Righty-ho, so, what have I been up to over the last three months, and how does it relate to community-calibratin’?
Well, before being able to concern myself with the latter, I was forced to contend with the painful reality that I was stony broke. Broke and overdrawn, in fact.
I therefore had to paddle my raft across the muddy waters of wage-slave labour once more, hoping that I might wash up on safe, dry land. To this end I secured myself a live-in position as a ‘team-member’ (general dogsbody) at one of the YHA’s more secluded youth hostels in the Shropshire countryside – with some mixed and ultimately suprising results.
Trials and Transformations
Firstly, let me start by saying that the YHA is a comparatively good organisation to work for by the standards of contemporary, large-scale employers. Though they pay only minimum wage to lowly grunts such as myself, the powers-that-be do seem to make a genuine effort to foster a culture that is supportive of its work force; affording their team members numerous valuable benefits – such as free stays for themselves and friends nationwide and a limited private healthcare package – so please don’t think I’m being entirely negative about the work they do.
Unfortunately, however, like all large, bloated organisations, they have been taken hostage by market forces and oppressive ‘health and safety’ legislation – factors that severely hamper their ability to achieve their stated aims. The YHA attempts to paint itself as a green, responsible organisation, motivated by welfare and sustainability concerns; but sadly this seems to extend only as far as the usual green-washing publicity drive.
The food wastage I was encouraged to participate in was insidious, senseless and entirely avoidable – with the YHA bigwigs insisting that staff pay for all food past its sell-by-date or bin it (demonstrating that this policy was motivated by profit-making, rather than health concerns). Gas burners were left needlessly running all day, there were no efforts to preserve water or electricity (other than some stickers encouraging guests to turn off lights) and heating was left blasting continuously – whilst most of it escaped as they were prohibited from installing any insulation – the hostel being a listed building.
Whilst I was there, a raft of new rules and regulations were implemented – all supposedly orientated towards improving health and safety, but each as pointless and restrictive as the last. It was now deemed ‘unsafe’ for us to climb the ladders of bunks when changing beds – requiring us to lug around a step-ladder on our rounds (surely if the ladders are unsafe, they’re unsafe – how is it that they suddenly become safer when guests are using them to clamber into bed?), cleaning protocols became fiendishly militant and cumbersome, with a raft of different toxic chemicals used in absurdly prescriptive ways – with timers set to clock their working times on surfaces, and a host of different cloths and contraptions insisted upon, making jobs twice as time-consuming and labour intensive.
I could go on (and on!) but I’m sure you get the picture… In short, I did not last long at the illustrious YHA! In the past, I might have been able to ignore these sorts of things – to knuckle down and let them slide – but now, increasingly aware of how they fit into the wider – and terrifyingly destructive – cultural narrative we are seeing unfold around us, I simply found them mind-numbingly frustrating. So, having little else (friends, family, ambitions) to keep me there, I toddled on my way as soon as it was financially feasible (I am currently writing from sunny Portugal, where I’m paying a visit to TC overlooord, David Schofield :)).
One fantastic thing did emerge as a result of my time at the YHA though – the relative isolation I experienced there, coupled with the fact that I had noooo social life to speak of, gave me the chance to really sink my teeth into my writing. My reconnection to my craft had been steadily growing for some time, but sealing myself within this bubble offered me the perfect opportunity to fall in love again.
This has had the most incredible affect on my state of mind – and on my relationship to my little world and the people around me. Writing and drawing have always been my passions – as a kid I was obsessed – doing little else; but as I grew older – distracted by other influences and compromised by some significant emotional difficulties, I fell out of the habit. I never gave up on these activities entirely, but my progress was stilted, my outpourings reduced to a doubtful trickle.
Disconnected from the work that had always given my life structure, I desperately scoured my environment for other ways to define myself – new bandwagons to hitch a ride on. This inevitably left me feeling unstable and itinerant – I stumbled from one half-baked life-plan to another – each leaving me feeling as unsatisfied and indifferent as the last.
Back to your future
It’s amazing, however, how quickly your life-scape begins to change as soon as you reconnect with your most authentic self. All of a sudden my priorities changed, my mind-fog cleared and my connections to people began to deepen. I found myself developing viable projects, and aside from the fact that I feel happier and more productive than I have done in years, a host of opportunities – from performances at festivals to meetings with invaluable contacts – started falling into my lap, seemingly without effort.
In our contemporary society a great deal of emphasis is often placed on ‘finding ourselves'; however, given the overwhelming burden of thought-junk and affectations we are forced to assimilate as we grow, I would argue that this task should be less a process of discovery and more one of excavation.
If you feel unsure of yourself, if you lack direction or commitment in your daily life, if you cannot settle to or find meaningful work, I would suggest you reflect upon your childhood – go back to what you know. As kids we’re not crippled by anxiety and ambition, ambushed by desires (except perhaps for Monster Munch and strawberry ice cream) or railroaded by external pressures. We don’t rationalise or compromise – we are simply mind-blazing, free-wheeling flesh vehicles for instinct… and instinct knows.
As kids we are intuitively attracted to the things that are right for us (OK, we’re also intuitively attracted to the things that are wrong for us – the fore-mentioned Monster Munch and strawberry ice cream for one – but just roll with me here) – if you’re built to dance, you dance, if you’re wired to paint, you paint – whatever it was you were interested in as a wee one, the chances are it spoke to you on a fundamental, primal, instinctive level. A visceral level.
I’m not certain where I’m going next – the chances are I will probably have to grit my teeth and endure a few more of those spirit-sapping jobs before I can leave them behind…but I no longer struggle to visualise a future in which they are behind me. It isn’t a distant speck on the horizon, quivering in an indistinct heat haze, but a tangible, solid vision that is moving closer all the time.
For the first time since I was a nipper, I can picture a future in which I have stability and purpose and am surrounded by a community that befits, appreciates and inspires me. A community that helps me to achieve the things that are important to me, because they are intimately connected to my most authentic self. What’s more I know that valuable, positive, innovative work will arise from that self – because when we’re truly in touch with ourselves, it is inevitable.
…And that’s what the world – and our communities – really need, not protocols and policies and strategies and counter-measures – but people working with passion, to make it a brighter, cheerier, more inventive place.
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