New Bohemian.

no gods, no masters, no idols.

The whimsical world of Graham Linehan's Black Books

Black Books

Bill Bailey, Dylan Moran, and Tamsin Greig star in Black Books.

The best television sitcoms are the ones which teleport their viewers to another world, best served as background noise while making dinner, cleaning house, or making art. Black Books is my favorite television sitcom of all time, not because of its captivating plotlines, but because it does not demand your undivided attention through its short eighteen episode run. It’s a sort of televised comfort food for weirdos.

The series follows the foibles of Bernard Black, the misanthropic owner of the Black Books bookstore in Bloomsbury, London, his assistant Manny Bianco, and their friend Fran Katzenjammer. The Bohemian genius of the show is its plot: Linehan and Moran chose to write a sitcom about a secondhand bookstore precisely because it’s a business that’s doomed to fail. As a result, the show is a colorful pastiche of the characters’ misadventures, with the bookstore serving more often as a loafing locale than as a viable business.

The show’s literary and cultural references make it a veritable idler’s paradise. In “Hello Sun”, Fran is convinced by her friend to try yoga and develops a superiority complex over her new perceived vitality. Manny finds himself locked inside the shop with a bottle of absinthe in “The Big Lock-Out”. And in “Cooking the Books”, Bernard argues with a stubborn customer about a Dickens anthology:

Customer: Those books. How much?

Bernard: Hmmm?

Customer: Those books. The leather-bound ones.

Bernard: Yes, Dickens, the Collected Works of Charles Dickens.

Customer: Are they real leather?

Bernard: They’re real Dickens.

Customer: I have to know if they’re real leather because they have to go with the sofa.

Customer: Everything else in my house is real. I’ll give you two hundred for them.

Bernard: Two hundred what?

Customer: Two hundred pounds.

Bernard: Are they leather-bound pounds?

Customer: No.

Bernard: Sorry. I need leather bound pounds to go with my wallet. Next.

Black Books is available for streaming on Channel 4, but be sure to check to see if your local library has it on DVD first.

Walking in a car-brained world

Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh

Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh

If you live in America, you probably drive a car often. In many ways, this is a choice that was made for you. After World War II, we decided to stop building walkable places, and as a result, most of the American landscape is a series of parking lots, strip malls, and deadly four-lane stroads. In most American neighborhoods, walking is generally unpleasant. What’s more, it’s become increasingly difficult to complete errands on foot because we’ve consolidated our city’s services into strip mall big box hellscapes.

But walking or cycling everywhere is a sure way to immediately increase your freedom. By reducing or eliminating your dependence on your vehicle, you save gobs of money, reduce your carbon footprint, and improve your physical health.

The walk is also a Bohemian haven, providing ample time and space to think, daydream, and relax. This is in stark contrast to the typical car commute, riddled with honking horns, stressful merges, and impatient tailgaters.

Because of America’s descent into car-brained suburban hell, the best thing you can do for your mind, body, and soul is to live in a pre-war neighborhood. These were built before the dawn of car-dependence and therefore have all of the ingredients for walking bliss: Narrow streets, small block sizes, quaint commercial areas, parks, and moderate density. Because of this, housing in pre-war neighborhoods is often more expensive, but you’ll be surprised what you can find if you look.

Some examples of pre-war neighborhoods include:

If at all possible, you’ll also want to find employment within a 20 minute walk from your new abode. This will ensure you don’t need to use your car day-to-day and get to reap the benefits of your new walkable environ. The ideal solution is finding a remote job you can do from home or building your own cottage industry, since this will eliminate the need for a commute entirely. But if that’s not possible, see what employment you can find within walking distance. Even if you take a small pay cut, this can actually translate to a pay rise by the time you factor in the true cost of car commuting, including gas, oil changes, insurance, depreciation, and the like. Be sure to do the honest math. You’ll probably surprise yourself!

While leisurely strolls and useful walks to shops and services will be worlds more pleasant in these neighborhoods than in their suburban counterparts, America is still stuck in its car-dependent frame of mind. As a result, you’ll witness some of your neighbors angerly trying to force their F-150’s into parking spots designed for Model T’s and wondering why the neighborhood streets force them to slow down so much. This will be frustrating to you, because you realize slowing down is the path to the good life. That’s why it’s important to adopt the attitude that you’re going at your pace and they’re going at theirs. I invest in index funds, so every time I see one of those unnecessary giant lifted truck monstrosities I remember I own shares of automotive companies, and smile knowing the driver’s “Protestant work ethic” is funding my idle time.

