...........................................Henry Miller quote:

....Self-Help - guides to Changing Your Life

 

 

 

 

IN RECENT YEARS I’ve glanced now and then into several of those weird books on how to manage, change, improve… Your Life! These, I know, have been around since the 1930s - and probably, in their various forms, from well before that. But in the last decade their number has positively exploded. They are everywhere nowadays, new and second-hand – often newly second-hand (presumably, they attract a purchase and then disappoint – for reasons I examine shortly). Whatever their effectiveness, though, they fall essentially into two distinct groups:

First, there are those that seem designed for workaholics. These attempt to inspire the reader to re-examine their life with the aim of challenging the constant effort and toil that enslaves them. The reader is encouraged to instead awaken to the real values of existence - like to just enjoy being alive. The intension here is to help readers abandon futile hopes of future material wealth, and instead recognise and reach out for an achievable sustained contentment in the here and now. I suppose this, in a capitalist society, could be seen as subversive. 

The second kind, apparently, are for idlers like me. These attempt to persuade the reader to shove their nose ever more securely to the grindstone. They do this by concentrating on efficiency, maximising resources (especially time and energy) and promoting the Will to Achieve. The emphasis here is on motivation, on striving to fulfil one's potential in a competitive world. In complete opposition to the first, this type of ‘self-help’ could be seen as an attempt to endorse, rather than subvert, capitalist principles.

Some books, inevitably, will be more successful than others in nudging their readers towards action. But I’m sceptical of how effective any of them can be in actually evoking change in the lives of more than a few percent, if that. And probably those few will mostly comprise people already focussed on similar intentions.

But assuming a book is effective, then what might its effect be? If those for whom the book is primarily intended are persuaded by its suggestions, then readers might achieve a level of moderation in their lives. I recoil, though, at the thought of a workaholic taking up the second kind. The result might be precisely the sort of monsters that currently run Washington and the multinationals: the Cheyneys and the Rumsfelds, the Brownes and the Murdochs... in other words: the most detestable, destructive and lethal face of humanity possible. So it's just as well that they are generally ineffective. On the other hand, if an idler like me takes up the first kind, then something quite different might be achieved.

*****

One writer of the first kind of book is Tony Robbins. Maybe you’ve heard of him? A few weeks ago Rod sent me some of Robbins’ recordings – (he’s moved on from writing books). I believe Rod thought these might inspire me to write more stories - I’ve been slacking a lot lately, and I guess a nudge was in order! Unfortunately, it was the wrong kind of self-help for that; and in any event I’m not so easily nudged. Besides which, as I've implied: inspiration seems to emanate rather less from external prompting, than from the subconscious (which explains the ineffectiveness of a fleeting brush with anything). The name ‘Robbins’, though, jogged a memory so when I looked on my shelves I found three of his books, published in the ‘80s and ‘90s - one a gift from Rod several years ago.

Anyhow, I listened to the recordings - and did so with my usual scepticism (which has become as much a part of me as my hands and face). And as the CD played, it soon struck me - though I’d only ever dipped casually into these books - that what Robbins was saying was all very familiar: the issues he addressed in his intense, compelling discourse, were precisely those that had spontaneously been criss-crossing my brain for most of my life. This was especially true in the 80s – and almost continually in 1988 during the months leading to when I finally decided to throw-in the towel (so far as formal employment was concerned, that is).

At first, this match between Robbins' and my own perception surprised me. I’d been under the cynical impression that ‘self-help’ books (or recordings) were not so much designed to alert people to the madness of how they conducted their lives, as to persuade them to simply buy the books or recordings - and thereby generate a healthy profit for those who produced the stuff. Well, that's the basis of the capitalist system we live under, after all. However, capitalist aims and accuracy of vision are not necessarily mutually exclusive. And it appears that a few of these self-help ‘gurus’ have actually cracked it… M Scott Peck for some, I believe, and for me Anthony Robbins – although I didn’t need him to alert me to the great eternal messages he proclaims. Indeed, you'll find a similar or corresponding philosophy in scripts on Zen and several other ancient ways-of-life. Robbins is new only in presentation.

