Thursday, 28 August 2014

What Do I Do If I Don't Have a Vocation or a Vision?

I ran across this article about managing a career as a freelance photographer and especially staying in it for a long time. I don’t know, but assume from the subject of the article, that the turnover rate for freelancers is quite high.

The advice is along the lines of “follow your artistic instincts, develop your own style that people will pay for, and make up a proper business plan, with five-year financial projections.” There’s a lot more than that, and it is worth reading.

It turns out that the author, Doug Menuez, is a superstar. Stanford University hosts a collection of his photographs, which is superstar enough. So his advice is fine if you happen to be a superstar photographer, or indeed, a superstar anything. What about the rest of us? What does an ordinary working stiff like me do?

I’m going to riff on this quote:
"There are many [photographers] who do this exact thing [try to second-guess and follow the market, rather than their own artistic taste] and end up with a middling level of success, stuck on a financial and creative plateau, slowly starting to run out of gas. After a few years they hate their their work and life in general. They are getting divorced or leaving the business or pursuing whatever diversion eases the pain. They are not living the dream. They are not challenging themselves creatively because they did not give themselves permission to be who they are as photographers in the first place. This is the road to being a burned out, bitter hack. Boring."
That’s what everyone should want to avoid, though most don’t. But how do we do it if we don’t feel a strong sense of vocation and have an inner artistic direction? Aren’t we then condemned to go along to get along and get burned out? Before I set off on this essay, I would have said, well, that’s the assumption. Now I’m not so sure.

Most of the time I have been employed to run and improve some kind of process, to gather, process and disseminate facts, and I’ve been paid for what I do, not to put in the hours. Sometimes the office was grotty, perhaps by being stuck out in some ghastly suburb, and sometimes the people were not my speed, and sometimes there was outright crookedness going on. But I rarely felt it as “hard graft”.

Am I following any kind of “passion”? Is this work satisfying to my inner soul? Am I a reputed member of some serious professional group? Am I part of a professional or industry community? Do I get my identity from what I do? This is a string of NO’s. I call it “my day job” for a reason - it’s my day job. There are people who would answer many of these questions with a YES: they have reputations, published books and papers, consultancies, and make some kind of contribution. I am, by contrast, the quintessential lurker. I do what I do to make a living, not because I have an interest in the Great Cause of Data or any other darn thing.

But nor am I a burned-out hack. I know what those men and women look like: the building I work in and the trains I commute on are full of them. How have I dodge it?

The companies I have worked for did something that was useful to their customers, charged a sensible price for it, and were reasonable places to work. I’ve never worked in a company where they have to lie to the customer and any passing regulators (Big Pharma anyone?) about the usefulness and desirability of their products. I’ve never worked anywhere there was a sense of treating the customers with contempt. (Okay, there is one exception to this, but I never bought into the mind-set, and the organisation now thinks a lot more like I do.) I’ve never had to con myself about where I worked and what I did.

My idea of “working for a living” is doing a job where a) there is a constant stream of work coming in and my productivity is being measured, and / or b) I have to use a certain formula, method or script to handle the task, and c) it is not possible to zone out and do the thing on muscle-memory. Actually a) and / or b) will do, c) turns it from “work” to “sheer hell”. You and I may have totally different reactions to a job: my idea of hell might be your idea of a terrific challenge. I have worked for a living a couple of times. Once for about eight weeks when I was credit controlling / collecting debts for a building company. That was hard grind, and the slowest-moving clock I ever watched. The other was during teacher-training. Not one moment to take as time out. Washing-up in a staff canteen over the summer holidays? Now that’s what I call a doddle. Except when I was in the deepest throes of drinking, I pretty much arrived on time and left on time. I’ve never had to clock in.

Now this is a surprise to me. It turns out that I have been working in accordance with some basic values I have, in reasonable places, and leaving on time so I can get on with whatever passed for my life at the time. This is not the vocation / vision -driven idea that Doug Menuez talks about, but it will do for those of us who don’t really have vocations and visions.

Only work at honest companies that treat you reasonably well, arrive and leave on time, have a life outside work, and work in a manner that suits you (I’ve described mine, but your preference may differ). Hmmm. I’m not sure that isn’t as tall an order as finding and following a vocation. How many companies are like that?

