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New Escapologist : September 2023
You don't need to buy the hat and the pipe
Welcome to New Escapologist, the cheerful newsletter from the magazine of the very same name.
The news this month is that Issue 14 — our triumphant return to print after half a decade — has almost sold out. Now is the time to order a copy if you ever one. The mag will still be available in digital formats after our stock runs out but this is probably your last chance to buy it in print.
(On the subject of digital formats, you can have your say in this short survey about PDF versus Epub if you’re passionate about that sort of thing.)
But this isn’t just an advertising junket. No way! Read on for your monthly digest of thrilling escape stories, bookish notions, and behind-the-scenes glimpses of magazine life.
The Escape of Ariel Anderssen
The piece doesn’t go into detail about how she escaped (I think her family might have just stopped going in — a valuable lesson!) but the world of the JW’s sounds pretty restrictive:
Dressing modestly was important. I learned that masturbation was wrong many years before I found out what it actually was. Men were the heads of our households, and women weren’t allowed to pray out loud, address the congregation, or even handle the microphones we used at our meetings.
At nine years old, I knew that oral sex, gay sex and extramarital sex were all just as sinful as blood transfusions. My future stretched ahead of me, into eternity, hemmed in on all sides by rules.
I knew a Jehovah’s Witness once. We worked together in a video store. She was engaged to be married, which meant she’d soon have to quit and become a stay-at-home wife.
Given my famous aversion to work, you might be surprised to hear I found this a tad depressing. She was a driven, energetic, social person and I couldn’t imagine her nursing babies all day, not by choice but because a fringe denomination of Christianity demanded it. Choice and consent are paramount.
No amount of hinting at the alternatives (okay, lurid and imaginative flirting) on my part could change her mind. She seemed content enough to do what her church demanded.
Ariel, evidently, was not. And the world she escaped into was thrilling but confusing:
my new world spun with giddy freedoms. Skateboarding on Sunday mornings, my first pair of jeans, trying out swearing like my school friends. But with the freedom came uncertainty. If the JWs had been wrong, how could I trust anyone to tell me how to live?
One day, at a gallery exhibition of erotic art, she made enquiries and moved swiftly into BDSM modelling. Ironically, through a creative practice that literally involved being tied up, she found freedom, personal agency, self-respect, and love.
Ariel has written a book about her crazy journey. From restrictive orthodoxy to creative freedom via literal bondage? If this is not a tale of Escapological victory, I’m not sure what is.
We have a column in New Escapologist called Workplace Woes. It’s an opportunity for readers to anonymously blow off steam about their jobs, past or present.
In Issue 14 there was the story of an office Halloween Party that went from embarrassing to worse. There was also the tale of workplace racism out of the clear blue sky. Oh! And the story of animals escaping from a pet shop.
If you’d like to vent your spleen, please send me your Workplace Woes by email. All stories will be treated with utmost confidence. That’s the whole point.
Please keep them under 200 words: there’s no need for elaborate scene setting: just cut to the chase. Stories can be funny or anger-inducing or a little of both.
It would be particularly nice to collect some Woes from the worlds of retail or hospitality and also some outdoorsy Woes (e.g. from the construction industry), but if your story is simply office-based then that’s good too!
The deadline for Issue 15 is September 30th but latecomers will be saved for future editions.
I’d been looking forward to reading a book called Solitude: In Pursuit of a Singular Life in a Crowded World. Life is too crowded, too busy, too loud. And I wondered if the book might contain some solutions for Escapologists.
In the end, I didn’t enjoy the book at all. It barely feels like a real book; almost like one of those prop books you might see in Ikea to make a bookcase look nice on display.
The biggest problem is the author’s fixation on technology. He deploys it usefully enough in the first couple of chapters to illustrate the problem of the crowded world through tech-enabled connectedness. This is fine as it goes, though even at that early stage I was thinking “but tech is only one problem, what else have you got?”
He returns to it time and again, boringly explaining Twitter, emoji, and Rotten Tomatoes as if we’d never heard of them. I assumed the book must be old, perhaps from 2006, but the copyright page shows a publication date of 2017. It’s very odd.
I cheered up a bit when Quentin Crisp made an appearance in Chapter 5. Crisp’s wit and defiance seem personally important to the author and some of his passion is on the page. But then we’re back to moaning about social media after four short pages of circling some basic writing about conformity.
Anyway, there’s the occasional nugget. I like this moment, buried in the middle of the book after a boring digression about whether “smart” thermostats can have beliefs and tastes (they can’t):
today we need to safeguard our inner weirdo, seal it off and protect it from being buffeted. Learn an old torch song that nobody knows; read a musty, out-of-print detective novel; photograph a honey-perfect sunset and show it to no one. We may need to build new and stronger weirdo cocoons, in which to entertain our private selves. Beyond the sharing, the commenting, the constant thumbs-upping, beyond all that distracting gilt, there are stranger things waiting to be loved.
