Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The Ole Back & Forth

I don't know where I acquired this habit. First I update Facebook, a truly outrageous status, something that usually doesn't mean anything or much of anything. And then I answer myself, getting steadily more cryptic and senseless. I can go on like this for a while. I remember once making 11 comments in quick succession, one after another on FB before somebody intervened to shut me up.

But reading Big Sur, I see this same back and forth, increasingly meaningless witticisms exchanged for the sake of being impossible to understand. The more meaningless, the better. Like in this exchange between Jack Duluoz (Kerouac) and Arthur Ma (I don't know what his real name was, but he was a good friend of Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

The pity of it is that I have no record of what we were yelling and announcing back and forth as the birds woke up but it went generally like this:-

Me:- "Unless someone sicks a hot iron in my heart or heaps up Evil Karma like tit and tat the pile of that and pulls my mother out of her bed to slay her before my damning human eyes ---"

Arthur:- "Because lady those ashcans'll bite you back and be cold too ---"

Me:- "And your son will never rest in the imperturbable knowledge that what he thinks he thinks as well as what he does he thinks as well as what he feels he thinks as well as future that ----"

Arthur:- "Future that my damn old sword cutter Paisan Pasha lost the Preakness again ---"

Me:- "Tonight the moon shall witness angels trooping at the baby's window where inside he gurgles in his pewk looking with mewling eyes for baby side waterfall lambskin hillside the day the little Arab shepherd boy hugged the baby lamb to heart while the mother bleeted at his bay heel---"

Arthur:- "And so Joe the sillicks killit no not---"

Me:- "Shhhoww graaa---"

Arthur:- "Wind and carstart---"

Me:- "The angels Devas monsters Asuras Devadattas Vedantas McLaughlins Stones will hue and hurl in hell if they don't love the lamb the lamb the lamb of hell lamb chop---"

Arthur:- "Why did Scott Fitzgerald keep a notebook?"

Me:- "Such a marvelous notebook---"

Arthur:- "Komi denera ness pata sutyamp anda wanda vesnoski shakadiroo paryoumemga sikarem nora sarkadium baron roy kellegiam myorki ayastuna haidanseetzel ampho andiam yerka yama chelmsford alya bonneavance koroom cemanda versel---"

Me:- "The 26th Annual concert of the Armenian Convention?"

And...apropos of nothing, I found this which I thought went with this entry. Why? I'm not sure...there's a rhythm to these things, but you have to just mad enough to know it, feel it, riff with it.

The following is an extract from a review in the New Yorker...this time, a review of a bar, a positive review, not like the other one featured in these pages...and it sort of riffs, Kerouac-style, there at the end:

On a Friday, people ate wilted-escarole salad with hot anchovy dressing, drank Italian reds (the smooth and earthy Ferrando La Torazza Canavese Rosso from Piedmont, was especially transporting), and listened to a cozy New York soundtrack late Velvet Underground, Cotton Club-style jazz. Friends and strangers chatted; bits of conversation floated around. ("It was spooky, the Tchaikovsky in the first half." "Learning to waltz--it's like filleting a fish." "What's playing at the Ziegfeld?") During a jazz number, a waiter walked by a beloved regular and tapped out a vibes solo on his shoulders: another surprise that felt like home.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Week 26: Toss Stones in a Pond

Here, at the halfway point of the 52 weeks, I offer you what might sound a bit nutty but I strongly encourage you to give it a try. Gather 5 or 6 small stones or pebbles, find a body of water, preferably with a fairly still surface, and slowly toss them in. If you can’t access a natural body of water, use smaller pebbles, along with your bathtub, sink, or even a pan of water.

Regarding the pebbles or stones, toss them one at a time. Note the rippling effect this causes. Toss a second pebble near the ripples caused by the first and watch as the ripples overlap. Be mindful, even meditative, as you perform this action.

The purpose of this exercise is to get you to physically consider how acts of kindness are like ripples in a pond. They start in one place but quickly spread out far and wide. Each place touched by a ripple is positively impacted by this act of kindness, by your acts of kindness. As such, our kindness acts have far greater impact than we might first think.

With this in mind and having thrown your pebbles or stones, perform a small act of kindness for a stranger. After doing so, IMAGINE the ripple effect of your act. This could begin by imagining the stranger’s day having been changed for the better by your kindness, which then changes everyone with whom she/he comes in contact.

In your journal, be as descriptive as you can about your experience. Through your words, transport an imaginary reader to your pond.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

It's Not Happy, But I Love It!

I read this in my copy of the New Yorker (I bought two in Texas at the airport, on my way home, but I gave one to Addy):

This was the intro to a review of a restaurant in New York. Needless to say, the reviewer was unimpressed. But I love the way she chose to say it:

Could this be the most uninspired menu in New York? The mussels come in a garlic-white-wine sauce. The waiter says there aren't any this evening. A bowl of mixed olives is eight dollars. ("Kalamata, Niçoise, Cerignola, green" is the explanation.) Mains include salmon à'la vapeur and a mustard chicken, like at a wedding, or in seat 60D on a long-distance flight. And the mac and cheese is twenty dollars, because someone thought very hard about truffles when making it.

Ouch! Burn!

