“While modern capitalism constantly develops new needs in order to increase consumption, people’s dissatisfaction remains the same as ever. Their lives no longer have any meaning beyond a rush to consume, and this consumption is used to justify the increasingly radical frustration of any creative activity or genuine human initiative — to the point that people no longer even see this lack of meaning as important.” - Pierre Canjuers, Socialisme ou Barbarie #27
Saturday, 13 February 2016
Normal Things for Normal People
As soon as I posted on facebook last week about my decision to leave my job, interesting things started to happen. The post received a solid 19 likes from my 116 friends (hey, it's not a competition), and the comments were universally positive. Bristol Pete, by any acceptable standard one of the nicest and funniest men alive, insisted I blog my experience immediately (which, as you've probably noticed, is just what I did). Former schoolmates I haven't seen in over 15 years posted messages of encouragement. As one put it, "well done for stepping off the hamster wheel on your own terms". Kieran in London, a brother and comrade from from way back when, who today is nothing less than a Lecturer in International Relations at University College London, remarked, "I continue to look to you for the right move". As you may recall, Kieran is a lecturer at a prestigious UK university. He knows more about African child soldiers and Sierra Leone than anyone I know, anyone you know probably, and perhaps even than many people actually in Sierra Leone know. His recently published book is available on amazon. I haven't got round to reading it yet myself, but that's not necessary for me to be able to tell you that it's a stonking good read and you should buy it immediately. Evidently Kieran has made an impressive number of right moves in his life. Quite what he hopes to learn from me is unclear.
I tell you none of this for personal trumpet-blowing purposes, just to comment on how the decision to leave the world of work and look for another way to live seems to resonate so immediately with so many people. It's something plenty of other people have done, and many more than that dream of doing, so there's nothing unique or special about my decision. The thought of just doing it, without a very solid financial backup, or much in the way of any kind of plan, excites people more than I expected it would. It made me feel less alone walking this new path. Perhaps more of us are unsatisfied with our world than we'd like to admit, and that the powers that be would ever have imagined.
On Thursday night I went for a few drinks with Orla, who used to work for the same organisation I'm just in the process of leaving. We've been facebook friends since then but hadn't seen each other in person for the two years since she left, and never really outside of work at all. She popped up on the messenger last week, wanting to "hear about your escape from the clutches of modern society". So we met up, and we talked, and we drank. To relate to someone as a friend and equal who you've only really known professionally is a refreshing experience. I've never been one for mixing the "personal" and "professional" any more than I have to - when you're in a management position, I've found, it only ever complicates things. So work corrupts not just our own lives, but how we interact with others. I'd take a friend over a colleague any day. Not that you can't be both of course, but it's not a trick I've ever managed to pull off. I have friends who were once colleagues, but I like to think we're friends despite of once having worked together, not because of it.
Orla is from Northern Ireland and now lives and works in Manchester. She's about to get rid of a bonkers Italian flatmate, who drinks a bottle of whisky a day, "smokes like a train" and sometimes wanders into her room at night when she's asleep, which is of course exactly what a young, single woman wants in a flatmate. He's moving out at the end of this month, at which point Orla's rent will immediately double. These are the prices we pay for our peace of mind sometimes. So until she finds a non-bonkers, non-striking-up-drunken-conversations-with-you-while-you're-trying-to-sleep replacement, she's found herself a weekend job to cover the extra rent payments. This means that until the new flatmate is found, Orla will be working seven days a week.
We talked about a lot of things: work and life, money and property, getting older, new age bollocks, maddening bureaucracy. It was deep and it was silly. Casual and simple and normal and human. It was how time should be spent: not just time found after work, in the gaps between the monotonous drudgery of everyday existence, but real time. How much time is lost between friends to work? How many ideas go unshared, thoughts unexpressed, collaborations unrealised as each of us works alone, accumulating money to spend on a future that never arrives, or on filling voids as bottomless as our imaginations?
Orla owns a place back home in Ireland. She told me about how she's always intended to go back there when she turns 40, turn it into a meditation centre. Why wait until you're 40, I asked. She took it as a fair question, and couldn't think of an answer. No doubt there are any number of good reasons to wait, but none seemed to come to mind.