For context, I mostly socialize in upper middle class and tech- and rationalist-leaning circles, and it’s likely that at least some of what I describe are just quirks of my local culture.
I have this pet theory that I’ve shopped around a fair bit, that it’s much harder for financially comfortable people to make deep friendships.
What do I mean by a deep friendship? I mean one where you can trust the other person to come through when you need them to. There’s levels to this as well, of course. You probably ask casual friends to help you move, but not acquaintances. Close friends could be people who will let you crash on their couch for two weeks without prior notice or who will lend you rent money for the month. People who live more marginal, riskier lives might think about this in terms of who is willing to bail them out of jail or smuggle them medicine.
The thing is, money exists, and can solve most of your problems better than your friends can. If you can afford it, it’s much less annoying to hire movers, book an airbnb, contact your doctor, or call your lawyer – get professional problem solvers involved, in other words. 1
So this dynamic emerges where my rich friends never ask each other for help, pay for services using money, and never do anything unpleasant for each other, whereas my poorer friends are always doing stuff for each other out of necessity and becoming closer knit in the process.
[This is a good summary of my thesis, you can stop reading at this point if I linked this to you in a group chat or something.]
Money does stop working in catastrophic circumstances that we will face rarely in life – someone to comfort us when a loved one dies, or trying to mend a relationship that has turned into a horrible soulsucking mess, or your apartment burns down with everything in it and you’re too catatonic to start replacing your documents and things. For those things, you kind of either have close relationships that are already established, or you’re just kind of fucked.[↑]
The Kitchener public library has a pretty substantial collection of local history books, which are generally very rare and can’t be taken out of the library. One book there that I’ve been really taken with is “My Town”, by E. Joyce Thompson Byrnes. I have found no record of it online.
It’s an incredibly cool book, about Hespeler, Ontario as a small town in the 1930s. (It is now a neighbourhood in my current municipality.) Writing from 2013, Byrnes is playful, reflective, and extremely funny. Each chapter deals with a different facet of life at the time – commerce, medical care, holidays and festivals, and so on. This being Canada, there was in fact an entire section dedicated to hockey and ice skating.
More than anything else the comparison that springs to mind for me is Anne of Green Gables, in that it’s a very saccharine view of life in the period. But it’s also really well researched and I think does a good job of cleaving to reality. Sometimes the suck leaches in from the sides of her cheerful stories – offhand mentions of her classmates dying of smallpox, how shitty winter jackets were for keeping you warm and dry, the whole great depression thing. I kind of appreciated that. It really made me appreciate how good we have it, from the big stuff (like not having 100% of cancers be fatal) to the small (man, ice skates really sucked at the time).
There’s this line of thinking that goes – once a way of life is gone, there’s no way to really understand it. As an example, some might say that people who are working on rolling back post-9/11 surveillance laws are aspiring to a pale imitation of what we once had, and the incredible, ridiculous amount of freedom that was commonplace before then would spook the shit out of this wimp-ass generation. Or in this case, something like – we’ll never get to a truly inalienated world again and we don’t understand how much we lost to industrialization and atomization.
But this book had such vivid descriptions of life in the deliciously slow old days, and I feel like I genuinely understand a lot more now about what was lost. It seemed like a tightknit and wonderful community. Shit, is this why historians like firsthand accounts so much???
Between stories of the hilariously dark and fucked up pranks that her mom would pull, her incredibly unique vantage point into the advancement of medical science at the time, and fond recollections of ridiculously cool things that you are no longer able to do 1, what captivated me most was the descriptions of the horses.
The fucking horses, man. I cannot believe how cool they were, I had no idea how much of a tradeoff we made when we shifted to cars.
Get this. You are a milkman, because milk delivery was a commonplace thing back then. You have a horse and a cart attached to it, full of bottles of milk. You know what you were able to do? You were able to literally just chill and read a paperback between your deliveries, because your horse! Got! Your! Fucking! Route! Memorized! It will stop at the appropriate times and know what your routine is at each stop and when to get going again. I honestly had no idea that horses were smart enough to do that. So basically we literally had intelligent self driving transportation for centuries??? 2
Ok, sometimes horses threw a shitfit. There was a really funny story about the baker trying to teach his new apprentice how to do his route, but the horse really didn’t like the apprentice’s vibes. So when the apprentice tried to climb on, it protested by lying down on its side – toppling over the attached cart and sending baked goods flying into the street.
But you know, maybe we need more horse tantrums in our lives and that would make us all better people. I for one would like a greater percentage of my first world problems to be caused by something other than human coordination failures. I would pay money for more of them to be like “sorry, Applejack the horse threw a tantrum this morning and that’s why your package wasn’t delivered” instead of “the local amazon warehouse decided to cut workers and force the remaining ones to work longer shifts again”. Can the aspiring startup founders in the area start working on this please?