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Riffing, Kerouac-style

I'm reading Jack Kerouac's Big Sur now and the following passage gives some idea of his frenetic writing, which I love so much:

But Dave is anxious and so am I to see great Cody who is always the major part of my reason for journeying to the west coast so we call him up at Los Gatos 50 miles away down the Santa Clara Valley and I hear his dear sad voice saying "Been waitin for ya old buddy, come on down right away, but I'll be goin to work at midnight so hurry up and you can visit me at work soon's the boss leaves round two and I'll show you my new job of tire recapping and see if if you can't bring a little somethin like a girl or sump tin, just kiddin, come on down pal --"

So there's old Willie waiting for us down on the street parked across from the little pleasant Japanese liquor store where as usual, according to our ritual, I run out and get Pernod or Scotch or anything good while Dave wheels around to pick me up at the store door, and I get in the front seat right at Dave's right where I belong all the time like old Honored Samuel Johnson while everybody else that wants to come along has to scramble back there on the mattress (a full mattress, the seats are out) and squat there or lie down there and also generally keep silence because when Dave's got the wheel of Willie in his hand and I've got the bottle in mine and we're off on a trip the talking all comes from the front seat -- "By God" yells Dave all glad again "it's just like old times Jack, gee old Willie's been sad for ya, waitin for ya to come back -- So now I'm gonna show ya hold old Willie's even improved with age, had him reconditioned in Reno last month, here he goes, are you ready Willie?" and off we go and the beauty of it all this particular summer is that the front right seat is broken and just rocks back and forth gently to every one of Dave's driving moves -- It's like sitting in a rocking chair on a porch only this is a moving porch to tok on at that -- And insteada watching old men pitch horseshoes from this here talking porch it's all that fine white clean line in the middle of the road as we go flying like birds over the Harrison ramps and whatnot Dave always uses to sneak out of Frisco real fast and avoid all the traffic -- soon we're set straight and pointed head on down beautiful fourlane Bayshore Highway to that lovely Santa Clara Valley - But I'm amazed that after only a few years the dan thing no longer has prune fields and vast beet fields like at Lawrence when I was a brakeman on the Southern Pacific and even after, it's one long row of houses right down the line 50 miles to San Jose like a great monstrous Los Angeles beginning to grow south of Frisco.

At first it's beautiful to just watch that white line reel in to Willie's snout but when I start looking around out the window there's just endless housing tracts and new blue factories everywhere -- Sez Dave "Yes that's right, the population explosion is gonna cover every bit of backyard dirt in America someday in fact they'll even have to start piling up frigging levels of houses and others over that like tour cityCityCITY till the houses reach a hundred miles in the air in all directions of the map and people looking at the earth from another planet with super telescopes will see a prickly ball hangin in space -- It's like era horrible when you come to think of it, even us with all our fancy talks, shit man, it's all millions of people and events piling up almost unimaginable now, like raving baboons we'll all be piled on top of each other or one another or whatever you're sposed to say -- Hundreds of millions of hungry mouths raving for more more more -- And the sadness of it all is that the world hasn't any chance to produce say a write whose life could really actually touch all this life one very detail like you always say, some writer who could bring you sobbing thru the bed fucking bed cribs of the moon to see it all even int the goddamned last gory detail of some dismal robbery of the heart at dawn when no one cares like Sinatra sings" ("When no one cars," he sings in his low baritone but resumes): -- "Some strict sweeper sweeping it all up, I mean the incredible helplessness I felt Jack when Céline ended his Journey To The End Of The Night by pissing in the Seine River at dawn there I am thinkin my God there's probably somebody pissing in the Trenton River at dawn right now, the Danube, the Ganges, the frozen Obi, the Yellow, the Paraná, the Willamette, the Merrimac in Missouri too, the Missouri itself, the Yuma, The Amazon, the Thames, the Po, the so and so, it' so friggin endless it's like poems endless everywhere and no one knows any better old Buddha you know where he says it's like "There are immeasurable stars misty aeons of universes more numerous than the sands in all the galaxies, multiplied by a billion lightyears of multiplication, in fact if I were to go on you'd be scared and couldnt comprehend and you'd despair so much you'd drop dead," that's what he just about said in one of those sutras -- Macrocosms and microcosms and chillicosms and microbes and finally you got all these marvellous books a man aint even got time to read em all, what you gonna do in this already piled up multiple world when you have to think of the Book of Songs, Faulkner, César Birotteau, Shakespeare, Satyricons, Dantes, in fact long stories guys tell you in bars, in fact the sutras themselves, Sir Philip Sidney, Sterne, Ibn El Arabi, the copious Lope de Vega and the uncurious goddam Cervantes, shook then there's all those Catulluses and Davids and radio listening skid row sages to contend with because they've all got a million stories too and you too Ron Blake in the backseat shut up! down to everything which is so much that it is of necessity don't you think NOthing anyway, huh?" (expressing exactly the way I feel, of course).

And to corroborate all that about the too-much-ness of the world, in fact, there's Stanley Popovich also in the back mattress next to Ron, Stanley Popovich with Jamie his Italian beauty girl but;s going to leave her in a few days to go work for the circus, a big touch Yugoslav kid who ran the Seven Arts Gallery in New York with big bearded beatnik readings but now comes the circus and a whole big on-the-road of his own -- It's too much, in fact right this minute he's started telling us about circus work. On top of all that old Cody is up ahead with HIS thousand stories -- We all agree it's too big to keep up with, that we're surrounded by life, that we'll never understand it, so we centre it all in by swigging Scotch from the bottle and when it's empty I run out of the car and buy another one, period.

(Big Sur, Jack Kerouac)

Friday, 26 June 2015

A poem for a way of life. "Desiderata' read by Aruna Shields

I just discovered Aruna Shields. And I love her. Here is a video of her reading the Desiderata.

Thursday, 25 June 2015


What this blog needs...more vanity. So, with that in mind, here's a treat to all my fans. All one of you. (Btw, sorry, am I allowed to refer to you as a fan? Are you just a sometimes stalker?)

Let's start with the glamour shots, shall we? There are few enough of them...I got caught...by Clarins...one day... as I wandered the floors of MidValley Megamall, unbathed and dishevelled...and here's what they did to me.

And then, because five layers of makeup was not enough, they kindly photoshopped my picture. Don't I look simply fetching?

There are more...but I want to get down to the other shots of me...the non-glamour ones...keep your seats, you're in for a treat, scroll on down...

How's this for size?

Or this? Glamorous enough for you? I swear it was not photoshopped.

And then there's this:

Gosh, I'm having so much fun. Are you? (Please do comment...the lack of commenters on this blog sears my very soul!)

Oh look, another one...

Jeez, she does not look happy does she...not a morning person, are we Jenn?

At least I'm smiling here. But what's with the pink hat?

More pink-hatted pictures.

Another hat. Not pink.

Funny story. It was a Friday. I was skiving off work with my good friend Nits. Ended up buying the hat but not the coat (so now you know).

