So. I’ve got this new book out. It’s called I’m Out: How to Make an Exit. It is not a coming-out memoir (I’m not ready for that) nor is it anything to do with Brexit. In fact, it’s a re-titled and updated paperback edition of a book I published in 2016 called Escape Everything!
Escape Everything! was well received, but largely by the carefully-cultivated intelligentsia of my mailing list or those who happened to pay close attention to Unbound’s then-youthful crowdfunding platform. Now that the original has sold out and all but vanished from print, we’ve decided to push our luck a little further and to introduce my ideas to the wilder pastures of paperback. I hope you like it.
The book is a guide to how (and why) people might want to escape the everpresent worker-consumer lifestyle. The personal and environmental costs to working a 50-hour week and then going shopping with the gains are dark and vast. The alienating effects of this all-too-prominent lifestyle is why we’re all so depressed and unfulfilled, and it’s why the ice caps are melting and swathes of the Americas are on fire. It really is that serious. The way we’ve been living this past hundred years is destroying the only planet we’ll ever have and we’re not even having a good time doing it. Work, Shop, Work, Retire, Die. We plod along unhappily, toiling under the illusion that there’s no better way to live… without ever really believing it.
In my book, this worker-consumer lifestyle is called The Trap and the way to get out of The Trap is the fine and noble art of Escapology. Yes, Escapology. As in “Harry Houdini.” I present for your consideration a counterintuitive mash-up of already-respected techniques such as minimalism, cottage industry and confidence-boosting exercises, but I frame them as “Escapology.” This is no meagre marketing swizz: it is useful, fun and it is designed to encourage a certain devil-may-care stance to success or failure not usually found in self-help or conventional escape-the-rat-race books. It also goes back to a theory I have about Houdini himself and his immense popularity. Story time:
I was working in an office while moonlighting as a standup comedian and studying things like dance and stage magic as a way to enhance my performance skills. I found myself reading about Houdini and how great he was. I found myself asking: why was Houdini so popular? (And he really was huge: a combination of David Bowie, Richard Dawkins and Stewart Lee; spangled, didactic and odd). His act was essentially to pick locks behind a screen, invisible to the audience. It sometimes took so long that an orchestra would be deployed to entertain the crowd while he struggled tediously, obscured from view. When you stop to think about it, this was quite an avant-garde stage act and should really have gone no further than the fringe. But it was nothing less than a worldwide phenomenon. Why?
My theory is that Houdini’s emergence coincided with the birth of the consumer economy and modern division of labour. Erstwhile farmhands were coming to terms with city life, specialised employment, frozen food, recorded music, and private car ownership. It must have been a blast but might there not also have been a lingering suspicion that this would alienate them from the land, from meaningful culture, from each other? And so The Trap was set. Houdini’s show hinted at this, offering a theatrical articulation of a relatable feeling; that of being trapped by a modern device. My book uses his Escapology as the only appropriate metaphor for our current malaise: a return to the correct tools and attitude when one understands that The Trap never went away and that we’re all still in it.
I’m Out is probably the strangest of books. I’m the first to admit it. From a certain angle it looks like self-help but it’s so sprinkled with metaphor, jokes, literary references and, yes, magic, my hope is that it’s just a good old time anyway. “Break free of The Trap,” is my message, “and have a good time doing it”.
(c) Robert Wringham
Author photograph (c) Alan Dimmick
About I’m Out: How to Make an Exit
What if the door is open and we can leave any time we like? We will each spend an average of 87,000 hours at work before we die. We will spend another 5,000 getting to and from work. And we will spend countless more preparing for, worrying about and recovering after work. Most of us hate our jobs, so why do we insist on grinding away only to be rewarded with stress, debt, isolation and general unhappiness? Where does our commitment to these traps come from? In I’m Out: How to Make an Exit, Robert Wringham examines these questions and more, showing us how, if we are daring enough to make the attempt, we can take control of our fate and say goodbye to a lifetime of meaningless drudgery.
Order your copy online here.