Health Economy, or Why You Don’t Need To Earn A Living

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I like my gym. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable, it’s well equipped, it isn’t too far from my house and there are two novelty oversized dogs that wander around behind reception from time to time. Like most gyms, though, it doesn’t half like a motivational quote. Above the mirror at the freeweight section a banner reads: “Some people want it to happen. Some people wish it would happen. Others MAKE it happen.” It’s a cute trick, motivating you while stroking your ego. You’re one of the ELITE, right? You’re MAKING it happen. The sentence structure alone tells you you’re at least in the top 33.3% of the population, and let’s face it, that percentile is probably lower because you’re just that special, you muscular workhorse, you man of iron. In fairness, determination and the will to do something is a huge part of exercise or going to the gym. Some days you just don’t feel like it, get a few of those in a row and suddenly you haven’t been for a week. Then two. And the more you miss, the harder it is to go back. But there’s a secret ingredient to going to the gym and a healthy life that the gyms don’t put on their banners or turn into a meme for their Facebook page.

Money.

This isn’t me complaining about the price of gym membership – I pay £24 a month for my gym and I think it’s a bargain for what I get – specialist knowledge on hand and well maintained facilities. I could pay less for a no-contract gm like Pure or the Gym Group, but I’ve tried that before and much prefer the culture and atmosphere of my local, independently owned gym. My membership there is a luxury, one I can afford because I have a good job. I buy protein powder to help me along and that too is a luxury. I’ll never complain about the price of any of these things. I think they’re worth it, and no one is forcing me to pay for them. I could go a run or walk more every day and maintain a reasonable level of physical activity for a fraction of the cost. And I do run (though if you want to do it often and at any distance then investing in a good pair of running shoes is advised).

No, this is about the price of health, from what you eat to how much sleep you get and everything in between. It’s no shock to anyone that unhealthy foods are generally much cheaper than healthy options. I could get maybe a few days worth of perishable fruit and veg for the price of several frozen dinners, microwave meals and snack food. In terms of quantity over quality, it’s just not economical to be healthy. This immediately prices huge chunks of the population out of healthier lifestyle choices. This will be down to various factors, like the economic benefits of mass production to businesses, allowing them to price their frozen food more cheaply than the more complex fruit and veg growing industries. Or TL; DR, capitalism. It also has to do with convenience – the most healthy meals are generally prepared fresh, with fresh ingredients. This takes time, which people are pretty short of these days. Maybe they’re looking after children or caring for a partner or parents. Maybe they’re working overtime or two jobs because the cost of living keeps going up and wages aren’t following. So they buy the thing that helps them save time, the quick hit foods, in the oven, in the microwave, whatever. Fuel for the fire. The problem is, a lot of this kind of food doesn’t provide the consistent energy release that can help stave off fatigue and hunger, so you’re tired – so you don’t cook – and you want to eat more. And so it goes. It’s no one’s fault, it’s just circumstance. I’ve done it plenty myself.

And that’s just physical health. Mental health is taking huge hits right now too. Work and financial problems are the top two causes of stress in the UK, according Mind, the mental health charity.  People are working too much, as I said, two jobs or trying to make ends meet on wages that just haven’t gone up fast enough. This, and several other reasons, are why I support a Guaranteed Minimum Income.

The basic idea is that everyone deserves and requires a certain level of income, no matter what, job or no job. Pilot schemes have been carried out, and the results have been more than encouraging. In Dauphin, Manitoba in Canada in the 1970s they tried a GMI scheme and they found that the only demographic who wound up working noticably less were new mothers, and I don’t think anyone in their right mind would see anything wrong with that. Teenagers also worked less, because they didn’t need to contribute to household expenses as they were now helped along by the GMI. This led to grades in school going up and more teens graduated – they could study more and focus on school work more as they didn’t need a job. Hospital admissions decreased during the programme, mental health consultations decreased and rates of domestic abuse went down too. When people didn’t have to stress about money, their lives got better on almost every metric. Mental and physical health got better.