Distractingly sexy in a bunny suit. Ignore the two dudes on either side (that's right, that's me in the middle, couldn't you tell?)

I know how to smile.

Really I do. Also I can look corporate on occasion.

But most of all, I like to carouse.

And pose in front of places to carouse...a cold Boston day...almost but not quite spring.

Here I am in Chicago...feeling even colder.

I also like to eat. Char kueh teow.


And write letters.

Look at me there, getting in on.

Years ago, I used to be younger.

And thinner.

But then I grew up and out and up and out...hahahaha...well not so much up.

So long folks...and thanks for all the fish.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Week 25: Be On Time For Everything

For some of you this may not be a big deal while for others it may seem almost insurmountable. Regardless, your challenge this week is to be on time for everything you do.

If you are one of those people for whom being on time for appointments is easy, consider other interpretations of how you can be on time. And for those of you for whom this is more difficult, find an appropriate level of challenge that makes success for you more likely.

As you experience this theme this week, use your journal to answer these questions:
- What steps do you take to ensure you will be on time?
- Do you find yourself more or less relaxed?
- Do others notice your efforts?
- How does being on time relate to kindness? Is it for yourself? For others? Both?

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Great Advice for Writers

“When I first started getting some attention, stories published here and there, Don DeLillo took me aside and gave me some advice that ended up being very formative for me. He said, ‘George, if you keep breaking into my home to use my swimming pool, I’m going to have to call the police.’ I always thought that was really wise.”

George Saunders

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

The Light is Already Green

Dues? You don't have any more dues to pay! That was all taken care of eons ago.

I know, I know... you don't believe this. OK, Plan B: You do have dues to pay. You must slave and scrimp, you must wriggle and pimp, work overtime, pound the pavement, sacrifice, barter, and be selfless; endure the naiveties of others, work a job you don't love, unlearn a lifetime of bogus teachings.

Are these the dues you believe in? Well, have you not paid these... ten times over?

Jennifer, it's like you won the galaxy's "Live the Life of Your Wildest Dreams Lottery" a long, long time ago, but instead of checking your numbers, you just keep buying more tickets. What's up with that?

Happy Tuesday,
The Universe

Jennifer, the light is green, you already qualify for everything, go!

Monday, 15 June 2015

Week 24: Practice Common Courtesy

Having good manners, being nice, and otherwise practicing common courtesy demonstrates respect for self and others. This week's exercise is to increase your awareness of this by acting on those every day opportunities to practice common courtesy.

So hold doors open for people, smile, say thank you, and be friendly. You know, do those tiny extra things it takes to be nice to others.

This exercise may seem simple at first glance, or even not that significant. But give it some extra thought as you go about your usual routine. If you fully engage in it, you very well may have a transformative experience and, like ripples that spread out when a pebble is dropped in a pond, you will positively influence others.

To really solidify your experience, take time each evening to review your day. In your journal, answer these questions:
- What "extra" things did you do?
- How hard was it to do them?
- What kind of reactions did you get from others?
- How do you feel?

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Friday, 12 June 2015

Live Mortgage-Free, Be a Happy Wanderer

It's ironic that I choose to copy this out now...when I am looking to buy my own place and take on a huge mortgage. And an agent has already been assigned to me by my real estate friend whom I once interviewed and wrote a kick-ass story on. (You will find it in these pages, maybe three years ago?)


You will see from my few words of explanation that the propositions, God is evil, and Property is theft, are not mere paradoxes. Although I maintain their literal meaning, I no more want to make it a crime to believe in God than I do to abolish property.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, 1864

Oh, to be free of this cursed mortgage! When I give talks about the pleasures and advantages of idleness, I am always asked: "What about the mortgage?" People cite their mortgages as the prime reasons for doing work they don't want to do. "It's all very well to talk about sitting around doing nothing," they say, "but I've got a mortgage." Clearly, the mortgage has become a symbol of repression. "I just need to pay off the mortgage, then I'll be free," they say. There it is, the monstrous elephant of a mortgage, sitting in our way, holding us back. Property, promiser of liberty and deliverer of slavery!

Now, what is a mortgage? It is simply a very large debt which you take out in order to be able to live in a house or flat. Because the debt is paid back over 25 years, the interest rates are relatively low compared with shorter-term loans. We commit ourselves to a certain monthly payment on the debt. We base the size of this payment on our current earnings and perhaps on our hope of higher earnings in the future. Having a mortgage is supposed to be the sensible thing to do, because, the idea goes, at the end of it, you will own a property outright. Underpinning the mortgage, therefore, is a property outright. Underpinning the mortgage, therefore, is a notion of a nation of property-owners. But, in chasing this ownership dream, we give the lion's share of our property to the bank. So the idea that we own this house is a myth - the bank owns it, while we pay the bank. Interest payments on the loan will total more than the actual loan by the end of the term. On a £200,000 mortgage, for example, you will have paid well over £240,000 in interest by the end of the term. Therefore the bank has sold you £200,000 at a price of £440,000 - quite a mark-up. And all the above assumes that interest rates are fairly low and fairly constant - but it is possible that, through absolutely no fault of your own, interest rates could rise. For a while, we were suckered into the endowments system, whereby an extra payment was made each month and invested on the stock exchange. This was later (much later and too late for many) revealed to be a massive con. People object to renting in principle because, they say, you are "throwing money down the drain", but the mortgage system is an organised way of throwing money down a different drain, the one owned by the usurers.

The very thing that we take on board in order to provide us with security - a home - seems to offer instead only anxiety and a feeling of being trapped. Now, why should this be? The conventional wisdom (I might say the 'brainwashing', as in our arrogance, we sometimes think that we have come up with this idea all on our own) is that you are supposed to take on the biggest mortgage you possibly can. I read of a nauseating Tory couple in Notting Hill who said that they "stretched every financial sinew" in order to buy their modest terraced house in fashionable West London. Apart from the fact that they should be cast out of polite society for coming up with such a puke-making phrase as "stretched every financial sinew", the idea behind it seems ridiculous: make your life a perpetual misery in order to pretend that you have enough money to live in a smart part of town.

