Sunday, 28 February 2016

More of this sort of thing



Yesterday someone introduced me to the cube project.  I am very grateful.  If I had £50,000, I would buy one of these tomorrow.  However, I don't have £50,000.

It's going on the wish list anyway.




I ask again, why aren't we all living like this?



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The Past, Present and Future of Tiny Houses

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Saturday, 27 February 2016

A House of Cards


Giving up your job is a liberating feeling.  I can recommend it.  Do you love your job?  Is it making you a better person, or the world a better place?  If not, then what the fuck are you doing?

Paying the bills, is the answer to that.  And usually that's where it stops.  Why not carry on asking questions instead?  Why not ask the same questions again?  Are the things you're paying for making you a better person, or the world a better place?  If not, then what the fuck are you doing?

The answer to that is convenience.  Convenience is a defining characteristic of our world.  Running a fridge or a car is convenient.  You don't need a fridge, in the strict sense of "need".  You don't need a car either.  Buses exist.  So do trains and bikes, and horses.  But trains and bikes and horses aren't as nice as cars.  And pickled eggs aren't as nice as fresh eggs.  It's better to have nice things.  More convenient.



Nice and convenient things aren't free though.  Someone has to make them, and you have to pay them to do that for you.  Otherwise they won't make them.  When things break, someone has to repair them.  This takes time and effort.  You either make that effort yourself, which costs you in time you'd rather be spending with the nice things you have that still work properly - or you pay for someone else to do it for you, which costs you money, which you'd rather spend on more nice things.  This is true of the things you really do need as well. Someone has to plow the fields, to plant the crops, to feed the cows that make the cheeseburgers.  (Never mind how the cows make the cheeseburgers though: questions are all well and good, but some questions are hard).  Then someone has to design the adverts that tell you where to get the cheeseburgers, how much they will cost, and how they will make your life better and you a more attractive, fulfilled and empowered individual.

No that's not right.  You don't need cheeseburgers.  Cheeseburgers are nice, but they're bad for you as well.  Cheeseburgers have consequences.  Have a salad instead.  Salads also have consequences, but nicer consequences.  They might not feel as nice, but they are.  What kind of salad would you like?  We have caeser salad, ham salad, three bean salad, four bean salad, Snickers salad...

No this isn't right either.  Let me think for a minute...



These are simple thoughts.  Hence the comedy.  They’re too simple to doubt or to question.  Even so, we all question them sometimes.  We don’t really like to talk about it.  (Hence the ambient soundtrack.  Such is the genius of Chris Morris).  Best to hold your breath in the house of cards.  A house of cards is better than no house at all.

That’s the problem, maybe.  Convenience is so convenient, and nice things are so nice, that no alternative will ever seem more attractive.  Maybe there is no alternative.  What’s cooler than being cool?





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Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The Library Of


Books are a wonderful thing.  I own a lot of books, but owning things isn't the game I want to play any more.  So over the past few weeks I've been recklessly selling off my library of about 700 books on amazon.  As I said, this sort of thing becomes addictive.

I remember when I was little sometimes I would throw books down the stairs.  I really don't remember why I did this, it was probably just a phase I was going through.  Sometimes I'd be holding a book, I'd be at the top of the stairs, and I'd wonder what it would be like if I suddenly threw it down the stairs.  So I did.  My mum didn't like me doing this.  She used to say "Books are our friends".  She was right.  Books are our friends.  Nowadays, as you're probably aware, "ebooks" exist.  With some patience, you can find more or less any book in "e" format online, download it, and read it on an electronic device.  So electronic devices can be our friends to.

My goal here is to transfer every book I have, and want to keep (which isn't quite all of them) to a digital format (pdf or epub preferably) that I'll keep in a google drive folder, and can read on my tablet.  Google play books lets you keep 1,000 books in your library at any one time, meaning I can upload and download as many books as I could ever need at any one time, and carry them all around with me.  This is a good thing.  More of us should be doing this.  Having shelves full of books is nice and decorative, but it's really just showing off.

