Aside

I just re-found this piece of unfinished writing from a couple of years ago. I thought it was worth sharing…

In the past, the model for life has been simple. Obvious. Find a career. Move up the ladder. Get married. Buy a house. Have kids. Move to a bigger house. Sell up and move to country. Retire. Play golf. Leave the house in the country to the kids.

This old model has served our parents well, but it isn’t open to me. The expectation of ever-increasing house prices – of housing as investment – has lifted the value of property beyond what is achievable to low-middle income earners such as myself. The average house price is now too many times the average income, and the era of cheap credit is over. It just isn’t conceivable that I, as a single person with my historic income could buy a house let alone one big enough to raise a family in.

Demographic changes mean that the pension/retirement model is broken beyond repair. There are not enough workers to support the number of retirees, and it is getting worse. The average pensioner is living longer, and couples are having less children. For my generation, a comfortable retirement is only really conceivable for the highest earners. Private pensions funds are becoming bankrupt and the state will increasingly struggle to support the growing number of pensioners, many of them on dangerously low incomes.

The comfortable, financially secure future – the middle class dream – is fast becoming fantasy. It is unlikely that I will earn enough to achieve it. I have neither the capital, nor the job security, to build that type of security.

I have no desire to abandon myself to a life of insecurity, a permanent now of short-medium term jobs, rented apartments, living in the transient ‘communities’ of the bigger cities. I have the same desire for place, for family, for security and stability that our parents and grandparents did.

I don’t see why we should abandon our desires for family life because the models of previous generations have been broken. Instead of tearing our clothes in despair, or resigning ourselves to a life of transience and impermanence we need another model, another possibility of achieving the same aims.

It is easy to decry societal change, financial hardship and the death of the family. It is far harder to come up with a solution. There are some things that are dying that I have no desire to resurrect. I don’t want to spend the last 30 years of my life playing golf and going to the theatre. I don’t particularly feel that society ‘owes’ me anything, or have an expectation that they should provide for me – either now or later. But there will come a time when I can’t work, either for health reasons or old age, and I would hope for some structure to support me.

I don’t know now if marriage and children are possible for me. I have to be realistic. It is not impossible, and it is desired, but such things are out of my control. But I have no desire for an isolated, lonely future. I don’t want to live a life without children in it, whether or not I have my own. I have a desperate longing for family. But family can take many forms.

My hope is that intentional community and collective ownership can be an alternative, an antidote, to the decayed and broken current model. That it is possible to gather together with like-minded individuals and create a space, a home, a sense of family that can be self-supporting and enduring. That a group of people can together own property, create a home, develop a collective financial security, raise children, care for one another in sickness and old age and endure beyond the death of the original members into perpetuity.

I also hope that, beyond this, it would be possible to create something that can have a positive impact on the wider community in a geographic area and even, to an extent, society as a whole. That a community might be able to collectively demonstrate alternatives to the usual patterns of life.

The question, of course, is how you do that. How do you build community over the long term? How do you overcome the barriers of finance and property, especially when money is so easily a source of conflict?

Suggestions on a postcard (or debate in the comments) gratefully received.

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The saga of the camera

So, the other day I bought myself a birthday present. Well, technically a pre-birthday present. I went onto ebay, and purchased a camera.

I used to enjoy photography, as a kid. Throughout my preteens and teens, I regularly had a camera nearby, and enjoyed the process of photography: framing the scene, judging the composition, taking the subject unawares. As I got older, it fell away as an activity. Cost was an issue, but so was interest in other things.