But the key messages are certainly something that can be learned from a book - though not, as I say, so they work instantly in practice. It requires rather more than a brief ‘overnight’ revelation ... unless, maybe, you have a fearless, impulsive nature and are happy to try anything straight off that sounds at least plausible! But then you'd be fairly liberated anyway, and would hardly require the likes of Robbins to inspire you.

As I was saying, it was back in the 80s when I began to properly formulate these ideas for myself – ideas I’d been nursing and building on all my life. My financial circumstances were approaching a point where such ideas could actually be put into practise without any real sacrifice (explained below). It was an initiative too, I admit, that was influenced to an extent by certain writers, though not those of the Robbins genre - nor even Zen. The important authors for me who I perchance stumbled on at the time are well enough known, and are perennially available in any decent bookshop: Dostoyevsky, Hesse, Kafka, Camus, Kerouac… and several others. These cannot at all be described as self-help - not in any traditional sense. Nor (at least, at surface level) can they really be classed as subversive; nor even as popular classics like those that are shoved down most kid’s throats of almost every generation: Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen and so forth….  (nowadays Philip Pullman and J. K. Rowling… I shouldn’t wonder?).

These latter tomes, to me, were unreadable (Pullman and Rowling were unknown then), and - in any event - were probably unlikely to inspire even a hint of life-changing thoughts in anyone. What I was reading, on the other hand, related well to the real world and how I thought. It alerted me to certain aspects of my (all of our) 'predicament' - which, if only superficially, I'd frequently reflected upon as a kid (at the time these reflections had appeared deeply significant, and not in the least superficial). And since I was becoming ever more nigglingly aware of that strange subconscious yearning for the freedom I’d been dreaming of since the age of around 5, my receptivity was probably at maximum. Which must be why, unlike Dickens and Shakespeare, those other author/philosophers are apparently regarded as potentially seditious and hence excluded from state (though not private - note!) education. Which is a travesty, because they're much more readable, much more gripping, and much more REAL - one should not forget that, like dreams, the subconscious operates in the realms of symbolism.

I remember thinking, with some irritation, each time I discovered a new author with whom I found this curious affinity: Pity I didn’t unearth this decade’s ago - in my teens would have been ideal! Yet even in the 80s (aged 30 – 40) I felt, as I read them, a warm glow of recognition, that they contained profound and relevant psychological insights (not high-flown Shakespearian all-humanity stuff, but authentic deeply introspective observations on raw personal existence which a child recognises all too vividly - or I did!): and they were returning me, with concomitant youthful vengeance, to my particular ‘journey to the east.

**********

A short while ago (March 2007) - in a junk shop in Hastings Old Town I dug out for 80p a little paperback that I hadn’t heard of before. It was the sequel to ‘The Naked Civil Servant’ by Quentin Crisp, autographed inside by the author with a bold characteristic flourish. (It had belonged to a local author called Peter Ling who I'd not heard of before, and who died recently). Crisp writes plain prose with a shrewd eye and sharp wit. I was immensely pleased with this unexpected find:

From ‘How to Become a Virgin’ (1981) page-10

When I was a child, my mother and sister used to sit each side of a threadbare fire busily sewing or writing letters. I lay motionless on the hearth rug between them. At least once an hour one of them, with an irritable sigh, would ask, 'Why don't you get something to do?' I always replied, 'Why should I?'
     Later in life when strangers asked me what I did with my spare time and I told them I did nothing, they too instantly became agitated. To them even the most fatuous alternatives to idleness seemed preferable.
     'But you don't really do nothing, do you?'
     'Yes.'
     'But you read.'
     'Books are for writing, not reading.'
     'Well then, you write,'
     'Not if I can possibly get out of it.'
     'Don't you listen to the radio?'
     'Listening to the radio is like holding a conversation with someone who is wearing dark glasses.'
     'Then you watch television.'
     'Seldom and never to kill time.'
     'But you can't just do NOTHING.'
     With my back to the wall I concede that I breathe and blink. At this point my inquisitor's fury usually explodes over me like a hand grenade.

This reminded me of my inner self. I was never so bold as a kid when it came to exposing certain personal characteristics that I thought might invite disapproval. And my aversion to work listed high among those characteristics. The term 'work' encompasses a whole range of meanings. For the sake of clarity I'll separate these into two classes: one I'll call Work (capital 'W') and the other ‘work’ (in commas) - the latter, in which I am engaged right now, and of which I’ve never been averse except when more pleasurable things are afoot, is to me really not work at all, but play, and maybe challenge, like an intricate game - ie, Hesse's Glass-Bead Game!

For some curious reason, I'm ever increasingly aware that time is short, breathtakingly short, and playtime shorter still. I'm constantly amazed that so few people seem to notice this: how ephemeral and fleeting our lives are. Does a butterfly know it will survive only a few days? Or one of those remarkable stag-beetles I used to crash into when running along the Thames towpath near Walton in the 80s, know they will fly only for that one season? Whether or not they have such intimations, we humans certainly know our time is limited. Is it just that we can't bear to reflect on what this means?

So Work is something I seek to avoid these days – unless it is genuinely necessary (like cleaning the drains or some other of the innumerable chores which are essential to living as we do: such tasks should be regarded as part of the richness of life - though for a fee, of course, most can be delegated).

This morning, if only to emphasise the key philosophy I'm aiming to propagate here, during a brief random surf of the web, I found a little story containing this:

No sooner would I sit out on the steps of my tent and turn my mind inward than some counselor was in my ear asking me what I wanted to do next. “Nothing” was not an acceptable answer, just as “nowhere” was not an acceptable direction when asked exactly where I was headed by myself in between basketball and archery.

From: http://www.commonties.com/blog/2007/02/27/alone-at-last/

Which brings me back to Robbins - whose first recording (Day-1) I listened to with keen attention. Good, fine common sense - as I’ve said: I'd already spontaneously drummed-up the same. But instead of nudging me towards productive work, as I guess Rod had hoped would happen, now all I wanted to do was get out to Friston Forest or the beach - or to some natural wild location, or perhaps to visit friends like ROD himself!

After the recording, I thought: To spend time writing, or doing anything that prevents utilising every possible moment somewhere or doing something (or being in the company of someone) I really enjoy or consider worthwhile, leaves me with a slight sense of guilt and self-betrayal. Ie, ‘Camus’: ’…the fact that I had known joy all one livelong day seemed to me not an exceptional success but the whole-hearted fulfilment of a condition which, in certain circumstances, makes it our duty to be happy.'

Luckily, the sensation was transitory, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this now. But mentality is transient: all play and no work... is a myth... Change is of the essence - but to Work? Unless imperative for survival: Not bloody likely! Camus' suggestion of joy as a 'duty' might, like Robbins' pronouncements, briefly inspire. But this would be like following an attractive float that flashes by in a carnival - because unless one is truly inspired, very soon, in the usual run of things, everything fades to normal…. the 'carnival' passes on, one sighs reflectively and goes half-grudgingly, half-relieved, back to the old familiar friendly enemy of semi-conscious robot-routine.

Robbins' discourse, when I heard it, inspired me to want above all to spend this precious time OUT and HAPPY and BEING (instead of DOING). 'To be or not to be?', ‘Being & Time’, 'Being and Nothingness', 'The Art of Being', 'To Have or to Be'.... except the first (Shakespeare, of course), all book titles (Heidegger, Sartre and Fromm). But it couldn’t last – or could it?  For me it could because I’d cultivated, perchance, precisely that reasoning over many years. In other words, Robbins’ ideas were (are) already an integral part of my subconscious.

*****

Here I make a little detour to mention a sinister aspect to the propagation of 'big ideas' like those of Robbins. For many years there has been what's known in the US as the 'Lecture Circuit'. This is where famous people with speech-making abilities can earn vast fees from public speaking, which they do at various venues around the country - often making $£millions. This is fair enough - if people are prepared to pay through the nose for such 'entertainment', then fine.

In recent times, though, this concept has been extended to include seminars. These can be on a range of issues and subjects. Often they last several days, and the fees are frequently extortionate. The expectation of clients is that the massive fee will be justified, that some amazing new revelation or result will be forthcoming. Victims (clients) are led to believe that some highly desirable skill, which usually takes many years and great dedication to learn, will be mastered (or a new easy route learned) within a few days, subject to an inspired effort and the innate intelligence of the student - and, of course, the amazing magic secret that will be revealed. The topic is usually some key popular or common desire - either for mastering a skill or combating a lifelong shortcoming, which could be as banal as how to 'Conquer Low Esteem'.