If everyone decided that was where and how they were going to work, a lot of companies would lose their staff pretty much overnight. Maybe this is a more subversive message than the vocation / vision one?

Monday, 25 August 2014

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Normal People Don't Need Self-Improvement

I ran across this little rant...

My grandma is dead and she went demented before we could have these deep spiritual conversations. She grew up in the Great Depression. She held the family together. She recognized that family comes first. You sacrifice and do anything for your family. There are not many like her left. Now your family comes second to your smart phones and computers and Internet pornography and your self-indulgent lifestyle. Your Baby Boomer parents were checked out, and now the Gen X parents are checked out. My generation is not maturing. There is little spiritual evolution, little wisdom. Look look at my peers. Men my age and older still talk about their parents! They cry about shit mommy and daddy did to them. “I’m this way because of how my dad/mom treated me.” That is a sign that they have not left the childhood stage of development. People are in their 30s and 40s and still overgrown children crying about mommy and daddy.

Most of it is shaming and grandparent worship (what is with Americans and their grandparents?). The more I looked at it, the more it cames across as a cry of rage and frustration. This is a man wanting guidance and, surprise!, not finding it from his parents or their generation. The give-away is that little phrase “spiritual evolution”.

The cliche is that “religion is for people who believe in Heaven: spirituality is for people who have been to Hell”. I’ve spent some time in Limbo and Purgatory myself - maybe a short spell in the Fifth Circle - and I’m inclined to agree. Spirituality is for people who want to avoid further pain and suffering, who need to manage their inner demons and dysfunctions. It’s not for regular people.

Our author has previously said his mother is bi-polar - which is a nasty thing to do to your child, as that stuff is hereditary - and he has spoken of depression when younger. He has inner demons to fight. He needs the focus on exercise and work, the relentless self-improvement, as I do. The alternative is chaos, decay, weight gain, depression, self-pity and all sorts of other undesirables.

But, and this has taken me a good few years to understand, regular people do not need that focus. They look at the self-improvers and somewhere in their autonomic nervous system, the same one that recognises bad smells, they recognise us for the damaged goods we are. They watch us grind round the gym and see something unhealthy. Which is why they drop the gym attendance six weeks after New Years’. Regular people know they got their genes from their parents, and they spent the first third of their lives with them, so who the hell else was responsible? Regular people say they want to be happy, but above all they want drama and the noise of humanity around them. They want to feel part of the crowd, they want to “be there”, they want to part of a team, they want to belong. They want to brag on a minor success, and relish the drama of a minor failure. The men want to hang out and bullshit about sports, and the women want to hang out and play status games. This and so much more is normal life. They may run half-marathons, but for a good cause, not to prove something about themselves to themselves. They may read, but for entertainment and escape - you can escape in a history textbook. They get something hormonal from being around each other.

Regular people do need instrumental advice - about how to handle a squatter, or an industrial tribunal, or the best route to Swindon from Birmingham - but they don’t need to know how to live. Any more than a squirrel does and for much the same reason. Normal people do really dumb things and they don’t usually make sense, but there’s no point shaming them. They couldn’t change if they wanted to, and they wouldn’t want to. Normals have no advice for people with demons, no more than cats do for lions.

Behind the realisation that the Normals can’t help you is the realisation that you have demons. Rather than accept that, it’s easier to lash out at the Normals. Our author is doing that. He thinks he’s being a better man, not that he’s keeping chaos at bay. The Normals don’t need to keep chaos at bay, because they don’t see it as chaos. They see it as Life. Accidental pregnancies, decaying marriages, bi-polar relatives, bullying bosses, entitled girlfriends, thieving cousins, Type 2 diabetes, weight-gain, marital infidelity… it’s all part of Life to them. It’s what living is all about. They see the carefully managed lives that I and our author lead, and shudder.

It’s not easy being Green.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Media Misandry Is Just Click-Bait and Marketing

Or Spreadsheet Guy (2). Why didn’t editors all over the world didn’t say to their columnists “Anyone writes about Spreadsheet Guy gets to do the recipe page for a month. It’s a hoax and even if it was true, it is unworthy of our publication”? Before about 2005 Spreadsheet Guy would never have made any print publication. Now editors need the landings, dwell-time and click-throughs.

