30. Man's gotta have a code

Or some simple, easy to follow rules

In 2015 Ethan Hawke, the actor, published a novel in the form of a letter penned by one of his ancestors. It was a narrative conceit, delivering a series of rules for living a noble life.

Partly because he’s an actor and partly because the idea of living by rules struck some as, well, naff, he received a little flack for it. I should say I’ve not read the book, but I also remember thinking it was a bit rich of an actor to tell us how we should live. “That’s a bit rich,” I thought, and continued reading my copy of Monocle.

At one point I tried to live according to the rules of the Bible. Have you ever tried that? It’s very, very hard. It’s hard because, and I’m not sure if you know this, the rules in the Bible are a little difficult to parse. The Ten Commandments require a bit of creative interpretation, if not outright time travel. And when you get to books like Leviticus, well…

Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.

And his name shall be called in Israel, The house of him that hath his shoe loosed.

Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession.

I stopped going to church almost 20 years ago, which led directly to the depraved heathen you see before you now. My relationship to religion continues to be, shall we say, contentious. It’s unlikely that it will ever play a large role in my life again.

Which can be difficult, when you’re looking for something to believe in.

“A man gotta have a code.” - Omar Little, The Wire

This year has me looking at my beliefs and asking, in what tangible way do you believe that? What is the outcome of this belief?

Racism? It’s bad! Poverty? Terrible! Sexism? Haven’t we fixed that yet?

I’ve taken enough philosophy classes (one) to have a reasonable sense of where this kind of thinking leads. Lounging around some garden glade while nubile young men serve me grapes, their supple limbs flashing in the sun. Ha, who wants that! Not I. I’m here for the hard work, the forensic deconstruction of my psyche laid bare on a table to be picked over like a Victorian cadaver.

Right after I have a nap. And hey, the pubs are open again.

So I started thinking, you know what would make (some) of this easier? A few rules. Like the Bible, only with less slavery, sexism, and murder squads. Not especially researched rules. Not “I wake up every morning at 4:42AM and drink de-ionised charcoal water” rules. Just rules to take some of the pressure off the constant decision making on this ocean of unending, probably bad decisions.

What’s the appropriate number of rules? How long is a piece of string?

Three. It’s three long.

Choose small

My friend Luke Leighfield has stopped shopping at Amazon. I have not. Already these rules are looking pretty thin. But! Here’s what I have done. Whenever I want to get something, I check to see if I can get it somewhere small first.

And I mean small. Family-owned, one location, on the brink of shutting down small. Slowly, I’ve ordered less and less from Amazon. Are my individual purchases going to turn the tide for these local businesses? Almost certainly not. But my not shopping there definitely won’t do that.

I’ve also rediscovered eBay and Etsy which as enterprises are definitely the opposite of small, but are small adjacent in the sense that at least you’re buying directly from actual people. I think. Some eBay sellers have the whiff of neural networks trained on email banking scams, but that might just be how we all talk now.

In any event, good rules are easy to follow, so the first is the simplest. Choose small.

(Luke also has a newsletter called Ten Things, which is a weekly list of ten things he’s enjoyed. It’s a really nice way to start the weekend.)

Show appreciation

A coworker went to her grandma’s funeral recently in The Netherlands. Her grandma isn’t dead. But it’s a tradition (I think) of her family to celebrate people while they’re still alive. Which made me think of a saying I’m awfully fond of, which is, “Give people flowers while they can smell them”.

I’ve started taking photographs of people who work at my favourite places in London. It’s led to some very nice conversations. There’s a direct correlation between the places I like and the kindness and quality of people who run them. Quality is doing a lot of work in that sentence and I’d love to unpack it, I really would, but in the interest of time it basically means “people what generally do good”.

At my new job we have a Slack channel where you can leave positive feedback about your coworkers. It’s full of people shouting out each other and it’s kind of awesome? It’s awesome. I generally hate even the appearance of forced corporate camaraderie, but I’ve never been told I should post in this channel. It seems to be a totally organic outpouring of my fellow coworkers’ affection for each other.

It’s very difficult to feel sad while expressing gratitude. (It’s also very difficult to express gratitude while overwhelmed by sadness, which is why the links between gratitude and dealing with anxiety or depression need to calm the hell down.) Gratitude is like salt. It won’t save a meal. But if the basic ingredients are all there, it’ll punch it up to something worth eating.

Defund the police