Not long ago I noticed an advert for such a seminar on 'Screenwriting'; the fee I think was £350 for three days (this was not residential - it was somewhere in the Marylebone Rd). What poor fools, I wondered, could have actually believed they could learn to write a blockbuster film script in three days flat? One may as well attend a seminar on 'Winning the Lottery'.

There was a residential seminar in Bournemouth several years ago that professed a sure-fire cure for stammering - Rod and me, with a friend who suffered this problem, attended an introductory lecture. That was an eye-opener. It was the nearest thing I can remember that vaguely resembled in tone that mad Billy Graham escapade described in 'Mrs Jolly and the Intercom'. And I think the likes of Robbins are also onto this scam.

The public are so gullible - as ever! It wouldn't surprise me if a £350 seminar on the secrets of 'playing the violin' didn't attract substantial interest. These frauds are not widely advertised, but are directed at those already half-believers who subscribe perhaps to some specialised periodical, or other common source of contact.

*****

I don’t agree with Robbins just because I came up with the same ideas spontaneously - and decided to act on them. Nor because his observations tally with several ancient philosophies that I happen to find agreeable. He’s right because it works – and has worked, I suspect, for thousands of years. BUT ONLY VIA THE SUBCONSCIOUS - which takes TIME: months or most likely years. No way is it going to work in a few days, any more than is learning the violin.

If, though, we were brought-up in psychologically ideal conditions, then we would already be living cheerful fulfilling lives, and would have no need for Robbins or his kin. Though we would probably still need to practice, should we wish to master it, the violin!

Although I was fairly contented before, my quality of life since I ceased full-time Work in 1989 (initially to go travelling) has certainly been enhanced. That my life was fine before, didn’t mean there wasn’t vast room for improvement. I was damn lucky, so I'd thought, because I actually was quite fond of my job. But that only made escape harder.

I wonder if, for people who fail to ‘escape’ as I did, an overriding apprehension might deter them: that, like me, they enjoy their job - but, unlike me, believe they won't be able to handle what they envisage as the 'mammoth' and 'daunting' task of managing their own time?

Robbins’ discourse, I believe, has the power to challenge these misconceptions (the 'mammoth' and 'daunting'), and will perhaps get you on the edge of your seat, braced and ready for action – but only if the concept of action is already a part your psyche, to be realised anyway (probably) in the near future. Either way, Robbins' discourse may well give one cause to feel uneasy, and to stir!

*********

Just a few days ago it was announced that recent research had shown that the more control people have over their lives the longer they live. (Surprise, surprise!). It follows, dare I say, that people who have little or no control over any part of their life, probably have little or no reason to live - so they are likely, I guess, to 'give-up'. (There are numerous ways of 'giving-up' - a subject for future discussion).

The usual way that control is removed from people is simply for others to take it. And one reason people like to have power over others, it strikes me, is because it removes or balances others’ power over them. This is an ongoing battle, this power play, this vying for control. But taking power from others as a method of one's own escape, is ultimately bound to fail. Not only does it lead to general discontent but at limit it can lead to such universal horrors as all-out wars.

Like the desire for money (which is equivalent to the desire for power) it can never be satisfied: however powerful or rich they get, people always want more - indeed the more they have, the stronger the desire for even more - unless each takes exclusive charge of their own situation.

I would contend that those who are, or feel, in control of their life, rarely if ever seek power. And to feel in control you must (except perhaps what's necassary for survival) cease to sell your time - and certainly never sell your soul (ie, become any kind of a mercenary - which is the fastest route there is, probably, to psychological disaster).

This isn’t to disparage service : we can all gain from performing some service or other that is as well received as given. It is, rather, to condemn slavery – the victims largely of which will have mesmerised themselves into liking what they do, instead of in the first place ‘doing what they like’ – ie, Shaw’s old maxim again which I'm so fond of quoting: ‘Do what you like or you’ll end-up liking what you do’.

I know that to follow this concept is impossible for people who need to earn a living - unless you can get Work you genuinely like doing (something creative or artistic, probably), at least for some of the time. But even if you are stuck in this thankless category, bear with me...

