Taking a LEAP: Alternatives to Money

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As I said yesterday, I’ve just finished reading ‘No is Not Enough’ (actually I have yet to read the end bit, which is the LEAP manifesto pictured above, an alternative manifesto with a number of broad-ranging suggestions to tackle climate change and deal with the excesses of global capitalism.  It refers to Canada but is applicable anywhere and everywhere.)

https://leapmanifesto.org/en/the-leap-manifesto/

Klein hits the nail on the head, as always, by pointing out that attachment to money is at the root of this; and without coming over all biblical manages to say the same thing as the New Testament:

http://biblehub.com/1_timothy/6-10.htm

Money itself, as I have pointed out before, is neither real nor evil in itself.  It is morally neutral since money is a concept we have agreed to treat as if it were real for the purposes of exchanging goods and services.  So it strikes me that the way to destroy global capitalism (which god knows we need to do before it destroys us) is to undermine this attachment to money.  We can do this in any number of ways: by freecycling, by refusing to buy what we are sold, by helping each other out without asking for financial rewards and above all by refusing to regard money as the be-all and end-all of our existence.

For ten years now I have put my money where my mouth is by giving up paid employment in order to do what I love.  I have taken a leap off the cliff and tried to do the impossible – namely, to make money from writing – and I can’t claim to have succeeded yet.  But – and here’s the astonishing point – I have survived.  My health has not gone down the tubes; I haven’t starved, gone without adequate clothing, frozen to death or been homeless.  Whenever disaster has threatened to strike something has always come along: I’ve even managed some luxuries such as holidays, the odd bottle of wine and, in the last year, a car.  Much of this is due to the generosity of friends (and Friends) and family, but I hope those (F)friends and relatives would agree that there has been some kind of exchange here: in that I may not have money but I have time and energy to do things for others.

This is a phenomenon I’ve observed in other people who put their lives on the line to do what they love; that something always turns up.  I don’t even think you need to have some kind of religious faith for this to work; just the faith that comes from taking that leap off the cliff.  Every artist (unless they are born into money) has this same dilemma: how do I make a living and practise my art?  My view is that if you wait until you can afford it you’ll probably wait forever.  Take a leap of faith.

Living without money has taught me a lot.  In some ways it’s been a very hand-to-mouth existence but I think that central to survival is to think only of what you need today, here and now, and let tomorrow take care of itself. It has also brought a certain kind of freedom: an immunity to advertising.  There is no chance whatsoever of any advertising affecting me or tempting me to buy something I don’t need, because I don’t have the money.

At the same time I refuse to allow lack of money to limit my imagination.  I never tell myself ‘I can’t’ when an opportunity comes up, because maybe there’s a way that ‘I can.’  For example I can go to the Labour Party Conference in September because I’m going as a delegate and this will be paid for by the local party; and in the same way I’ve managed to go to lots of things for free because I’ve managed to access funding or because I’ve offered to do something in return.

It’s amazing what can happen when you look beyond the limitations of mere money and take a LEAP.

Kirk out

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Are We Diverse? And If Not, Why Not?

From time to time white, middle-class organisations (like Quakers) ask themselves why they are white and middle-class.  They bemoan the lack of BME and working-class members (though they are perhaps not so keen on attracting the aristocracy).  It seems to be the sole preserve of the middle-classes to deprecate themselves: I never went to a majority working-class event where people were wringing their hands and saying ‘we’re so working-class!’

But in the world of publishing it’s worse, because a row has blown up over Penguin Random House’s diversity statement which commits the organisation to ‘reflect the UK population taking into account ethnicity, gender, sexuality, social mobility and disability.’  It all sounds highly laudable, particularly in an industry that is presumably dominated by white middle-class males.  But is it?  Should publishers try to ‘reflect’ society or should they just publish the best, regardless of where it comes from?

There’s an issue here, which is that of unconscious bias.  An editor may think they are unbiassed but research has shown that women get published more easily if they use either a male pseudonym or initials.  You are probably more likely to be published if you have a Western name rather than an African or Asian name: Hanif Kureishi (who as I never cease to remind you started me off with this blog) was told that ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’ would have had no problem being produced if the characters had been white.  Surely it’s a laudable thing to try to address all these unconscious prejudices?