If I’m honest, I don’t really know why I stopped. I know there was some dissatisfaction with the process, some product envy. Compact cameras were in; digital was beginning to be a real possibility; autofocus SLRs were the big thing. I had an old, early Minolta autofocus which didn’t do what I wanted. Plus it held my hands too much, and I began to be lazy…

I dunno. Maybe I just wanted to have the shiny new toy. I’ve always been too much of a sucker for advertising. I wanted a shiny Cannon or Nikon SLR, with the zoom lenses that now seem so common, but were then so new. My camera didn’t have spot metering, or five-point autofocus, or a zoom lens. My camera wasn’t good enough; a compact wasn’t (and still isn’t) good enough. I was suckered – sold on the feel and the lifestyle and the act of seeing through the lens. When I went to University, I didn’t take my Minolta with me.

During my time in London, it only got worse. Digital SLRs came onto the scene. But instead of being £100 out of my price range, these were £500, or £1000 more than I could afford. So, as usual, I lusted from the sidelines and stopped thinking about it. On occasion I would borrow a friends SLR or compact, for a party or a trip or just to play, but most of the time I lived vicariously through the photos of other people, and became one of those people who don’t take pictures.

But there has always been a part of me that remembers, thinks back. That wants to be Amelie with the Polaroid, or Ansel Adams on the mountain top. That wants to be capturing and creating something beautiful with the turn of a bezel and the press of a button.

While I was at l’Abri I met many wonderful people, including several photographers. Mary Frances and Kari with their amazing candid shots of people, capturing the characters so well. Marcie with her resurrected old cameras, lovingly crafting every single shot, not knowing if any would work. Julia with her Polaroids, little off-colour frames of wonder. Phil, with the old manual SLR, creating incredibly evocative black & whites…

They were all so inspiring. As we left and went on our separate ways, that inspiration stirred a hunger in me. A desire to get out there and try again, to see if I could create something as beautiful as those images I’d seen…

Then my good, wonderful friend Anna picked up her dad’s old camera and had a go. With the same inspiration as me, with the beautiful and quirky town of Portland to explore, she stepped out and went to see what would happen. Well, some really great black and white shots happened, that became gifts and surprises, sent in the post to friends around the world.

If Anna could do it, why couldn’t I? So I picked up my dad’s old camera and…

Found that it had no batteries.

A quick trip to a camera shop revealed that the battery compartment was corroded, and that new batteries would not help. In this old camera, no battery meant no meter, and more importantly, no shutter. It was dead. My first attempt to get back in the game had been a failure.

That was back in May. For most of my summer in Birmingham, I was living with the intention, the hope, that very soon – maybe the next week – I would get a job and be moving. I wasn’t planning to stay around. Maybe next week I’ll move to London. In London there are second-hand camera shops and market stalls; I can find something there… So I waited, and put off the idea for a while.

But a germ of a thought had been planted, which was to find a body that could take the lenses from my dad’s camera. Over time, with a bit of occasional internet searching, I settled on the Pentax ME Super. It was a great little camera in its day, fondly remembered. They were popular, and well made. There are lots of them out there…

Come September, and I’ve decided I’ll go for it. It’s my birthday – I can treat myself. I bid on ebay for a couple of items and, as always, pay a little too much for a camera of un-guaranteed quality. It arrives the day before I pack to go to Chichester to start my new life.

Open the package. Hold it. Feel the weight. Press the buttons, turn the knobs. Open the door, examine the mechanisms, the seals, all the details. That nervous anticipation – the delight of having a new toy, mixed with the fear of whether or not it is a good buy. Will I be happy or will I regret?

There was no cap covering the mirror box, and the insides are very dirty. I try and clean inside with the cleaning cloth for my Mac, but the foam seal at the front edge disintegrates and some of the residue ends up on the focus screen. Or was it already there? I don’t know…

I find a small airbrush and a lens cloth in my dad’s camera bag. I remove the dust and dirt from the film chamber, and the remaining dust from the mirror box. I try and clean the focus screen with the lens cloth, but all that happens is it spreads the residue around.

Putting on one of my dad’s lenses and looking through, it’s all a little blurry, but it basically works. I’m not happy though. The camera wasn’t expensive, but it’s still the most expensive ‘new’ thing I’d bought in a while. And I’m not sure if it will do what I want it to do…

I pack the camera, the lenses, the yet-unused film into my bag, along with everything else, ready for the trip south. It waits there until I am in my current abode, when I put it into a draw. Safe. Out of sight.

