Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Why Social Enterprise is Shite

I work for a charity these days.  The big thing being pushed at charities in the UK is 'social enterprise.'  We're all getting sent on (free!) courses on how to set ourselves up with arms that trade, so that we can support our charitable work ourselves, instead of relying on donations or government handouts.

Sounds fair enough.  Does it not? 

 Arms that trade.  Makes me think of that poem, 'not waving but drowning.' 

I object.  The thing I object to is the principal that trading, selling stuff, is the only activity that matters.  Especially if this 'stuff' is just exactly that.  Stuff.  More crap that no-one really needs.  It may well be small-scale, organic, recycled, ethical and local - all good principals to direct your purchase-power.  But ultimately, it's about selling more Stuff.  More soap.  Or bags.  Or Christmas cards.  Or cakes and coffee, to an already over-cafeinated and caloried society.

Crap.  Shite.  Clutter.  Junk.

I am a person who objects to the culture that pushes us to buy, need and want ever more Stuff.  And yet now I'm being trained to direct a huge chunk of my intellectual energies and working hours towards thinking up a viable business model for creating and selling shite.  Even it is actually very good shite.  Shite that people want.


The reason I do the work I do, the reason I work for a charity and not a bank, is because I'm primarily concerned with people's needs.  Not their wants.  The people I work with have severe disabilities and are not able to work.  Which means they do not have money.  Which means that they do not have any power.  Even though they have huge needs, they will never be able to buy the services they need, and so no-one will ever go out of their way to provide that service.  It is not a viable business model.

And that is why charities exist.

The ultra-consumerist, free-market-driven model is all about first creating and then catering to the wants of people who have money, and already have everything they could possibly need. Which is all very well.  But now they want charities to do the same. 

Fuck that for a game of soldiers.

Image by davco9200

Too Many Projects Syndrome

It's that hiatus between Christmas and New Year, that lull, the time when weeks of too much food, drink, work, stress, buying, spending, travelling in snow and general fretting finally gives way to... a rest.  Whew. 

Which of course turns the mind to New Years Resolutions.  I don't tend to do New Years Resolutions.  Don't see the point.  Why wait till the 1st January?  Why set yourself up for failure at the bleakest time of the year, the time when you're mostly likely to need the comfort of bad things - be it calories, alcohol or retail therapy?

But then, I'm also prone to making resolutions very regularly throughout the year.  Catch me out at any time of year - and if you can get me to be honest and up-front about it which is unlikely since I'm a fairly defensive kinda gal - I could confess to several resolutions bubbling away on the back burner.  I don't call them resolutions though.  I call them projects.

I am definitely someone who has 'Too Many Projects Syndrome.'

So, what are the projects sloshing round my head just now?  Well:
  • There's the Creative Writing course I'm actually doing, which leads to the Someday I'll Write a Novel project. 
  • There's the Very Small Business (VSB) project.  But then, there have been various VSB projects that I've worked on over the past couple years.  None yet have led to much.
  • There's the Weight Loss project.
  • There's the Overcome Injuries project.
  • There's the Get Back into Running project - oh how I desperately miss running.  I glare daggers of envy at runners when they pass me.  
  • There's the Healthy Eating project.
  • There's the Reduce my Clutter project.
  • There's the Save as Much Money as Possible project.
  • There's the Make Nice Presents for People project.
  • Etc.
Much of this is all about the changing and harnessing of habits.  There's an excellent blog called Raptitude that discusses habit change.  The blogger, David, explores habit change through a series of very focused experiments.  I love his honesty, about himself and his processes.  I can't remember which post in particular it was, or maybe there were a few, but ultimately he points out that trying to change umpteen different habits all at once is a recipe for failure. 

This year's resolution?  To have fewer resolutions.  To get over my Too Many Projects Syndrome.  Ha!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Under The Radar: Conspiracy or Incompetency?

Our governments run shadowy networks that monitor the moves of every last citizen.  Even as you read this, data is being captured and stored for the future use of Big Brother.  Really.  If you want to live under the radar, the first thing you gotta do is ditch your internet habit... 

But wait, don't run screaming from your computer just yet!

It's all true.  Except the bits I'm making up. 

