danieldwilliam: (Default)

 Long before I met MLW I moved out of the house that I shared with Bluebird and Mother of Bluebird. The house was owned by MOB’s parents and for a while, before they moved to France, all five of us had lived there together.

 Living there was not a happy experience for me. It was not my home, I was not happy with most of the relationships I had in the house, and a machine for living in the house was badly designed and badly operated. Demands were made of my that I was very uncomfortable with.

 When I moved out I moved into a shared room in a house in Swindon owned by a pair of brothers who owned perhaps 50 houses in Swindon. As a branding thing one wall in every room was painted a deep purple / midnight blue colour. When, in time, MLW came to visit we started referring to it as The Little Purple Room. This is about how things were for me before MLW tho.

 The room was quite a large double bedroom. It has space for a double bed, a desk and chair, a comfortable chair, some plants and some book cases. It overlooked the railway line and a large sign for the M4 (the way out). It was in the red light district of Swindon, about five minutes walk from my current work, from the station and from the best kebab shop in the world. It was a simple place to exist and therefore a simple place to concentrate on being alive. It was not salubrious but it was mine.

 My housemates were not chosen by me. They were at best odd, at worst quite strange. Mainly they were very different from me. I was very much aware that I was a gentleman down on my luck and that my situation would change for the better. This helped. It helped to be reminded that I was in a state of transformation and that through my own efforts I would better my situation. I was also given an opportunity to define “better”.

 (For those that wish there are a fund of humorous anecdotes from my time in the Little Purple Room which may form the basis of my November novel if I don’t fancy doing the Elizabethan spy novel I have in mind).

 What mattered to me was that I could make the LPR a machine for living my life the way I wanted to live it. I had sufficient material comfort in the way I needed it in order to be comfortable doing what I wanted to do. I put a great deal of effort into designing the machine because I had very limited physical, social and financial resources. This really focused me on what made me happy.

 Over a few months the room came to be mine and to work in the way I wanted it to work. I could be alone there. I could entertain there. I could have some of my housemates in for a beer. I could, with some effort, have a girlfriend to dinner and make her feel special in Shakespeare’s Second Best Bed kind of a way. Bluebird could come and visit me there. People I did not want to speak to had to ask permission to come into my space.

 It was also very important that the room was mine. I was beholden to no-one except for the rent and for the social niceties of communal living. I could be the me that I needed to be at that time. 

 It helped that I was only ever passing through. The LPR was home, but only for now. Now would be defined by events but also by me. I took ownership of the room not by painting the walls but by deciding that I would buy purple bed-linen and purple napkins. It was not so much home as the promise of home to come.

 What I learnt from my 18 months in the Little Purple Room was that I could be happy in a one room bed-sit in a shared house. Not only were material things not something that made me happy by possessing them but I also learned exactly what material things made me most happy through my use of them.

 I learnt that I could be self-contained for a long time, that I could carry the promise of home with me for a  long time, that a simple life could be a rewarding life.

 I also learned that the thing that was constantly missing from my time in the LPR were other people.  The LPR was a good box to be alone in, an okay box to be with other people but relationships were important.

danieldwilliam: (Default)


 I was talking about improv last night with [livejournal.com profile] star_tourmaline . We were discussing the concept of status in improv and in real life and some of the cross over. I related an anecdote about a train trip I had where I played status games with the carriage. For technical reasons we were having the conversation in 140 characters or less so for Star_tourmaline’s benefit here is the anecdote in full with some reflections.

 I was travelling down to Bristol to see Bluebird and had bought and brought with me Keith Johnstone’s seminal work on Improv, called Impro. One of the key chapters, certainly one of the two that really resonated with me was the chapter about status.

 In Improv status is more than just your formal position in a hierarchy. This is certainly part of it but by no means the whole story. Status is about self-worth, your position in the community, how you feel about yourself. There are elements of dominance and submission and position in a pecking order. A janitor can have high status if he feels really strongly positive about his role in society. Status is relative and changes over time. Status is cool.

 Status can come from formal hierarchy but also from charisma, from  your skills and talents and from the situation you find yourself in. If you have the two last life jackets on the sinking ship you have status.

 Low status people often adopt high status behaviour badly.  They behave like they think alpha males behave. They shout or pout.  High status individuals don’t have to do that. People do what high status individuals want without them having to shout. They create an aura of you wanting to please them and of being in control of the themselves.

 I am reminded of my dad teaching my friends and I tricks to do with Zippo lighters. After showing us some neat tricks he picked up the lighter one last time and said “Best trick boys,” then he slowly  and very, very coolly, opened the lighter, light it first time and light a cigarette, “Easy, boys, easy”. The man light a cigarette with the appropriate tool and we would have followed him anywhere.

