11 July 2008

Ancient Chinese Curses, and other blessings

You know the curse I'm talking about... the one about "interesting times?"

So I thought I'd take a squawk at my favorite subject--no, not babies--the macroeconomy, in light of today's spectularly riotous market action and equally spectacular bank failure. IndyMac is dead. Long live IndyMac.

For those of you who have asked me about this stock in recent days, you'll know I predicted its failure by the end of next week. The lesson: Bank failures always happen on a Friday afternoon, after the stock market is closed, so next time I'll be more precise in my prediction.

Diabolina, among her many talents, has my favorite indicator for bourgeois economic woes. She always asks me the ultimate fashionista question: "Tell me when I have to sell my bags for food money." I thought designer resale was a good thing? Maybe not when it's compulsory. I also love that she has her own supply of food stamps tucked away in her closet, wrapped in cloth covers that say Marc Jacobs, Chanel, and Gucci. I've said it before, I'll say it again: "Don't worry, dear. You'll be fine." As an aside, it helps to have a partner who works in an industry that we investment folks call "counter-cyclical": when there's banks failing and arguments over money, then there's a need for good litigation attorneys. BAM! The perfect counter-cyclical profession. Boom times in bad times. Maybe fewer lawyers to go around, but I know a smart, ethical, well-mannered attorney who will come out on top. So as not to ruin his reputation (he's a lawyer, afterall), I'll refrain from naming him.

As for myself, I'm a fan of GE at this level (worth a conservative $300B of book value, priced by the market at $275B) and, because I have a soft spot for tragic messes (please refer to my dating life), I'm a buyer of Citigroup. Let's talk about Citigroup. Uncle Sam is trying to teach us--by using poor cousin IndyMac as an example--that "no bank is too big to fail". That's bullcrap. Countrywide was too big to fail, so it got pawned off onto BofA (I ask: who sinks $2B into a bad investment, then agrees to pay $4B more to save face?!), and we all know the story of Bear Stearns and JP Morgan. Also too big to fail. Which brings me back to Citi. Yes, it's loaded with bad debt, and yes, the consumer is under pressure so there's likely to be deterioration on the credit card and consumer lending side. WE ARE NOT ALL GOING TO DEFAULT ON ALL OF OUR DEBT. As in love, this investment is the perfect gay man's project: beautiful, adventurous, well-connected, great on paper, kinda shady past, and one hell of a mess. I don't see anything wrong with that... ;)

This week has brought lots and lots of self-recrimination.
  • I'm not writing=I'm a bad person
  • I'm not making money in a losing market=I'm bad at my job
  • I'm not very baby-friendly and I'm scared of losing my friends to lives of their own=I'm a bad friend

For the record, when the stock market drops more than 20% from its high, it's considered a bear market. It also has a dramatic effect on my mood, and savvy readers would be advised to be investing at times when Sable Crow is unhappy and self-flagellating. You will inevitably make money. Equally, savvy readers will be well-advised to sell their holdings and sit in cash when Sable Crow buys luxury automobiles. It is a 100% accurate leading indicator for a bear market. I'm 2 for 2, people. I knew it this time, and I warned my boss about it. But nobody listens...

Let's get back to self-recrimination, which leads to self-exploration, which--if we're lucky--leads to self-realization and self-acceptance. Times are tough for lots of us. Maybe it's not gas prices, nor having to hock our designer bags for food, nor stock portfolio woes. Instead, I've talked to friends who are worried about their other friendships, or their families, or the lives they're living, and I've gotta say: it seems like a tough time for lots of people right now, in many different ways. I was shocked last night when a friend of mine echoed advice I've smugly doled out a half-dozen times to close friends who were struggling to be happy: "imagine doing something that would make you feel good, and then do it". For those of you into disclosures, remember the Rede: An it harm none, do as ye will. My immediate response was that I couldn't have imagined anything that would have made me happy on the evening in question. I glumly suggested--Eeyore-like--that such was my current lot in life; nothing would make me happy. I then got into my great big black convertible and drove to my trainer, where I talked about the markets, flirted with straight boys, and made my muscles bigger.