If you walk far enough in any direction outside your beautiful pre-war neighborhood, you’ll inevitably wind up on streets designed for cars. It is in these moments your resolve will falter and you’ll be tempted to get back behind the wheel, if only so you don’t have to endure the terror of fast-moving traffic zooming past you as you navigate a dangerously narrow sidewalk and the anxiety-ridden task of crossing a four-lane two-way inner-city highway with no crosswalks. It is at this point that you’ll want to create a mental map of your city’s most pleasant routes. Chances are, you’ll find residential streets, alleyways, and alternative routes which, despite taking longer to travel the same distance, are considerably more pleasant to walk. Take the time to experiment. Walk streets you’ve never walked before and deepen your understanding of your city. You’ll uncover a whole world of sights and sounds you didn’t know were there, right under your nose.

Driving a car isolates you from the rest of the world. The walk is a courageous act of defiance which reclaims our autonomy of movement and the sanctity of our time. By reorienting your life away from car-dependence, you’ve taken a huge step toward the good life.

From zero to weirdo: How I changed everything in five years

Hello! If we haven’t met, my name is Teejay VanSlyke. I’m the reformed tech workaholic who semi-retired in his thirties to pursue a rich life of art, romance, literature, music, and daydreaming. After a decade of working myself ragged at tech startups and agencies, I decided it was time for a change. I was tired of living the life I thought everyone else wanted me to live. I saw friends who made much less money enjoying much richer lives and I wanted to understand why. Now that I do, I want to share my journey and help you live a more storied, adventurous life.

My transformation happened slowly and then all at once. It was 2018 and I was living in Portland, Oregon, in a fourth-story modern studio flat on a trendy street above bars, corner cafes, boutique pet stores, bakeries, and the like. I ironically called my apartment building the “Hipster Prison” because its front was adorned with metal grates that evidently helped filter incoming sunlight on its south-facing windows, thereby improving the building’s efficiency. What they actually did though, was made the building’s occupants feel like they were living in a trendy prison:

My office in the Hipster

My office in the "Hipster Prison"

I adorned myself with the latest and greatest fashion, ate at trendy restuarants, and had a high-paying corporate job to pay for these privileges. My aesthetic mimicked the tenets of the minimalism trend that had become so prevalent in the 2010’s—white walls, simple furnishings, open floor plan, and five to ten books about how to live your best life, all in such pristine shape that any sane person would wonder if I had ever opened them. I was on the path to self-actualization. I believed that if only I worked harder and bought more expensive, beautiful things, I would “make it”.

But then, something curious happened. Out of nowhere, it was as if my mind rebooted. An engineering project of mine ended and I was left without work for a period of a couple months. Having worked so hard my entire adult life and having saved enough to subsist on for awhile without working, I dared to ask: What would it be like if I pressed the pause button for a bit? What if I didn’t try to find work and got to know myself? After having made my web engineering work my identity, I didn’t know what to do with all that free time. What’s more, I had no idea how to sit idle and watch the world go by. So I typed two fateful words into my search engine: “doing nothing”.

What I discovered was unexpected: There was a whole world of people writing about the art of doing nothing. There was Tom Lutz’s book Doing Nothing, a historical account of bums, loafers, & slackers in America. There was Bertrand Russell’s In Praise of Idleness, a treatise on the practical value of leisure and the evil our modern work ethic causes. And there was The Idler, a bimonthly magazine that extolls the virtues of slacking off and having fun.

Doing Nothing by Tom Lutz

Doing Nothing by Tom Lutz

I was hooked. Here was a cohort of writers challenging everything I had been taught about work my whole life. I realized my upbringing had left me neurotic, overworked, and incapable of stopping to smell the proverbial roses. But if I wasn’t going to take the time to smell roses, then why exactly was I working so hard?