The media has always measured its columnists’ and celebrities' worth by sales and reader feedback: when it cost money to read, the London Evening Standard always sold more on the days the legendary art critic Brian Sewell ran his column. People read Sewell because he was controversial and had arguments for his views. People read media misandry because it lets them air their grievances, posture as activists, and spew their bile, or because they think it’s about real issues and are trying to get a feel for the direction of the zeitgeist.

Misandry is the biggest troll in polite society (go to impolite society and there are any number of loonie Anti-Jewish conspiracy theorists and all sorts of other creepy-crawlies, but we’re staying mainstream). Upload a story that can evoke a “what a creep / loser / jerk / typical man / that’s why I live with my cats / why are men like this / why can’t they just get it” response and the damaged, deluded, disillusioned and deranged will send their clicks down the fibre in gratifying numbers. Which for the moment the publishers think is a good thing. Because advertising and eyeballs.

Advertising. That’s why it’s there. To exploit the hurt, pain, mis-understandings, fears, inadequacies and prejudices of rejected, unhappy and dissatisfied women everywhere. To sell them stuff. Because what a miserable woman needs is more useless stuff.

Media misandry is advertising. With free copy in the comments. Well done girls. You just got owned by the capitalists.


It’s time The Guys stopped taking media misandry seriously. I don’t mean the institutional misandry in the Family Courts, Social Services and other organisations. That’s serious stuff, and Paul Elam’s crew do a good job with that. I mean the stuff that women who don’t like men write, or the straight female-privilege stuff. Revealing that self-interest and privilege is part of the mission of RoK, Heartiste and Rational Male. Newcomers need to know this stuff isn’t serious. Those women get screen space because the publishers think there’s money in it.

A lot of impressionable young women believe this stuff, a lot of White Knights and Other Traitors profess it for whatever reasons they think make sense, and a lot of women who don’t like men and all our works use it as a weapon in their war. Some will suggest that some women use this stuff as a shit test to disqualify weak men, and frankly I could care less. Walk away, with or without an NMY-exit (“Oh hey, I have this.. thing I have to do. It was Nice Meeting You.” Or “It’s been nice talking to you, but I have to finish reading this *wave book / print-out or Kindle* for a deadline” if you’re stuck next to each other on transport).

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Spreadsheet Guy Hoax

What Spreadsheet Guy really proves is that most people can’t spot an obvious hoax. It’s right up there with the “Just F…k me Already" post on Craigslist and, oh, every problem Pamela Stephenson invents in her Guardian column, and every third job description. No. Make that every other job description. And as for that username? throwwwwaway29? With only one transaction in reddit? There’s a clue right there.

There’s only one circumstance under which it's real, and that’s where they both have American bodies. Overweight and out of shape. Then her “feeling gross” all the time would be an entirely appropriate thing for her to feel, because that’s what she is.

Even if she is a land whale, what’s utterly inconceivable is that a woman would post the spreadsheet itself for all to see. I could believe her talking about it without letting anyone see it, so she could control people’s reactions to it, but to put the bare fact of it out there for all to make their own minds about? Women are shrewder than that.

Whose hoax is this? Possibly by someone who wanted to prove that no matter how egregious a woman’s behaviour, there will be men rushing from the woodwork to defend her.

And oh boy did they! This story flushed out every White Knight on the planet. I swear my Big Data project will be to get their names and photos, and post them. Reading some of their comments made me wish for a real rain to to come and wash all these manginas off the streets.

It was heartening to see how many people spotted that she was the one with neither decency nor modesty, nor, apparently, any idea where the shower is at her gym. (Maybe women do that? Men don’t, of course, because we have manners. Also self-respect. At least the men at my gym do, anyway.) It was also heartening to see that as many women as men called out her awful behaviour and that the marriage was over.

But it was dismaying to see how nobody spotted that the whole thing was so implausible, so neatly balanced to let anyone tip it anyway they liked, that it had to be a hoax.

It’s a shame that it took a hoax to have someone on Scary Mommy write an insightful and compassionate article about keeping one’s sex life going despite tiredness, children and a serious need for ice cream.