I am a believer in all manner of devious strategies of manipulation and mass-media brainwashing.  I'm a total cynic about many of our favourite institutions and supposedly benign influences.  And I love unpicking the discourses of advertising and closed cultures that require people to believe things that serve the ends of those in power.  I write about these sorts of things regularly. 

And obviously there are anti-terror task forces that do have all sorts of terrible powers. 

But I don't think we should get too caught up in the idea of a great big Conspiracy.  Honestly, we gotta get over all the glossy Hollywood drama of it all.  We are not living in an episode of 24 - though if we were remember we'd just be the blow-uppable extras in a thrilling sequence of explosions.  Kiefer Sutherland is not the embodiment of what we're up against here. 

Why do I say this?  Well, most of us have, I think, probably experienced the 'left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing' phenomenon when dealing with government bureaucracy.  Having worked in the NHS in the past, I can say with some authority that the idea that even your nurse, your doctor, your therapist and your social worker might have the foggiest idea what each other is doing for you half the time is being optimistic, let alone that a shadowy network is competently keeping tabs on us all.  Nae chance. 

(Though I suppose they might be keeping tabs on me, since I've written google-ranking blogposts about living under the radar... shit...).

Sophisticated surveillance isn't needed all that much for most of us.  All the hoops we have to jump through around ID and providing traceable address histories, its more for our credit scores than for the government.  

I think it's more likely that (unless you're out there planning some seriously bad shit, in which case I hope the anti-terror task forces find you), it's actually about a whole load of unrelated agencies covering their backs and making sure their boxes are ticked.   Because really there is no radar.  There's nothing but a wide-spread fear among various agencies of law suits, insurance claims, and litigation.  And these agencies pass this fear on to us, in the form of inconvenience, anxiety, and the steady erosion of freedoms.

So don't worry about living under the radar.   Unless, secretly, you really quite fancy meeting your end in a thrilling sequence of explosions.

Image by *ade

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Does The World Conspire Against You?

There's no shortage of inspirational quotes, telling us to follow our bliss, commit ourselves to impossible targets, dream big and dare to fail.

There's also no lack of useful and informative books and websites telling us how to make our dreams come true, how to identify our goals, how to draw up our step-by-step road maps to success.

But without an awareness of how the status quo conspires against you, you have to be damn lucky just to get past Go. 

That's what I'm interested in: unpicking the cultural and psychological forces that inhibit, sabotage and crush all those giddy dreams for a better life.

Once unpicked, it's so much easier to push forward.

A Badly Dressed Woman

I've been getting fashion-envy a lot lately.  As I go about my daily business, I catch myself eyeing up other people's threads. But its not the usual stunners who're attracting my attention, and there are good reasons for that.

A Badly Dressed Woman
The other day, I gazed with admiration at a really badly dressed woman.  She broke all 'the rules' of good dress sense, and seemed to have a total disregard for the effect of her overall ensemble.  She was neither stylish, nor quirky.  This was not an intentional statement of non-conformity and individualism, packaged in some self-consciously retro combination of vintage, high street and designer.  No.  I think (though I didn't ask her) that this was a true and genuine case of just not caring.  How liberating!

So what was she wearing?  She wore blue jogging bottoms with a lilac polyester blouse and cheap granny pumps.  Her hair was straggly, thin, and all over the place.  There wasn't the slightest smudge of make-up.  If she were a client of a learning disability or mental health service, her appearance would probably be prompting all sorts of earnestly judgemental case discussions.

But this was no poor soul in need of social work intervention.  This was a lecturer in neuroscience, standing before me to lead a tutorial that was mindblowingly good.

I contemplated her appearance, and her lecture, and thought... 'wow.'

I'm As Bad As Anyone
Ok, so I'd noticed her for her pigs ear of an outfit, and evidently made a negative assessment of it, so I'm as bad as any other shallow individual for whom clothes form the basis of how people are judged.  But on reflection, she personified for me a principal frequently paid lip-service to, but rarely lived.

We all tell each other that 'appearances aren't everything' to make ourselves feel better for not being supermodels.  But most of us still strive to look the best we can, and we spend not inconsiderable sums of money to help us. 

I've as much neuroses as the next person about how I look, but lately I've been noticing the people who don't bother themselves overly much with their appearances, and thinking there's something to aspire to there.

