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New Escapologist : July 2023 (Again)
Welcome to New Escapologist, the monthly newsletter from the biannual magazine of the same name.
Some of you might recall that we scurrilously failed to deliver a newsletter in June because we were too busy working on the new print edition. With this in mind, we thought you wouldn’t say “NO!” to a bonus newsletter this month. In fact, we rather hoped you might say “ja, danke” though I realise now that might have been an assumption.
I’ve also been posting more than usual to the blog as a way to promote the big Kickstarter campaign, so we’re overflowing with delicious “content.” You might as well have it now. You’re welcome.
Speaking of which, there are 4 days left on the Kickstarter clock. The campaign has been wildly successful and we now have enough money to print all four of the proposed new issues. We still want as many readers as possible though, so if you’re still thinking of getting a copy, the Kickstarter is the way to do it.
Big thanks to everyone who has backed it so far. New Escapologist is coming back for realsies. Can you believe it? I barely can: it still seems like a wonderful dream.
With Best Summer Wishes,
That Was Why the Dramatic Flight
This is from Mislaid, a novel by Nell Zink.
She couldn’t help herself. Life with Lee had been so drab that running away had a bounden duty to be exciting. She felt she had a right to ask that much. That was why the dramatic flight, the abandoned houses, the new identity.
This is the kind of escape I don’t think about often enough, so obsessed am I with quitting work: people who flee their crappy partners.
Mislaid is a superb and darkly funny novel. The protagonist, Peggy, starts out as a viciously intelligent undergrad whose academic career is sidelined by an inappropriate (but fun to begin with) relationship with her (gay) poetry professor. Things get worse and she, along with her daughter, escape to live under assumed identities. Peggy becomes “Meg” and Mireille becomes “Karen.”
I’d better not say much more because some of the surprises in the book really would be ruined by advance knowledge, though the LA Review of Books has an excellent write-up if you don’t care about spoilers.
I’ll mention, however, that we don’t spend all of our time on the road with Peggy/Meg and Mireille/Karen and do in fact stay partially with Lee, witnessing his hilarious tantrums and earnestly struggling to raise his preppy son on his own. In that side of the book we witness the following phrase bellowed at the tenured poetry professor:
“Dammit, Lee. You bullshitted your way into the last of the bullshit jobs!”
It’s a different definition of bullshit jobs to the one we use here at New Escapologist, but that (I think) is what makes it so funny.
One would hope that teaching and writing poetry on the campus of a great American university would be one of the most dignified jobs imaginable. But if you use it as a vehicle for your own time-wasting and wheel-spinning, it’s probably just as bad as gawping into someone else’s spreadsheets in an open-plan office. And it would be all your own fault!
The Thrilling Adventures of Escape Guy
You all know Escape Guy, don’t you?
He’s in the header of our main website and we used the same image on the cover of the magazine for a while.
He’s what’s known as an ISO Standard symbol for an emergency exit. I did some research into this and it turns out there are variations on the theme. Loads of them. For instance… here’s where to read the rest of this story.
The Mainstream Promise is Simply a Lie
This is from Confronting Capitalism by Vivek Chibber:
the mainstream promise–that if you work hard and play by the rules you will make it to the top–is simply a lie. The rules are what create the misery.
The basic set-up of capitalism is simple–you show up for work every day, work hard, and do what you’re told. The promise is that if you abide by these rules you will be rewarded with the good life. The promise is based on a very simple premise–that there is a link between effort and reward. If you work hard, the work will pay off.
But the secret to capitalism is that there is no reliable connection between effort and reward. […] This is a basic fact about capitalism, and it is built into the system. It is the natural condition of an economic system in which the bulk of the population is given a simple choice: “Work for what we offer or go without a job.”
What determines people’s economic fate in capitalism is not their effort but their power. And employers always have more power than workers.
There’s so much more in this handy little book that should be of interest to Escapologists (or indeed anyone who senses injustice in their work life but is yet to articulate it).
Meet ISO 7000-2029
Further to my research into ISO symbols (above), here’s another example that means “escape.”
It seems to be reserved for equipment and isn’t used very widely online but it’s still a cool symbol. It’s called ISO 7000-2029, which I’m sure we can all agree is a catchy name.
To identify the control to cancel the current action or exit from the current state.