And because homeowners tend to sort out a mortgage that is just beyond what they can really afford, the wealthy make themselves feel poor. I have lost count of the successful, high-earning middle-class couples I've met who choose to live in vast palaces financed by giant debts and then complain about the mortgage and money and the terrible suffering of their lives, as if they had no choice in the matter.

Well, there are many alternatives, both practical and attitudinal. We will look at the practical alternatives to mortgages but also at the way we have forged of the mortgage in our own minds a manacle, and see that freeing ourselves from it is in reality the work of a nanosecond. And I'm also going to recommend, here as elsewhere, the low-cost, low-effort, high-fun approach to life known as Permaculture.

Renting is, of course, the obvious alternative to taking out a mortgage. We've been renting our house in Devon, while renting out a house in London, for four years, and while one potential downside is that you don't do the place up to the same extent that you might if you owned it, it has the advantage of being extremely cheap, since although the rent may compare or even be greater than the mortgage interest payments, there are no maintenance costs, no boilers to replace and so on. The landlord looks after those.

Renting would be a perfectly reasonable alternative to buying were leases longer and rents lower. What has happened over the last 20 to 30 years is that market forces have eclipsed any humanitarian considerations. We are all exposed to the slings and arrows of the outrageous marketplace, and we all have to become mini-capitalists 0 i.e., building up a small amount of capital and then taking out huge loans to finance expansion - in order to play our part in the pushy meritocratic society. Rents have shot up and leases in general can be terminated at a month's notice. As a renter, you are completely subject to the unpredictable whims of market capitalism. This makes it hard to put down roots. If we had a system of longer leases, say, 30 or 40 years, and lower rents, renting would be a fine alternative. The Bloomsbury Group, for example, rented Charleston and took responsibility for its upkeep. John Seymour rented his tumbledown cottage from a farmer. He did all the repairs himself and paid a modest rent. The CRASS people at Dial House in Essex rented it for 30 years. Renting also means that you do not have to find the initial deposit. The getting of this deposit creates a lot of unpleasant work for a lot of people.

It is not so much ownership that we want as a place where we can live without the fear of being thrown out at any momentum somewhere to plant fruit trees and grow vegetables, somewhere we can keep chickens. In the Middle Ages, rents tended to be low, as properties were administered by the monks. Even the manor houses tended to be kinder landlords than is generally considered. In The Common Stream, Rowland Parker's history of the Cambridgeshire village of Foxton, we read of annual rents of one penny for a 27-acre smallholding, a sum which could be a hundredth of the peasant's annual income. Imagine paying £300 a year today for a 10-acre farm. Land was more evenly shared: in Foxton, 27 families shared 840 acres. Manor house owners and monks weren't like today's property developers; they did not buy and sell properties in the hope of making vast capital profits. They were long-term stewards of the properties and the lands that went with them. The institution - whether family or monastery - was bound to outlive any individual. Therefore, sustainability was built into the programme. Rowland Parker finds examples of rents unchanged for 500 years; there were also peppercorn rents, meaning, nothing. As in other areas of life, the maintenance of a healthy community, a commune, was more important than money-getting, and low rents with long leases tended to promote local harmony.

In Masterless Men, his study of vagrancy in the period 1560-1640, A.L. Beier notes that:...in the high Middle Ages the poor were comparatively firmly rooted to the land. Before the mid-16th century, they retained gardens and crofts where they still grew some food...they kept livestock on the commons; and they supplemented their incomes through casual labouring and cottage industries. When times were bad, they no doubt received assistance from relatives, neighbours and friends.

It was in the late 16th and early 17th centuries that this system began to be dismantled. Says Beir: "the whole pattern of agriculture in open-field villages was altered from a communal pattern to an individualistic one." In the 16th century, he said, the new landowners increased rents and imposed new duties, and "by 1600 the English people had had the country's major resource seized from their grasp." The Middle Ages saw an almost communistic spread of property ownership or tenantship. In Chippenham, for example, the proportion of landless householders rose from 3.5% in 1279 to 63% in 1712. Uprooted from the land, the peasant poor, :were no longer part of a manorial economy".

Before 1600, the average peasant was living very well. He was more free than is generally thought. He was living exactly the life to which today's stockbrokers aspire: a big house in the country with horses, animals and land. It's just that the peasant didn't have to slave in the city from 7am every weekday to get it: he just had to work for a day or two each week on the manorial land. Every tenant peasant had his own arrangement with the manor house. Here are two 13th century examples from Rowland Parker:

Thomas Vaccarius holds 9 acres of land with a house, and he must do each year 100 days work, plough one acre and do carting service when required. He shall receive one hen, and shall mow and stack. His services are valued at 10s a year, and he pays a rent of 3d.

John Aubrey holds 18 acres of land with a house, and he must do 52 days of work a year, must plough for 2 days, do 2 boon-works at harvest, mow the meadow for 2 days, cart the hay, repair the roof of the hall, harrow the oat-land along with his fellows, and he shall receive one hen and 16 eggs. His services are valued at 9s 8d and he pays a rent of 2s 6d.

Thomas Vaccarius paid a tiny fraction of his wages in rent for his nine-acre holding. He worked just two days a week. John Aubrey had 18 acres of land and a job which only required him to work one day a week and which, in today's values, pays him thirty grand a year (putting his rent at £7,000, a modest amount for such a considerable property). The rest of the time John and Thomas would be working on their smallholdings and practising a craft or several crafts by which they earned more money.

Then came the dastardly Henry VIII/Puritan attack on the old ways. The mortgage, which puts all the burden of buying a house on the individual, is the logical outcome of the individualisation of ownership. But the reality is that in being sold the idea that we should all own our own house, we have simply given into a giant usury con.

We need to diffuse land ownership, ban usurious mortgages, stabilise rents and bring house prices right down. We could perhaps do this by simply losing interest in money-making. And landlords need to reinvent themselves as kindly patrons uninterested in profit. A good role for the rich would be to let property to the rest of us at low rents and with long leases. We also need to stop constantly wanting bigger houses. One of the great attractions of Permaculture is that it shows you how to make the most of what you have and to enjoy where you are rather than blaming your problems on lack of space or money or time.

