Monday, September 01, 2014

Money as a verb

I was reading in the Arts and Leisure section of the Times from a couple of weeks back about a female artist named Swoon,* who has grown from doing guerrilla installations to having big museum shows, and who seems very very cool and has her money where her mouth, heart, feet, and all other various internal organs are.  She talked about hiring armies of friends to assemble installations (and running over budget) and thereby bringing people together and creating mini-economies, and of "money as a verb."  She lives in the same apartment she first rented in her early 20s.

And that took me back to a scene from my youth, about which it turns out I have already blogged, here.  For those of you disinclined to go back and read the full post, Mike Watt, of the Minutemen, tells a guy making a documentary about them that "we look at money like this. It's like air, you need it to breath, but what are you gonna do, keep a bunch of oxygen tanks in your garage? So what's our plan? Are we going to accumulate a lot of these vouchers? No, we're going to return them to the market in exchange for goods and services."  This is a compelling way to look at money, for the young, it shows a certain trust in the world and in the concept of flow, which is the flip side of the idea of planning. 

That said, it is worth noting that within a month of my being backstage with the Mike and the Minutemen, guitarist D Boon died in an accident when he was lying on the back seat of the band's van, sick.  He was not wearing his seatbelt at the time.  Which was a tragic end to truly a brilliant band and a really good guy.

In any case.... with some minimal sanity in place (seatbelts, flossing), there is some poetic beauty in trusting the world.

Until you have children.  And then the game changes.  Because it is no longer about you and having fun and making some broad rhetorical/philosophical point about your values and those of others.  You have young lives you're responsible for, in some sense, and you need to instill in them the right values, or at least the sense of a healthy process for groping towards those values.

Not that it is simple.  How should I guide my children towards balancing pragmatism and wonderment?  I, on the one hand, went way off in one direction in getting a PhD in Russian, which dented my early life earnings in a big way.  Which is maybe not all that big a deal, given other advantages I've been blessed with.

So right now Natalie's starting high school.  She loves art and theater, but is very good at math and generally does well and shows a strong proclivity at the dining room table towards a legal career (i.e. splits hairs, parses the fine points of everything we say, etc.).  We definitely want to encourage her to do the things she loves.  At the same time, I know that she should for sure learn statistics and, honestly, it wouldn't hurt her to learn to program a little.

And for me -- and Mary, by extension -- the broader question is to what extent we should be conservative now financially to be able to provide our kids with the wherewithal to be impractical, and to what extent we should be seeking to instill in them a sense of joy and wonder.  As opposed to a fear of the world which pushes them towards hyper-practical paths which may or may not be fulfilling.

The answer, as always, is to stop blogging and move on with my day, because the truth is somewhere in the middle.

*Full hipster disclosure:  I had never heard of her before, and may very well never hear of her again.  Though she seems very cool.

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