However, anything that brings Rollo Tomassi, the G W F Hegel of the Manosphere, as close as he’s ever going to get to saying “Guys, do NOT get married: the game is rigged against you” has served a good purpose.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Europe Belongs To Us: Get Over the Creepy White People

This has gone viral. It has attracted some expected hoorays , and the equally expected horrified face-palms. One of which, from a Swedish newspaper, missed the point wonderfully. Its retaliation is in eight languages - Arabic, French, Spanish, Estonian, Hungarian and Czech - which they say are examples of cultures that would be turned out by the SDU. Who are talking about Europe. Let’s see: French = European, Spanish = European, Estonian = European, Hungarian = European again, Czech = European. Okay, that leaves… Which was kinda the SDU’s point. The editor of that newspaper is as dumb as a sock.

The video is anti-EU. The two issues mentioned are immigration and multiculturalism. Let’s deal with both.

Multi-culturalism is a smoke-screen. A lot of decent people have been fooled by it, because it sounds so liberal and tolerant, but that’s not how it’s being used by the State and the activists. The decent people are in bad company. It was always an excuse for the police, social services and schools to ignore the unacceptable practices of immigrant communities. Barely able to handle the problems of the native underclass, these organisations needed a doctrine that let them off the hook of dealing, for example, with families that sent thirteen year-old girls off to be married in their village-of-origin. Multi-culturalism was never a serious doctrine, though it needed to be presented as one by the useful idiots in the media, and of course, it was exploited by every harridan who wanted to shout at the Hated White Man some more.

So all the SDU is asking is for the EU and their governments to stop blowing smoke at them. Seems reasonable to me.

So now immigration. Immigrants are brought into the UK because the employers, State or private, do not want to pay the wages, or structure the jobs, so that UK citizens would be able to live independent adult lives (you know, with wives, and children, and their own roof over their head, and some savings. How dare the workers want what the middle class expect?). In the nineteenth century, they brought in the Irish to build the railways. They brought in Jamaicans on the SS Windrush to drive the trains. In the 1990’s and onwards they imported bright young men and women from the rest of the Anglosphere, and later the EU, to do the thousands of essentially short-term white-collar jobs created by modern bureaucracies, jobs with no future and no real foundation in the business, and which can be shut down more or less instantly. And they would send employment scouts over to Eastern Europe to hire skilled tradesmen, which was only needed because UK companies had abandoned apprenticeships a couple of decades ago. Heaven alone knows why European governments brought in unskilled, uneducated, non-English speaking men and women by the thousands, enough to populate entire towns. Since it was crazy, there is no point in speculating. But they did, and created strains on schools, the NHS and all the other public services that were barely adequate before adding another ten million people to the UK population. And they needed to blow huge amounts of smoke in our faces, from faked economic benefit studies to patently insincere praise of “vibrant cultures" to distract us from the obvious idiocy of the policy.

Now let’s get clear who we have a problem with. Immigrants or the people who brought them in, or failed to keep them out?

I have a problem with people who are loud, lazy, don’t pay their taxes or due bills, are rude, inconsiderate, entitled, violent, who cheat and free-ride, who are unemployable, who have personality disorders, eat crap food, don’t keep themselves in physical and intellectual shape, who want to drag others into their sexual, emotional or financial chaos, who use, abuse and mis-use… you get the point. I don’t care what race, colour, creed, gender or nationality they are: if they are a Bad Person, I want them elsewhere than around me and my quotidian world, I don’t want my taxes to subsidise them, and I don’t want my employer, or any other employer who does important things like sewage or hospitals, being forced by law to hire them. I want competent, well-mannered, organised people with some self-discipline around me, and running things that matter, like trains and law courts.

I don’t have a problem with immigrants, unless I would have the same problem with them if they were natives.

I do, however, have a huge problem with the reason most of them are here. Almost all of them have been brought here, actively recruited, to reduce wage bills and, in the long run, pension costs, or because employers have failed to train a younger generation of skilled tradesmen. The NHS regularly gets lambasted for stripping entire graduating classes of nurses from developing countries. And because successive UK governments have let the education system fail even the middle-classes, many young British people are only borderline employable. Now, if all the poor, unemployed natives vanished in real life as they vanish from the minds of the CEO's and Ministers, it would be fine. But they don’t. They are still with us, and they have children. In flat contradiction to every cod-evolution and rational free-market theory ever passed off as serious thought. At the same time, the smart, pretty people stay single or childless in increasing numbers. And in the short term, hauling in capable immigrants puts a Band-Aid over the problem.

