21 March 2009

19 March 2009

It's All About Control

Tonight's prelude begins HERE.

One of my favorite shows, other than Battlestar Galactica (which ends tomorrow!!), is Damages. It's got Glenn Close, lots of drama, and it's essentially the story of a whole lot of people with control issues.

Lawyers are particularly good at control issues. Not surprisingly, the lawyers in this show find that they are most often pitched in mortal combat with business people--the only other discipline in our economic and social system that fetishizes control.

I am not a lawyer.

I'll be honest, though: I'm crazy about control. As Janet says: "It's all about control."

She's right. Control, or our lack of it--MY lack of it--is the permeating theme of this portion of my life. My Saturn has returned, with a terrible vengeance. And he left my childhood in his wake. My adulthood--these last couple years, let's say--have been about understanding what I control.

The illusion of control is something that my friends (particularly Diabolina ) have needled me with for years. According to their "wisdom", we have no control over most of our lives. We cannot control the actions of others, or how politics shape up, or how the economy progresses. We cannot control other drivers on the road, nor can we control what people say, nor can we control time, nor aging, nor the movement of markets.

To this I say: "Whatever."

I have made a monument to control in my heart. I seek it, and where it does not come naturally, I force it. When something important happens that is ultimately beyond my control (see Prop 8), I am sent into a tailspin, as I realize that the illusion of my control is in fact an illusion.

In a bitter twist of irony, the few things I actually CAN control (my reactions, my thoughts, my actions, my words, and even to some degree my feelings) are not controlled at all. This is simple: I spend so much energy focusing on the things I can't control that I ignore the things I can.

It is a viscious cycle.

Others have struggled with control. They are usually villians.

Scrooge controlled money, and didn't control the holidays.

Sauron and that damn ring were all about control, to his ruin.

Maleficent wanted control over a kingdom, but more importantly over other people's babies.

Dracula could control people with his mind!

Stalin, like the rest of the totalitarian dictators, wanted to control everything--especially how he was perceived.

We love to loathe controlling villians. They're so easy to misunderstand and so easy to hate. But generally, they are also pretty clear in what they want. But BEING controlled by others taps into our innate fears of losing our individual power. Though my friends have it right--control is often an illusion--control can often be all too real.

I can control whether I trade a stock or not. I cannot control the outcome. But that doesn't mean that I'm off the hook; afterall, if I've screwed up the part I CAN control, then there is all kinds of opportunity for beating myself up when it blows up in my face. There's also all kinds of opportunity for misery in bemoaning the things I can't control.

That's how the tyranny of control works; it distorts the mind, and convinces an otherwise rational Crow that the following logical path is true: There are things I can control; if I can control one thing, then I should be able to control everything; I can't possibly control everything; I must be a failure. The feeling of failure (I know it well) leads to a desire to control more, and the cycle perpetuates.

Like those Chinese finger traps, control is difficult to escape if you don't know the secret.

And I'll be honest, dear Reader, I don't have the faintest idea how to get out of this finger trap. And in a world like today's, that is making this Crow VERY unhappy.

The journey to let go of control is probably amusing to the outsider. It culminated last night with my return to the practise of yoga. Those of you who do yoga will know that at the beginning of each class, you are often reminded to "set your intention". This is your guiding thought for the hour and a half you will spend sweating, and hurting, and breathing, and trying to stay "present". My intention was simple: I'm going to be nice to myself for the next hour and a half.

Believe it or not (I hardly do), but I succeeded! The problem was that the moment shivasana ended, I was right back to telling myself some pretty unkind things, and berating myself for not having adequately controlled the stock market, the housing market, my family relations, my reaction to events, my reaction to all the things I hadn't controlled, et al. Pretty dark. So, I did what most poeple do in that situation: I found the closest people to me, and picked a fight.

Not bright.

On reflection, I think that much of this comes back to Janet, and to her assertion that it's all about control.

And as I bring this little blog entry to a close, dear Reader, I assure you: I'm trying very hard to learn about control before it gets...well, before it gets control over me.

05 March 2009

Roadkill Crow

See this poor crow? That's your Sable Crow today.

My major holding? Down 67% year to date. The good news: just kidding, there isn't any. I've been adding to it on the way down, which will probably turn out to be a good idea, but for now feels foolish.

A little like getting run over by the market.

I even went back to my staple, gray and black, after a fabulous weekend being styled by the incomparable Diabolina. Check out her version here. And my version here.

Even my normally stoic friends today had the need to call: "We need to be supportive of each other!" said one. "I just want to stop hurting."

And yet, the financial hurt we feel is anxiety, it's not even the actual hurt of catastrophic loss. There are people losing their jobs, and their homes, by the hundred of thousands. It's mind boggling.

Humans are the only creatures who suffer. By suffer, I mean to anticipate a future of pain. Other animals can feel pain. But only humans can create the temporal contruct of anticipating pain over future periods. It makes us crazy animals. Our egos get invovled, and in some ways it's like a Chinese finger trap: the smarter you are and the more you're able to envision the future, the greater your capaciy for filling that future with pain. Esentially, the greater your capacity to suffer.

This is not a very good side effect of self-awareness.

The market in these times is entirely driven by emotion. On balance, the market is probably ALWAYS driven by emotion. Ben Graham, who was Warren Buffett's mentor and the father of value investing (buying something for less than it's worth and holding it nearly indefinitely, until that "value" is realized) said that in the short run (and I'm paraphrasing), the market is a voting machine. But in the long run, it's a weighing machine.

The stock exchange is a metaphor for life. It has an emotional landscape (which, I'll admit, is probably lost on the men who populate that world) and it manifests our greed, our joy, our desperation, and our fear. We are now in the latter two.

As for me, I had no idea the market would get this low. I figured 7500 on the Dow. I was wrong. I was also wrong about GE. And of course WFC.

Hell, so was Warren Buffett, so at least I'm in good company.

I don't feel very fashionable lately. But that's not because I haven't been; it's just that I don't feel it.

This is a rambling post with little coherence and even less wisdom. Sorry, my esteemed Reader. It's uncharacteristic, but what do you expect from roadkill?

I haven't even gotten into the emotional core of the day, which was reconciling with an unsettled past AND watching what I could of the Prop 8 arguments via a shaky internet feed at my office (between gulps for air as I watched the market). It was an altogether trying day, and I'm thrilled it's nearly over.

But before I go, I have to give you this. I'm OBSESSED with bluegrass music lately. Not sure what it is. Something about all that loss and harmonizing. This one is my favorite, and makes me think about my weekend in San Francisco over Valentine's Day. And the band's name is Old CROW Medicine Show! Perfect!

My fantasy is to buy a house this summer, in time to host a Bluegrass Halloween party in my backyard. Bales of hay, white lights strung overhead, a live bluegrass band, bobbing for apples; it's my fantasy life right now. Others have their beaches, or their dance clubs. I think about Halloween.

And on THAT happy note, I'm going to bed.