If you would like to access my library please email me and I'll reply with a link to the library.  From here you'll be able to download and read anything I put in there.  I'm still in the process of adding things - I've collected a lot of things over a solid 10-15 years of internetting, so this will take some time.  If you have anything you'd like to contribute and make freely accessible to others, please also get in touch.  Sharing is caring.  Books are our friends.




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Saturday, 20 February 2016

Uncomfortable Questions




It's funny, because it's true.  Carlin had some valid points.  In another genre and context, so did Agent Smith:


I'll have something to say in future posts on the use and abuse of anti-materialist and nihilist philosophies by popular culture.  There are more important questions to ask first.  Most generally, how far do we follow these thoughts?  How do you know if you're really awake?  The matrix is everywhere...




Carlin's monologue is comical, Agent Smith's is dramatic: both are memorable because of the ideas they tap into, ideas that are neither original nor new, thoughts as old as human beings themselves.  For all the love, depth and meaning we can find in human existence, can we ever escape the sense of living inside an enormous, meaningless cosmic farce?  Philosophies like antinatalism or movements like VHEMT (each, of course with subcultures and subreddits of their own) seem to take a kind of sociopathic delight in their iconoclasm, so often that it becomes nearly impossible to tell who is sincere and who is just along for the ride.  But then, in the post-Baudrillardian pseudo-culture (and this side of the notoriously disappointing Matrix sequels) of 2016, is there a difference?

I've spent a lot of time this week working on "downsizing" - selling things on ebay and amazon, taking bags of stuff too worthless to sell to charity shops.  It's been satisfying to discover how many of the cherished paper books I thought were hard to find are in fact readily available online for free if you're persistent, but how despite this many of them still hold their monetary value as things, making the process of bothering to sell them worth my while.  But there's an inherent danger in enjoying this sort of thing too much - a kind of holier-than-thou sentiment of what I've dubbed "frugal fetishism" that's all-too-easy to lapse into.  How far can I go along this path without disappearing too soon up my own arse?



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Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Preliminary Investigations

Having lots of money would make my goal of transcending the need for it considerably easier.  I'm well aware of the irony here, but I'm determined not to let it stand in my way.  So, I've started looking at options.

My first choice would be to live in a tiny house.  If money weren't an object, I'd buy myself a small plot of land right now, somewhere peaceful, and put a tiny house on it.  Then I'd live in it, 100% off-grid, generate my own electricity and grow my own food.  I would spend my days reading, writing, gardening, exploring, living.  Tiny House UK makes "custom built...fully mobile and static tiny house cabins".  They even deliver them, and lower them into place with a big crane.  For a 12ft-long house with a shower, toilet, kitchen, light fittings, raised sleeping area, and electrical sockets, they charge between £16,500 and £19,000.  Having downsized my possessions to the absolute minimum, such a house could very easily accommodate me.  I'd settle for that.  No mortgage, very low expenses.  Not clear from the website whether they provide solar panels, so that would be additional cost.  However, electricity isn't always necessary.

Some "tiny house" sites and articles I've been looking at:
As is always the case with things, there's more of this sort of thing over in the new world.  It also seems to be far easier and cheaper to buy land in the USA and Canada, so emigration is something I need to consider.  But I'm getting ahead of myself here...

What am I talking about?  My first choice would actually be to live in an earthship.  Go to google images this instant and look up "earthships".  Now investigate some more.  

SOURCE: http://hobowithalaptop.com/tiny-house-porn-earthships/

SOURCE: http://bioluminescence.typepad.com/biomimicry-and-sustainabi/2011/09/earth-ship.html

SOURCE: https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g47224-d4049484-Reviews-Earthship_Biotecture_World_Headquarters_and_Visitor_Center-Taos_Taos_County_New_Me.html


Now you want to live in one too, don't you?  Why aren't we all doing this?  Bollocks to mortgages and careers.