I’m not advocating we had out millions to everyone. I’m saying we’re obligated to make sure people in our society have the bare minimum for a good life. Not benefits, not tax credits, not the Government’s sorry attempt at a “living wage” by rebranding the minimum wage to suit their figures, but a bare minimum income. Because you know what? You shouldn’t have to “earn” a living. A living is what you get just for being here. It’s what you get because you’re here and we’re decent and there are certain things people should just have for being people. Shelter, clothing, education, health, food. There’s no religion in the world other than capitalism that will tell you that we shouldn’t just give this stuff to everyone and work out the rest later. I’m not saying people shouldn’t have to work – if you want that laptop or that car or the new jacket or new trainers or whatever other luxury you have your eye on (like gym membership or protein powders), go earn it. Earn the extras. Food isn’t an extra. Somewhere warm to sleep isn’t an extra. A decent education and medicine when you’re sick aren’t extras. They’re an actual living, and not something you should be expected to “earn”.

We’re all we’ve got. And if we don’t take care of each other we won’t even have that.

Neither bird nor plane

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It’s Friday morning as I write this and I’ve just watched the pilot episode of Supergirl, from The Flash executive producer Greg Berlanti. Like The FlashSupergirl is more than a little silly. It suffers from the same clunky exposition that American genre TV writers have pretty much surrendered to, especially for pilot episodes. Its message is unsubtle, its agendas unhidden. And I loved it.

For all its faults (and I can forgive a great many in a pilot), Supergirl  is unashamedly earnest. It’s about a girl who isn’t learning how to fly  – she always could – but she’s finally letting herself flyLetting herself be as incredible and impossible as she can be. If the target audience for this show loves it as much as I do, it’s going to do well. I hope it does. I think it’s needed, and not only that, I’m hoping it’s at the forefront of a sea change in pop culture. The long night is over – we’re done being depressed.

The current crop of writers and consumers have had a pretty rough time of it culturally. We came up when millenarianism was rampant, the end of the world was round the corner and some people were honestly stocking up on canned goods for the turn of the millennium. The world didn’t end, of course, it just went to hell. 9/11 happened and suddenly American news stations ran “threat levels” at the bottom of the screen on 24 hour news. Surveillance in the UK has gotten ludicrously invasive and violatory. But that’s OK because some people are terrorists and they’re probably your neighbour, so just let the government look at your e-mails, all right?

As a fan of superhero comics, I got to see the impact of this on pop culture up close. Superhero books have always been reactionary to social events and at the sharp end of pop cultural shifts. Superman first appeared in 1938, fighting slum lords, wife beaters, conscienceless businessmen. The creation of two Jewish kids, one of whom had a murdered parent, a totemic force for good calling himself Superman came around when Hitler was coming to power. Superman comics were mentioned by Hitler himself as something sinister. WWII breaks out and superhero comics change into patriotic propaganda. (Sometimes horribly racist propaganda. I said the comics reacted with the times, I didn’t say it was always a good thing.)

By the time you get to 2015, superhero movies are the Big Thing in Hollywood, due in no small part to their massive history, which must seem like a treasure trove of story ideas. But superheroes have transformed again in a culture that believed itself to be under siege. The Avengers were brought together by a military unit, Superman executed his enemy in Man of Steel, Batman employed super-surveillance techniques to defeat the Joker in The Dark Knight. Superheroes joined the military, and it wasn’t pretty.

But there’s change in the air. I think. I hope. Pop culture seems to be warming to the idea that we can finish a story with a smile again. Sense8, a romantic, fantastical adventure story gives us psychic karaoke. The Flash gives us a smiling scientist hero and Supergirl gives us a young woman doing her best, doing the right thing, because she can. She thinks everything is going to be OK.

In a previous post I called this trend post-cynicism. We’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and it isn’t actually the train we were expecting. Pop culture is changing, and superhero stories are evolving again to do what they do best – show us what we’re capable of. Remind us that the day really can be saved. They’re looking up in the sky again. It’s time we did the same.