I spent the next month poring over everything I could find. I researched the beatniks of the 1950’s, the hippies of the 1960’s, the slackers of the 1990’s, and the hipsters of the 2000’s. I found a common thread of self-proclaimed do-nothings who challenged the notion that a “respectable” career and family were the true path to contentment and fulfillment.

At the root of all of these movements was a broader social and cultural movement known as bohemianism. The term originates from the French bohème, which originally referred to the Romani people believed to have come from Bohemia, a region in present-day Czechia. The American writer Gelett Burgess described bohemianism thusly:

To take the world as one finds it, the bad with the good, making the best of the present moment — to laugh at Fortune alike whether she be generous or unkind — to spend freely when one has money, and to hope gaily when one has none — to fleet the time carelessly, living for love and art — this is the temper and spirit of the modern Bohemian in his outward and visible aspect.

Bohemianism places art, appreciation, romance, and merriment at the center of life by embracing simplicity and rejecting social expectations. It challenges the default cultural narrative of material accumulation and status anxiety.

As my research deepended, I began to make changes in my life. I filled my apartment with oddities: Strange fabrics, kitschy art, and junk I found in dumpsters. I diffused patchouli oil and started shopping at thrift stores, finding their contents to have so much more character and soul than the wares they were peddling at the boutiques on the high street. I discovered new locales—parks, quirky cafes, dirty alleyways—which my mind’s eye had suddenly invigorated with renewed meaning and beauty. I learned to play the ukulele—not because I wanted to start an exciting new musical career, but for the sake of itself.

For so long I had worshipped at the altar of the bourgeoisie. I believed whole-heartedly in the false salvation of material security and was ignoring my deeper, God-given propensity toward creativity, spirit, and contemplation. Our culture is organized around the idea that industry and productivity will save us. They surely have their place. We’ve got to eat. But our willingness to craft our entire identities around our job titles and cars and houses and watches and handbags and brands has diluted the rich broth of nutritive authenticity that simmers beneath our hardened façade.

Bohemianism can save the planet, your relationships, and you. By realigning your values away from consumption, competition, and conformity toward creativity, collaboration, and eccentricity, you begin to live a more dignified life. You reclaim your personal power and become true to your will. You come to see that accumulation of status symbols was a complex mask covering your own perceived inadequacies. To become whole is not to adorn yourself with lavish accessories, but to fortify your spirit with deep appreciation for life as it is.

When you shift your values in this way, you come to see that most of your previous efforts were bound to be futile. The promotions, the vacations, the designer clothes, the extravagant meals out were never going to lead you anywhere but to a deeper sense of dissatisfaction because your satisfaction was always a conscious decision, irrespective of circumstance. You begin to see more clearly that the good life is one born out of your deep creative power and requires little more than a room, some healthy food, modest clothing, and good friends.

Don't do something, just sit there

Our culture encourages and sometimes implores us to do something.

When we’re exhausted from our 9-5 job, our first impulse is to drain our savings to take an exotic vacation. We reach for the drink, the phone, the new toy and empty our pockets and hearts from our personal power in the process.

But more often than not, the solution to what ails us is actually the cause of it. If only we could sit still and breathe, we’d recognize this. But we’re too busy caught in the trap. We flitter from one shiny distraction to the next because we’ve forgotten how to engage with our inner child—that part of us that knows it’s safe and goes out to play with stones and twigs.

Often it is action—not inaction—which leaves us broke and desperate. It’s the thousand cuts of lattes and gym memberships and car payments and streaming service subscriptions and cocktails.

The next time you find yourself pining for escape from toil, ask yourself whether your drug of choice—the vacation, the new clothes, the new car, the night out—will only necessitate more toil afterwards. Chances are, you’re throwing gasoline on the fire of your own misery.

Close your eyes, breathe, and realize you’re okay right here, right now.

Don’t do something. Just sit there.

Daydreaming is a portal to the good life

Have you ever watched a cat sit idle, their eyes slowly opening and closing, peering out an open window at the trees and birds below? In those moments they possess a seeming tranquility most of us can only aspire toward.

Our society questions and berates the idle person. We criminalize those who dare to sit still and look at the sky, labeling them loiterers or vagrants should they not sit still in the sanctioned manner. And we feel like there’s something wrong with simply sitting and observing with no intention other than to discover the hidden treasures of the moment.