Well, yes.  But the danger is that you get involved in quotas and box-ticking, which as a short-term measure can perhaps have some value but only as a stepping-stone to genuine open-mindedness and lack of bias.  And this is a hard goal to achieve.  Much easier to get some quotas and issue a press release telling everyone how diverse you are.

Enter Lionel Shriver who, in an article for the Spectator lambasts this policy of Penguin/Random in several hundred sneering words.  Shriver may have a point – that excellence is found with an open mind, not with tick-boxes – but the tone of the piece is snide and sarcastic and the argument lost in rhetoric:

‘We can safely infer… that if an agent submits a manuscript written by a gay transgender Caribbean who dropped out of school at seven and powers around town on a mobility scooter, it will be published, whether or not said manuscript is an incoherent, tedious, meandering and insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling.’

Surely she can do better than this?  I would put it another way; that talent should be recognised and acknowledged no matter where it comes from; that we all have unconscious biases in terms of which groups we are likely to regard as talented, and that we all need to open our minds and keep them open.  I know it’s the Spectator but she could have done the job so much better.

Here’s the article anyway:

https://www.spectator.co.uk/2018/06/when-diversity-means-uniformity/

and here’s the Penguin statement:

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.co.uk/creative-responsibility/inclusion/

Kirk out

Goliath? What? David What? Lord Who?

Sometimes I begin a blog post when I’m in a rush in order to get some ideas down, then I scribble off a title which seems to encompass it all.  Later I go back and write the post which often doesn’t go the way I envisaged and may end up not being expressed by the title at all.  So this morning’s thought was that the Winnie-the-Pooh stories should be not so much read as contemplated, like a gentle walk through a forest; and yesterday’s thought was – well, god knows.  Because like the mathematician Karl Weierstrasse, when I wrote the title only God and I knew what it was about – and now, only God knows.

https://hsm.stackexchange.com/questions/5394/what-was-karl-weierstrass-referring-to

Clearly I had some thought about David and Goliath in my mind when I wrote that blog title.  But what was it?  I suspect it may have had something to do with the need to defeat global capitalism, but I’m really not sure.  It was probably because along with the latest Nicci French I want to read Naomi Klein’s ‘No is Not Enough.’  If ‘This Changes Everything’ is indicative of her output, she has many useful things to say about problems and, more importantly, about solutions.  I often think we are too problem-orientated in our thinking: people spend a long time trying to convince others that such-and-such is a problem to which we should be giving our attention, and if those others are anything like me, they feel burdened and depressed as a result.  What’s better is, having flagged up the problem, to propose some solutions.

For example, we spend a lot of time (both as a nation and as a species) thinking about war.  We plan for war, we prepare for war, we study war, we arm for war.  Yet what might be the result if we adopted a solution-oriented approach to this and studied peace instead?  What do we know about peace at the moment?  Precious little, it seems – many of us can’t even stay out of trouble on social media, let alone steer our nation in the right direction.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t defend ourselves when attacked, but how many wars we’ve been involved in have been the direct result of attack?  Whilst the Second World War could not have been avoided in 1939 might it have been avoided, say, in 1921?  Or 1933?  Had the Allies adopted a less punitive approach to Germany after the First World War, might Hitler never have come to power?  But leaving the Second World War aside, as far as I can see no other war apart from the 1939-45 conflict has been the direct result of attack on our nation.  Syria certainly doesn’t qualify; neither did Afghanistan and absolutely not Iraq.  There were no weapons of mass destruction.  And don’t get me started on the bloody Falklands.

While I’m waiting to get hold of Naomi Klein’s book I may get some ideas from the forthcoming series of Reith Lectures, which this year are on war.  I have yet to listen to the first episode, but it is available here:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b7f390

and I’ll let you know if it inspires further thoughts.  In the meantime I’m thankful we don’t have to listen to the nauseatingly toadyish tones of Sue Lawley.  I can’t stand that woman…

Kirk out

PS: as you will have spotted, Winnie-the-Pooh didn’t even make it into the title…

 

ArtBeat, Why Do You Miss When My Baby Kisses Me?

