Category Archives: Personal text

Personal Text: Ellen McMahill, Sacramento, CA

Ellen McMahill
Sacramento, CA USA

In the last few months since the stock market took a dive and the world economies have changed radically, I have thought more about what that could mean to us all. We are all connected and if we did not believe that before, it is apparent now.

With all that has happened including the steady deterioration of our world environment, I believe that we are giving ourselves the opportunity to change the way we perceive our lives and how we go about living on a daily basis. In the last few years many were building their futures on the steady rise of values in the stock market and were delaying what they really wanted to do with their lives until they retired. I would say from experience that most people work at the jobs they have because they need to survive and pay for what they think they want in life (a house, car, etc.) and not because they love what they are doing, which is a denial of the possible beauty of each day of our lives.

In the past this was acceptable, but now I think that people want more because as always, we are evolving and evolution is about change and making everything better. Evolution is also struggle and learning and awareness. Without the struggle of our present situations we could not evolve into a world populated by people who understand more about themselves and therefore others. Human beings do not learn when everything is easy and comfortable and happy all the time. Whether or not we realize it, we are happiest (in a deep down satisfying way) when we are learning and have challenges to meet. By having challenges, we use our creative minds to find solutions and feel genuinely joyous when the challenges are overcome and we have succeeded in doing what seemed impossible before.

Now is that time in the lives of most people. We have the opportunity to reevaluate the value of material things, to understand the transient and flimsy happiness that material goods bring us. Good questions to ask ourselves at times like this are – What is important to me? What can I live without and still be happy? What am I thankful for? What is good in my life? What do I want to change and how can I change it? What will make me happy really and over a long period of time?

We may think we know the answers to these questions until we begin to answer them honestly to ourselves and then the truth may really set us free and on to a different road than the one we’ve previously been going down.

I personally know that if you want to change your life into the one you want it is possible and the changes are never ending and an adventure not to be missed. You can develop new attitudes and perspectives with your own determination and desire to be who you really are.

I have moved several times in the last few years, paring my possessions down to what can fit into a van in order to pursue my desire to paint and to see the world in ways I never thought of before. Since 1977 I have been through two divorces, had a family of two children (grown up now), been through a house foreclosure after the second, messy divorce, terrible debt, worked many hours at jobs I didn’t particularly liked in order to survive, sold my truck and bought a bike, moved from Florida to Los Angeles and rode my bicycle as my only transportation while working a decent job and continuing to learn more about everything, especially art and painting (I have a degree in art from Florida State University). I’ve been through terrible heartache, and joyous, beautiful moments. I started as a nervous, shy child and extremely emotional young adult and older adult until mediation and a desire to change my perspectives about life led me into a more peaceful place of more understanding and learning though I will always have more to learn. I’m 58 years old and still riding my bicycle as my transportation, painting every day and enjoying every minute and paying attention to the world and those around me.

I have great hopes for everyone in the world to grow and love more as we all struggle to understand that the more we understand ourselves and are honest with ourselves, the more we will feel compassion and goodwill towards all others in the world and towards this place where we live.

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Personal Text: Stefan Szczelkun

Stefan Szczelkun, London UK

Stefan Szczelkun currently works on the MA in Visual Culture at the University of Westminster. He completed a PhD at the Royal College of Art in 2002 on the legitimation of collective sites of cultural production and their value within a democratic culture. Stefan is an artist with a particular interest in publishing both in traditional book format and more recently in multimedia and digital video.

I was struck by a crystalline formulation by Jonathan Wolff in a recent Guardian article. He said:
“Marx observed that one of the tendencies of capitalism was ‘the concentration of capital’: the increasing amount of our lives that gets sucked up by the market. Over time more of life, such as childcare and entertainment, becomes ‘commodified’. Consequently when the market crashes, it brings more of our lives down with it.”

I like his image of our lives being vacuumed up. I feel this has happened to me as I’ve become more involved in academia… Wolff avoids any discussion of alienation. Its not just with market crashes that commodification effects our lives. The system warps everything it marketises and the market has to constantly expand. We just notice it more acutely at times of crisis. This includes every way we are wrapped up in career pathways and in my case formulations of research activity that fit in with corporatised academic and university structures. The system imposes serious and often subtle limitations on our ability to think in an organic and socially connected manner.

Another strong image he uses is the idea of people in recently industrialised areas of the world returning to ‘the family farm’ to survive during periods of economic downturn. I like the abstract and simple image of Lifeworld and System to differentiate between the commodified areas of life and the parts of our lives in which relations are more direct and ‘human’. For knowledge workers the problem is often the extent to which the literary is tied-up in a System history – the history of commodification, or put more bluntly the history of middle class culture. We need to ask more about how intellectuals operate and have operated in the Lifeworld – which can often be equated with oral culture, street culture, drug culture, sub-culture, gang culture. How can intellectual discourses gain strength and take themselves seriously outside of the Academies? What could the oral intellectuals version of ‘street cred’ look like.