I don’t know what to do. The light is beautiful; Chichester is gorgeous. I want to get out and explore, to take pictures, but there is much trepidation. I haven’t taken pictures in a long time. I’m not sure I remember all the rules about aperture and shutter speed and focal lengths… And I want to get it right. I don’t want to waste precious film.

I take the camera out of the draw a few times. Put a lens on, look through, play at changing the controls. Get confused by the manual film advance. Man! I haven’t used one of these in years! There’s no film in yet, and as I look through the viewfinder, I’m bothered by that smudged screen. Very bothered. The camera goes back in the draw.

As I explore the town, I find a couple of camera shops. The first one I go into (without the camera) is very helpful. He identifies the problem right away (the disintegrating foam), and says that it might be permanent damage. “The only thing you could try, is to clean it with a fluid that will dissolve the glue. You could try isopropyl alcohol. You can get it from a chemists…”

I thank the man, go to the chemists. They have it, but the bottle is huge. I only need a few drops. I leave it.

The next week I go to the other camera shop and ask them about it. I take the camera with me. They look at it, examine it, look through it. Consult among themselves. Say that there is nothing that can be done. “It’s permanent damage. But you can still see through it; you can still use it.”

I’m annoyed. I want my camera to work. I’ve been thinking of doing this, of following Anna’s example, for months.

So I do something foolish. I believe the guy in the first shop. I go back to the chemists and buy the big bottle of isopropyl alcohol. And a pipette, and cotton buds. A 500ml bottle for maybe 5ml worth of work. Seems ridiculous, but I want my camera to work!

I go home and try. The first couple of applications I brush against the seal and make the situation worse. So I try again, apply more.

Every application seems to be making things worse. But I keep going. Fool.

Now that the dust has settled, the residue evaporated, the “tools” put away, I can see the results. I have cleaned up the glue residue. But I have also stripped away the top layer of the focus screen. The two segments in the middle of the screen that actually let you focus are broken. You can’t see them move properly. And the rest of the screen is… well, it’s less blurred, but not by much…

I’m now left with a camera which may be impossible to focus accurately. It will take pictures, but in all likelihood it will take pictures that are slightly out of focus, unless I am very lucky. Not exactly my dream of crisp, clear, artistic shots.

I go back to the (second) camera shop. The focus screen could be replaced, but it will cost me nearly twice what I paid for the camera. Best bet? Go back to ebay and see if I can get another, in better condition this time.

I still haven’t put film in the camera yet. I haven’t fired a shot. I don’t know if I should. Do I risk it and see what happens – join in with Marcie’s spirit of photographic adventure? Or do I trawl the marketplaces and second-hand shops for an alternative body? Or do I wait until I have a little more saved up and buy the DSLR I’ve always wanted?

Will the saga continue? I just don’t know right now…

Writing

…is quite fun, actually. This week, alongside completing an application form, beginning a negotiation with another possible employer, visiting my brother in Sheffield and taking a couple of mini trips out with my parents (who are on holiday), I’ve managed to produce 21 scenes, 54 pages and 11500 words of a screenplay. This one is on relationships currently under the working title of “Breaking up is hard to do”, (but again, it probably won’t keep it).

I’ve really enjoyed the process of writing this. Thus far it has flowed quite smoothly. It hasn’t always been easy to sit down and write, but it hasn’t been quite as hard to discipline myself as I expected. I reckon that, on current evidence, I could do this, as long as it wasn’t all I did. A job in a pub, or a part-time job elsewhere, and this might actually work…

Taking up the Challenge

So, Kat issued me with a bit of a challenge: can I use the time I have, as an unemployed individual, to try out the process of writing as a job. If I can stick to it for a week or two, maybe I can work out if this writing lark is dream or fantasy…

Well, after some encouragement, I’ve made some baby steps from an initial state of being somewhat freaked out, towards actually taking up the thrown-down gauntlet. First step was actually getting out of bed.