It’s Artbeat season again, from June 15th until 25th at Clarendon Park:

http://www.clarendonpark.net

Sadly in the years since I helped run the festival there has been trouble at t’mill – or whatever the CP equivalent is (t’deli?) – and the people who used to run it are no longer in evidence.  The current festival is a valiant effort but really it needs a whole army of people subdivided into regiments, each dealing with a particular area.  Kudos to those now taking up the reins, but it is sad to see Artbeat a shadow of its former self.  Still, we enjoyed Greenshoots Ceilidh Band (playing not ceilidhing) a scratch classical guitar concert (very good) and a beer festival at the club.  I had a half of Tiny something followed by a Blind Badger (or similar) and a third (good idea to do thirds of a pint) of Witch’s Milk.  That’s not remotely accurate by the way because I became totally befuddled by a veritable feast of deliciousness at Chettinad and immediately forgot the names of the beers: I should’ve kept the programme.

If you haven’t been to Chettinad I urge you to rectify this immediately.  It’s run by the same people as Shivalli and the food is utterly exquisite.  For starters we had plates piled high with paneer in a sauce with a small dosa on the side (for me) and something with chicken in (for Jan.)  These starters were so huge they could almost have been a main course and I was beginning to regret having ordered a thali.  Fortunately there was a long gap between courses, during which I finished my mango lassi and we talked about Germaine Greer (don’t ask: I may get to her in another post).  Then came the thali.  Oh my god, I thought.  Am I going to get through this?  The answer was of course no, but I did have a great time trying.  There were the usual selection of curries, ranging from mild to hot, plus chappatis, saffron rice in exquisite shades of orange and yellow; and to follow, a gulab jamun.  I asked them to pack up what I couldn’t manage and I will tackle it this evening.  The service, too, was a delight, full of jokes and anecdotes about Tamil Nadu where the cuisine comes from, and such a refreshing change after the corporate smiles and generic conversation of the average restaurant chain.

http://www.chettinadrestaurant.com/restaurants.php

Back to normal today: Quaker meeting followed by gardening and of course the episode of ‘Casualty’ that I missed.

Kirk out

Oh Wow. A Whole Decade

I had a little notification in the corner of my page this morning.   ‘That’s odd,’ I thought, as I’m usually told of comments and followers via email and I had just checked my inbox.  I clicked on it and it informed me that it was TEN YEARS AGO TODAY!!! that I started this blog.  I won’t bore you with the details as regular readers have heard it all many times before, suffice it to say that Hanif Kureishi was partly responsible for setting me off on this path.  I suppose I really ought to do something deep and retrospective, like picking out my favourite posts or summarising my journey or selecting the best comments, but the very idea fills me with a reluctance so deep that I can barely move my fingers across the keyboard; so I shall just say Happy Anniversary to lizardyoga’s weblog and a particular shout-out to those readers who have been with me since the beginning.

Thinking about it, the last decade has seen my transition from teacher/part time writer to full-time author and performing poet, which is quite a big deal.  I was updating my CV the other week and it was quite startling how many things I’ve done, from the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square to Leicester Riverside Festival to Left Unity’s national conference and Quaker Yearly Meeting to Sing for Water at Leicester Riverside Festival.  Publications include poems in Mslexia, blogging for the same and short stories in Everyday Fiction.

Maybe soon I’ll get it together and find some retrospective links.  But right now I’m getting ready to go to Wales which includes checking the car tyres (am I the only one who hates doing this?  I think I have a subconscious fear of blowing up one of the tyres.)

So if you’ve been a reader of this blog since May 2008, please drop me a comment and let me know how the last ten years have been for you.

Kirk out

Futility

There’s something about a Wednesday afternoon.  When I was a student this midweek time was given over to sports and leisure: you would wander round during fresher’s week signing up for boxing and ice skating and generally end up by week three hanging out in the coffee bar with your friends.  But this tradition seems to have gone by the board now, so that, instead of being a fallow period, Wednesday afternoon is a slump, a time when the enthusiasm of Monday has waned and the fun of Friday seems a long way away.

I’ve come to the conclusion that fallow periods are important.  Quakers, for example, traditionally don’t celebrate Christmas as every day is supposed to be special: and that’s fine, except that Christmas and New Year for many people are times of hibernation; a period when you can legitimately disconnect from everything and everyone.