I think we need to work on this idea of ‘the family farm’ as a place of haven. A space in which direct relations to our basic needs are protected. I was just speaking to Graham Harwood about how he has bought an old boat. Where he lives on the Thames estuary this means joining a community which is commodified very little and in which human relations are still paramount.

Many people I know in the London region have considerable resource in spite of the recession. A lot can be achieved with the small amounts of surplus resources most of us have if we decide to use them for liberatory practices, rather than squander them on commodified needs (exotic holidays, drugs, gadgets, Legoland, un-needed clothing, whatever). Its just that we need to see these uses of our money and time as more exciting than our dependency on commodity consumption.

One of my own current projects is to attempt to make invisible lifeworld discourses visible and able to be appreciated with the collective Agit Disco project.

And in a similar vein to bring non-academic praxis and Lifeworld thinking into the radical mainstream discourses of the lib-left field, with all their machismo. I’ve put together a DVD about peoples struggle for Inclusive Education, which are crucial to any emboldement of the lifeworld and is not just for or about ‘people with disabilities’.

There are thousands of good initiatives for progressive steps, from campaigns against hitting children or against arms trade to allotment associations or guerilla garderners, which have developed a great deal of species being or family farm expertise. In spite of all these projects it seems difficult to bring them to a unified focus. How do we create a sense of solidarity of purpose for human evolution? How do we even seriously discuss what we want to become as human beings? It is about time we stopped putting up with being buffeted about by the legacy of oppression and the mechanistic needs of capital. Too often those forces feel all powerful. The truth is that we we are completely powerful and able to think clearly about what we want to become. Often the barrier is simply our own embarassment! This kind of talk is simply not normal.


1. Marginal Notes, Jonathan Wolff, Education Guardian Higher, Tuesday 7th July 2009 p6.

2. My reading of Lifeworld/System theory is from Habermas’ Theory of Communicative Action.

3. New forms of meeting.

Publicamp, 2009

Publicamp, 2009

Publicamp used a format of 15 minutes per person to present on whatever they want to. Presenters can talk all the time or ask questions or advice or opinions from the audience. Its a good non-hierarchial efficient method of getting everyone heard. This one in Kennington Park was run by Critical Practice a group from Chelsea Art College.

4. New skills of discourse e.g. reclaiming our ability to ‘spout’ or speak in public in the corners of places of spontaneous congregation.

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Personal text: Recession story

Tiffany, post-graduate student, Canada

In these times, things of significance have not changed for me personally. I’m still concerned with carving out a satisfying career that supports a meaningful lifestyle, however, it has become more difficult to achieve this personal goal when even getting a first job, paying graduate tuition fees and finding an unpaid internship is more challenging. Recruitment for unpaid volunteer work has been as rigourous as getting a permanent full-time job with benefits – the latter of which seems rarer these days and based more on personal connections and being the “right fit” rather than actual credentials.

The recession has affected my work and practice by keeping me more practical in general and less willing to take risks with new projects or courses unless they are absolutely necessary for building my future resume and/or job fit.

My daily life has been very much affected by the recession because I have to be more conservative with money. I am less willing to travel for pleasure or go out for dinner or even to see a movie. When I do go out, I feel guilty because I have looming student debt that could take longer and longer to pay off when I graduate.

I’ve remarked upon a change in myself because I am less willing to be adventurous – to do things just because I feel like it and because it is psychically rewarding. Now, I’m just about day-to-day living and trying to seek balance and shelter from a cruel and harsh outside world where work is a dehumanizing experience.

The kinds of changes that are needed is a leash put on the absolute and cheap, quantity vs. quality lifestyle of consumerism that pervades this capitalistic North America. It’s this type of bad spending habits that has put us in this recession, but sadly, I don’t see people truly learning to favour quality over quantity and who simply enjoy cheap, fast, quick, consumption for the sake of it.

I envision the future as a more conservative one. I’ve been a lot about generations and the next “Generation Z” will be more cautious, careful, conformist and less likely to rock the boat because they are growing up in the age of Post-911, global economic crisis, environmental issues etc. They perhaps will be more exposed to globalization and be able to open-mindedly travel the world much like younger members of “Generation Y” are doing right now.

“Generation Y,” however, is faced with a larger task of pulling out their Baby Boomer parents from a world of unchecked idealism that has put us in this state of affairs. As a generation that I belong to (well, about the tail end of Generation X and the beginning to Generation Y), we are a generation of “good kids” that excelled in school and worked hard with the expectation of getting solid full-time jobs and working linearly towards some kind of material goal

This is goal no longer exists. And Generation Y, given its enormous size, educational ability and characteristic optimism will have to muster up courage, independently, and without its characteristic dependence on their Baby Boomer parents to revolutionize the workplace to be more civic-minded.

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