I love CB editions. It’s a London-based small press whose books are reliably readable and nicely presented. It’s run by one Charles Boyle whose CB-published novel (how did he manage that?) The Other Jack is a recent favourite of mine.
I share the following excerpt from his blog as an example of a creative business practice that actually works. It works in a small way, which is enough.
The average number of books sold per year since the start of CBe is around 2,500, and last year was a little below that. No bookshop could be run on that. For the authors’ sake I should be selling more. On the other hand, I’m still here, having stumbled upon a way of doing this that doesn’t require me to abide by all the prescriptions of the industry experts.
Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma was written in November and December 1838 and published the following April. I once took on a book in December and, when the author told me he was dying, published it the following February, but in 2023 that’s not usually how it’s done: books are not published for at least a year, often longer, after they are taken on because you need a marketing campaign and Advance Reading Copies and puff quotes on the cover, all the stuff I don’t enjoy and am therefore not good at.
I don’t think CBe is a throwback. Nor is it the work of a man who lives off-grid in a shed in a field. I use the internet and typesetting software and digital printing and can learn new tricks when it suits me. I mean: when it suits someone of a certain age and temperament. I am lucky and privileged (not rich) to be able to do this.
CBe is a reminder that you don’t need to take over the world (or to “scale” as a business dipshit would say) to fill your days with pleasant work and to promote your idea of culture in the world.
Letter to the Editor: Tears Dripping into My Sandwich
I always open your newsletters with a mixture of hope and shame. I remember my second day of full-time employment, sitting alone in a subway, tears dripping into my sandwich, an escape plan forming in my mind.
Fifteen years later I remain imprisoned by my cowardice and lack of imagination. We are all born straight-backed and defiant, but the world has twisted my body and broken my will. You shared a post of mine in the newsletter once, when I was still on Twitter, but I am a fraud! Unworthy!
Oh no! I don’t want anyone to feel like that when they read our newsletter.
Escape from full-time employment is a tough nut to crack. That’s why New Escapologist exists really. Escape plans are hard to formulate, so we have this periodical to share them and to lament their failure when failures happen.
There’s zero shame in not escaping. Most people don’t escape. Most don’t even seriously imagine it. We show in our pages that escape is possible, but it’s by no means certain nor even merely probable. Our examples of successful escape aren’t there to taunt you but to give hope that maybe, just maybe, you can follow suit.
To escape, you might have to look poverty in the whites of its eyes and certainly to face down the idea of failure. You need to build failure into the plan. What would happen if you failed? What would be the worst case scenario? Could you face it?
Fifteen years isn’t such a long time really. Your job, for all that might suck about it, will have provided material comfort in that time. You’ll have something to show for it.
If you really want to escape, you eventually will, even if it’s just at the natural point of retirement into a state pension. In that way, escape is inevitable really. You just have to stay alive and be patient.
Then We Scurried Away
Thomas Grundy writes entertainingly in his email newsletter about a stint in the CFF (“the Combined Cadet Force,” he explains, “otherwise known as the youth Army, Navy and Air Force here in the UK.”)
Despite the CFF’s popularity among other kids his age, Thomas did not have a good time. “I spent dusky evenings crawling on my hands and knees through sodden, muddy fields,” he writes, “ate sloppy food from metal tins, marched relentlessly through the quad until blisters were peeling from our feet, and the accommodation was like something out of a horror film (think Saw meets Cabin in the Woods). I could even see the lights of a nearby Hilton [Hotel] twinkling through the fir trees.”
So he made like Saint Houdini himself and escaped:
on a deeper level I knew the CCF just wasn’t for me. So when I was back at school, I grabbed a friend who was equally unconvinced … and we strode over to the kit-room, dumped our kit on the floor, looked up at the growling kit-man and sheepishly announced “We’re quitting.”
Then we scurried away.
It was a huge relief. And I was delighted.
It was an early example about how quitting can be a positive, intentional action rather than a shameful or guilt-ridden decision.
All for now. I mean, really, that’s a lot of newsletter for the month of July. Maybe we’ll send the August edition a bit later than usual so that people’s inboxes don’t aren’t too burdened with the Escapological latest.
In the meantime, please back the Kickstarter if you have not already and Issue 14 will be on your doormat sooner than you can say “[The Other] Jack Robinson.”
Your fond friend,