For much of my life, I’ve taken leaps from one interest to a seemingly unrelated other. As a kid, life was just a chronic habit of fads that my parents endured with some amusement. In my late teens, I slowed down and have managed to extend my interests over a period of years rather than weeks or months.
Typically, if I have a mild interest in something, I’ll buy a book. Even in these days of the web, an interest is not ‘christened’ until I’ve got a book on the subject in my hands. Here are the pivotal books that marked turning points for me with a brief explanation of why. I’d be interested if anyone else can plot their life in this way.
Jonathan Ross presented a series called ‘The Incredibly Strange Film Show‘. It was the high point of his career, if you ask me, and came into my life out of nowhere. I dropped out of college to watch films and work in a video shop. Had I missed this series, I might have ended up being a Civil Engineer.
For some reason, I don’t remember why, I left the video shop to study Journalism in London. By the time I ‘qualified’, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be a hack. Besides, at the age of 19, I knew nothing about the world. How was I supposed to write about it? I returned home with no plans and picked up this book that my dad was reading. It totally captured me, so I decided to apply to university to study Buddhism. Up to that point, I had no aspirations to go to university and was the first person in my extended family to do so. I got a 1st Class degree because I loved the subject and won funding to study for an MA in Buddhist Studies at the University of Michigan. I studied Japanese, practised Zen for four years, living for a while across the road from a Zen temple in London, and spent a summer in a Japanese Zen monastery. I went on to live in Japan for three years. All because of this book.
Towards the end of my MA, Buddhism had become entirely academic for me and I’d lost the deeply personal motivation that I had for it. Keen to complete my MA and move on, I looked for a distraction to see me through the last few months of study and picked up this book. I borrowed filmmaking equipment from the university and taught myself how to use an edit suite before heading off to Japan for three years. While I was in Japan, I ran a monthly cinematheque for experimental film and video called Eiga Arts and organised exchanges of experimental film and video between Japanese and international filmmakers. It was a blast but it wasn’t going to pay the rent so when I returned to the UK, I studied for an MA in Film Archiving at the University of East Anglia. It’s been paying the rent ever since. I was also able to use a lot of the film I’d shot while in Japan and the US to partially meet the requirements for my MA.
While in Japan, I had the money to buy a nice new iMac. It came with OS 9 installed, which constantly crashed. I got so frustrated having spent nearly $2000 on on a computer that didn’t work, that I looked for alternatives and found Linux. This was ten years ago and while support for Intel-based desktop computers was still fairly hit and miss, support for Apple machines was a niche within a niche. Still, I persevered and over the course of a year, learned my way around a Unix/Linux OS. It’s the only time I’ve ever worked on something all night. Repeatedly. Learning about the Open Source movement was unavoidable and I picked up this book and knew I’d made the right decision, despite the huge learning curve. It gave social and political significance to a simple act borne out of frustration. I’ve been running Linux on my desktop for over ten years now and have a basic certification in Linux SysAdmin. Open Source opened the door for me to the Commons.
After finishing my MA in Film Archiving, I landed a job as Moving Image Archivist, with the British Film Institute. I stayed there for a couple of years until I saw that Amnesty International were advertising for an Audiovisual Archivist. The focus at Amnesty was on digital archiving and Digital Asset Management and so I found myself moving into the more general profession of Information Management. The problem with this, for me, was that I became removed from the physical aspects of film. It was all bits and bytes, storage and standards. After a couple of years at Amnesty, London was feeling oppressive and we saw no future for us there. I got talking to my Mum and Dad about how we could help each other out and we decided to build a house in their garden (my Dad was a builder but he died before we got planning permission). The deal was that we got the land for free (so making the whole thing affordable), and with 30 years or so of earning ahead of us, we’d look out for them financially as they headed for retirement. We wanted to build something modest but exceptional and I bought this book which is still a huge inspiration to me. It’s full of illustrated stories of people that have built their own, often mad, places to live. As it happened, planning restrictions meant that we had to build a fairly conventional stone cottage style place, which is great, but I still have aspirations to build a geodesic dome or a house raised on poles some day.
Between March 2007 and February 2008, we had a baby daughter, moved to Lincoln two weeks after she was born, got married and built a house. I was also lucky to spot an advertisement for a job working part-time on a JISC funded repository project at the University of Lincoln, which connected nicely with my work on digital archiving at Amnesty and my interest in the Commons. When the project ended, I applied for the job I’m in now, as Technology Officer, looking at how technology might be used to support research, teaching and learning. I love it. Last summer, I started to think about the problems of technology and one that seemed obvious to me was the relationship between energy consumption and technology and how a future energy crisis and climate change legislation might impact the use of technology in Higher Education. It’s an area of research that I’m still pursuing, but the most significant effect it’s had on me is to open my eyes to the political dimensions of energy and the economy. Holloway’s book was suggested to me and it had a similar effect as reading the book on Zen. In particular, the first chapter which talks about ‘The Scream’, resonates for me with the central Buddhist idea of suffering. There have been other connections, too, not least the metaphysical aspects of Marxist theory, which often remind me of the metaphysical aspects of religious philosophy.
And that’s where I am today.