Escapologists should avoid the strong force of common opinion by way of nurturing our own insights. Reading books or watching films properly or restfully playing the violin instead of gawping at the television, for example, is indeed something we’ve talked about before.
It’s better for you (because who wants to be a zombie, merely reacting to whatever comes along?) and better for the world (because society needs free-thinkers and contrarians and, if nothing else, a control group). But we don’t need to “safeguard our inner weirdo” for its own sake exactly. Courting uniqueness happens naturally, emerging as a by-product of our bigger projects.
When you’re working on an escape plan to say goodbye to the office or if you’re trying to build the creative muscles to write your first novel, the inner weirdo will thrive of its own volition. To put it another way, you’ll become Sherlockian. You don’t need to buy the hat and the pipe.
Don’t worry about the digital or workaday worlds. Just ignore them and do your own beautiful thing. Speaking of which…
Outsiders enjoy a tactical advantage. They don’t have to adhere to establishment protocols which could slow them down. They don’t have to dumb down their ideas with visually snazzy [and] ridiculous PowerPoint slides.
They can happily ignore convention and are under no pressure to accept invitations or take part in events simply to “show face”. […]
What’s more, their position off the intellectual track sharpens their perception of the contradictions and shortcomings of the prevailing system, to which members of the club are blind.
The Iceman must be the ultimate outsider and I love him so much that I wrote a whole book about him last year. Thankfully this wise prodigy had a little more to say and I was glad to speak to him again.
Reader Tom writes: “Look to the outsiders. The groups of people on the fringes or dabbling in areas which aren’t mainstream. They have aces up their sleeve which they might be willing to share.”
I’d go one better. Learn from outsiders. But also, be an outsider.
Witnessing the lives of outsiders like the Iceman is what turned me into an Escapologist in the first place. I had a day job in an office while spending my evenings on stand-up comedy and reading about performance history (including the history of magic, which switched me onto Houdini).
On the evenings I’d meet people who truly didn’t give a shit: they didn’t care about making enough money, they had no lofty goals, they just entertained and intrigued and worked on their act. Unlike the people in the office and unlike half of myself, they had integrity.
Visualise an Alternative, Save Your Money, Do a Runner
I’ve arranged my life around the principle of living and working in the same couple of rooms. You might have heard of the fifteen-minute city? Well, I live in the one-minute city.
We’re proud to announce that New Escapologist is now stocked by magCulture, London’s premier destination for printy-printy mag-mags.
It’s a real candy shop of paper productions, so it’s flattering that they’ve agreed to put us on their shelves.
To draw their customers’ attention to our magazine over the long-established others, I did a little interview with proprietor Jeremy. It’s worth a read: Jeremy asks the right questions.
If you don’t like your boring job or the people around you or the town you live in, you can knuckle down and enact a plan of escape. Visualise an alternative, save up your money, do a runner. It’s different to escapism, which is about temporarily fleeing the mundane by watching films or reading novels or whatever.
We’re interested in people who have turned their life upside-down by escaping the inadequacy they’ve drifted into through the bullying of capitalism or the demands of society, and into a more creative life of their own design. You know, Escapology!
Letter to the Editor: Backwards, Away From the Sunlight
Reader L writes:
I just read the magCulture interview. Why do you put so many of your books in your bookshelves spine-in? Are those the ones you’ve read and the spine-out group is fresh reading fodder?
Hi L. Yes, that’s correct. But it’s only temporary. I saw a YouTuber doing it and I thought it would be fun to get the live visualisation of “read versus unread.” I’ll put it back to normal soon though because it’s impractical for finding a specific book.
The same YouTuber described the exercise as “playing with my library.” I thought, “hmm, I never play with my library. Maybe I’ll play with my library.”
It’s also fun to see the different colours of book paper: some of them aged and others new, some of them bright white and others burnt umber or practically orange.
Additionally, the room is very sunny so I’m always aware that the spines of my books are becoming gradually bleached. Some once-yellow spines like that of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, which I’ve owned for 20 years, is now bright white.
This gradual bleaching is forever on my mind much like how Foster, a librarian in Richard Brautigan’s The Abortion, is troubled by his surplus book stock being housed in a drippy old cave. It’s nice to have a break from that worry while my oldest friends are all turned backwards, away from the sunlight.
I realise this has very little do with Escapology. Unless of course… it does?
Feeling bookish now? How about buying one? :P
Thanks for reading. Remember to catch Issue 14 while you still can, pre-order your Issue 15 (if you’re not already a subscriber), have your say in the digital formats survey, and send us your Workplace Woes. You could even watch this lengthy and freewheeling interview with me on YouTube (New Escapologist gets a mention but it’s mostly about comedy and writing). You know, if you want to. As Ariel Anderssen shows us, choice and consent for a good life are paramount.
Your chirpy chum,