That’s what I have a problem with. The damn lousy politicians and businessmen who won’t train their own people, who won’t fix the schools, are too cheap to pay a wage that lets a man support his wife and children and put a roof over their heads, and who can’t figure out how, nor have the conviction, to send the required messages about how a decent person lives. Immigrants are like inflation and low interest rates: the economic version of taking downs to get to sleep and ups to send you on your way.

So the SDU is asking for governments to do their freaking jobs, control their borders, make sure their young people get functionally educated and that employers consider natives first. I'm not sure the SDU would go that far, but I would.

Animal rights activists don’t like animals, but they do hate people; hunt saboteurs don’t like foxes, but they do hate people on horses. People who profess unrestricted immigration of poor, unskilled people from countries where women aren’t educated and it’s acceptable to kill your daughter because she said ‘hello’ to the wrong boy, don’t like the immigrants, but they do hate confident white people with a sense of identity and heritage. There are a lot of those haters, and right now they guarantee a lot of click-throughs, so they get air time. As soon as the media proprietors sense that the majority of their readers are tired of being berated as a racist by a privileged white girl paid £100,000 a year to produce click-bait, her job will be given to someone professing the need to help re-settle those immigrants who have not managed to integrate into our society.

"But creepy white people”. Ah yes, why tackle issues when you can have an emotion instead. Or are you saying that if Nigel Farage looked like Clive Owen and those white people in the video had a little touch of mixed blood about them, it would be all right? That’s a PR judgement I could accept.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

July 2014 Review

Hot. And then again, hot. Everyone was arriving at work damp, the Central Line in the afternoon from Liverpool St to Oxford Circus was hot like they had turned the heating on. Most evenings I had an inner voice saying “I wanna go home. Don’t wanna go the gym”. I spent the weekends hiding from the heat.

I started the month on a week off work. Not the most relaxing or refreshing holiday I’d had. I resolved to walk to Holborn from Waterloo each morning while the weather was good, that’s what I did, and very pleasant it’s turning out, except when the humidity hits Calcutta levels. I finally wrote down how much I was spending on food every day and took steps to cut that back. Breakfast biscuits instead of a pastry; a yoghurt with fruit instead of a sandwich. If only the machines at work made even drinkable coffee, but alas. Gym attendance was erratic, not helped by being locked in a basement room one Wednesday on the pretext of an “Away Day”: I get tired sitting in rooms with no daylight. It over-ran, I missed the planned workout and went to meet Sis for supper at Saltyard. Never has food tasted so good and felt so reviving. We spent one Saturday looking for a replacement camera for Sis, and she chose and Olympus from a shop by the British Museum (how do second-hand camera shops make any money at all? Low rent?) After which we went to the exhibition of British comics at the British Library, partly because neither of us have ever been there. There were lots of kids looking at the older comics and saying “cool”. I had moments of nostalgia on seeing the Eagle, Dandy and a couple of others.

I read Anatomies, Categories and Computer Science, Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, a biography of Jackson Pollock: Energy Made Visible, Lost Stolen or Shredded about missing works of art, Warren Ellis’ Global Frequency, finished Peter Robb’s A Street Fight in Naples, and The Monuments Men, the book of the film.

I saw Weekend of a Champion, Le Mans, Game of Thromes series 1 on DVD, Begin Again and Chef at Cineworld, Accidental Death of a Cyclist at the ICA, Cold in July at the Curzon Soho, and The Cars That Ate Paris, Berbarian Sound Studio, and Glass: A Portrait of Philip in 12 Parts on Curzon Home Cinema.

I bought the Fitbit, a pulse oximeter, and a Panasonic Lumix T40. Which doesn’t play as nice with iPhoto as it should. And I discovered that iOS 7 sucks at linking by Bluetooth with Macs, which is odd, because, you know, Apple. There was also some fairly serious progress on finalising the never-ending Riemann-Roch essay.