Until that magical day comes, you might like to consider squatting. Squatting makes a lot of sense to the freedom-seeker. Squatters simply occupy empty buildings and live in them. This can work beautifully. One group of friends had a squat for over five years. They gradually did the place up, learning and building skills in the process. They paid no rent and there were no mortgage payments to make, so one of the primary motivations for taking unpleasant work was eradicated, leading to a high level of freedom.

The great Mutoid Waste Company made squatting into an art form in the 1980s and 1990s. They lived in squats all over London, then in Berlin and across Europe. They would move into a large warehouse, where they would spend the days making fantastic sculptures out of scrap and the nights partying; truly the Troubadours of their day. Like St Francis of Assisi, they rejected money in favour of travelling the world as fools and truth-tellers.

Another realistic option is communal living. Get together with a few friends and share a house. You could even buy a house together and share out the loan. Or join an existing commune. According to Diggers and Dreamers, a book which lists communal living experiments currently operating in the UK, there are at least 2,500 people living in over 100 communities in the UK, and I don't doubt that the real figure is very much greater than this, since more informal arrangements will not be listed. Find four terraced houses in a row and knock the walls down like the Beatles in Help!

As students, many of us share houses, and it's a system that, besides the inevitable grime that spreads when four irresponsible and useless young adults live together, work reasonably well. When we grow up, we come to decide that one of the benefits of wage slavery is our own little flat, perhaps shared with a partner, and escaping from the houseshare situation becomes a status issue. But think how well domesticated young adults might be able to live together.

We have today the living example of Dial House in Essex. It is a five-bedroom cottage with an acre of land, and up to 20 people have lived there at any one time, although, right now, there are just three. The house demonstrates what can be achieved with people rather than money; by any standards the place is beautifully decorated and the gardens simply splendid. The inhabitants have built sheds and extra rooms in the gardens. It is an efficient blueprint, the only surprise being that more people have not picked up on the idea, an idea which, after all, is just a group of friends renting a house together. the house is now owned by a syndicate, which bought it when the house was under threat from property developers.

The idea behind CRASS house was that it should operate an 'open house': in other words, all were welcome and all would be given hospitality and shelter. In this sense, it is a secular equivalent of a medieval monastery, a place of peace and refuge, which is also a thriving working environment - cooking, baking, growing things, making things. Penny Rimbaud is a secular priest, while fellow artist and house-dweller Gee Vaucher is Mother Superior. Penny's latest project is a wood-boarded shed with a bell tower and stained-glass windows. It looks suspiciously like a chapel. Perhaps an even closer similarity is with the Brethren of the Free Spirit, those bohemians of the 14th century who lived in groups in what they called Houses of Voluntary Poverty.

Penny Rimbaud envisaged a new network of such houses across the country, all within a day's walk of one another. I think more of us should follow its example and declare our own houses open to travellers.

Another option would be to buy a very cheap house in the middle of nowhere. You can always travel to the big city for trips and stay with friends. Then you will have a tiny mortgage. Or build your own house. I understand that houses built of cob and thatch are making a comeback. Buy two acres of land and build a little house for yourself. Then make it bigger as the years go by. Be an architect. Share the cost with friends. The other question to ask yourself is: do you need such a big house? I know many successful city types who, in their desire for a big house in the country, have saddled themselves with the most enormous mortgages, meaning that they are literally enslaved to the job. Despite earning what would appear to most of us to be a fantastic salary, they feel burdened by the debt and therefore will resort to all sorts of Machiavellian strategies in order to keep their job or get promoted. They earn a lit of money but are still freighted by anxiety. But what is the purpose of the big house? Certainly it saddles you with a lot of expense. The bigger the house, the more work there is to do. More cleaning, more furniture to find, more costs, more toil, more encumbrance.

Again, I would recommend taking a look at the Permaculture magazine, which is full of examples of people who have created low-cost living styles for themselves, sometimes building their own houses out deep in the woods. The problem they often encounter is planning law. For some crazy reason, planners will allow any number of wasteful supermarkets to clog up our cities, but if you try to get permission to build a log cabin in a wood, it is practically impossible. Clearly, the authorities cannot stand people who want to be free.

A further alternative is vagabondage. Rid yourself of the mortgage and take to the streets. Vagabondage, as we've seen was actually socially approved in the Middle Ages, largely because of the example of St Francis and his mendicant friars. Jesus never seemed to struggle with monthly mortgage repayments; he was a wanderer, throwing himself on the hospitality of others. In India today, we have the example of the sadhus, the crazy holy men who come into the village, are fed and sheltered for a few days, and then move on. The Indians do not put the sadhus on restart programmes and try to get them into work. They do not pity them as homeless and make efforts to incorporate them into straight society. So it should be here when the Mutoid Waste Company comes to town; we should welcome them with open arms, not try and force them to get proper jobs.

The problem with vagabondage is that big governments can't stand it. They hate the chaos, the unruly elements, the sense that people are wandering around the country doing what they like. When governments increase in power, they all have a resentful way of cracking down on vagabonds. After having been left alone or even positively encouraged for 900 years, the intrusive, centralising, ordered, ordering governments of the Tudor period introduced a number of laws against vagrancy. That vagrancy had become a problem can be explained by two factors; the first is that, following the Reformation and the Enclosure Acts, thousands had been thrown out of work by a process that today we would call privatisation. The old collective ways of operating had been attacked. So there were more beggars. Secondly, the beggars were no longer looked after by the monasteries and the great aristocratic households. On the one hand, the monasteries had been stolen by the new avaricious posies, and on the other, the Catholic tradition of hospitality was being undermined by the emerging Protestant individualism.