I, for one, am one of those rebellious daydreamers. I proudly and unabashedly sit idly, staring into space, allowing the wonders and glory of the present moment to enter my soul. There is infinity contained within each moment and we’re so distracted by the bourgeois trap that we’re unable to witness even a sliver of it.

It might not seem like it at first, but daydreaming is a bona fide art and a revolutionary act. It is the reclaimation of our time and attention from those who wish to subvert it to their own gain. The better part of our waking lives is spent in the avoidance of perceived danger or the pursuit of perceived security. The daydream represents a safe refuge from these impulses—a space unto which there is nothing to be sought, nothing to be gained, and nothing to be lost.

To begin your liberation, find a place to sit. This could be someplace private, such as on your sofa or bed, but for maximum effect, sit someplace where people are busy consuming unnecessarily. Inside a shopping mall or close to a street filled with high-end boutiques and restaurants are both great choices. It’s optional, but bringing a beverage of your choice from home can enliven the experience. Sit comfortably and focus on a point in space. Notice carefully the sights, sounds, and smells which surround you. Pass no judgment of them and smile knowing that, for these moments, you’re in your own little world.

Sip your beverage. Allow the mind to wander. What comes up? Fight the urge to look at your phone. Smile. This is it. This is life itself. You’re already enough. Don’t you see?

Wash your dishes by hand

There is a tendency in our modern society to purchase goods and services which allege to save time and free us from the toil of menial tasks. The modern home is full of gadgets which allege to make life more bearable and give us more time to spend doing other things.

The dishwasher is one such gadget. Except for the brief periods when I lived in a motorhome and then in a van, I’ve always lived in apartments with dishwashers. My current apartment, though, does not have one. After a brief adjustment period, I don’t miss it at all. In fact, I prefer washing the dishes by hand.

We have been trained to equate short-term efficiency with long-term satisfaction, but all too often, there’s no correlation. A dishwasher, while saving us some time and labor in the short term, has a number of disadvantages that often go overlooked. And there are numerous other modern “time-saving” goods and services that fit the same deceptive profile.

A dishwasher is a more complex mechanical system than a sink and a drain. As a result, it has more points of failure and more expensive repairs. There are many “dishwashers” in the modern home. Ice makers, coffee makers, bread makers, electric mixers, and microwaves all allege to save us time, but often only result in higher household expenses as a result of the operational complexity involved in their maintenance, use, and disposal. Until fairly recently, the idea of having an automated way to wash dishes, bake bread, or make coffee at home was thought absurd. Now it’s expected.

Coffee makers have followed an alarming trend in this respect. It is thought that the Turks invented the first coffee brewing method, known as the ibrik. It was a metallic pot with a handle into which coffee grounds were poured, along with water. The pot was heated over a fire to the brink of boiling, and then removed to cool. This process was repeated several times and involved no electronic heating elements, no mechanical pumps, and certainly no mass-produced plastic pods filled with coffee grounds. The chances of an ibrik malfunctioning were basically zero.

An ibrik

An ibrik, the oldest coffee brew method

The ibrik gave way to a number of other manual brew methods: the French press, the pourover, and the percolator. Each brew has its own characteristics. The equipment is simple and resilient. Contrast this with the worst modern bastardization of coffee brewing, the Kuerig machine. It is the epitome of relying upon a dishwasher to make your coffee. Insert a dispoable plastic pod full of coffee grounds, put a mug under the spout, press a button, and your coffee is brewing immediately. But now you’re beholden to the manufacturer to supply you with pods. The equipment has motors and heating elements, which means it surely will malfunction eventually, as all mechanical devices eventually do. It is designed to be made obsolete by newer and “better” models. You do not make coffee, as much as the coffee makes you.

The ice maker is the other loathsome modern convenience appliance that really doesn’t sound all too convenient when you think about it. For decades, we’ve had perfectly good ice makers for purchase at the dollar store. Ice cube trays are durable, they’re inexpensive, and they’re simple. I’ve never heard of one malfunctioning. But a countertop automatic ice maker incorporates a refrigeration system and a mechanical system to form and dispense the ice cubes, each of which are prone to eventually needing to be repaired (read: thrown away and bought anew). And why would you buy such a specialized refrigeration device when the one in your existing refrigerator can make ice just fine, assuming you take the fifteen seconds to pour water into a tray?