Oh. And I got promoted. Or rather, my role was upgraded. Two months after I passed retirement age. This is a very different world from the one I started out in. In the Bad Old Days, you passed retirement age and they kicked you out the door carriage-clock in hand. Not now. Now they need the skills.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Take the Advice, Not the Advisor

So someone asked this on Danger and Play,

I had a question. When did millennials and other young men stop asking for wisdom and advice from their elders? And why? Was it suddenly too dangerous to talk to strangers? Did the millennials become too cool for it and started to think that technology would solve our problems? Did it get dropped out of the value system where people were not told to ask for advice from older more experienced guys? Did we become too lazy and entitled? How often do you see successful guys in modern media telling stories about their experiences and what they learned? Almost never.

My inner Feyerabend awake at this one. So I replied along these lines...

I get two senses from the OP’s question. First, why don’t these dumb kids ask me before they go ahead and do that dumb thing they do that gets us all into the weeds? Second, why don’t successful people offer more good advice?

Answer to question one. Either they didn’t know you had an informed opinion, in which case you need more self-publicity, or they did know but didn’t ask you, in which case you need to work on your public image, or they asked you and didn’t do what you recommended. If they asked and went ahead anyway, it was because your reasons for not doing the dumb thing didn’t seem more important than their reasons for doing the dumb thing. Happens a lot of the time where I work, and thank God for it, as the resulting fall-out makes work for the working man to do. Do you know how many otherwise unemployed graduates across the world are employed by the UK PPI repayments industry, and have been for the last four years?

Answer to question two. Successful business people offer advice all the time. Usually for a fee. Success in sports, creativity and problems-solving? Guitar-soloing? Cooking? There are books and books on this stuff and almost all the advice is the same, because there’s only one way to get good. Practice. Discipline. Reading / Listening / Looking / Competing . Stealing ideas. Making mistakes and abandoning them quickly. Experimenting. Focussing on marginal improvement on a daily basis. Having a good support team. Locking yourself away in a loft for three years - if you’re Andrew Wiles - can work, as can writing your novel in a cafe - if you’re J K Rowling. Mostly it helps to socialise in your chosen industry.

Success in life? Like GS Elevator says: "Work hard. Exercise. Eat right. Don’t drink too much. And only buy things you can afford. It’s not rocket science.” And yet how few people do it. Maybe because they look at the lives of those of us who do do it, and shudder in horror.

The advice is out there. What aren’t out there are advisors. There are no gurus, Yodas and even Gramma-and-Gramps are now 40% divorced and 100% in debt. It’s the advice that matters, not the advisor. Doesn’t matter who comes up with a good idea, what matters is that it’s a good idea. This can be hard to take when you need to believe there is someone who can help you sort out your pain and confusion. You have to start making those decision about what advice to use yourself, in all that pain and confusion.

You have to ask for help and advice. Nobody tells you that: you’re expected to know. You have to choose your advisor depending on the problem and the context. Even if you are getting it from a book. No-one is going to tell you something straight unless you ask. (Okay. I have done that a couple of times to people who were in danger of getting the wrong reputation at work. And I have a standard bunch of things I tell any new analyst who works for me about time, project and client management.)

If I need advice on something, I find out who seems to know about it and check their interests and purposes are close to mine, and I ask (or read) them. I’m not going to ask Jamie Lewis at Chaos and Pain for advice on training because he’s a total lunatic and has different objectives from me. When I changed my working hours from 9-5, I asked a guy who was working 8-4 how he liked it and how it worked for him. That he was half my age made no difference. Age ain’t nothing but a number: it’s the relevance and quality of someone’s experience that matters, and their ability to draw lessons from it. There’s nothing that says “elders” are any good at that at all. All their age may have given them is the same year for forty years, from which they learned not much.

I get the feeling the OP meets a lot of bratty kids. Bratty kids don’t ask for advice, and frankly I could give a damn that they don’t. Less competition for me. But then don’t meet many brats at work. I work for a huge, conservative, blue-chip company and I may be seeing a careful selection of high-quality, conservative young people. Maybe the brats are all in Soho and Shoreditch start-ups and media companies. The kids at work know what I’m good at and they ask me about that. They don’t ask me about Life, The Universe and Everything because they know I don’t live the way they want to. And sometimes they ask me about something, and I tell them why it’s dumb, and they go ahead and do it because it makes their CV look good. Which was where we came in.