Again, much more of this in the USA, where the idea comes from.  Here's a documentary about the man who invented them.   [Also available in youtube].  There's a 3-day course down in Brighton that teaches you how to build one of your own.  Tickets start at £230.  This is affordable, even if actually building one myself isn't so I think I'll try to go.  If nothing else, I'll learn something.  Brighton is a 228-mile walk from Manchester, which at current speeds would take me about 12 days and three sets of replacement legs.

Further off the edge of the map, there's full vagabond-hood.  What if I lived in a tent?  The only costs then would be food and the times when I used an actual campsite.  Wild camping exists, and isn't always illegal.

Someone on gumtree was advertising land for rent at £50 a month.  Ideal for "developing a garden" apparently.  In the West Midlands, of all places.  I wonder if they'd let me develop a garden I could sleep in.

Something I've given a little more thought to is long-term residential volunteering.  This is where you live and work in a community/farm/commune/cult in return for food and board.  I've been firing off emails to people like the Pilsdon Community and exploring the possibilities of "WWOOF-ing".  In theory this is something I could do indefinitely; trekking from once place to the next, volunteering, eating, and moving on.  I've never been much of an outdoors person, but I suppose I could become one.


These are just things I've come across so far.  There are six weeks left until I stop working full time and "earning" money, at which point I'll be able to look into all this a lot more thoroughly.  If there's any readers with ideas, contacts, questions, I'd be very interested to hear from you.  Do you have a vacancy for a back scrubber?  





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Monday, 15 February 2016

Same Day Delivery

On Friday I spent all day in bed. I remember reading once about an ancient culture who practised a "one day on, one day off" way of living. I don't remember the specifics, so it could just as easily have been a dream, but the idea appeals to me greatly. (Let's pretend it's my idea). You work for one day, rest the next. No weeks or weekends as such. Presumably this made practical sense: the manual labour and agricultural work that occupied most ancient people is exhausting. Each working day you rise with the sun and rest with its setting. A rest every other day to recuperate before going back to the fields, furnaces or workshops would presumably make the whole process twice as tolerable. Not only that, but it's a wonderfully simple way to emphasise and enshrine in your culture what today we laughingly approximate to with the idea of a "work-life balance". (Note the tacit, otherwise unspoken, acknowledgement that to work is not to live). In Jewish tradition, the "Sabbath" is of central importance: one day out of every seven is spent in a rigidly understood state of abstinence from melachah - "creation" or "work". Since God rested on the seventh day of creation, so should people. The idea of balance - between nature and divine activity on one hand, and artifice and human work on the other - is key, and I think the idea, that refraining from work is the side of the coin more closely associated with the natural and divine, is worth considering: all the more so from this side of the Reformation, since when the protestant work ethic's disastrously unbalanced emphasis on the virtue of work has come to engulf our now ridiculous culture.

All that said, spending a whole day in bed, floating in and out of consciousness to classic Star Trek episodes on your chromebook probably doesn't fit exactly into any ancient concept of reverence for life and its divine creator. Oh, and yes, I like watching Star Trek. So what? It has an optimistic vision of the human race's future. Despite everything, so do I.

I spent the day in bed on Friday because I was exhausted. I wasn't exhausted from a hard day's work on Thursday, or a poor night's sleep. I'm just generally exhausted. I can’t remember the last time I had a proper night’s sleep. This is what working night shifts for three-and-a-half years will do to you. At first, your human body just starts to get mildly confused. What are you doing? it asks. You know you’re supposed to be asleep, don’t you? It’s dark outside! It’s 3 in the morning. Who cares about spreadsheets? You ignore the question, because that’s your job. Your body, gradually and begrudgingly, adjusts. OK, so you’re a night owl? I can work with that, ‘course I can. Adjustments are made to sleep patterns, energy levels, appetite, ability to concentrate, patience. It wants the best for you, does your human body, it really does. It’s more sensitive to the nuances of daylight, climate and the changing of the seasons than you, the young 21st-century urbanite, will ever understand. That’s because it’s not really young at all. Yours might be – but yours is only the latest model in a long line of ever-evolving human bodies. It only got to be where it is today through generation after generation of very hard work. There was a lot of trial and error, but now it’s ready for anything. It can subsist indefinitely on nothing but Monster Munch. It can survive in the air pocket of a capsized boat in the Atlantic ocean, a cave in the Utah desert or floating in zero gravity inside a sealed metal tube for months, miles above the earth from whence it came.  I have never done any of those things (though the Monster Munch-diet does sound tempting) so I don’t know what I'm talking about.  I do know, however, that after a few years of a regimen of working 3-5 twelve-hour night shifts a week, the body stops asking so many questions.  Any time you want to sleep, that’s fine by me, it says.  So afternoon naps become nine-hour comas.  This is your body’s passive-aggressive form of revenge.  Sleeping well is the best revenge.