Anyways, this is what I got from the first third of the book. I’ve only been able to read it in fits and snatches since I can’t take it out of the library! I might start going over on my lunch breaks. Someone else should start reading it so we can start a fan club.
Final score: 10/10
Stuff like: getting freshly squeezed warm milk from the local farm a 10 minute bike ride away as a treat (she takes the time to assure you that this was nothing to worry about despite the lack of pasteurization, as “the cows had been tested for Tuberculosis”); being able to skate all the way to Guelph on the rivers that were frozen in the wintertime; have a favourite shoe design as a kid that your cobbler was always ready to make for you in the next size up[↑]
Byrne often jokingly questions whether or not society has progressed at all since the 30s after relegating some tale or another, but man, honestly I found myself nodding in agreement more than I expected to (so like – two times, instead of zero times).[↑]
I was at the San Francisco Modern Museum of Art today and I think it was slightly better than Seattle’s (which I visited in April), by which I meant the collection was only like 95% shit instead of 98% shit. The very cursed conclusion might be that its better because of increased competition amongst billionaires, since the one in Seattle was very inside this one billionaire couple’s ass for being like 50% of their endowment.
Anyways, with that experience super fresh in my mind I thought it could be nice to collect my thoughts on modern art museums and how to have fun in them, and maybe do a little photo essay of SF MoMA’s highlights and lowlights.
Things that modern art could make you feel:
Like you’re complicit in a billionaire’s tax evasion scheme. This is a collection that was made in like 2007 or something, which is like 60 years after people already thoroughly explored every variation of DrAwInG aTtEnTiOn tO tHe MeDiUm and made every thoughtful piece you can make about that.
The “my 5 year old can draw that” indignation, which you can feel even if you don’t have a 5 year old. Most of the time you’re right to feel indignant; like I said most modern art is garbage. HOWEVER, if you’re looking to decorate your apartment, the good news is, you can take pics of those pieces as inspiration if you like their vibe and then let your inner 5 year old go ham. I think Basquiat has the scribble game locked down too tight so I’m not too interested in making worse scribbly things myself when I can just get prints of his works. Here’s a cool one tho. Something about making some cool thing using math and randomness, but cheating a little so that it looks not entirely shit. Sure I can paint something like that why not
Sometimes you see a real piece by someone you’re expecting to be impressed by since it’s a Big Name and it’s just kinda lame
Other times pieces do actually live up to the hype if you see them in person. I did not expect to be so moved by Rothko, but at SF I saw my second Rothko piece and the experience was as weird and sublime as the first. I didn’t take a pic because it’s really much a deal of You Need to See Them in Person and Have Them Loom Over You Like A Cloud of Emotion, and the emotion felt too sacred to try to capture in a camera lens.
Can make you feel unexpected emotions, unintentionally. Here is a gallery description introducing you to the works of Günther Förg, whose works I enjoyed.
Can make you feel unexpected emotions, intentionally, and possibly even grant you superpowers for a bit. I do have a pic for this one but it’s another example of something you need to see in person to understand.
Things to keep in mind as you go through the exhibits:
It’s different than a classical art museum, because so many more things fall under modern art – weird sculpture, multimedia pieces, performance art, etc, and also a lot of the pieces come from newer artists that haven’t been time tested yet. I think this leads to a wider spread in quality: there are more pieces that are sublime, and more that are pretty trash. At a normal art museum you just look at paintings and feel slight emotions sometimes, it’s a much more reserved affair. You’re probably not going to find a piece that makes you feel like you’ve been punched in the gut or that teaches you to look at the world in a brand new light.
Some artists really phone it in sometimes and it shows. And again, a lot of the pieces are at the museum because of like, tax writeoff shenanigans. These come in the form of something like:
Rich person buys art off a guy for 5k
Rich person gets art appraised and now the art is worth 30k because the artist is very popular in the new york art scene or whatever
Rich person donates art as an in-kind donation worth 30k and can write that off on their taxes.
Relatedly, you should feel extra ok about trusting your own analysis on modern art – we haven’t settled on whether or not any particular artist is good, the way we’ve settled on like, classical artists. (All the classical artists you know are “good”, the rest are lost to history or obscurity) And again, most of them are scams, so don’t feel the need to be like “I don’t get it probably because I don’t know enough art history” when you think a piece is really dumb.
Hell, most modern artists don’t know their art history. I know this is the case because the museums will very gladly and gleefully point it out to you each time when someone actually knows their art history and does something clever with it. Their pieces are definitely a lot cooler, but they’re definitely the exceptions more than the rule.
If you are an art person and pissed off about any of what I wrote, please invite me to go to a modern art museum with you so you can explain art to me! <3