“You Got to Do What You Got to Do, Right?”

I’ve been listening to a fair amount of This American Life. I guess I just dig vocal fry.

Sometimes, the show tells an escape story but I usually forget to mention it here because I listen in bed and forget all about it by sunrise. Miraculously I have remembered one.

Who is Ryan Long?” tells the story of a game show contestant called, well, Ryan Long. He did extremely well on TV’s Jeopardy!, winning almost $300,000.

Ryan was introduced to the telly-viewing public as as a rideshare driver but he’d actually been something of a factotum. Throughout his thirties, he’d worked in airport security worker, as a package handler, an office clerk, a piano mover, a warehouse worker, a “water ice guy”, a cashier, a bouncer, and a street sweeper. He says, “You got to do what you got to do, right?”

Ryan is biracial and physically large, which apparently isn’t the typical profile of a Jeopardy! contestant. His confounding of prejudice is the thrust of this programme about him, but the presenter goes on to say:

I also got this accidental reflection on American capitalism, and how so many of us are served so poorly by the way life is currently set up as all work and no time. Jeopardy provided a very specific Ryan-shaped escape hatch. It gave him the space to stare into that crack between realities, and fish out all the elements of what his life could be.

We’re all too often told that work is liberating, that it’s what we have to do to “get ahead” but the rewards are often so low (and increasingly so) that all we get in exchange for our graft is our home and healthcare if we’re lucky. We do not generally find the time for personal improvement or to give anything worthwhile to our communities beyond the demands of capitalism.

This “accidental reflection” came about when interviewer asked Ryan if the prize money had made him happy.

It allowed me the opportunity to have time to […] examine myself, I guess. Just everything before, looking where I come from and what makes me tick. It’s a valuable thing. I think everybody needs to do it, but not everybody has time to do it. […] That’s the most valuable thing that I got out of this.

It’s an example of how a life-changing sum of money (though still not the millions of dollars some people imagine they’d need to retire) led to the buying of time to do the personal work, to take stock and come to terms with one’s emotions, to defrag, and see what’s going on with yourself.

No doubt Ryan will go back to work and maybe he still does a few rideshares even now, but the time he bought with the prize money allowed him to be himself for a while.

I wish more people had the chance to engage in this kind of reflection, for mental good health and for actively figuring out what to do next. We’re too often shoved around with no time–the naturally-occurring time of our lives–to spare. We’re told that Universal Basic Income (the provision of material basics for everyone, so that work becomes a consensual choice instead of wage slavery) would lead to personally unproductive or “immoral” slacking but Ryan, this clever everyman, joins a growing body of people who can show otherwise.

Tired of the everyday grind? Try The Good Life for Wage Slaves or I’m Out, both of which are available now in paperback.

How You Can Help Elderly Relatives Escape from Hospital

An item in the Guardian this week has the strange title, “How you can help elderly relatives escape from hospital.” You get Emily Dickinson’s thrill from the word “escape” and the instructional tone, but it’s also slightly troubling in that you wonder why anyone would need to escape from hospital, a place designed for wellness and recovery. It brings to mind dark hospital fantasies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Kingdom, and Toby Litt’s Hospital. To be honest, I prefer Scrubs.

Yet here we are. The NHS in Britain is struggling after 12 years of Tory austerity exacerbated by Hostile Environment policies and Brexit. Equally frightening is a staffing and facilities crisis in social care. The twin crises have led to a Kafkaesque situation where maybe a third of hospital beds are occupied by people who don’t need to be in hospital. They’re no longer ill but they can’t leave because there’s no facility in social care to help them with essential mental health or mobility issues.

The newspaper item consists of two letters from people who have helped their relatives escape. One writer describes how they registered with the Office of the Public Guardian to get jurisdiction over their mother’s care. The other describes how they simply bundled their aunt into a warm dressing gown and left.

It’s a perfect illustration of the two main modes of escape. You can use knowledge and patience to deploy bureaucracy against the force that holds you, or you can be agile and just go. The former is often smarter and can solve longer-term problems like what to do when you’re all out of runway or if they come running after you. But, oh, the courage and dignity of the latter! I’ve done both.

This hospital example also reminds us that an escape isn’t just good for the person doing the scarpering, but good for everyone else too. Those vacated hospital beds were doubtless desperately needed. Escape can be socially useful as well as personally liberating. Better you do something useful or beautiful for the world than tirelessly punching a clock, for example.

I suppose this is as good a time as any to remind UK-based readers to vote against the Conservative Party at the next available opportunity.