A different work ethic also failed to understand the social purpose of the wanderer. In 1565, government man Sir Thomas Smith writes: "Not having rent or living sufficient to maintain himself, does live so idly, he is inquired of, and sometime sent to gaol, sometime otherwise punished as a sturdy vagabond: so much our policy does abhor idleness." When the prisons had been filled with such sturdy beggars, the authorities decided to send them off to the new plantations in Jamaica, where they would be indentured for seven years. It is reported that they were treated worse than the slaves, because the slave owners had an interest in ensuring that their slaves were well fed and reasonably happy in order that they would give a lifetime of service, while the indentured exiles would leave in seven years and there was therefore no interest in keeping them healthy or even alive.

Houses of correction were the Elizabethan equivalent of Nazi concentration or work camps: an act of 1576 promoted the notion that "youth may be accustomed and brought up in labour an work" - and lazy children aged five to 14 were put in the stocks or whipped. Other categories of men viewed with distrust by the authorities were "pedlars and tinkers, soldiers and mariners, entertainers, students, unlicensed healers, fortune-tellers, wizards". Gypsies and the Irish were treated as vagrants and an act of 1572 ordered the Irish, associated with 'Popery' and rebellion, back to Ireland. It's the familiar story: government cracks down on idleness.

Perhaps the most important question is: what do we mean by 'home'? It is possible that the homeless wanderer can be more at home than the mortgage-bound banker. Putting a lot of time and money into mortgages and the "dream home" is never going to be more than a distraction from the real issue, which is you, and your state of mind. The mortgage is a commercial exploitation of our longing for home. You'll know when you've found what you're looking for when you stop looking.

But the final answer to worrying about the mortgage is simply not to worry about it. It is a fiction. Don't let the debt get you down. Who cares about the debt? Are you ever going to be homeless or starving? Unlikely. So how bad can things get? The Thing loves you to be in debt. The money-getters in the City who own your debt love your debt; they are not doing you a favour, much as their promotional material would have you believe otherwise. They are exploiting you. The usurers are having a field day; do not for God's sake let them make you feel guilty. They're the ones who should feel guilty because they are sinners, condemned to the eternal flames. Yea!

(Tom Hodgkinson, How to be Free)

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Wednesday, 10 June 2015


I opened my haiku book at random last night and came across this gem:

Holding the water
Held by it --
the dark mud.

(William Higginson)

And a short essay on it by Patricia Donegan:

The world "Rashomonesque" has become a part of the English language and a part of our postmodern culture of Einsteinian relativism. In Akira Kurosawa's film Rashomon, taken from the haiku poet Akutgawa's original short story, we are shown a robbery in a forest through the flashbacks of four different persons' versions of the incident; and at the end of the film we are left wondering what is the real truth of what happened, which then provokes us to question our own sense of reality, and everyone else's too. This well-known haiku addresses this dilemma - and yet leaves us with a feeling of embracing it all somehow: that we can hold and be held at the same time. It is leaping beyond dualistic thinking, and urging us to stretch our minds to see things from a wider view. It was the American expatriate and expert on Japanese culture Donald Richie, also an authority on Japanese film (especially Kurosawa), who said in an interview once that he didn't learn any "Zen enlightenment" form D.T. Suzuki (the promoter of Zen to the West), but he did learn "alternate ways of thinking," seeing things from multiple perspectives. And that would certainly suffice for most of us.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015


So I had finished all my various chores for the day. The dogs (all three of them) had been fed. I had gone grocery shopping and picked up a couple (make that 6) DVDs. I had done a little needlework, swept and mopped a few floors, taken the car for a wash...watched Welcome to Me.

As I was scrolling FB, I came upon this. My friend and colleague Sarah had posted it with the words: YOLO

I read and thought, huh, how relevant. And so I am copying it to post here. Someone recently told me that my whole life has been taken up with work. Even when I'm not working I'm worrying about it. She said...there are other things. She said, you are more than your work. She said...and I breathed deeply trying to undo the knot in my belly.

Anyway, those are my words. Here are his:

I need to get my life off my chest. About me. I'm a 46 year old banker and I have been living my whole life the opposite of how I wanted. All my dreams, my passion, gone. In a steady 9-7 job. 6 days a week. For 26 years. I repeatedly chose the safe path for everything, which eventually changed who I was.

Today I found out my wife has been cheating on me for the last 10 years. My son feels nothing for me. I realised I missed my father's funeral FOR NOTHING. I didn't complete my novel, travel the world, help the homeless. All these things I thought I knew to be a certainty about myself when I was in my late teens and early 20s. If my younger self had met me today, I would have punched myself in the face. I'll get to how those dreams were crushed soon.

Let's start with a description of me when I was 20. It seemed only yesterday when I was sure I was going to change the world. People loved me, and I loved people. I was innovative, creative, spontaneous, risk-taking and great with people. I had two dreams. The first was writing a utopic/dystopic book. The second, was travelling the world and helping the poor and homeless. I had been dating my wife for four years by then. Young love. She loved my spontaneity, my energy, my ability to make people laugh and feel loved. I knew my book was going to change the world. I would show the perspective of the 'bad' and the 'twisted', showing my viewers that everybody thinks differently, that people never think what they do is wrong. I was 70 pages through when I was 20. I am still 70 pages in, at 46. By 20 I had backpacked around New Zealand and the Philippines. I planned to do all of Asia, then Europe, then America. To date, I have only been to New Zealand and the Philippines.

Now, we get to where it all went wrong. My biggest regrets. I was 20. I was the only child. I needed to be stable. I needed to take that graduate job, which would dictate my whole life. To devote my entire life in a 9-7 job. What was I thinking? How could I live, when the job was my life?After coming home, I would eat dinner, prepare my work for the following day, and sleep at 10pm, to wake up at 6am the following day. God, I can't remember the last time I've made love to my wife.

Yesterday my wife admitted to cheating in me for the last 10 years. 10 years. That seems like a long time, but I can't comprehend it. It doesn't even hurt. She says it's because I've changed. I'm not the person I was. What have I been doing in the last 10 years? Outside of work, I really can't say anything. Not being a proper husband. Not being ME. Who am I? What happened to me? I didn't even ask for a divorce, or yell at her, or cry. I felt NOTHING. Now I can feel a tear as I write this. But not because my wife has been cheating on me, but because I am now realising I have been dying inside. What happened to that fun-loving, risk-taking, energetic person that was me, hungering to change the world? I remember being asked on a date by the most popular girl in school, but declining her for my now-wife. God, I was really popular with the girls in high school. In university/college too. But I stayed loyal. I didn't explore. I studied every day.

