A Saturday digest: Many lifetimes in this one lifetime?

God in drag. Letting agency leeches. Echo chambers. Unexpected items. Gentle reader: I’m going to share here a selection of things that I’ve found interesting, thought-provoking or laugh-out-loud funny over the past week.

To Google Earth one’s life

Identity is never fixed. Life is singularly absurd. Happiness comes from without. Joy comes from within. There is nothing to stop you changing identities – whether becoming the person you are meant to be, or just trying on a new persona for size, at any point in life.

These are just a few of the concepts explored in an outstanding interview with drag artiste extraordinaire RuPaul, in an old episode of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast that I finally caught up with this week.

RuPaul
describes how coming across Monty Python on cable TV transformed his
life, bringing into full view the absurdity of everything in this world.
He argues that drag is perceived as a threat by some as it transgresses
all ideas of boundaries and roles in life. Drag forces a change of
perspective. Drag is a way to “walk into the fire,” he says.

I
love Rupaul’s suggestion that taking a fresh perspective on one’s own
life (through whatever means – it doesn’t have to be drag, of course)
reveals that we all of us have “many lifetimes in this one lifetime”:

“Once you hit that Google Earth button and get some perspective, you go
‘Ah – there it is! That’s it right there.’ You cut that out and say
‘What do I like?’ First: I’m not that little boy on the porch. And
second, I was never that little boy on the porch. What rocks your boat?
If you’re not that, then what are you? […] You have many lifetimes in
this one lifetime, Marc. Don’t get stuck on that identity. That’s why
when I started doing drag, and why it’s such an important idea, the idea
of drag, is that you’re not the things it says you are on your driver’s
licence. You’re way more. You are God in drag. Do you understand how
grand that is? How many things you could do? It’s outrageous. It’s
unlimited.”

Joy radiates out from people. But you have to allow it do so, says RuPaul:

“You have to ask yourself, do I really want joy? […] Your fear of
looking stupid is holding you back. […] Everything has to start from
you.”

Unexpected item

Do you really want joy? If happiness does indeed – as RuPaul contends –
come from external things, then please allow me to share something that
has brought me extraordinary happiness this week – and made me laugh
like a drain. This cartoon from @stephen_collins is pure delight (and
you can procure a print of it from his website Stephen Collins Illustration, you lucky soul):

image

People like us

“Who are all these people who voted for Cameron/Brexit/Trump? I don’t see any of them in my Twitter/Facebook feed!”  (Delete as applicable). I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen these sentiments expressed via social media over the past 18 months.

People are becoming more polarised. They are also becoming increasingly insular. Our addiction to technology is contributing to both these trends, argues Neil Morrison in his latest post, entitled Our technology is making us dumb:

“Technology
was supposed to be the great emancipator, the leveller, it was supposed
to open the doors to new horizons and new opportunities. But the
reality is not one of bright new dawns, but closing doors. We are
narrowing our experiences and polarising our attitudes at a time when we
need to be more thoughtful, more explorative, more inclusive than ever.
Our social networks through their definition are based on people ‘like
us’, we share news and comment that we agree with, with people that
agree with us.”

Social media is a blank sheet of paper. There are no rules governing how you use it, or with whom you communicate.
Making social media an echo chamber of voices with which you agree is
just one possible use. Try fresh perspectives, different voices. There
are many lifetimes in this one social media lifetime.

“Arguably a living room…”

Coming Attractions, the second volume of Terence Stamp’s autobiography
includes one of the most blissful sections of any book I’ve ever read,
in which Stamp’s newfound friend Michael Caine introduces him to the
joys of life as a penniless flaneur in 1960s London, showing him a route
through each day that maximises pleasure and minimises expenditure,
allowing them to live in some style on mere pennies.*

At one point in Martin Amis’ excellent memoir Experience, the author recalls life in early 1970s London,
when he tells us – scarcely believably now – that it was perfectly
possible to live a free and easy life, subsisting on well under £10 a
week.

When
I moved to London at pretty much exactly this time of year 18 years ago
(in late November 1998), I was able to rent a shabby but perfectly
servicable room in a flat in Tooting for £375 a month. It seemed steep
at the time. But gentle reader, I did not know I was born (and I would
imagine the same is true only moreso for messrs Stamp, Caine and Amis).

It
is a truth universally acknowledged that London house prices are
preposterous. It seems that renting in London is no joke these days,
either. This is brought home forcefully by a sobering FT article by
Thomas Hale, entitled This is why millennials hate letting agents
(which I came across via a tweet from the FT’s Sarah O’Connor). I
strongly recommend reading the whole article. Here’s a wee snippet, in
which Hale gives us a little taste of London rental hunting, 2016 style:

“A
typical visit would unravel as follows. We would arrive at a flat in
Brixton, advertised as having two bedrooms. One of us would realise
there was only one bedroom. We’d point out that the flat had been
advertised as having two. The agent would apologise and gesture towards
the living room, which could “easily become a bedroom”. But this flat
was advertised as having a living room, we’d reply. The kitchen, he’d
say, with a further limp gesture, is ‘arguably a living room’.”

London
house prices and rents are on an ever-upwards spiral towards, into and through a
stratosphere of pure absurdity. I cannot offer any solutions to this
worrying trend. But I wish to offer my sympahties to today’s London
renters. I would also like to offer a song. Take it, Jello…

Footnotes

* Coming Attractions also includes the quite wonderful tale of Caine’s firmly disabusing Stamp of the idea of procuring a baby bear from Harrods’ pet department, with the following words: “The trouble with bears is they bloody grow up!”

** From the Dead Kennedys’ immortal debut waxing, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables.

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