I was, in a way, correct; nothing would have made me happier recently. The realization that came to me during the pull-ups (brutal) was that I'm hell-bent on beating myself up for NOT BEING something nobody expects of me anyway. I'm not expected to write. I'm not expected to be perfect at work. I'm not expected to be baby-friendly. I expect those things of myself, and I'm a tyrannical and merciless codger if I don't live up to my own expectations. This behavior leads to fundamental unhappiness. So I've been working on being more present to what might make me happy. And then doing it. I know that in "interesting times" like these, I'm most inclined to be hard on myself, when these are probably the times to be most forgiving. It happens in my driving (the last time I was stressed, when my subconscious knew that my relationship was ending, I crashed my brand new car because I was being recklessly self-destructive and harsh in behavior and attitude toward innocent fellow drivers).

Bear markets are good for this stuff, but most men don't have an outlet. Here's an observation: Men have only one emotion that's culturally acceptable (in our culture at least). We can't be sad. We can't cry. We can't laugh too much. We can't be too nice (we can, but we'd be considered weak by the other men). We can't grieve. We can't be in doubt. We can't be scared.

But be sure, we can be angry. Be as angry as you want. Be Donald Trump "You're Fired!" angry. Furl your brows. Turn red. Shout and scream. That's all okay. On the golf course. On the road. In the Board Room. I had a boss that would--literally--shout and scream at me SO loud on the phone, that other colleagues would look over at me with a look that said, "I'm sorry, but better you than me." Yikes.

All this is why it's so easy as men to be angry at ourselves, and so hard to distinguish its source. We aren't taught to make the distinction in our feelings that way. I think this is part of why men and women have such a hard time, because their emotional experiences are so different. I also think it's why some gay relationships work better (and why some fail); there's a better chance that the men will have similar emotional capacities. Please note: I said "better chance" and I said it with a very skeptical tone in my digital voice.

I've ranged far afield from Chinese curses and the markets, and yet not really so. We live in interesting times. Banks are failing, which is not something that's supposed to happen. It would be like Mickey Mouse murdering Donald in cold blood: there's a LOT of marketing and conditioning and psychological training that goes into making us trust banks, just as there is an equal amount in Disney's carefully-constructed image. The trust we have in the financial system is all that we have. No gold standard, no saftely net. Only trust. We have faith in the numbers on our bank statements. You can't show me your assets (even if I'd like to see them).

It's no wonder that Diabolina points to her bags in times like these: they're a hard asset in world where we never have hard assets. It's also no wonder--on a global scale--that the other hard asset of choice (oil) is having it's own bubble. People need reassurance. They're afraid. And these times have effects on us that go beyond our brokerage statements. They affect our moods (I would LOVE to see a study relating stock market declines and sexual activity; I bet performance in the bedroom is perfectly correlated to the performance of the Big Board--and I bet the Big Board is the force that dominates, not the other way around!). They affect our relationships (ditto for the study of relationships and money stress). They affect our self-relationship also.

So this weekend, I'm going to take the advice of that friend of mine: I'm going to think about things that make me happy, and I'm going to do them. I'm going to see Hellboy to escape (so will a LOT of people, and for the same reason--take note that the success of fantasy literature and film depends on an uncertain world: the Lord of the Rings books had the threat of nuclear annihilation and the rebuilding after WWII on their side and, similiarly, the films had the collapse of the internet bubble). I'm going to write more. I'm going to read academic books that make me happy. I'm going to lay in the sun (if there is any), and I'm going to take it easy--mostly on myself.

1 comment:

Diabolina said...

how you wove all that - bags, banks, relationships, stock tips, self reproach, daddy issues, Lord of the Rings!!!!!!! - together so seamlessly I will never know. So much dancing in that big brain of yours, my love. I love peeking in. I love watching you exhale. And hopefully be less hard on yourself.