So on Friday, I slept - all through the day, and most of the night.  Around 5:30am on Saturday, I stirred my lazy bones back to a vertical position and checked my email.  Several of the books I’ve listed on amazon had sold.  I processed the emails, and wrapped and labelled the packages ready for my morning jaunt to the post office.  I noticed that one of the addresses was in Stockport.  Stockport, I thought.  That’s not far from Manchester.  I could walk it, deliver the package in person.  It will save on postage costs.  My body, who hadn't really woken up yet and still needed a piss, tried to pay attention.  Don’t do this, it pleaded.  So I did it anyway, because I hadn't written the previous paragraph yet.  It was a nice enough day for North West England in February (it wasn't even chucking it down) and what else was I going to do?  Clock in some more overtime at work on those sexy spreadsheets?  No.  Turns out I don’t care about spreadsheets at any hour of the day.  I know some people do, some of the hours.  These people are not my friends.  Give me an absence of spreadsheets or give me death.

As the googlebird maps, my destination was 7 miles from home. It looked like the kind of walk at that would become more pleasant towards the end, as I left the inner city behind and encroached upon the Cheshire countryside. I put the package to be delivered into my bag along with a packet of peanuts, two tins of beans - the ones that open with a ring pull, so I didn't have to carry a tin opener – a fork, my headphones and a day’s worth of mp3s. The peanuts and the beans were for energy along the road, and to save having to spend money on food. A petrol station sandwich and a bag of Wotsits are not actually the food of the true nomad. This is the game I'm playing now. Thought maybe I could channel the spirit of Jeremy Corbyn for lunch.

Turns out google doesn't know absolutely everything about everything. One of the things it doesn't know is that you can’t just go for a country walk along a motorway. So adjusting for reality, this lengthened my hike to just over 9 miles. An 18-mile round trip. Worth the cost of a small, first class parcel, if you ask me.
 




I've always been fond of the bleaker underbelly of urban life. Not so much the people as the spaces between people. The liminal places that exist only to be passed through, paused at, rather than occupied or observed: airports, lay-bys, industrial estates. Small litter-lined becks between one housing estate and another housing estate. Horses. Discarded mattresses and disused petrol stations. Scrapyards. I don’t know why. I think it’s the stillness, or the beauty that you can see in anything ugly and motionless if you stare at it long enough, slow down your awareness to their imperceptible speed. Beauty that isn't "in your face". Beauty that's in nobody's face. Broken and abandoned things. Things with a history nobody will ever write down. Boring things. They've never bored me.





I wandered and wondered as I walked, lonely as a crowd. I had started walking at 10:30am. By lunchtime I was at Gorton Market, a little shy of 4 miles from home, and a little shy. Gorton is not a "nice area". The rising poverty that's encroaching on more and more of us but not too much yet on the middle class, is blatant here. Everything in my own middle-class upbringing told me to feel as if I didn't belong here. (This makes perfect sense, of course, since the essence of being middle class is the feeling of not belonging anywhere; just as "what it means to be British" just is having awkward conversations about what it means to be British, in which everyone tries to say something substantial and meaningful, without sounding too racist, but no-one ever does). There are much "nicer" places for lunch. But I didn't feel hungry anyway. Jeremy obviously had other plans today. So I bought myself a black coffee laced with white sugar and drank it outside of Tesco. It warmed my cold hands and sharpened my wits as only cheap coffee can: but I didn't really need a coffee, and I smirked at the irony of the now juxtaposed frugal motivations for my journey. Black coffee at Gorton market costs £1. Sending a small, first class parcel costs around £1.30. I carried on walking, still 30 pence richer.