 So, the chapter is about status, what it is, where it comes from and how to convey it. I decided to try it out on the train. I adopted as many of the hallmarks of a high status individual as I could and staked out a four person table on an increasingly crowded train. I sat in the aisle seat, with my jacket hung up in the window seat (the crucial trick is not to look at your jacket, high status people don’t fuss about their belongings and they don’t apologies for hanging their jacket up in the most convenient place to them). I sat up straight, good posture and calm clear movements. I looked people in the eye briefly. High status people rarely have to stare someone out. The look was not meant to be intimidating, rather it was saying you are welcome to my train, I do hope it conveys you splendidly, these seats are taken.


It worked. I felt magnificent. Danicus Magnus, and there were people standing in the aisle rather than ask me if they could sit in either of the two empty seats opposite me.

 I found (and I only properly grounded this last night with [livejournal.com profile] star_tourmaline   that I can move between stati but in a way that is much more about me than about playing a role. Like Clark Kent and Superman I can shift from being low status to high and back again. Last night’s learning was that the two aspects are equally part of myself. When I convey high status well I am being myself as I am when I’m having a great day.

 I wasn’t playing a role on the train. I was just being me as I am when I have high status. Myself, but greater, Danicus Magnus indeed.

 If you carry in your head the temporary belief that you have high status, that you are a high status individual and you have learned the high status tells that you use naturally, high status will emanate from you. It just flows out of you like a magnetic field, touching everybody and everybody will react to it. Because of our history as social pack animals we are highly sensitised to status tells. We read the room for them all the time without realising it.

 I hope that in time and through practise I will be able to synthesis the high status leader, the complex status wizard and the low status lost boy into the coherent whole that they should be. Both on stage and in real life.

danieldwilliam: (Default)

Inter alia this emerged in a fascinating conversation with [livejournal.com profile] star_tourmaline  last night. It’s primarily directed at her but, obviously, anyone can play.


We were talking about alpha males and pack behaviour, me from an improv status games point of view. Neither of us wanted to divert the conversation but here is the cul-de-sac that I was strolling up.


Pack behaviour is an evolved behaviour. As social animals it’s a behaviour we fall back into. People often behave as if they lived in a pack or a troop and not in a city. (Civilisation is the art of living in cities where you don’t know everyone). Through the application of reason and wisdom we can learn to live and work together better. I don’t mean we only tap into our reason and only deal with thoughts not feelings. I mean we consciously go about designing the society or organisation that we want to live in and set about encouraging the behaviours that support best living, rather than revert to instinctive behaviour.


Instinctive behaviour is often not your friend. Your instincts are largely designed for a small number of environments and a limited set of emergencies where your personal survival is only required on average.


 Here is why I think it might not serve us well to rely on pack instincts. Firstly, pack behaviour is about the strength of groups directed against other groups and individuals. It’s  about structured co-operation. Nothing wrong here. Mainly, it is about rationing access to sex and breeding opportunities.  Your position in the hierarchy determines how many breeding opportunities you have and how much group resource is put into supporting your breeding success.


I put forward the testable hypothesis that the closer the kinship relationships between group members the more curtailed access to breeding opportunities for non-alphas will be and the more rigid the hierarchy will be. If we are all related there is no need for all of us to breed.


I also think that the more opportunities there are for either functional specialism or different ways to make a living the less rigid the hierarchy and the more open access to breeding opportunities.


So in a pack where members are distant cousins rather than siblings and where there is more than one way to make a living there will be more individual freedom. I offer a comparison of mole rats and chimps.



I am wary of a placing reliance on a system which is mainly evolved for preventing fraternal bloodshed over access to sex for anything more complex than stopping us killing each other all the time. Constitutional democracies are a designed system for a reason (and with reason).


This is my second issue with relying on pack behaviour. It is an evolved system. So it has emerged from what has come before, which was not perfect. It hasn’t been designed from scratch to suit the current situation. It is cobbled together out of the bits left over from the last attempt to do something new. Evolution is also brutally indifferent to the wants of the individual. It follows a satisficing strategy (good enough with the resources we have) to get as many genes as possible into the next generation. It cares not a jot if you are happy, or even if you die. So long as on average some genes are passed on, the individual is not important.


I think pack behaviour is therefore unsuited for the large communities we live in with their rich and complex abundance of ways to get by and with our self-aware focus on the wants of the individual.


It’s why I am wary of any one who tries to lead by being an alpha male. As a way of leading a group it rather went out with the stone age.


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