Plotting your own escape from some sinister institution? I’m Out: How to Make an Exit (formerly Escape Everything!) is the book for you.

Velo Flaneur

Here’s a pleasant blog from a mellow escapee.

It’s by the artist formerly known as Reader M in fact. Fergie’s Journal of Life in the Slow Lane charts quiet adventures in gardening, cycling and general unusedness during early retirement in a foreign land. Lovely stuff.

Letter to the Editor: Grind Culture

To send a letter to the editor, simply write in. You’ll get a reply and we’ll anonymise any blogged version.



With regards to your take on LinkedIn and Jaron Lanier. I’m a big fan of Lanier and I read his books but I think he’s wrong on LinkedIn. Sure it can help people find work, but it’s designed with lots of psychological tricks to make you feed it.

Features like “x people have looked at your profile” try to make you pay for LinkedIn Plus or whatever it’s called. Trying to get you to “complete your profile” by nagging. And have you ever tried to find how to quit it?

It also encourages shallow correspondence and lazy people connecting and spamming you with whatever service they think you should buy.

All a bit “grind culture,” shallow and non-human. It’s the opposite of the old Web and what blogs seemed to have, and why I hope they’ll have a resurgence.

Reader A.


You’re right of course, A. Your “grind culture” is inherent to most social media (by which I mean moaning about overload or showing off about dubious white-collar successes) but LinkedIn is solely towards work. I suppose I saw it as a way of connecting employers to CVs, which is marginally useful, but if users are encouraged to fart out a perpetually-scrolling litany of humblebrags, it can “get in bin” as they say.

Death to all social media! So far as online life goes, it’s email, blogs and forums for me.

The current chatter about Twitter suggests that people really will go back to some of those methods, though I recently heard a young pop star describe email as “so toxic” and she does all her talking though Instagram and WhatsApp. I suppose she means that email can all too easily pile up and become unmanageable, but aren’t social media posts and messages practically infinite? At least with email you can unsubscribe from things you don’t like and just change your address if it comes to the worst. You’re less likely to be trolled by email than on social media and your email client probably isn’t Facebook (or Meta or whatever they’re calling themselves now) like those two platforms are, which is surely as toxic as it comes if we’re talking social responsibility. I don’t really know what she meant by “toxic” but I hope she’s an outlier and that the cool kids get on board with alternatives to the mega-platforms.

“Dox Your Boss!”

A friend was (justifiably) complaining to me about her job this morning. In the past, when she’s done this, I’ve tried to offer solutions to her problems but I’ve learned that she really just means to blow off steam.

Because I’ve been thinking about the new format of the magazine, it occurred to me that we could run a “workplace woes” column where readers can write in with their toil complaints, not for advice, but for pure catharsis.

Naturally, it would all have to be anonymous (much like the letters to the editor I sometimes run at the blog) but the notion to name and shame the worst employers admittedly crossed my mind as well. We could call it “Dox Your Boss!”

Of course this is a joke, a mad thought. Do not, under any circumstances, “dox your boss.” Even if it would be deeply satisfying.

We could do the “workplace woes” thing though, eh? Even I’d find that useful and I’m self-employed.

Tired of the everyday grind? Try The Good Life for Wage Slaves or I’m Out, both of which are available now in paperback.

The Big Mac Index

I’ve often wondered if the early- to mid-Twentieth Century wasn’t the best possible time to be alive despite all the war.

As well as being aesthetically superior to our own cheapo resource-poor moment, you really could live well with less.

Anecdotally, I think of my grandparents whose homespun “waste not want not” philosophy allowed them to shun professional labour for about fifty years. I write about them a little in The Good Life for Wage Slaves, but both of my grandparents had low-responsibility pre-War jobs (rent collector, motorcycle engineer) when they were young that they would eventually look upon fondly. They both had War Effort jobs for three or four years and that was it pretty much it. They rented their little house with pension and odd job money, lived cheerful lives of unambitious pottering and occasional holidays in Tenby in Wales and were seemingly content, even happy.

There’s the story of a penniless Patti Smith (as told in Just Kids) finding 50 cents (two quarters) in Central Park. It was enough money for someone to painlessly lose but it was also enough for Patti to buy breakfast (at least $30 in today’s money) for herself and Robert Mapplethorpe.

And there are fictional accounts such as It’s a Wonderful Life in which the poor migrant Mancini family pay off their mortgage over 4 years, and The Secret Garden in which the money Mary Lennox would have spent on a child’s bucket and spade was enough to feed a family for (I think) a week.