It is my belief that these sorts of “time-saving” devices create the illusion of convenience at the cost of our autonomy. While I will not have ice unless I fill my ice cube tray, I have to wait several minutes for water to boil and brew my coffee myself, and I have to wash my dishes by hand, I also do not have to spend my time working for wages in order to pay for ice makers, coffee makers, and dishwashers that will surely end up in landfills within a few years’ time.

To me, living a meaningful life is about having purpose. Saving a few minutes each day so I can sit and scroll through social media before I go to my wage slave job to pay for the ice maker and Keurig I bought on credit is not my idea of a meaningful life. Washing the dishes by hand so I can save enough money to spend my days as I like—now we’re talking.

Cancel Netflix and go to the library

I have a secret confession: I haven’t subscribed to a streaming video service in several years. I did have an Amazon Prime account up until this year and so would occasionally find myself mindlessly watching standup comedy specials there, but I can’t remember the last time I subscribed to the likes of Netflix or Hulu.

The biggest reason for this isn’t because I’m one of those crazy hippies with a “KILL YOUR TELEVISION” bumper sticker (although, admittedly, if I did find one, I’d probably put it on my bumper). It’s because I found a compelling and more enjoyable alternative: Borrowing DVD’s from my local library.

You see, for those of our readers who are too young to remember, there was a time (the “before times”) when, if you wanted to see a movie, you either had to go see it in a theater, or rent it from a video rental store. These were social occasions where you’d go into the world, talk to other human beings, and exchange paper money for a ticket or a videocassette.

In the age of streaming, our entertainment is on-demand. In fact, we’re living in a unique time in human history wherein our basic needs for food, clothing, income, and entertainment can be met without ever having to leave our houses. While this sounds like a positive development on the surface, we’re also in the midst of a loneliness epidemic. We’re more alienated from our local communities than ever. Renouncing on-demand video streaming services and walking to your local library for your entertainment needs is a way to help arrest this trend toward social isolation.

If you think the DVD selection at the library won’t rival what can be found on Netflix, think again. I’ve been quite surprised at how few titles I’ve been unable to find at my local library. And with the advent of online library hold systems, it’s easy to search for a title, place a hold, and pick it up at your closest branch. I’m lucky to have a library branch within walking distance, which means I get to take a joyful weekly walk to pick up my most recent holds.

Videophiles might scoff at the idea of watching DVD-quality video in the era of 4K video, but DVD quality is plenty. I project films on my $50 noname video projector. In some ways, it feels like I have a state-of-the-art home theater from 2005 for a fraction of what that would have cost at the time. When we embrace the luxuries of the past and let everyone else spend their hard-earned cash on new technologies, we come to find out that most of the missing out is all in our minds.

Try cancelling your streaming services, buy a cheap DVD drive, and see what happens.

How to live without a smartphone, and why you might want to try

For the past few years, I’ve kept a Nokia featurephone in my tech arsenal, alongside my iPhone. Like many, I struggle with smartphone addiction and wanted to experiment going without it for periods of time.

This proved more complicated than I initially imagined it would. It turns out we have deferred much of our life’s business to these magical glass rectangles. However, I did come up with a set of tools that worked for me. Even though I’m currently carrying my iPhone once again, hopefully some of these tools and techniques can inspire you in the event you want to throw your smartphone out a window and reclaim your time and attention.

My current Nokia model is a 6300 4G. It’s a terrible phone, and that’s part of the fun!

More important than which phone to use is why you might want to ditch your smartphone. It’s no secret that every company is hoarding and selling your personal data. By continuing to rely upon these companies’ services for basic everyday needs like calendaring, fitness, music, and navigation, you’re allowing these companies and their data customers access into your personal life that would have been unthinkable just twenty years ago. By divorcing yourself from the need for these apps and relying on the simple tools of yesteryear will insulate you from dependence upon proprietary solutions which are subject to the whims of price increases, feature changes, and shutdowns.

What’s more, removing your smartphone from your life relegates your phone back to being a simple communication device. While smartphones are inherently useful tools, they are a sort of Swiss army knife device. This means that you’ll receive stressful work emails while you’re reading a novel before bed and distracting text messages when you’re trying to focus on driving. Maintaining a philosophy of one job per tool will improve your focus on the task at hand.