I’ve actually had something of a routine the last few months, but a routine that involves a not insignificant amount of being in bed. Each day I would wake whenever I woke, mess around on the internet for a while, then shower, make coffee, and struggle into wakefulness. Occasionally this pattern would enable some work to be done before lunch, but most of the time, it didn’t. Instead, I would walk my mum into work (she works half days), come home, make lunch, and settle into work around 2-2.30pm. I’d then press on with the job hunting process until 5 or 6pm.

So, a working routine, but nothing close to a real working day. Part of Kat’s challenge is actually putting in a full days work, and that means dragging myself out of bed before 9am.

***

This is how it’s gone thus far. Yesterday I got up at 8am. By 9am I was on my way out of the house, walking into Harborne. I went to WH Smiths, and purchased myself an A4 notepad and some new pens. Nice, long walk home, and down to ‘work’.

The morning I used my new pad to write down the basic outlines I had for script ideas. A total of seven projects, most of them only initial ideas, or very rough outlines. But at least now there is an ‘idea’ and a working title to each locked on paper. Somewhere to start.

After walking Mum to the office, the afternoon was spent writing the precredits and credit sequence to the first idea. It’s currently running on the working title of “A Very British War Movie”, although I can assure you that it won’t keep it. It’s not even a great indication of what the film is about, but at least sketches out the genre (ish). 1700 words isn’t bad for an afternoons work, although probably still short of Kat’s target.

Today I also managed to drag myself up before 9am, and I’ve written the opening to another project, working title “The Farm”. Only 630 words, but then there’s no dialogue.

***

So, not a bad start. Although, now things are going to grind to a halt. I really have to concentrate on an application form, over the next couple of days, and so that will distract me from writing. I hope to get back into it next week, although I may note down some thoughts in between moments of staring blankly at Job Descriptions.

The other problem, is that these two opening sequences were the only scenes I already had written in my head. Everything from this point on has to be genuine new creativity. Can I do it? Can I take these ideas and run with them? Will writing itself become a chore? At this point, I don’t know. I’ll keep you updated…

Plan B from Outer Space

The job hunting is not going well. Thus far I am up to 27 positions (that I have recorded, there may be others I forgot to note down). And no interviews. And that, is kinda depressing…

plan9It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a job that I want, or one I don’t. One I think I could do with my eyes closed, or one that would be a stretch. I write cover letters and applications, I send them in, and then I hear nothing back. I mean, seriously! I know it’s a recession and all, but what does a guy have to do to get an interview round here!?

Thus far, the plan has been get a job, get any job, put some money in the bank, and think about the future next year. Well, Plan A (as we’ll call it) hasn’t been working. I’ve mainly applied for charity comms jobs, because that’s where my experience is at. There seem to be plenty of them out there, but far, far too many people going for them. I keep persevering, keep turning the handle hoping that a job will fall out in the end. But they aren’t, and each passing week it is harder to motivate myself to get back on the treadmill.

I’ve been at my parents for 3 months now. 3 months of seclusion, away from friends and a real life of my own. It has seemed like the ‘sensible’, pragmatic solution to the problem of employment seeking et al, but there is only so much of this I can take…

So, Plan A is failing. I need a plan B (and maybe a Plan C), ready to move into when I can’t take any more of this. Trouble is, I’m not at all sure what they might be…

***

I’ve had some great conversations with friends about this over the last week. Suggested possibilities include setting my sights lower (a few steps back down the ladder, so to speak); moving into another field; retraining; getting a basic job (like bar work), at least part-time; and going off and doing something more interesting for a while. And, all the suggestions are worth considering.