Right now I have quite a lot of control over my life – tons more than when I Worked. So however pleasant the job I did, my life is greatly improved. I have some money; not a huge amount, but enough. Though my circumstances are to some extent the result of my own actions, I'm lucky all-the-same, I admit. Now I’m free to leap on a plane to who-knows-where. Or, if I wish, I can buy a case of rum and sit here blanked-out for a week – with no repercussions (apart from the obvious physical ones). I could visit London and wander around the galleries and museums, or even Washington’s Smithsonian… tomorrow… or fly to Aussie... Or I could sit here on the patio in the sun and read or – I can go for a stroll on the beach, drive to Wales…. Climb a mountain (an easy one).

To emphasise: If they hadn’t matched what I had realised anyway, then Robbins’ ideas would have meant little to me. I wager that you too have all the same understandings at your fingertips, so to speak, without ever having to refer to people like Robbins. But because of Shaw’s maxim - or simply, habit - newly unveiled ideas, even if you're already half-familiar and receptive to them, may need an incubation period. Perhaps it would take six months minimum for the seeds to germinate – depending on several factors.

I don't believe Robbins’ inspiring discourse could motivate anyone to Work. Work is for the second kind of ‘self-help’ – the Achievement kind that motivates people to become millionaires, control freaks, megalomaniacs… Robbins’ ideas, on the other hand, inspire escape – from drudgery, from pointlessness, from ‘blindness’... and can launch people into a new kind of Being, a new awareness and consciousness, towards (but never reaching, alas) that elusive subliminal nirvana.

I suppose Robbins also encourages creativity - but even that, when evoking the exquisite sensations and delights that creativity can offer, is not experienced in the same physical way as what might be called real life (leisure) – for it can't be denied that we are physical beings whose body and mind are essentially one: we need to operate on a level that embraces our entire self.

*****

I recently dipped into a biography of Ken Tynan and saw that he died slowly and painfully at age 53, intensely angry at the prospect of such premature termination (by emphysema). Taking from an example by himself (see two paragraphs on), his situation might be compared with that of a racing driver who completely neglects his car then wonders why it fails just when he’s half-way into his biggest race.

Conversely, consider the circumstances for a guy on TV recently who’d turned 100; still fit and well, who actually preferred to continue cleaning cars than retire because he could think of nothing better to do! Had he visited the Louvre, or the Sistine Chapel… or even the Beam-Engine House at Kew (or the gardens)? Did he have a library, a computer and access to the vast chronicles of knowledge that's at last accessible at the click of a mouse?

Tynan, incidentally, was unwaveringly passionate in his intension to see the theatre not merely survive, but flourish: “It is good to have fine plays and fine actors to perform them, just as it is good to have fine cars and fine drivers to steer them. But one also needs petrol, a garage and an open road.” (From: ‘Theatre and Living’ 1957). Pity he didn’t apply the same passion to the welfare of his own life-support mechanism.  

So in spite of Robbins' observations and his genius in putting them across, and despite stumbling on the same ideas spontaneously a long time ago, as have many other over past millennia, I still ‘work’ contentedly. Indeed, I’ve tried to convey similar kinds of message in 'The Job' - and in 'Camus' and 'Kerouac' (both from quotes and my own thoughts).

*********

Throughout my life, right from the age of about 5 – which was when I noticed for the first time how duff it was to be forced to do things I didn’t want to do, things I saw no point in anyway (like ‘dressing-up’ for church on a Sunday or, above all: going to school) - from that moment, indeed the very first hour of that very first day of school, it seems to me now as I reflect, I began (in my own peculiar way) to prepare mentally for retirement.

Ludicrous as this may seem, it is nonetheless true. I may not have been capable of articulating this to myself in so many words, but the notion was most definitely there, sown indelibly into my brain by events during those early years, and soundly consolidated by further events thenceforth. See 'Slick Slacking'.

I’ve now been enjoying this - what is essentially ‘freedom’ - for 18-years, since just before I was 40. It was to be, and has been more-or-less, a retirement that would free me from all the mad unnecessary hassle and bustle of life. This might sound excessively ambitious if not ambiguous (and I weigh the notion sceptically against 'Thoughts of a Sage'), but.... for instance: someone working abroad, when interviewed on the radio a few days ago, said how they even ‘missed’ the London traffic. I can understand that. I remember reflecting on such nostalgia when I was abroad - especially when camped in some remote forest miles from anywhere with wolves howling ominously in the distance at night... this, though, was FABULOUS! DIG the atmosphere!.... But many people seem either to actually enjoy the general aggravation or else, having been somehow forced to engage in it, are unable or unwilling to make the effort to extricate themselves.