So far so much anecdote. But apparently my suspicions are correct! The phenomenon is called Purchasing Power Decline and there’s something called the Big Mac Index to prove it.

Your basic wage slave of 1980 (the year of The Shining, The Blues Brothers, Raging Bull and The Empire Strikes Back) earned six Big Macs an hour. We, by comparison (in the year whose cultural productions you’ve never heard of and never will) don’t even earn one.

The relationship between work and reward is broken. Depressing? Yes. But on the other hand, there’s never been a more cost-effective time (because you’re not losing anything) to put your feet up. Take it easy, I say, and enjoy the spoils of the last century.

Letter to the Editor: I Hoarded Insulin Before Jumping Ship

To send a letter to the editor, simply write in. You’ll get a reply and we’ll anonymise any blogged version.


Hello Robert,

As someone who decided to finally give up any pretense of work and to take up full-time idling just one month ago, I’d love it you brought back the magazine.

I worked full time for 43 years at various jobs including roadie, sound engineer, archaeologist, barman, and then 25 years as a web developer. I can safely say I came to hate all of my jobs after a short honeymoon period each time I changed careers.

It was by reading your books, and Tom Hodgkinson’s books and magazine, that made me realize that, with a bit of effort and luck, I could pack in work at last.

With my family’s support I did it last month and I have never been happier! We moved to the US ten years ago from Scotland. We currently have no health insurance, which is a worry for me as a diabetic. I hoarded insulin for ages before jumping ship and my wife will be eligible for coverage before Christmas so my only worry will be over soon.

Thank you for your books and magazine. They were very inspiring and I really do hope you relaunch the mag. I will be one of the first subscribers!

All the best,

Reader M, wintry Indiana 😀

Get yer atoms here, missus: treat yourself to a copy of The Good Life for Wage Slaves.

Four US States Vote to Ban Slavery… 159 Years After Abolition

I’ve been thinking about prison. Not because I have plans to end up there, nor because I’m a great and empathetic guy. I’ve been watching Orange is the New Black is all, usually in the hours set aside for my important literary work.

It’s insane that we send people to prison at all, let alone in such needlessly horrible conditions sometimes, but let’s talk about one specific element of prison before I end up on a poorly-informed high horse. A particular prison issue I’ve been thinking about turns out to be topical.

We probably all know from general osmosis that American prisoners are given grunt work to do. Printing car license plates is a classic, right? Sewing mail bags is another. But those particular tasks are probably pop-cultural cliches in 2022 and you just know there’s other jobs done by American inmates for peanuts or for no money at all.

That there might be some sort of sweatshop-adjacent scam going on in US and other prisons has obviously occurred to me before but I never quite grasped the significance of that thought, probably because I’m a selfish hipster idiot, or maybe because its just too dark and shameful to contemplate.

This is the news story I’m talking about:

SLAVERY WAS ON the ballot in five states on Tuesday, with four of them — Alabama, Tennessee, Vermont, and Oregon — approving constitutional amendments to abolish the use of involuntary labor as a form of punishment. The fifth, Louisiana, rejected the measure after the Democratic state lawmaker who proposed it wound up telling voters to oppose it over an issue with the wording on the ballot.

It turns out that there’s a loophole in the Thirteenth Amendment, the famous constitutional rule abolishing slavery in the US in 1864. Apparently it’s fine to make billions of dollars from “involuntary labour” if the workers have been imprisoned. Hmm.

It’s interesting that when we hear about slavery in the press, it’s usually about rogue individuals or in an historic context or in a country where human rights concerns already widely reported, and not about the two million people currently incarcerated in Free World slammers.

I won’t say anything more for now because I don’t know enough about the issues (I’ve just reserved two books on the subject at the library though!) and I am, of course, not an American. But, y’know, bloody hell.

Remembering. And Asking “What Next?”

Imagine if Capitalism was just switched off one day. If the government just decided to admit that money isn’t real and the whole thing was being called off. Debts written off, no more payday, Absolute Jubilee. Landlords wouldn’t need to suck the lifeblood out of tenants any more because their own upholstered lives wouldn’t be dependent on wealth. Supermarkets wouldn’t charge anymore and could just become food distribution centres, under the benign new management of community organisers. We could all escape our bullshit jobs and do nice things (valuable cultural things, important altruistic things) for no pay instead.

Obviously this will never ever happen and, if it did, all sorts of forgotten and ignored problems would scuttle out of the cracks. It was an idle fantasy arrived at today while thinking about… Twitter again. Sorry.