Freedom From The Fashion-Police
Think about where this compulsion to have to look better comes from.  There's something inbuilt into human nature no doubt, psychologists would be able to tell me all about all the evolutionary and contemporary advantages of looking good.  I'm not daft nor blind, I'm aware of all that.  But I also think that we live in a culture that pushes messages at us day in day out to make us feel insecure enough to buy our way to beauty so that we can be sexier/more successful/happier/etc.  Not because it'll work, but because it feeds the economy, feeds businesses, feeds wealth (other people's), and feeds the cycle that makes as many people as possible feel the same way.

What About You?
Can you honestly say you're not affected by all that?  Have you already mastered this little life-hack to more freedom and less anxiety in life?  If so, how'd you do it?! 

There's a freedom in rejecting the priorities of appearance and physical conformity.  I'm all about freedom.

So, perhaps, it's time to test my courage, time to start dressing primarily for function, and not caring too much how it looks.  Not to go wilfully ugly just to be contrary, that's of no use to anyone!  But to just focus on 'enough' rather than more, more, more.

How much difference will it make to my life?  Now, there's an experiment for a rainy day...

Image by fictures

What Do I Do Here?

Sunday morning, the clocks went back an hour last night, and most of the UK is relishing 'an extra hour in bed.'  An extra hour in bed doesn't excite me too much, I like being up and about when the roads are quiet and my neighbours sleep. 

I'm out walking the dog as the sun breaks cover over the crest of Spittal Hill.  The moors glow shades of pink and peach, the wind is cold.  I treasure these moments, when I have the world to myself.

As I walk, I think.  I think about this blog, and what I do here.  I no longer run, and its taken months to accept that.  But I still have my dreams of doing interesting things, I still have my doubts about the systems and routines and expectations that make those interesting dreams so difficult to attain.

So, it's pretty simple really, I'll just go back to writing about all those systems that bug me so much.

Hey presto, hallelujah, abrakedabra, all sorted. 

Tune in next time for more tales of cynicism, negativity, doubt and determination.  I'm beginning to think that might be what I do best!

Image by stevendepolo

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Half Cut: Long Gone

It's Saturday night. I sit at my desk, King Creosote crooning beside me.  A half-drafted work of fiction has turned my eyes square.  A half-stitched quilt has looped loops into my eyeballs.  A half-drunk bottle of red wine makes my world wobble.  The weekend is half-gone, I am half-cut, it's good to have time for all this.  G'night.

Most excellent felt eyeballs by ingermaaike2

Thursday, October 28, 2010

How My Bank Wasted My Time Asking Me Stupid Questions: And Still Made Me Happy

A few weeks ago, I got a phone call from one of those call-centre marketing surveys, asking me all sorts of questions about how I perceived my bank.  In general, I perceive banks as scum.  Strangely though, that wasn't one of the questions.  At no point during the phonecall was I asked to rank my bank on a scale of one to ten, where one is not remotely scummy, and ten is the pinnacle of high-scumdom.  What they did ask me was loads of very stupid questions.

For example, 'on a scale of one to ten, how likely are you  to recommend this bank's ATMs?'  Who recommends ATMs? 

Anyway, I digress. 

This banking survey did ask me one very useful question.  It asked me whether I'd seen any of their adverts.  My answers were as follows:
  • TV - no (don't have one).
  • Cinema - no (the nearest cinema is well over 100 miles away, and I haven't been for nearly two years).
  • Billboards - no (do you do billboards on sheep?  clouds?  moorland?  ruined crofting villages?).
  • Newspapers & Magazines - don't think so (do you do ads in the local paper?  Haven't noticed. Otherwise, I don't generally bother with print media).
  • Internet - possibly (I am an internet junkie, so I probably have, but I'm not sure advertising works in quite the same way online, I never ever click through on ads, I'm not sure I even see them...).
This information probably wasn't all that useful to the bank.  But it was incredibly useful to me.

I now realise that I live a life with fairly limited exposure to advertising.  