Insert Boomtown Rats Reference Here

It’s Monday when you’re reading this,(for me it’s Thursday, I try and write in advance) so that means it’s a writing blog. Contain your excitement, yeah? It’s only the first paragraph. As with the last two, I’ll just be giving a quick update on where I’m at with my writing endeavours before getting into more meaty stuff next week.

As most of you are likely aware, the main focus of my writing is usually comics. Can’t get enough of em. Can’t afford to make them, either, which means comic book writing is going to have to take a back seat for a little while. I love it, I always will, but a huge part of making comics is actually making the things, which means working with and paying an artist, colourist, letterer etc and I can’t quite get there right now. I still have a few projects simmering – a political thriller, a coming-of-age drama, and an exercise in comics form disguised as a coming-of-age drama. I’ll get them done in time, I’ll keep working on them, but they’re not a priority.

NaNoWriMo, because apparently I love self harm and am drowning in free time, is the priority for the next month. For those who don’t know, NaNo is National Novel Writing Month, the challenge being that you sign up and try and knock out the first draft of a novel by the end of November, 50,000 words. “Ambitious” doesn’t quite cover the size of that task given my usual time constraints, but I’ll give it a whirl. Goals and all that, If anyone else is taking part, search for me on the site as Sudge. We can weep into each others virtual arms.

Then there’s this blog. It’s here because I need to write more often, preferably every day, and I need something to write about that isn’t a big meaty piece of work that I need more time than I have to complete. That doesn’t mean it’ll be an afterthought though. I’ll put all the time and consideration I can into updates. The plan is to always have a post or two queued so I don’t miss a scheduled post. Doing OK so far, but it’s early.

That’s all for now. Comic and novels and blogs, I also snark on twitter as @StephenSuthes, should your timeline be oddly quiet when Question Time is on and you just want to liven things up.

NaNoWriMo: 1,243 words

Harder, better, faster, unconscious on the floor please don’t make me run today

It’s Friday, which under my new bloggiing system means that I’ll be talking about my attempts to get fit, lifestyle stuff and general current affairs (read: social justice rants). Basically anything that isn’t sci-fi or writing will go in here. I’m hoping that by broadcasting my exercise stuff that I’ll be more motivated to actually exercise. Apparently shame is a strong motivator for me. Yes, I was raised Catholic, why do you ask?

So I was never sporty. At all. I have bad eyesight, particularly in my left eye, and had my eyes operated on as a child, so  my hand-eye co-ordination is utterly terrible. I can’t imagine how disappointing it must have been for my Celtic fan, referee dad to find out his sons were about as interested in playing football as he was in the latest issue of Justice League.

Then about a year and a half ago at a friend’s wedding I was convinced to sign up to do Tough Mudder, an 11 mile obstacle course race designed to make you question your desire to go on living. Targets, my friend said. Set yourself a target, work towards it, you can do it.

So I ran, I worked out, I ate better. None of them to the proper degree, but I did do it. And I lost weight and I got fitter and come the end of June last year I dragged myself across the Tough Mudder finish line. And it felt amazing. I’m nowhere near the level of fitness or strength that I’d like to be, but gearing up for Tough Mudder showed me that I had it in me. I went from barely being able to run a half mile without having to stop to running 5 miles without a break. Working out also had a tremendous impact on my mental health, I have a horrible tendency to overthink things, work myself into an anxious mess. That all tailed off to a very manageable level once I started running and going to the gym. Exercise, hard as it would be to believe to a 15 year old me, has helped me immeasurably.

Now in the past few months my cardio fitness has tailed off. My routine at the gym is three days a week, and trying to find the time for that fourth day to go a run is pretty difficult, especially given the kind of hours my job has me pull. I’m writing this today bone tired. I still make the gym three times a week (usually), so I haven’t lost a ton of fitness, but I wouldn’t want to be running five miles any time soon.