Remember all that backpacking and book writing I told you about? That was all in the first few years of college. I worked part time and splurged all that I had earned. Now, I save every penny. I don't remember a time I spend anything on anything fun. On anything for myself. What do I even want now?

My father passed away 10 years ago. I remember getting calls from mom, telling me that he was getting sicker and sicker. I was getting busier and busier, on the verge of a big promotion. I kept putting my visit off, hoping in my mind, he would hold on. He died, and I got my promotion. I haven't seen him in 15 years. When he died I told myself it didn't matter that I didn't see him. I rationalised that being dead, it wouldn't matter anyway. WHAT WAS I THINKING? Rationalising everything, making excuses to put things off. Excuses. Procrastination. It all leads to one thing. Nothing. I rationalised that financial security was the most important thing. I now know, that it definitely is not. I regret doing nothing with my energy, when I had it. My passions. My youth. I regret letting my job take over my life. I regret being an awful husband, a money-making machine. I regret not finishing my novel, not travelling the world. Not being emotionally there for my son. Being a damn emotionless wallet.

If you're reading this, and you have a whole life ahead of you, please. Don't procrastinate. Don't leave your dreams for later. Relish in your energy, your passions. Don't stay on the internet with all your spare time (unless your passion needs it). Please, do something with your life while you're young. DO NOT settle down at 20. DO NOT forget your friends, your family. Yourself. Do NOT waste your life. Your ambitions. Like I did mine. Do not be like me.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Week 23: Clean Up Your Own Mess

Pay attention this week to how cleaning up your own mess is one of the kindest things you can do, especially for those people closest to you.

For instance, clean up the kitchen after each meal or snack, put your clothes away, make your bed each day, change the toilet paper roll, and whatever else you need to do to clean up after yourself. In practice, there are countless opportunities to do this each day.

Extend this lesson to include putting things back where you found them, illustrated in actions like returning your grocery cart to where you got it.

Additionally, expand the concept by thinking about the metaphorical messes you make and clean those up, too. Are these confusing thoughts, mixed messages, unclear directions?

Create an outline in your journal of the messes you encountered this week, organizing them in a way that makes sense to you. Choose one mess you cleaned and summarize the experience you had with it.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Books as Medic and Medicine

Here's what you need to know. 50-year old Perdu is a bookseller. 21-year-old Max Jordan is an author who wrote his first book, Night, to great acclaim and now is lost and desperate with writer's block. He does not feel he deserved his success, at least, not so early in life.

"You see, Jordan," said Perdu, taking a different tack, "a book is both medic and medicine at once. It makes a diagnosis as well as offering therapy. Putting the right novels to the appropriate ailment: that's how I sell books."

"I get it. And my novel was the dentist when the lady needed a gynaecologist."



"Books are more than doctors, of course. Some novels are loving, lifelong companions; some give you a clip around the ear; others are friends who wrap you in warm towels when you've got those autumn blues. And some...well, some are pink candy floss that tingles in your brain for three seconds and leaves a blissful void. Like a short, torrid love affair."

"So Night is one of literature's one-night stands? A tart?"

Damn. An old rule of book selling: never talk to authors about books by other writers.

"No. Books are like people, and people are like books. I'll tell you how I go about it. I ask myself: Is he or she the main character in his or her life? What is her motive? Or is she a secondary character in her own tale? Is she in the process of editing herself out of the story, because her husband, her career, her children or her job are consuming her entire text?

Max Jordan's eyes widened.

"I've got about 30,000 stories in my head, which isn't very many, you know, given that there are over a million titles available in France alone. I've got the most useful 8,000 works here, as a first-aid kit, but I also compile courses of treatment. I prepare a medicine made of letters: a cookbook with recipes that read like a wonderful family Sunday. A novel whose hero resembles the reader; poetry to make tears row that would otherwise be poisonous if swallowed. I listen with..."

Perdu pointed to his solar plexus.

"And I listen to this too." He rubbed the back of his head. "And to this." Now he pointed to the soft spot above his upper lip. "If it tingles here..."

"Come on, that can't be..."

"You bet it can." He could do it for about 99.99% of people.

However, there were some people that Perdu could not transperceive.

Himself, for example.

But Monsieur Jordan doesn't need to know that right now.

While Perdu had been reasoning with Jordan, a dangerous thought casually drifted into his mind.

I'd have liked to have a boy. With Manon. I'd have liked to have had everything with her.

Perdu gasped for air.

Something had been out of kilter since he had opened the forbidden room. There was a crack in his bulletproof glass - several hairline cracks - and everything would be smashed to pieces if he didn't regain control of himself.

"Right now, you look very ...underoxygenated," Perdu heard Max Jordan's voice say. "I didn't mean to offend you. I merely wanted to know how people reach when you tell them, 'I'm not selling you this - you don't go together.'"

"Those ones? They walk out. What about you> How's your next manuscript coming on, Monsieur Jordan?"

The young author sank down, wit his melons, into one of the armchairs surrounded by piles of books.

"Nothing. Not a line."

"Oh. And what does the publisher think of that?"

"My publisher has no idea where I am. Nobody does. Nobody must find out. I can't cope any more. I can't write any more."


Jordan slumped forward and laid his forehead agains the melons.

"What do you do when you can't go on, Monsieur Perdu?" he asked wearily.

"Me? Nothing."

Next to nothing.

I take night walks through Paris until I'm tired. I clean Lulu's engine, the hull and the windows, and I keep the boat ready to go right down to the last screw, even though it hasn't gone anywhere for two decades."