Choosing a dumbphone

Don’t take too long trying to find the best non-smartphone. They’re all either mostly terrible or very expensive. I won’t go into the details here because there are plenty of resources on the subject. Find a phone that fits within your budget and supports your network.

Getting a phone plan

Because dumbphones don’t require a data plan, your monthly phone bill could stand to decrease dramatically. I recommend using a prepaid no-contract plan. Mine is from Mint Mobile and I get unlimited talk and text for $15/month. That’s a far cry from the typical $100/month or more for unlimited data contract plans. Plus, if you’re paying a monthly installment payment for your smartphone, your $50 dumbphone will relieve you of that expense as well.

Getting around

In navigating around cities, we have begun to rely extensively on turn-by-turn navigation provided by apps like Google Maps. As a result, we have allowed our in-born navigation skills to atrophe. To me, this is an unfortunate development and leaves us unnecessarily dependent upon our phones to get around.

Because of this, I encourage you to cultivate your own sense of direction and navigate cities the way we did before the ubiquity of the smartphone. Observe the planning conventions your city used to help people navigate. Many American cities are organized around a numeric street grid, and if you spend enough time studying a map, you’ll notice patterns and conventions which were implemented to aid in navigation. For instance, street address numbers might match their cross-street number (i.e., 2601 4th Street is near where 26th Avenue crosses 4th Street). In Portland, Oregon, the Northwest neighborhood is comprised of streets in ascending alphabetical order, making its navigation easy but also having the historical character that plain numbered streets lack.

If you still can’t find where you’re going, try asking someone for directions. You might think you’ll be met with skepticism—who needs to ask for directions when everyone carries an atlas in their pockets? But in my experience, people are generally excited to help you find your way.

But if I haven’t convinced you to try navigating places on your own, go buy a Garmin GPS.

Listening to music

A curious, terrible thing happened to the way we listen to music over the past decade or so. We went from purchasing music on physical media such as vinyl, tape, or compact disc, to purchasing individual digital music we could store on our computers, to subscribing to music streaming services for a monthly fee that give us access to the world’s music… as long as we keep paying their fee.

We tend to value what is scarce, and access to music is no exception. Before the streaming giants took over, discovering new music was a social and physical endeavor. We relied on mixtapes, record stores, music magazines, and word of mouth to hear new music. Now, we do it in a vaccuum. We have given the streaming services massive power over our listening rights. And if we stop paying them, they revoke our access to all the music we’ve cherished.

Because of this, I went back to buying music directly from artists on Bandcamp and maintaining my own digital music collection. I purchased a refurbished classic iPod from Elite Obsolete Electronics and loaded it with songs whose digital files I own and control. Sure, I don’t have access to every song in the world in my pocket, but I know I’ll always have access to the songs I’ve purchased.

Hands-free calling

The headphones that come standard with the 6300 are terrible. I connected an old pair of Apple headphones and found the hands-free experience, while not as luxurious as my iPhone and AirPods Pro, was satisfactory.

Most featurephones have Bluetooth support, so I’m sure you can pair your wireless earbuds, but I haven’t tried that.


Acclimating to T9 predictive texting was probably the most irritating part of my dumbphone transition. The 6300 has predictive texting, but for some reason does not have a setting to enable it by default. This means having to press the ‘#’ key four times every time you want to text someone to put it into predictive mode. Once there, the results are decent, but there are plenty of words in the zeitgeist that need to be typed manually.

Additionally, group texting is atrocious. Whenever a friend would add me to a group text, every time I would reply it would start a new text thread with every participant, and they would see each of them as a separate conversation. So I’m sure I lost some friends as a result of my dumbphone transition. Tread cautiously, or perhaps, just pick up the phone and call!


I grew uncomfortably reliant upon calendar notifications to keep me from missing appointments. As a result, calendaring was one of the most difficult transitions for me to make. I settled on using an A6 pocket-sized LEUCHTTURM1917 notebook with dotted paper, which I then demarcated myself with a bullet journal layout. It worked well for my purposes, and the pocket on the back cover now serves as my wallet.