I’m seriously musing on the retraining/moving into an alternate field thing. I’ve been tired of the charity sector for a while (if I’m honest). There is plenty there that I still find worthy, that still inspires me, but there is also a lot that frustrates. Too much reinventing the wheel. Too much of a silo mentality. Too great an expectation that staff should work harder, for less money, than any other sector. If Plan A featured the possibility of getting out of the sector in a years time, then why not think about it now?

So, another sector. A completely different career. Sounds good. But what?

My problem has always been that I am interested in too many things. All it takes is a blog post or a magazine article to get me excited by a new field. I can think of about ten things I’d like to try, a dozen jobs that I’ve thought, “that might be fun!”

But at this point in my life, I’ve got to be a little more careful with my career decisions. I can’t do the pick’n’mix thing. With one degree under my belt already, any new training is going to be expensive. It’s going to mean taking on debt. And, if you’re going to take on debt in a recession, you’re really going to want some assurance that you can pay it off. That means not only training in a field that has some guarantee of work in it, but also that you’ll actually like the job you’ve trained for!

So, retraining sounds like a possibility, but one that I’m pretty cautious about at this point. And what, you may ask, would I retrain as? Well, the current possibilities include eco-building/eco-energy (good for the ethical part of me, and for the practical, engineering brain), and some form of land/estate management (y’know, to fit somehow with all that dreaming of farms and manor houses and the like). Possibilities, but involving some serious study (and cost).

***

There are other things I could do, too. I’ve always been interested in project management. This might be an area I could retrain in, or it could be one where I try and find a lowly job, back down the pay/responsibility scale, with an organisation that might train me in the not-too-distant future.

Other possible alternative plans include going and doing something random for a while. Like working on a farm. Or travelling (although cash flow issues would probably stymie that one). I’ve even thought of getting a lowly, barely-paid-at-all job with an organisation like the YHA, purely because it would involve working in some great locations…

***

So, there are possibilities, and there are dreams.

In a great conversation about all of this with a friend on Sunday morning, we got talking a little about career ‘dreams’ we have though of pursuing. My friend confessed to having a dream of writing for glossy girlie magazines (a little more glam, and a little less respectable than her current job!). But in the midst of the confessions and the dreaming, she had some wisdom:

Of course, if I really wanted to do it, I would have done it by now. I’d have given up my job, and taken the lowest paid, bottom-rung position, just to get my foot in the door. I would have done whatever it takes. I think that’s a good measure of your dreams, really

Now that, is wisdom.

Y’see, amidst all the interests and the ‘what if’s’, I have had my dreams. I want to write. And really, when I’m most honest with myself, what I want to write is film scripts.

I have an overactive imagination, and I have a lot of ideas. Most of them never get out of my head onto paper, not even in sketch or outline. But part of me still wants to believe that I could do it; that I could be a scriptwriter for Hollywood.

I dream of writing that killer drama, or that new Sci-Fi adaptation. I dream of which directors I would want making my work, or which actors I would cast in which roles. Of all the many things I have considered or wondered about, this last year or so, it is this dream that is the most persistent. By far.

And yet… I haven’t done it. Despite being unemployed, with time on my hands (at least theoretically) and plenty of ideas in my head, I have thus far failed to produce more than a (small) handful of disparate threads. There is no big, killer script brewing, and no hours are being put in to achieve this dream.

I watch films, read film mags, and talk films with friends, but I am no closer to writing one now than I was five years ago. Over time the dream has grown and become more nagging, more persistent, but the painful reality is that no real effort has been put it on my part. It remains nothing more than yet another fantasy in my (very active) mind.

***

So, as I sit here, bashing out another blog post instead of, say, applying for a job or writing a script or short story, am I (in reality) any closer to Plan B? Possibly, but probably not.