I arrived at the parcel's destination around 2:30pm. I had now walked 9.1 miles - and it wasn't just google that was telling me this. It was my smartwatch, which is made by Samsung, a rival corporation, which means you can be sure the data is accurate. My feet concurred. I decided against knocking on the front door and delivering the parcel into the buyer's hand directly. As it fell through the letter box, for a nanosecond I felt euphoric. Another thing gone. Another book I hadn't read, that perhaps I never would, that had sat on my bookshelves for who knows how long, doing nothing but showing off.

Delivering this parcel in person was a tiny gesture, probably silly, even more probably pretentious, and absolutely certainly counter-productive. Two miles back into the return hike, I stopped into an inviting pub for a rest and a pint of beer. My feet were really starting to ache now, and I told myself I'd earned the pint. It cost £3.10, bringing today's balance into the red. I drank the pint and gawped at the muted television, tuned to a channel that seemed to do nothing but advertise other channels. There was a carvery on, a recurrent Saturday event apparently. Already well-fed families out for the proverbial pub lunch queued for slices of hot animal corpse. I felt blank, and it was nice. Back on foot, the alcohol numbed the aches that were still rising through my feet up into my ankles and calves. I wondered how unfit I was, and how many calories all this was burning. I started snacking on the peanuts I'd brought along. I had change in my pocket for a bus ride home. Warm buses passed me every 10 - 15 minutes. I felt cold, slightly tipsy from drinking on a half-empty stomach. The euphoria of having delivered my payload was quickly forgotten. It was a little like the thrill of consumption, in reverse: of opening a newly purchased thing, taking it out of the box and turning it on, or putting it in place, or whatever purpose you'd bought it to fulfil. It lasted just as long.

Years ago, in my somewhat more evangelical days, I spent a week in "silence" in the Taizé community.  I use the inverted commas are because it's not total silence: you aren't supposed to speak to anyone except for the brother you meet with once a day for about half an hour, to discuss spiritual matters, or whatever comes to mind. The brothers of Taizé live a monastic existence: while multi-denominational and non-dogmatic in nature, they keep the traditional monastic vows of charity, celibacy and poverty. They're progressive in some senses, less so in others. (Having a penis is a requirement for full membership, for instance: there are no Taizé sisters). All things considered though, it's a wonderful and unique place, and certainly a force for good in the world. The brothers are gentle, intelligent, non-judgemental to a fault, charitable - and wise. During one of our daily conversations, I asked my assigned brother if it had been difficult hard for him to give up all his worldly possessions, when he joined the community at the age of only 20. He replied without any hesitation: no. Giving things up is hard. Giving everything up is easy. I think about this a lot. Sometimes I like to flatter myself by pretending I understood what he meant.

By the time I made it home, my feet and my ankles and my calves and my hips burned. A mile from home, I found a half-eaten bar of chocolate in a bush, just across the road from the northern powerhouse I wrote about last weekend. Having learned nothing much yet, I scoffed it. The sugar rush gave me my last legs. At 5:30pm, I collapsed onto my bed and drifted off to sleep. I wondered if Mr P of Stockport had seen the parcel on his doormat, and if it had spurred wonderings of his own, how it had arrived there unstamped or postmarked, less than 24 hours after he ordered it. Bloody amazon. Too efficient for their own good.

I'd woken up at dawn and now at dusk I was falling back to sleep. Tomorrow night I'd be back at work again, five stories high and staring at a spreadsheet beneath fluorescent lights, but for now I felt part of the earth again, for the first time in far too long.


