April 26, 2016

In Praise of the Quiet Life

A quiet life sounds like an option that only the defeated would ever be inclined to praise. Our age is overwhelmingly alive to the benefits of active, dynamic, ‘noisy’ ways of living. If someone offered us a bigger salary for a job elsewhere, we’d move. If someone showed us a route to fame, we’d take it. If someone invited us to a party, we’d go. These seem like pure, unambiguous gains. Lauding a quiet life has some of the eccentricity of praising rain.

It’s hard for most of us to contemplate any potential in the idea because the defenders of quiet lives have tended to come from the most implausible sections of the community: slackers, hippies, the work-shy, the fired…; people who seem like they have never had a choice about how to arrange their affairs. A quiet life seems like something imposed upon them by their own ineptitude. It is a pitiable consolation prize.

And yet, when we examine matters closely, busy lives turn out to have certain strikingly high incidental costs that we are nevertheless collectively committed to ignoring. Visible success brings us up against the envy and competitiveness of strangers. We become plausible targets for disappointment and spite; it can seem like it may be our fault that certain others have not succeeded. Winning higher status makes us increasingly sensitive to its loss; we start to note every possible new snub. A slight decrease in sales, attention or adulation can feel like a catastrophe. Our health suffers. We fall prey to scared, paranoid thoughts; we see possible plots everywhere, and we may not be wrong. The threat of vindictive scandal haunts us. Alongside our privileges, we grow impoverished in curious ways. We have very limited control over our time.

We may be able to shut down a factory in India and our every word is listened to with trembling respect within the organisation, but what we absolutely cannot do is admit that we are also extremely tired and just want to spend the afternoon reading on the sofa. We can no longer express our more spontaneous, imaginative, vulnerable sides. Our words are so consequential, we have to be guarded at all times; others are looking to us for guidance and authority. Along the way, we grow strangers to those who love us outside of our wealth and status – while depending ever more on the fickle attention of those for whom we are our achievements alone. Our children see ever less of us. Our spouses grow bitter. We may own the wealth of continents; but it has been ten years at least since we last had the chance to do nothing for a day.


The most famous cultural figure in the history of the West was very interested in the benefits that can attend quiet lives. In Mark 6: 8-9, Jesus tells his disciples ‘to take nothing for their journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in their belts – but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.’ Christianity opens up vital space in our imaginations by making a distinction between two kinds of poverty: what it terms voluntary poverty on the one hand and involuntary poverty on the other. We are at this point in history so deeply fixated on the idea that poverty must always be involuntary and therefore the result of lack of talent and indigence, we can’t even imagine that it might be the result of an intelligent and skilled person’s free choice based on a rational evaluation of costs and benefits. It might sincerely be possible for someone to decide not to take the better paid job, not to publish another book, not to seek high office – and to do so not because they had no chance, but because – having surveyed the externalities involved – they chose not to fight for them.

One of the central moments in Christian history came in 1204 when a wealthy young man we know today as St Francis of Assisi willingly renounced his worldly goods, of which he had quite a few (a couple of houses, a farm and a ship at least). He did so not through any external compulsion. He just felt they would interfere with other things he really wanted rather more of: a chance to contemplate Jesus’s teachings, to honour the creator of the earth, to admire the flowers and the trees – and to help the poorest in society. 

He did have other options. St Francis of Assisi renounces worldly goods, painting attributed to Giotto

Chinese culture has also been reverent towards the yinshi (recluse), someone who chooses to leave behind the busy political and commercial world and live more simply, usually up the side of a mountain – in a hut. The tradition begins in the 4th century AD, when a high-ranking government official named Tao Yuanming surrendered his position at court and moved to the countryside to farm the land, make wine, and write. In his poem, ‘On Drinking Wine’, he recounts the riches that poverty have brought him:

Plucking chrysanthemums from the eastern hedge
I gaze into the distance at the southern mountain.
The mountain air is refreshing at sunset
As the flocking birds are returning home.
In such things we find true meaning,
But when I try to explain, I can’t find the words.

                                         Tao Yuanming taking time to smell flowers – by Chen Hongshou (1598-1652)

Portraits of Tao Yuanming became a major theme in Chinese art and literature. His hut near Mount Lushan (‘Hut Mountain’) gave others encouragement to see the advantages of cheaper, simpler dwellings. A number of poets of the Tang dynasty went through periods of seclusion. Bai Juyi (772-846) wrote a poem lovingly describing the hut he’d bought himself on the edge of a forest, listing its plain and natural materials (a thatched roof with ‘stone steps, cassia pillars, and a fence of plaited bamboo’). The poet Du Fu, living in Chengdu in the Sichuan province, wrote a poem titled ‘My Thatched Hut Ruined by the Autumn Wind’. It wasn’t a lament, more a celebration of the freedom that came with living so simply, a storm might blow over your house.

Reconstruction of Du Fu’s hut at Chengdu

There are for many of us, plenty of options to take up certain career paths that carry high prestige with them. We could have something deeply impressive to answer those who ask us what we do. But this does not necessarily mean we must or should follow these possibilities. 

When we come to know the true price some careers exact, we may slowly realise we are not willing to pay for the ensuing envy, fear, deceit and anxiety. Our days are limited on the earth. We may – for the sake of true riches – willingly, and with no loss of dignity, opt to become a little poorer and more obscure.

Taken from The Book of Life -

© The Book of Life

April 8, 2016


Wanted: Google Cafe Manager (Must Be Genius) [By Susan Bell]

In a previous post I lambasted the pretentious language of job advertisements – especially the ridiculous  blurbs from technology companies.

This week’s doozy is from Google, a corpulent company whose slogan ‘Do no evil’ is surely something Aslan would say over tea and scones before a Narnian battle.