Writing these posts is often rather cathartic for me; it helps me think. But not really any more so than having the conversations I had over the long weekend in London and Greatham. I still need to research the possible options, and work out which is really attractive and viable. I still need to kick myself out of my malaise. Writing this is better than spending an afternoon playing Zuma, but probably not by that much…

So, still job hunting, still wondering about the future. If you are a friend, and have any realistic career suggestions, or just want to kick me up the backside again (Josh), you know where the comment stream is…

Thanks for reading.

[Oh, and if you don’t get the title, then look up one of these two films. Classic!]

The Dream

I’ve been thinking about what I want for my life, spurred on by the encouragement of various friends and commenters. It’s never been an easy one for me, as I tend to be interested and inspired by many things; distracted by the next dream or possibility… I’m going to think seriously about what I want my life to look like in 5 years time, and I may or may not post on that in time, but for now I want to try and bash out a recurring dream…

My two terms at l’Abri have had a profound affect on me, as I know they have on many others. But the following idea, while added to and flourishing in that environment, has been germinating in me for years. Each new encounter is a new form of inspiration, an new bit of clarity; developing a sense of “like this, but not like that…

So what’s the dream? Well, I am still trying to pull the hazy distant imaginings into a describable reality, but as far as I can sketch at the moment…

The dream is a farm, run by a community of like-minded individuals, living a shared life together. It aspires to self-sufficiency, and even an abundance, so that the product of the land can be crafted, shared, even sold. It grows organically, perhaps using permaculture principles, but certainly trying to steward the land in as efficient, diverse and environmentally sustainable manor as possible. It aims to have the minimum possible carbon footprint; hopefully even managing to be a negative generator of CO2.

The community is centred on the shared belief of the fundamental creative nature of all of us, and seeks to express that in everything it does. In terms of food production, it aims to take control of as much of the food cycle as possible, and produce in-house food of the best quality, from seed to table. It would seek excellence in all areas, and aspire to creative, wholesome, nutritious and desirable production, for the enjoyment of the farm, the local community, and beyond.

The farm would be an artistic fellowship, seeking to be a place of communal artistic expression, a cradle and crucible of talent. Residents and guests would work part of their time on the land or the products of the land, and part of their time in the pursuit of creative expression. It would be a place of music, of sculpture and painting, of photography and film; a melting-pot of ideas, inspirations and the result of shared artistic endeavour.

The community would aspire to follow the inspiration of the Arts and Crafts Movement; not necessarily in terms of style, but in terms of seeking to produce quality, hand-crafted works, and the high value to aesthetics and the goodness of beauty. Like “Morris & Co.” it would seek to develop craft-based production of beautiful things: hand made furniture, book binding and printing, clothing etc. Perhaps in time it could be a place of fostering new ideas and principles in art, architecture, education etc.

The community would be based around a shared life, in the belief that we are more human when we are not isolated and live in fellowship with other human beings. Or, to quote Christopher McCandless: “Happiness is nothing if it is not shared.” It would seek to work together, eat together, play together and laugh together. There would be a common commitment to a ‘slow life’, to a reducing of the intense, depersonalising, technology-driven nature of our western life. It would, especially, seek to be an alternative to consumerist materialism.

Last, for now, and by no means least, the community would seek to be a place of shelter. The phrase that comes to mind is “freely you have received, now freely give”. It would seek to welcome strangers into its midst, and to be a place of refuge for those that need it, for as long as they need. The community would aspire to growing, not as a hand-picked collection of friends, but as any and all who need to be there, and can commit to the shared values and vision. Inspired by the monastic orders of old, the community would practice salvation through work; that labouring with and for the community can in and of itself be a healing thing.

There is probably much more to write, but that is enough from me for now. This is a rough outline of a steadily growing dream, and it is by no means my exclusive proviso. If this is ever to develop out of the hazy imaginings of my own mind and into an achievable, concrete reality, then it will do so with others, and the perspectives of others will be as valid as mine. So, what do you think? Are there others there for whom this is a shared dream? Does this picture, or parts of it , resonate with you? What would you add, what would you take away?

And, just as importantly, how do we get there?