Imagine how life - the world - would be if the endless hectic jostling for position, scrabbling for promotion, for that new car, the exotic fortnight in Tuvalu... ceased to exist, or at least lost its prominance, so people were content to acquire a certain reasonable standard of living and little or no more. Aspirations for travel (less luxuriantly, perhaps) may well persist. Aspirations for empire, though, world domination, for invading, plundering and killing… none of these would survive. And because rip-offs would essentially cease too, then poverty would be rare, pollution would decline, arms industries would barely tick-over... people would Work more moderately, be better paid… and be more contented and fulfilled – because as it is they’re chasing an ever-distant 'demon' which in their hearts they know they can never apprehend, a demon which has been implanted in them during their formative years by those who, wittingly or otherwise, support or approve of an absurd corporate Establishment. In other words, people are instilled with a desire that can never be met - they have been relegated to the unenviable condition of being perpetually dissatisfied, frustrated and discontented.

Well, it is in precisely the opposite way to this – in my little sheltered life here on the south coast – which I have chosen to live. Why I am free of the wish to make ever more money, I don’t know; it is a great mystery to me. But I don't dwell on it too much. Maybe the idea of possessing large amounts of money never really gripped me, or maybe I've somehow shaken it off. Perhaps I simply don't trust money, because I see how it subverts and corrupts, or it could be that I recognise more clearly than most people how destructive is the persistent desire for anything so ephemeral. Whatever the reason for it, my situation represents yet another kind of freedom. It’s like being free from dependency on a drug (I smoked roll-ups for four decades, so I know), or being rid of some problematic irrational drive. It’s being free of what for many people has become a mad overpowering compulsion.

I'm talking here about the lack of surplus money (beyond what's actually needed for a reasonable level of living) because, when it fails to materialise, it frequently sends people into a state of melancholia that leaves them devoid, so they believe, of all reason for living. 

Concerning my own position: Anyone can organise a mortgage as I did years ago. Remember: in the UK house values double every 8-years, hence salaries double too – more-or-less (otherwise how could anyone afford to buy a house?). This means every 8-years the mortgage effectively shrinks to a quarter. So, you move up-market a couple of times – stretch things a bit while you can. And then, after 12-years, say, you move slightly down market, pay off the mortgage, and hey-presto you own your house - outright. No more mortgage or rent ( just bloody council tax). But you’ve been paying into a pension during that 12-years too – and if you have only a modest bank balance you can always sign-on the dole. True, you may not be rich – unless you’ve made a bit extra from your property or have hived away a few quid – but most significantly, most importantly: you’re free. And remember: time happens only once!

So this is what I did. Like good old Quentin Crisp (and William Kenower, in that second quote, above), I just wanted to be left alone to enjoy existing, to immerse myself in peaceful isolation – not from the world, but from the ‘madness’ which includes that incomprehensible (to me) incessant striving… for what, I never quite fathomed - could it really be only for more money? That's what most people would say: more money, with which to buy rest-time and luxury.

But how could it be for rest and luxury when many who have the money or the option, still choose to Work? Look about you: see all those wealthy people rushing off to Work every day. Mostly, I contend, they are blind robots locked into an absurd routine - from which one day they'll awaken (like Henry in Pirandello's 'Henry IV') to realise, suddenly, famished and all grey, that the banquet is over....

I’ve acknowledged elsewhere (see ‘Alex’) how the need to struggle seems inborn in us humans – presumably because throughout the several million years we’ve been around in essentially our current form, that’s all we’ve known. So we are genetically geared for struggle. This, I suppose, is why people fight and are not in the least averse to killing – like the US and UK in Iraq. But I think we’ve evolved far beyond the blind pointless struggle that most people still engage in - or, rather, we could live (as many already do) civilised non-violent lives of compassion and humility, should we so choose. As Colin Wilson said when speaking of ‘passion for knowledge’ (and as I’ve quoted elsewhere): “…the instruments required in this new existence is not weapons and tools but intellect and imagination.” And that is where our struggle – if we must struggle, and I acknowledge not all of us wish to – should be.