Google is advertising for a Food Experience Design Manager. In layman’s terms, this means it wants a café supervisor and the successful applicant must have a university degree and an interior design qualification to dish out sausage and mash to 50,000 employees.

This is because Google wants its employees to enjoy ‘social serendipity’ as they dine. It also wants to ensure that the ‘customer journey at Google’s food venues reflects the food team’s mission.’ I guess only people with degrees can make a cafe comfortable and provide its customers with nutritious food. I would have thought an applicant’s common sense and human warmth would secure the job, but what would I know?

Ultimately, Google has a reputation to uphold. This means even its café managers are expected to be geniuses.

Susan Bell teaches digital design and also writes, cycles and grows organic vegetables on a small acreage in Tasmania.

Thought for the week ...

When Apple Meets Vulcan [By Susan Bell]

For those of you who use LinkedIn and subscribe to groups, you might have the occasional job advertisement landing in your email. Generally, the advertisements target your skills and expertise but some inevitably go astray.
This one’s for a Content Production Manager at Apple and, although it’s in  English, much of the language is barely comprehensible (and I work in digital media!) In fact, the ad is so technical that Mr Spock could mistake it for a poetic passage of Vulcan literature.
The advertisement appears to be for a marketing position and  – if I’ve deciphered its verbosity correctly –  it’s asking for someone willing to work long hours, with temperamental graphic designers, to compile photographic images for cross-platform devices and services.
When I was still at school, a teacher told me that in ten years or so I would no longer recognise the names of bands in the music charts. When this day dawned, he said, I would have become part of the ‘older generation.’ I’d like to add that when you no longer recognize job advertisements then, as well as having joined the ‘older generation’, you have also passed into the ‘twilight zone.’
Here,  for your interest, is the employment specifications for you to deconstruct at leisure:

Job Summary
This position coordinates with Business Affairs on creative needs and clearance including reviewing content matrices for cultural viability. It also supports creative staff with “buckets of content” and correct versions of photography. The CPM will work with X-Functional teams to choose content for any new project including Apps, music, movies, TV shows and podcasts. Position works closely with screen building team in Geo to execute all required screen versions necessary for projects.
  • Build consolidated shot lists of campaign imagery
  • Request file building from Geo Screen Teams and/or vendors for new screens to be built
  • Route loose Cross Functional imagery for approval
  • Fulfil image requests from various Apple functional teams
  • Work with WW Content Producers for transferring of assets and information
  • File Final Asset Requests with Business Affairs/working closely with Asset Managers
  • Identify and transfer launch assets to long-term Digital Asset system working with Digital Asset Managers
  • Manage Geo asset database
Desired Skills & Experience
Key Qualifications
  • This position requires a self-motivated, flexible individual with strong communication skills.
In addition:
  • Must have 3+ years experience in graphic production/photo producing and/or project management at design firm, ad agency or interactive shop.
  • Flexible, creative, solution-oriented individual with some experience in using Adobe Creative Suite’s Photoshop.
  • Knowledge of image and production specific needs for image reproduction; including web site builds, POS, Motion Graphics and email marketing.
  • Accuracy, excellent memory and eye for detail
  • Ability to work in a fast paced, demanding creative and production environment.
  • Flexibility is key to this role as well as working beyond the 9-5 framework.
  • Like everyone in this unique team, you will be able to demonstrate your own special magic.

Susan Bell teaches digital design and also writes, cycles and grows organic vegetables on a small acreage in Tasmania.

Image: via flickr

February 13, 2016

While Out Shopping ...

What's on my mind? ...well here's some random crap to take my mind off worse random crap. Was just at the supermarket. As you do. With St. Valium's day on the horizon, top of mind was sampling meeting and greeting potential partner material, around the fresh food section. Decided to fast-track things by combining speed-dating, with speed shopping. In other words, wanted to get my greens, protein, potential date material, and feminine hygiene products in shortest time possible. As back at the ranch, there's chores to be done.
I beeline to the controversial pre-packaged-salmonella salads section. I think ...do, or don't I buy the newsworthy so-called, convenience salad? There's a man standing staring at them. He looks normal. My age range. Wearing spectacles. Meaning? ...Potential sign of intelligence? ...and conviviality...and openness? Plus clean clothing. And I say to him, "Do you think we should buy any of those?" Well I thought it was a good opening line. He looks at me like I am an idiot. And says, "Why?" I say, "But aren't you scared of getting a huntsman spider in your salad?" And despite my freshly applied fuschia lipstick, and smart black frock, presentation and poise - he looks at me blankly, like I've just come from a mental asylum, and replies, "That's old news!" I think, no it isn't. And tell him there could be more spiders trying to escape those salad filled bags. He looks at me like I'm a dimwit. And I say to him, "Oh forget it!" ...and swiftly beeline (like a bat out of hell) over to the tampon section (where, of course, I don't expect to meet men.)
The shelving clearly labels the brand I'm after, is 27 cents per tampon. WTF!? I make mental note to write to Barnaby Joyce about this ridiculous price point. And when coast is clear (of disinterested salad-man), I beeline back to pre-prepared salmonella-salads ...deciding death by salmonella poisoning might not be so bad (less messy for the coroners to sort out & so forth)....and realise it's a waste of time trying to meet and greet men in the supermarket. Will try RSPCA next.

Days of our lives ...

Of course, with reference to above quote, sitting in a room just with "the family" would be nice. Had they Amish tendencies, WW3 wouldn't have erupted.  Alas, I seem to have created a War of the Roses, among one side of my family lineage. But not to worry, my trusty dog is ever-present. And selling up and maybe buying one of those Winnebagos....just like Barbie (a pink one!) and living on the road - like in Breaking Bad - sounds like the way to go now.

To be continued ... when the tribal dust settles.