely useful at all.

There’s a great moment when one of our gurning tellyfolk asks a young business owner how quickly she made her seed capital through crowdfunding (possibly crowdcube, though we’re never told). The answer is nine days, to which the presenter says something like “I’m really sorry, I’m going! Because this is a waste of my time, working in television!” She says it as a joke when she should have said it in earnest. And then done it.

Never forget the bad old days. Escapologists should try getting a bus during the rush-hour commute every so often or eating at Pizza Hut or, in this case, watching television. Just to remind ourselves that shunning these relatively normal pastimes is far from missing out. FOMO be damned!

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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.

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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.

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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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