That being said, I think the time has come to switch up the routine a bit, work in more running and get my fitness up (and waist size down). I’m getting married next year, so I have a goal. Every week now I’ll try and update here with progress, new workout, stats etc. Very boring stuff if you’re not into this kind of thing so I won’t be offended if you skip it.

I’ll try not to be a fitness evangelist here. There are few things more annoying than the holier-than-thou pontificating about exercise and eating habits. There are so many reasons as to why people do and eat and work and live the way they do, and I don’t tend to care about any of them as long as it makes them happy and they aren’t hurting anyone. The exercise stuff works for me, doesn’t mean I have to force it to work on everyone else. All I can do is speak to the positive impact it’s had on me, but if it’s not for you, it’s not for you.

Any exercise/fitness enthusiasts reading this? if so, can you help me out with filling breakfast suggestions that aren’t bread-related? It’s porridge seasons now, so that will help, but I’m still eating way too much bread at the moment and if I can even cut it out at breakfast that would help a lot.

Thanks for reading, if you stuck with it this long. Like I said before, this will be a bit of a niche entry I think (the fitness parts at least) so I really appreciate any clicks. See you Monday.

The Consumption

It’s Wednesday! And from now on that means I’ll be yakking about things I’ve read or watched or listened to lately, so here’s a little update as to where I’m at.

Surprising no one more than myself, my comic reading habits have changed dramatically from even 6 or 7 months ago. I used to easily hit 20+ comics per month, and now I’m lucky if I hit one a week. Maybe my tastes have changed, maybe I’m harder to please, but there just aren’t that many comics that are really grabbing me right now. I don’t even collect Superman regularly, which is a bit like a bishop missing mass. Although I should point out that Greg Pak’s Action Comics is a mainstay, one of the few books I read month on month. (Along with The Wicked + The Divine and anything Ellis has written that month.) Comics just aren’t exciting me like the used to, certainly not at the pro level. And this has led to even my comics writing ambitions sliding a little. Comics will always be my first love as a medium for storytelling, but lately everything from the most popular content to the inner workings of the industry has just felt wrong, sometimes even poisonous. More than ever, I need a strategy and philosophy for comics that will carry me through. Maybe I’ll work it out here.

I’m currently reading all the Robin Hobb I can get my hands on. The Farseer trilogy was wonderful, so now it’s Liveship’s turn. I know there are more trilogies with Fitz and co after Liveship, so I’m eager to progress. That being said, Liveship is a great series in itself. I’m a sucker for politics in my comics and novels, and Liveship seems to be playing with that a little more than Farseer did. I’m also hoping to get more into my “classics” in the future, having had Don Quixote on my Kindle for quite some time now. I try and read a fiction followed by a non-fiction, but the trilogies keep sucking me in…

As for TV, I’m midway through a rewatch of my favourite TV show, the West Wing, and about halfway through Sense8. They share an unabashed romanticism about people and the world in general – people are generally good and decent and will come through in the end. That’s so far up my street it’s sitting in my favourite chair. I think we might be seeing a post-cynicism era of genre TV coming through, with Sense8, Supergirl and the Flash coming to mind immediately. I hope so. Pop culture’s dark night of the soul is long overdue its daybreak. Also watching and loving Doctor Who, which might be having its best series since Matt Smith’s debut. I feel like this series is about the effect of and importance of companionship, which really doesn’t bode well for the resident companion. Looking forward to seeing where this goes.

That’s it for today, just a wee overview before we get into the good stuff. Hope you keep reading!

(OH, gaming – I mainly play Destiny on X-box One at the moment, but will shift to Battlefront when I can.

Trajectory

Hey, so here’s a weird, thing, I’m using WordPress again! It’s been a while. It was between this and Tumblr but I just prefer WordPress for regular blogging. Which I’m attempting. Again. I’ve been very tired lately, and very busy and as such I’ve missed writing an awful lot. I’ve kept my toe in the water with stuff I don’t publish, but it’s time to get back out there. Time to do it right.