In farming, too, it used to be the tradition to leave land fallow every fourth year in order to rest the soil – but that seems to have gone by the board now in favour of more and more fertilisers (there’s an evolving story on The Archers at the moment where Home Farm seems to have poisoned the River Am with nitrates.)

Then there’s the principle of Sunday as a day of rest (it doesn’t have to be Sunday but it’s convenient to have a day when nearly everyone’s off work.)  This morning on Thought for the Day Giles Fraser talked about the boringness of church being a good thing, as it’s important to allow time and space for the mind to wander.  I agree with him up to a certain point (though as a child my mind was never allowed to wander because you were supposed to pay attention.)  But there’s an important principle at stake here, which is that boredom is not some kind of disease to be eradicated but a fallow state which can be a prelude to great creativity.  When our kids said they were bored, instead of entertaining them we’d say ‘I’m sure you’ll find something to do.’  And they usually did.

I am more and more aware of the need to allow my mind to lie fallow.  It’s all too easy for the work ethic to sit on your shoulder and crack the whip, so that if you haven’t produced a certain number of words, you’ve done nothing.  This is not the case.  When the mind is in that fallow, ‘dreaming’ state, there’s no way to tell what you’ve done, because it’s happening under the radar – just as the regeneration of the fallow soil is happening in subtle, invisible ways.

Even so, on days like today I can feel a sense of futility.  What have I achieved?  What am I doing?  Where’s it all going?  What is the point?  These questions bump around in my head like particles in a Large Hadron Collider.

https://home.cern/topics/large-hadron-collider

But if I stop trying to ‘work’ and just let things be, something interesting will happen.  I’m not sure what, but I’ll keep you posted.

The final thought for today is that there are parallels between the First World War and the state of the NHS – not in the severity of the situation, but in terms of the leaders and those on the ground.  Doctors and nurses working in the NHS today truly are lions led by donkeys – and the sooner we get rid of this government, the better.  So now that we’ve arrived at the First World War, here’s a taste of true futility:

Futility

Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields half-sown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.
Think how it wakes the seeds—
Woke once the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved, still warm, too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?
Kirk out

Are Facebook Friends Funny?

If Quakers have a fault, it’s that they tend to be a Bit Serious.  There’s a Puritan streak in there somewhere, what with the teetotalism and all, and even though there are at least two jokes about Quakers (I’ve told them before but I’ll tell them again in a minute) they – or we – don’t tend to be great comedians (Stephen Fry excepted, but then he’s not actually a practising Friend.)

So it was with immense joy that I pounced on a new Friends Facebook group.  In addition to my ‘Withnail and I Appreciation Group’ which keeps me mentally healthy (see https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/hamlet-is-not-quite-as-funny/) the Quaker groups I belong to are all relatively respectful and calm, considering it’s Facebook, and people post lengthy screeds on subjects such as renewal and worship.  But it’s not a bundle of laughs.  Enter the Association of Bad Friends.  I have high hopes that this will be a great source of merriment since it is a requirement of membership that you Be Funny – and if, as I hope, my membership is approved, I will tell them this story:

Once upon a time a local meeting decided to have a weekend away.  They went to Woodbrooke and held lots of sessions on different subjects; then on the Saturday evening they decided to put on an entertainment.  Part of this entertainment was a skit called ‘The Worst Meeting’ during which people arrived late (and noisily) a mobile went off and was answered, and I got up and told this joke:

Three pieces of string walk into a bar.  The first piece of string walks up to the bar: the barman says, ‘Are you a piece of string?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well, we don’t serve pieces of string in here – get out.’

The second piece of string walks up to the bar.  The barman repeats the question: the string admits to being a piece of string, whereupon he says, ‘I told your friend.  We don’t serve pieces of string.  Get out.’

The third piece of string is somewhat the worse for wear, all ragged at the edges and bulky in the middle.  He waddles up to the bar.  The barman sighs.  ‘Are you a piece of string, too?’

‘No,’ he answers.  ‘I’m a frayed knot.’

Such was the unusualness of this joke that some members of that meeting still call me ‘String.’

OK so here are the jokes about Quakers:

Q:  Why are Quakers like economists?

A:  Because when you ask three Quakers a question you get four different answers.

Q:  Why do Quakers sing hymns so slowly?

A:  Because they’re reading the next verse to see if they agree with it

I’ll let you know about the Facebook group.

Kirk out