I don’t think Twitter is really going to disappear, though lots of people seem to. And if it does go, what will people do when they find that they’re finally free?

Freedom from social media as we know it could really be the consequence, I think. Twitter is probably the last of the true mega-platforms, isn’t it? TikTok has more users but it seems less infrastructurally important because, unlike Twitter, it’s just a bit of fun. Nobody’s pestering me to join TikTok and nobody thinks I’m eccentric or a Luddite for not being on it. Shops don’t tend to have TikTok emblems in their windows like they do for Facebook and Twitter. Nobody says “oh, you have to be on TikTok!” It doesn’t seem to have the “necessary evil” strongarm nudge power of Facebook and Twitter. With ease, you can ignore it.

It seems that, were Twitter to shut down or vanish behind a paywall, you could get away with having absolutely no social media in your life at all. Nobody would expect it.

So what will happen when the age of “necessary evil” social media, of Big Social to coin an obnoxious phrase, is over? To start with, journalists might have to re-learn some old tricks; to actually ask penetrating questions instead of scraping Twitter for secondhand hot takes.

Many will continue in their “pivot to video” by embracing TikTok and whatever comes (or has come, probably) after it. But it will be diminishing returns as these platforms become sillier and less essential.

Others will return to a period of Internet time before the algorithms took over: platforms called dreamwidth and cohost are being mentioned and they look just like Livejournal. That would be nice. I still believe that the Internet is not the problem, only that the mega-platforms are damaging free will.

And maybe we can regress en masse even further to pre-Internet ideas. I for one am hoping to set up a small publishing press (real paper!) with a friend next year. New Escapologist might be back in paper too. Move over bits, atoms are back!

The death of Twitter obviously wouldn’t be as big as the death of money but there would be a similar sense of walking out into freedom again (a freedom that was there all along, really), of squinting in the sunlight and feeling its warmth on your skin (but was it always so warm?), of remembering, and asking “what next?”

Get yer atoms here, missus: treat yourself to a copy of The Good Life for Wage Slaves.

An Escapologist’s Diary: Part 68. Reading Massive Books.

I just finished reading Stephen King’s It. Why??! Why did I do it?

Well, it was Halloween.

It’s also been on my bucket list for a long time. I liked Stephen King’s books as a teen, though whenever I revisit him as an adult I’m usually a bit underwhelmed. Still, I didn’t want to die without having read It. I think I wanted to honor something my younger self would have wanted.

As a teen, I did a strange thing with It. I saved it. I knew it was the special “Spine Kingler,” up there with Misery and The Shining but purportedly epic, and I was enjoying the experience of looking forward to it. How lower middle-class is that? It’s like saving the juiciest sausage on your plate til last.

This turned out to be a mistake because I’d probably have really enjoyed It when I was 17. As an adult? Not so much.

There’s a good book in It but it’s swamped by hundreds (hundreds!) of pages of inessential, indigestible crap. It was a slog. And there was no “Camino de Santiago”-style epiphany to found in the long distance struggle.

It took me a month to kill it off. I kept thinking of the three or four short novels I could have been reading instead. Urgh. With four short novels, even if you don’t love them all, there’s something to be found in the diversity of experience.

The It paperback I read is 1,166 pages long. I have no problem with long books but this one didn’t warrant its girth. I didn’t savor the experience like a final sausage. It was an ordeal. But I wanted to slay that dragon because it felt like too much of a shame not to read It while I’m here on Earth.

There’s a lesson here about bucket lists, isn’t there?


After the It ordeal, I’m glad to have slain the dragon, but my overwhelming feeling now is one of malnutrition. It’s time for a superfood salad: a strict diet of Fitzcarraldo Editions for a few weeks.

I’m half-joking, but I do have three unread ones on the shelf and they will contain multitudes.

Indeed, I just started on Moyra Davey’s Index Cards and it’s already a breathe of fresh air simply by virtue of being something else.


Random bookish thought:

There’s a similarity between travel and reading: knowing that you’ll probably never be here again.

You might re-read the same book or make a return trip but the chances are against. There’s always another book, another place to go.

One book leads to another, seldom back.

Given my experience with It, I wonder if I’ll ever do the Great American Roadtrip for example. It would be a shame not to, but for the investment of money and time I could probably go to eight short novel destinations in Europe.


Prefer a medium-sized read? Look no further. The Good Life for Wage Slaves by the unstoppable Mr. Wringham is your path to literary enlightenment.

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