I’m going to try something a bit different this time. I realised when I was in training for Tough Mudder some time ago that I do much better with targets and goals and deadlines rather than a hazy notion of “I feel like blogging”. So I’m setting some targets.

Mondays I’ll likely write about writing – I’m attempting NaNoWriMo this year, so please, if you’re interested in that or are participating yourself, look me up. User name is Sudge. Between that, blogging and comics projects, I’ll hopefully have plenty to talk about.

Wednesdays I’m giving over to my inner (read: outer) nerd and will likely be commenting on stuff I’ve been reading or watching or listening to. This might be in the form of articles or reviews or me shouting “WOW DOCTOR WHO WAS GREAT THIS WEEK” over and over.

Fridays will be more niche I think, as I’ll be trying to talk about general wellbeing and lifestyle stuff – I’m becoming a fitness nerd so expect progress reports on my workouts and such. This could very easily descend into half-journal style entries, as the workouts seem to help my general mental health a lot. Could also tangent off into current affairs, futurism etc. A more grounded entry than “I’ve been writing this piece of fiction” or “HOLY CRAP THE DALEK EMPEROR”.

Please, always feel free to comment or get in touch with anything you think would be interesting for me to talk about. Listen to me, talking like I have an audience already.

Let’s do this.

Follow Friday

I know its a Twitter traditon, #ff, telling those poor unfortunates who grace you with their attention to grace other people with their attention, too, but I thought I’d carry it out here.

Blogging is a cool thing, and not only for the ego stroke it gives you when you see the number of visits on your site stats creep up. Its cool because it exposes you to other people’s blogs. Other people’s thoughts and opinions. There are blogs out there that put newspapers to shame, writing that would make accomplished novelists hide their faces in embarrassment.

If you’ve stopped by my blog – thank you! I have fun writing it, and its good to know there are people willing to read. But if you’re not too busy, how about checking out some of these guys?

Geeks Shall Inherit The Earth – http://matthewhyde.wordpress.com/  @starmanjack43

 This is a blog run by a good friend of mine, Matthew Hyde. I know, the link is a bit of a giveaway.

Matthew is one of the smartest guys I know. It’s that simple. He’s also got a knack for getting to the heart of subjects that would otherwise elude me. A mix of thoughts of faith, culture, current affairs, history and books, you’ll always find out something you didn’t know before by clicking on to Matt’s blog. Well written, well thought out and updated frequently, Matt’s is everything a good blog should be. Puts me to shame, certainly!

 

The Physical Impossibility of Rad in the Mind of Someone Bogus – http://physicalimpossibility.wordpress.com/  @seanmwelsh

Like cinema? This son of a bitch loves it. Experienced film writer and reviewer Sean Welsh delivers insightful film reviews, thoughtful articles on music and film and interviews with people in the industry. If you’re looking to expand your cinematic horizons, you could do a lot worse than following this blog. I’ll even forgive him for the picture of Superman getting tanked on whiskey.

 

Miso Funky – http://www.misofunky.com/news/ @misofunky

With all the latest news from the Delia-Approved and entirely awesome Miso Funky store, this blog is your one stop shop for cool crafts and handmade goodies with a sense of humour. Have a look and ask yourself, What Would Delia Do?

 

Forty Four Sunsets – http://fortyfoursunsets44.blogspot.com/ @Kirsty44SUNSETS

Now, I know nothing about fashion. As far as I’m concerned, it goes as far as T-shirts with some kind of geek cultural relevance and jeans of gradually darkening shades. Kirsty, on the other hand, is something of an expert. With a chatty, friendly style, a love of fashion and a ton of content, Kirsty’s blog even gets someone as fashion backward as me reading it. Maybe one day she’ll give me a makeover. Maybe one day I’ll live down that I ever suggested it.

And hey, while you guys are at it, tell @pickwick to blog more. Seriously, harass her. If ever there was someone who should be blogging but isn’t (currently) , it’s her.

I’ll stop content dodging soon, I promise!