I read books - 20 at a time. Everywhere: on the toilet, in the kitchen, in cafes, in the metro. I do jigsaw puzzles that take up the whole floor, destroy them when I've finished and the start all over again. I feed stray cats. I arrange my groceries in alphabetical order. I sometimes take sleeping tablets. I take a dose of Rilke to wake up. I don't read any books in which women like Manon crop up. I gradually turn to stone. I carry on. The same every day. That's the only way I can survive. But other than that, no, I do nothing.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Where The Pain Dissolves

This is the part where the pain dissolves. You know the pain you've kept frozen inside you, unable to touch it, unwilling to feel it, impossible to move through it?

Well, this is the part where it thaws, just a little, and your body schlumps forward and you feel some of the tension, not all of it but some of it, leave.

You feel it prickle in your eyes, you feel the tell tale waves sweep through your body. You watch a movie, just a silly romantic comedy, and start to cry because of the guy whose son fell off the scaffold and broke his back and died. And the father is stuck like you, stuck in the moment, frozen...the moment before his son fell, the moment before...

This is the part where the pain dissolves, where you start to cry, where you start just a little, to stop being dead.

And you read e cheerful email by a friend who is going through so much pain but is looking on the bright side, nonetheless, sending out poetry to journals and contests, making lists, keeping track of what she sent where...having hope. The friend you try to write to every week. Send books to, because she likes them. Silly books. Serious books. She loves you. You love her. She is trying now. Really trying. Rising up from the ashes of a broken body.

This is the part where the pain dissolves; where you start to cry, where you start, just a little to stop dying.

I hold you in me. I hold your body, your presence, your words, the sound of your voice, the feel of your skin. I hold how it felt to cuddle you and be cuddled by you. To crawl into your bed and smell your smell on the sheets. The house may crumble, the house may fall, but that house, it's not you. Nor are those things.

The things that made you eternal, those things are in me now. I held them away unable to accept them, because they reminded me of you, because they hurt too much.

It's been two years now.

This is the part where the pain dissolves.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

A Convergence of Intelligence and Natural Science

If one analyses the challenges facing the world in systemic terms, the intelligence of implementing permaculture, micro lending, green taxes, ecological foot printing and fair trade becomes evident.

Conversely, if problems are viewed atomistically, the same strategies and solutions can be dismissed as idealistic and impractical. Creating genetically modified organisms to address hunger, building pebble bed nuclear reactors to address global warming, or waging opportunistic wars to establish democracies are all forms of downstream thinking that predicated today's dilemmas because none of them address the sources of the problems. In software, such fixes are called kludges, workarounds to repair bugs, expedient patches that may work for a time. Kludges do not address root causes but layer on Band-Aids to modify undesirable effects, ultimately forming a distressed whole. Fixing the intractable problems besetting the world will require a convergence of said intelligence and natural science, two qualities traditional politics lack.

Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

We, the People

I met two ladies yesterday who work for the Food Aid Foundation. They are one of the many NGOs who are attempting to help the boat people and the ones interned at a camp at Sik, Kedah. They told me the negotiations are very delicate. You can't afford to piss off the authorities or all aid you want to bring will be refused entry.
I wrote this on May 20, the day after coming back from a Mix and Fix, and meeting these two ladies:

A baby was born at the camp a couple of days ago. Some of the women are pregnant. All of them have been raped repeatedly. These are just, some of the horrors of being in those rickety boats, cast adrift at sea.

But what got to me was the response of the people. The moment they heard that Food Aid was doing something and would probably be let through, money poured in. Ordinary Malaysians, poor Malaysians, rich Malaysians. Rosnah told me about someone who had donated RM10. Doing RM10 by bank transfer? How precious that RM10 would have been to that person. But they wanted to help. She said most of the people making these donations were not sophisticated about the bank transfers and instead of sending a copy of the receipts, they sent screen shots of their bank accounts from which the money had been deducted. One woman had only RM237 left in her account after the donation. Rosnah told me she started crying on seeing that. RM237. And how many days more till the end of the month?

"I hope this is not her only bank account," she sobbed to Hayati.

Hayati is the less emotional one. She just sees a humanitarian crisis on hand an wants to get the job done, come hell or high water. This is not a time to debate the politics of the matter or look to see what "message it sends" to the rest of the world. (And what message is that, my dear politicians, that Malaysians are heartless and can look on the face of suffering and turn away? That is the wrong message. We're not. We don't care about what message it sends. We see a crisis on hand, we see these desperate people suffering and regardless of the politics of the matter, we want to help).

Rosnah also told me about the emails and phone calls they have received. It's not only the little people who want to help. It's also the rich ones. One secretary of a corporate figure called her, and said: "My boss asked me to call you and I don't know why..." Long and short, the boss wanted to donate money as well. Do you know how hard it is to shake corporates down for CSR initiatives? And here they were, check book in hand, wanting to do something, anything, to help these people.

Do you think we are heartless, and that we were not as disturbed as you were by the pictures of those starving desperate people?

Clearly, something has to be done on a global level to address the 1 million people who have been declared stateless by a totalitarian regime.

But for now, we need to offer succour to the ones drifting on the boats, desperate and dying. A place to sleep. Food to eat. Clothes to wear. Diapers. A little kindness.

Simple things.

Because we, the people, we care.

My heart is moved by all I cannot save
So much has been destroyed
I have cast my lot with those
who, age after age, perversely
with no extraordinary power
reconstitute the world.

(Adrienne Rich)

Monday, 1 June 2015

Week 22: Play Fair

Who are you constantly? In other words, how do you act and behave when there is no one watching, when with absolute certainty you know that what you are doing is not being seen by anyone? Are you honest with yourself? Do you play fair?

Such is the encouragement I offer you this week, to practice building your character.

First, consider the theme and what it means to you. Pay attention to the opportunities you have to "play fair" when alone. Are these actions, attitudes, something else? Then solidify your practice this week by doing at least one kind act that is completely anonymous.

Additionally, try to extend the concept of playing fair throughout your life. Do all the little things in the way they are meant to be done. And when the opportunity arises, do the bigger things in a way that makes you proud.

Summarize for yourself what you do in your journal. Imagine what it would be like if organizations, corporations, and countries all played fair.