Related posts

Go to Bed.
Mundane Freedoms
A Good Night's Sleep
A Walk in the Rain
A Walk in the Park
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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.



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Oh No, Not Utopia Again
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Friday, 12 February 2016

Fucking Big Wisdom


I've always loved the book of Ecclesiastes.  Anyone of a stoic, existentialist, fatalistic and even nihilistic bent, religiously-minded or otherwise, would do well to ponder this odd little book tucked away towards the back end of the Old Testament.  I think one of the things I love about it is just the fact that it's there: hidden in plain sight amongst the Bible's tales of unfathomable brutality, violence, tribalism, xenophobia and zealotry, often demanded by a divine being of dubious motives and questionable competence, we also read:
"What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it".  (Ecclesiastes 3: 9-14)
and:
"There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless. So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun".  (Ecclesiastes 8: 14-15)
It's a proto-socialist, proto-nihilist, proto-situationist tract, several thousand years out of time.  Perhaps it's just a matter of taste, but I'm more inclined to believe that it's words like this that have the right to claim "divine inspiration" than, for example, whoever wrote that a man possessed by "the spirit of the LORD" once allowed his own daughter to "roam and weep" in the wilderness for two months before keeping his promise to murder her as a "sacrifice" her to that very same Lord (Judges 11:29-39).




Much as I enjoy a good argument about that sort of thing, that's not what this blog is for.  I'm interested in anti-work/anti-materialist thinking, wherever it happens to come from.  I love ideas.  Still, it's hard to separate the practical from the metaphysical and I think, ultimately, it's probably a bad idea.  When the writer of Ecclesiastes asks "what do the workers gain from their toil?" I think he has both the material and the spiritual sense of "gain" equally in mind, just as you might say Jesus did when asking, "what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul?"  It isn't that anyone who does "gain the world" automatically loses his soul - that's something that depends more on the type of person doing the gaining - but it certainly doesn't make the average person's soul any easier to hang on to.

Even the tiny, tiny part of the material world I've gained seems already to have put my soul at risk.  Two weeks ago I bought a new television.  I've never owned a television before - a fact I've always been rather too smug about than is really necessary.  It was an impulse buy.  I was bored, frustrated and tired, as I have been now for years.  So I bought a 43-inch, Ultra-HD 4K, smart, wifi-enabled television.  Because I could.  It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.  I carried it home in the rain (I live a five-minute walk from Manchester's Arndale Centre).  Remember Trainspotting?  "Choose life, choose a job, choose a fucking big television..."?  After I'd unpacked it, plugged it in and queued up some youtube playlists, gloried in the realer-than-real wonder of 4K 60fps video, I started to wonder what my next drug of choice would be.  This one's sat on my coffee table for two weeks now, (and I've had several hours of pleasure from it, there's no point denying that) but the thrill of consumption has already gone.  The money I could have spent instead on making the world a better place has gone too.  The frustration, boredom and exhaustion has not.


Related posts

On Ticking Things Off Lists
Scraps of a Manifesto
Why Isn't Everything Beautiful?
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Thursday, 11 February 2016

On Getting a Life


Four years ago, I stopped taking the medication that's been keeping my Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder under strict control since the condition first became part of my life, out of nowhere, in 2005.  This was not a good idea, and I suffered the consequences.  If I don't swallow 60mg of Fluoxetine (aka Prozac) a day, my brain will go to any lengths it can to convince me to do horrible, horrible things to myself.  I won't be able to think about anything else, and I'll live in a state of constant terror of "losing control" and doing the last things in the world I would ever want to do, but feel compelled to. 

It's tempting to indulge in a bit of pseudo-psychology to explain why this might be; but believe me, it doesn't help.  It's not a matter of low self-esteem, poor body image, repressed childhood trauma, unsatisfiable animal impulses or subconsciously wanting to have sex with my mother.  It's a matter of serotonin levels.  Serotonin is a neurotransmitter - one of the means by which the brain processes information chemically.  Lower than optimal levels of serotonin are associated with depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive thinking.  Fluoxetine is a type of medication known as a "selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor" (SSRI) most commonly used as an antidepressant, but can also help to treat the symptoms of OCD, the obsessive thoughts in particular.  It's certainly worked for me.




