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New Escapologist : May 2023
PS: I am wearing shorts
It’s relatively short newsletter this month because I’m on holiday. Hooray!
My partner and I have retreated to our old volcano lair of Montreal, Canada. We’re staying with family and lounging around a lot in the sunshine. Yesterday I poked around some book shops without buying anything. Tonight we go out for sushi.
Readers of Escape Everything! might remember how I proposed “a Montreal year” as a way to organise a life. The climate here, with its scorching summers and Hoth-like winters, suggest a way to live with the seasons: parts of the year are suited to work, others to rest. But one doesn’t need to experience these silly weather conditions to live this way: just as a person in, say, Scotland, might adopt a Mediterranean diet, a Montreal year could be adopted anywhere. If you can make enough money through Spring to spend a summer in the park, why not do so? Or use a productive autumn to finance a leisurely winter? Take your retirement in instalments, I say, instead of leaving it all for the end, which you might not reach anyway.
I write to you, of course, in May, which is not quite summer. If I still lived in Montreal, I’d be hammering out books and articles now in the hope of taking it easy in the hot June heat. As it stands, I’m still on Glasgow time and the relative warmth of Montreal dictates I take it easy now. As Kurt Vonnegut used to say: if this isn’t nice, what is?
On my doormat in Glasgow, according to an email alert, the printer’s proofs of New Escapologist Issue 14 and my novel await my attention. I’m keen to examine them both but, since I have another week with little to do but adopt positions of repose whereby my feet are higher than my head, those happy tasks will have to wait. I’ll tell you about them next time.
Wish you were here,
PS: I am wearing shorts. Tiny, tiny shorts.
“Working Life” is an Oxymoron
Because of our material needs, work forces us to give up our freedoms. Our life is no more — if it ever were — a flourishing tree of possibilities. Work is destitute, the death of choice. Thus, if life is choice, as many seem to think, then “working life” is an oxymoron. The more we work, the less we get to live. This is the real reason why work is harmful. Even if isn’t physically or mentally taxing, work hurts us existentially. It restricts our freedom to be anything but bored.
How can a person cope? Prof. Elpidoru suggests three main ways. One, which most people do, is to simply roll over and accept our lot among the bored:
We can submissively accept it. The need to work isn’t going away and not everybody can afford to quit their job or reach FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early). Work is many things. It is tiring, stressful, depressing, painful, and even dangerous. So what if it is also boring?
Another is try to make it bearable in a Good Life for Wage Slaves sort of way:
We can take breaks, change our routines, spice things up, or gamify our tasks. We can even demand distractions, entertainment, or a Google-like workspace with pool tables, bowling alleys, and other perks. Even if we can’t get rid of boredom altogether, we could at least try to experience it sparingly and between activities that are fun.
Or we can find inspiration in the boredom and use Escapology:
The lack of satisfaction that is endemic to boredom is its greatest tool. We are pained by boredom and precisely because of that, we are pushed to undo its cause. Boredom, in other words, is a powerful motivator. It’s a catalyst for change: an emotional force that propels us to pursue projects that could eventually relieve us from the absence of satisfactory cognitive engagement and the suffocating constraints that work imposes on us. This is no small feat, of course.
No indeed. But given the three options, is it not the most exceptional?
Poverty With Complete Liberty
This past few weeks (it’s a very large book) I’ve been reading Carrington’s Letters, edited by Anne Chisholm. It’s a wealth of letters sent by the artist Dora Carrington (pictured, 1893-1932) who had one foot in and one foot out of the Bloomsbury Group.
It’s wonderful. At times it’s naively funny in a Diary of a Nobody sort of way. At other times it’s tremendously revealing of the egotistical yet nervy way artists think (then as now) as well as of the social foibles of Carrington’s particular time and place. A brilliant book.
Anyway, all I wanted to share with you here in our Escapology newsletter is this funny passage written just after Carrington’s husband, Ralph Partridge, was fired from Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press for being the worst. Carrington writes haughtily:
The Tidmarsh Press will be better because Ralph will have free hand to do what he wants. He will work for himself at his own hours. He can hardly make less money than he did with the Woolfs […] and after all, poverty with complete liberty is worth more than a safe income of £300 a year (not that he got that with the Woolfs) in a business in London, with the dreary prospect of 2 or 3 months freedom every year…
A footnote from editor Chisholm then clarifies that “This notion of setting up another Press came to nothing.”
Hah! There’s so much to say, isn’t there? I mean, she’s right about threadbare freedom beating the daily punishment of a job, but her imaginings are a bit dreamy and undefined.
One has to begin somewhere though and it’s a shame when dreams come to nought, so I’m tempted to rename my own up-and-coming small press “the Tidmarsh Press” to avenge Carrington belatedly. Then again, it would be avenging Ralph really, which I don’t particularly want to do since he was such a boorish and proprietorial twerp.
But also, hang on, “2 or 3 months freedom every year”? In a London business? I’m not sure if such long periods of leave were standard practice in clerical jobs of the time (surely not) or if the Woolfs were excellent bosses or if Carrington just doesn’t know what is normal. I expect the latter but I honestly don’t know. If two or three months could be standard vacation today, I’m not sure I’d bother with Escapology anymore!
Working With the Public
At the grocery store I worked at I had to explain to a woman why we couldn’t take back the apple core she had clearly eaten as a return.
I’ve had to explain to people why we can’t extend their hotel stay because the hotel is fully booked out. They threw a fit because we “Sold the room out from under them,” as if the concept of booking a room for X days meant we hold the room for additional days just in case they wanted to extend.
I work IT support. I had to explain to a 23 year old what a capital letter was when helping them set up their password. Twice. I’ve also had to explain the concept of using a word to help distinguish letters, i.e. “A as in Apple”.
I had to explain to a guy how the older fish would go out of date sooner than the brand new ones.
At first, I wasn’t sure about posting this because I don’t believe the public are stupid. But some of them (us) are! And it can be frustrating.
If you’ve ever worked with the public in a service capacity, this Tumblr thread (you have to open the comments under the video post) will be… cathartic to you.
An Escapologist’s Diary: Part 72. The Right Kind of Work
As many of you know, I keep a diary at the New Escapologist website to chart the ups and downs of one escapee’s life. Its purpose is to answer in a sarcastic level of detail the dull question, “what would I do if I didn’t have a job?” since the people who ask that question don’t usually expect an answer.
In the latest instalment I contemplate what Tove Jansson called the right kind of work. “Our single-bedroom flat,” I write,
has been buzzing with pleasant activity like in the early days of the Hogarth Press. Well, maybe that’s a bit much. Mucking about with the design programme has been fun though, as has remembering the tricks of typography I learned from New Escapologist the first time round. Commissioning cover artwork, emailing with people all over the world, solving minor technical and logistical problems, conspiring with my allies, imagining, imagining, imagining.
While typesetting my novel (a skill in which I was trained some years ago by a very clever man) I was overcome with the notion that this is what I should be doing. All was right with the world in that moment. That’s a nice feeling to have and probably a rare one. It’s certainly not a feeling I ever noticed while working in offices or even libraries.
You can read the full diary entry here.
That’s all for now, dear reader. Thank you again for sticking around. I’ll write again upon my return to Escape Towers, hopefully to tell you how to get your hands on a New Escapologist Issue 14. For now, if you’d like to whet your whistle on the run up to the all-new newness, there’s the back catalogue and The Good Life for Wage Slaves. You can also help to keep the lights on at Escape Towers through Ko-Fi. Thanks again.
Your sunburnt friend,