📚 Story of the Week #44
What we gain in luxury, we lose in community. Sometimes that's brilliant. Community can be the undoing of many joys. Take community peanuts. They're theoretically a fun snack, but sharing is certainly not caring after being touched by a few unwashed hands.
That's when things escalate. We search for other ways to climb up the material hierarchy after fulfilling our heart's desire for a solo player packet of peanuts. It's a fair ambition. Sometimes we need to taste the difference or indulge in convenience, like the duck who drives a speedboat.
Before we race ahead, however, I urge a word of caution to tread these waters carefully, as 'all that glitters is not gold'.
Despite being the working home of Shakespeare, London seems to have forgotten this aphorism, as boutique cinemas continue to creep into the capital, luring film-goers with their plush carpets, intimate screening rooms, and Spielburgers. Film-goers like me.
My mistake will make more sense when I tell you the film I went to see: Spider-man: No Way Home. Some films are just films, while others are cinematic events. Without spoiling anything, this film was the latter, so the crowd's energy is a big part of what makes this movie magic. Unfortunately, my boutique cinema crowd sucked.
With it being premiere night, I thought I'd be laughing, gasping, and cheering in good company, but I was revealed to be a maniac. Every noise I made was greeted with stony silence. I eventually drowned in self-doubt, fell silent, and wondered if there was a new law against punchlines.
Reflecting on it now, I don't think the crowd were evil. They were probably, without realising it, being muzzled by the material.
There's a story I heard on the grapevine. It's about an uncle who goes to visit his niece. He rocks up in his new convertible sports car. The niece appears at the front door with her mum crouching beside her. She tells her daughter to be careful in her uncle's new car.
Snapping open a can, the uncle starts pouring Coca Cola over the back seat of the convertible. His sister looks on in horror. Smiling at his niece, he says, 'Now we won't have to worry about messing up the car'.
People are more important than possessions. That's the crux of the story. It's an eccentric reminder of how extravagance can short circuit our connection with humankind, like when trying to tango with a teacup on our heads. That discomfort rewires our brains. We become so distracted by not making a fool of ourselves that we can't let our hair down (or just let the teacup smash).
I suspect that the fancy cinema surroundings were behind the crowd's silent treatment. The refined setting demanded a refined attitude, so they soothed their impulses and were acting in a way that felt 'proper'. They didn't want to mess up the sports car.
Perhaps that's why the floors are sticky at other kinds of cinemas. They're a clue that you can chill out and not give a flying fizz if you lose yourself in the nail-biting finale, spill your drink, and throw your popcorn in the air as the underdog comes out on top.
Neither experience is better than the other. They're just different. While one glitters, it comes at the cost of not sharing the film with others. That might ruin things for some people, while others will love not having to deal with fights breaking out or phones going off. It all depends on whether you're hungry for company or not.
Like most people in late-2021, I was starving.
It's joked that an entrepreneur's emotional cycle goes a little like this: I'm excited; Ugh, this is hard; IT'S WORKING; I think I'm going bankrupt; Wait, no. My life is great!
If you've not taken the ride yourself, it's a lot like walking around in the dark. Sometimes you find the biscuits, but most of the time you stub your toe. After cursing the table leg, you regroup and keep going for the challenge and the belief that what you're building matters.
But damn, building a business during a pandemic can be lonely, especially when you're working from home and the hours smear into each other. It was a slow burn for me. Working from home was already a part of my life before the pandemic, so I was fine initially. Then I hit a wall, bounced off, and started languishing in the waiting room.
I didn't realise what I'd lost until I was riding the London Underground, henceforth to be referred to as 'the tube', when a flurry of six-year-olds in high-visibility jackets overran the carriage. No sooner had the teacher completed their headcount did the doors closed, and two boys started a thumb war tournament. The events ended with the champion duelling their teacher for the crown; their teacher had the biggest thumb, so it was only fair to anoint them as the final boss. Looking up, my eyes met one of the other passengers. We were both smiling under our masks.
Without vitamin C, people develop scurvy. After two years of living in the pandemic, I think I'd caught a sort of social scurvy. I'd grown guarded, tense, constricted, and longing for things to turn the corner. So, the other week when I was riding the tube, my smile was a sigh of relief. It looked like London was getting its buzz back.
Thinking about how much I need that buzz reminded me of the parable in David Foster Wallace's commencement speech:
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?".
It's a valid question. After all, how many of us noticed air before being taught about it? Until then, it just hid in plain sight, nourishing us without interruption.
In my little world, the water is the mundane moments that make up everyday life. They let you eavesdrop on conversations between quirky characters in cafés; make 15-minute friends while queuing up at the post office, and accidentally bump into a massive crowd of nudists while strolling about the park.
I didn't realise how much I needed these little moments until the pandemic left us all unstitched and adrift.
With vaccination rates rising, more of us are returning to the wild and figuring out how to repair ourselves and recover what we've lost. While boutique cinemas didn't give me the buzz I was looking for, I've started experimenting with co-working spaces.
The space I've picked is a delightful hive of worker bees making cups of tea, talking too loudly on the phone, and asking me for the WiFi password. It's wonderful.
It's the closest to normal I've felt in a long time, and I'm sure it's saving my sanity. Here's hoping this luxury spreads like a generous slab of peanut butter on a warm slice of toast.
Jamie | @JamoeMills
From a drizzly Sunday in London ☂️
 It was less a fight and more a scuffle. Being a big fan of Christopher Nolan, I went to see Dunkirk at the Leicester Square Odeon. At the end of the film, two men were being escorted out by security. One accused the other of kicking his chair throughout the film and exploded on him when the credits started to roll. It turned out that the 'kicking' was the vibration from the incredible speaker system and Hans Zimmer's immense soundtrack.
 Also true. I was walking around St. James's park with a friend and a peloton of nude cyclists rocked up. It was World Naked Bike Ride Day.