This is a good thing, a great thing.  It isn't something I ever set out to do.  But, after moving to the sticks and ditching the TV a couple of years ago so that I'd have more time in my life to do the things that matter to me, I did begin to become aware that I was... happier.  That's the only word for it.  Happier.  And only part of that happiness is due to doing more stuff that I like to do.  A crucial factor is that I no longer have a constant stream of messages coming at me, telling me:

You could be so much happier if... so much cooler if... so much more attractive if... so much more efficient if... so much more enviable if... so much more successful if...  so much sexier if... so much more relaxed if... so much better if...  so much cleaner if... so much more fragrant if... so much more beautiful if... so much thinner if...

I'm not trying to sell you anything, but honestly:

You could be so much happier if... you cut the sources of advertising out of your life.

This article was made possible by the Bank of Scum.

Picture by Alan Cleaver

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Back From The Void

I've been gone for ages.  I almost deleted Traildreamer.  And then, a week or so ago, I was travelling north on the train, rushing through hours of total black-out darkness, mind numb and backside aching (those seats do get uncomfortable), when this long-forgotten little blog bubbled up out of nowhere and called me back.  So I'm back.

I was seduced, for a long time, by all sorts of problogger advice, all sorts of entrepreneurial dreams, and I read up and studied all round the realm of Blogistan for tips and tricks to blog better.  What happened?  I blogged worse.  I tried to develop a 'proper' voice.  Did I get one?  No, all I did was nearly lose the only one I've got.  I messed around with self-hosting Wordpress, and got it all set up lovely, but it wasn't me.  I was clunky and awkward, like an insecure teenager in braces trying to be something I wasn't, I'm not, never will be, never want to be.  Quit trying to run with the cool kids.  It's all flash and mirrors anyway.

I'm happier here.  I am Traildreamer, I am nearly anonymous, I don't flash my name and identity about for all to see in the hope of building a brand or a tribe, trust or community, though there are folks who know who I am and its not a secret as such.  That is just not the function of this blog.  I've nothing to sell, so sod it with all the sales and marketing.  I'm just me, footering about with thoughts and ideas, that I may feel strongly, but I don't want to shout from the rooftops.  The rooftops round here are pretty low anyway, I live in a region of crofts and cottages and vast empty spaces. 

So hello again.  Though I know I speak out into the void.  That's part of the pleasure.  Hello again.

Image by cod_gabriel

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Goodbye 2009

It's a new year!  Cheerio 2009, it's been mighty fine, and well helllloooo 2010.  There's loads of good posts kicking around the blogsophere just now, everyone seems to be having a think about what 2009 meant for them so, ach, I reckon I'll jump on the bandwagon too. 

In 2009 I:
  • Left the big city behind.  Hopefully forever.
  • Moved out to the back of beyond in the Scottish Highlands.  When Tim Ferriss talks about his 'remote working arrangements' he only knows half the story.
  • Landed a fabulous new job with a fabulous small company.
  • Tried working from home.  It really does rock by the way.
  • Injured my ankle.  Repeatedly. 
  • Gained a lot of weight.
  • Lost some of it.
  • Didn't run two marathons.
  • Tried a gluten-free, dairy-free diet.  Not as bad as I was expecting...
  • Did my first course with the OU.  Then immediately did another one.  The OU beats every other university I've ever studied with. 
  • Celebrated two years with my wonderful man.  To mark the occasion, went to a comedy ceilidh, complete with flashing sporrans and hula hoop solos.  Hula hoops should be part of life more often.
  • Was interviewed for a newspaper.  I'm not including the link, because it really was so embarrassing.  A media darling I am not.
  • Got chickens!
  • Abandoned Traildreamer.
  • Resurrected Traildreamer.  Missed you baby.
  • Wrote poems that made me giggle.
  • Wrote stories that gave a friend's 6 year old daughter nightmares.  Note to friends, my stories are not children's fiction, no matter how childish they may seem.
  • Bought a kick-ass bike.  Kicked ass, by bike, for miles in every direction.
  • Spent oodles of quality time with family.
  • Didn't travel overseas at all, not even once (unless you count a long weekend in the Orkney Isles.  Stromness is great, but it ain't Maui).
Overall, I've had a fabulous year.  Chickens must bring you luck.  What about you?  What did you do, or not do, this year?  Would chickens help?  Or hula hoops maybe?

Image of hula hoops by otherthings

Happy New Year
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