So, for as long as I can remember, I'd looked forward to and anticipated with relish this freedom I finally found 18-years ago. About two-years earlier in 1987 - after those authors had nudged me into my new strange wakefulness which I think resembled that elusive and enviable life-affirming state kids experience much of the time – I began to recognise that I was finally approaching the crucial point I’d been waiting for. Although, as I’ve said, my life at the time was comfortable and pleasant enough, the opportunity that I awoke to was the opportunity to permanently change my life in a major and positive way. The house-value situation, though not essential, certainly helped.

And so, a few months before my 40th birthday, I unhitched myself permanently from the same great machine onto which most teenagers, including me (though in my case half-heartedly: see ‘The Button’), leap with such misplaced hope and joy … They, like I did, misinterpret the corporate Establishment propaganda which dominates their formative years, as a vision of a future full of promise - which is bound to allure and mesmerise any fortunate youth. How soon they will be disillusioned, how quickly they will notice with alarm that they've been duped and swindled. How disarming, in the face of these conditions, to be forced to relinquish their dreams! But relinquish they must in order to free themselves from the corporate spell.

FREE at last (or as free as it’s reasonably possible to be while still enjoying the fruits of so-called civilisation). I, like most people who Work, had been a victim of what might be called: ‘civilised slavery’. I know, of course, of the appalling enforced and cruel slavery in India and Africa and elsewhere – which makes our voluntary ‘civilised’ slavery appear so innocuous and tame.

But people say to me sometimes (a bit like they did with Quentin Crisp when he said he liked to do nothing): ‘Don’t you ever get bored?’ And when I reply, ‘Never!’ I know they think I’m lying by the way they look at me. But it seems either impossible or pointless to argue – they exist on the other side of some curious barrier, both intuitive and intellectual. Perhaps this resembles the event-horizon of a black-hole, through which I somehow managed to squeeze many years ago and ever since have been viewing the world of 'madness' from this altered perspective which very few other people experience. If so, then it’s a perspective I’ve been spontaneously cultivating, as I say, from the age of about 5. Or have I always existed on this ‘other side’? Maybe I was born there? I mean, ever unable to cross into the alien realm of conformity and grind where most other people seem so at home and to thrive so well, and, to my continual wonder, even appear to prefer.

If I’d met Quentin Crisp and noticed (which I probably wouldn’t have done – any more than one notices someone is breathing) that he spent much of his time doing absolutely nothing, it wouldn’t have even occurred to me to question the fact. I’d be no more likely to question an idler on his idling than to question why someone enjoying a drink of water should be doing so.

I hope you too can follow your dreams.... it worked for me!

 

A warning from Banksy

From: Henry Miller – in Greece (from p-45 of ‘The Colossus of Maroussi’ 1941)

I would set out in the morning and look for new coves and inlets in which to swim. There was never a soul about. I was like Robinson Crusoe on the island of Tobago. For hours at a stretch I would lie in the sun doing nothing, thinking of nothing. To keep the mind empty is a feat, a very healthful feat too. To be silent the whole day long, see no newspaper, hear no radio, listen to no gossip, be thoroughly and completely lazy, thoroughly and completely indifferent to the fate of the world is the finest medicine a man can give himself. The book-learning gradually dribbles away; problems melt and dissolve; ties are gently severed; thinking, when you deign to indulge in it, becomes very primitive; the body becomes a new and wonderful instrument; you look at plants or stones or fish with different eyes; you wonder what people are struggling to accomplish by their fren­zied activities; you know there is a war on but you haven't the faintest idea what it's about or why people should enjoy killing one another; you look at a place like Albania - it was constantly staring me in the eyes - and you say to yourself, yesterday it was Greek, today it's Italian, tomorrow it may be German or Japanese, and you let it be anything it chooses to be. When you're right with yourself it doesn't matter what flag is flying over your head or who owns what or whether you speak Eng­lish or Monongahela. The absence of newspapers, the absence of news about what men are doing in different parts of the world to make life more livable or unlivable is the greatest single boon….

See also: related item > 'Ingrained Slavery'

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