The "obsessive" element of OCD is the lesser-known counterpart to the ostensible, "compulsive" element that forms its stereotype: repetitive, pointless rituals that can take (m)any form(s) but often manifest as checking, counting, washing, touching, and the like.  These compulsive "rituals" become a coping mechanism for the OCD-er, providing temporary relief from the unpleasant obsessive thoughts, but which then return, leading to more ritualistic behaviour.  It's a vicious ouroboros of meaninglessness: exhausting, terrifying and entirely without cathartic purpose.  There is nothing sexy about it, nothing quirky: anybody who describes themselves as "a bit OCD" doesn't know what the term means.  Nobody who actually suffers from OCD brags about it.  Jack Nicholson's portrayal of the condition in As Good As It Gets is fairly accurate (although his character was also a bastard).  Michael J Fox's portrayal in the episodes of Scrubs, "My Catalyst" and "My Porcelain God" is even better:


"This is a weak moment.  Nobody's supposed to see this".


None of this is all that relevant to the purpose of this blog, except that it provides some context to my decision to try and live a simpler life, without work.  Four years ago, when I stupidly stopped taking Prozac for several months, I made another apparently quite spontaneous decision to leave my job.  As there are this time, there were other factors at work - but something the two decisions have in common is their moments of clarity.  For all the relief that Prozac has given me from my symptoms, there's also a fogginess that it brings, clouding and obscuring the rougher edges of life and experience, positive and negative.  It kills demons, but it also kills drive.  Passion becomes subservient to practicality.  There are many other things in our culture that have the same effect - not the least of them being the consumerism, comfort and convenience of postmodern existence that we're all too familiar with - but it turns out serotonin-regulating medications can have an equally powerful effect.  Funny old world.

I hasten to add that I'm still taking the 60mg a day now that I have been ever since I relapsed four years ago from stopping.  So what, I wonder, is motivating me this time?  A deeper yearning, it would seem.

Sacrifices have to be made if you want not only to stay alive, but also if you want to have a life that is really worth living.  (A useful metaphor: to feel the resonance of Michael J Fox's excellent acting in the scene above, you also have to endure the sentimental gibberish of a Coldplay song.  Life is strange).  I'm sure that if a treatment for OCD hadn't been found that works for me, I wouldn't be alive today.  I wouldn't have been able to live like that for ten days of how it was at its worst, let alone ten years.  So coming off the medication isn't an option for me - not yet, anyway - but coming back to life in other ways, is.  Leaving my job was the first step.

Now without going too far down the conspiracist path - another time, perhaps - I don't think there's any doubt that many of the trappings of 21st century life have a 'deradicalizing' effect on the individual.  Prozac has certainly had that effect on me.  A lot of the time I find I'm living my life through a haze - when I say words, it's like it's not really me saying them; I say what others expect to hear without believing any of it.  I've actually become a very good liar.  I lie to myself and I lie to others.  I lie all the time about what I think, about what I want, about what I value.  It gets easier the more you do it.  Medication makes it easier still.

Life isn't going to be easy any more.  I wonder if an easy life is really life at all.







Related posts

Twenty Milligrams
Next Steps
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Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Unshopping


This afternoon I took an old netbook, tablet and video camera to Cash Generator, and handed them over to a muscular chap in a cheap blue tee-shirt, thereby generating some cash. £65, to be exact. That's not a lot of money really (although it does buy 280 tins of ADLI baked beans, or 3 day's rent, so I suppose it's all relative).

It felt great. Not the cash-in-hand part, so much as the getting rid. Three less things to own. Three things that had just been shelved, perfectly functional but already replaced. Now they've been replaced again. Not by money as such, but by time. And space.



Related posts


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