15 June 201015 June 2010 Main Posts Writing and helplessness and being comfortably numb Clare Strahan I’m thinking about writing and helplessness and being comfortably numb. I was chatting with my nephew, 27, as we set off to see Exit through the Gift Shop: (sold out so I suggest you book ahead!) Now, dear reader, 27 is the young man’s age – my sisters and I are not such keen Get Smart fans as to have called our offspring by the code number: So on the long drive to not see ‘the Banksy movie’, nephew, 27, suggested I’d been a bad influence on him. That influence being my inability to keep a ‘proper’ job and insistence on living with less in order to spend time with trees. Well, not ‘bad’ but ‘an’ influence on him: he just didn’t seem to be able to care about money, or tether himself to the things that money tethers one to – mortgage, things, bank loans. He has, subsequently, ended up back in a converted shed at his folks after a series of jobs he quit as soon as it became clear he could work there forever. I, Aunt, 45, have had a mortgage for ten years – by some miracle. But I understand the influence. I’ve avoided the mainstream and managed to follow my heart and that has meant living frugally, in a sense. Well, I don’t think it’s frugal, and certainly it’s a relative poverty (I have running water, hot water, access to education, food, shelter, a computer, a car, take in the theatre on occasion, etc), but there are not many ‘modern trappings’ to be found in my home and lots of second-hand treasure. Recently, for example, I was gifted with a fantastic second-hand kitchen through the generosity of my sister-in-law (brother’s wife) and the home-handyman skills of my brother-in-law (sister’s husband). Why? Because I needed one and my sister-in-law had a spare. Back to nephew, 27. The money was good in the last job – making windows. And he was fairly autonomous, which suits him. ‘But some of those guys have been there for twenty years’ he told me. ‘I like windows, I’ve got nothing against windows, and I know those guys have a life outside the factory: families and friends. But in the factory, they’re invisible. They just stop existing. And life becomes about how to do the least possible amount of work.’ Nephew, 27, is not a lazy man. He is a car-freak. He may be unpaid, but he is never unemployed. Recently, he began working as a spray-painter/panel beater and the same feelings are creeping over him. ‘People seem okay with just working to keep working’ he tells me, ‘but it’s like being dead’. I told him that the Overland blog had just introduced me to Raj Patel and his assertion that human labour (and food) as a ‘commodity’ to be bought and sold in the marketplace, is a relatively new concept. We agreed that the prevailing industrialist/capitalist world view has created an insane world and we took an approving view of folks who still grow their own vegetables. But we didn’t come to a conclusion about how to reconcile rejection of the idea that we should ‘trade in our hours for a handful of dimes’ and the reality of resisting the depression that comes with never having any money. Nevertheless, if such a beautiful and quietly rebellious human being as nephew, 27, is the result of any small ‘influence’ of mine, I must be doing something right. Clare Strahan Clare Strahan is a two-time novelist with Allen & Unwin publishers, long-ago contributing editor to Overland, and teaches in the RMIT Professional Writing & Editing Associate Degree. More by Clare Strahan Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate. Related articles & Essays First published in Overland Issue 228 24 February 202317 March 2023 Main Posts Final Results of the 2022 Judith Wright Poetry Prize Editorial Team Overland, the judges and the Malcolm Robertson Foundation are thrilled to announce the final results of the 2022 Judith Wright Poetry Prize. First published in Overland Issue 228 24 February 202317 March 2023 Main Posts Final Results of the 2022 Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize Editorial Team Overland, the judges and the Malcolm Robertson Foundation are thrilled to announce the final results of the 2022 Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize.