Cool Perspective in a Warm Breeze: 5 Ways to Work Through Turbulent Times.

Just when you think you’re going under.

Just when you believe your life hits a point beyond anything bad you’ve felt before.

Just at the time you feel you’re going to break, even though you’ve been strong your entire life.

Just when you question everything and can’t come up with positive, reassuring answers.

There’s a shift in perspective.

The wind changes.

whirlwind

Perhaps it’s self-preservation. Cowardice. Not sure.

There was a point a few months back when I questioned the unquestionable:

Is it worth being here? Where was my value?

Did I ever provide value to begin with?

Was it all an illusion?

Was I my career, my job, my writing, my knowledge?

What the fuck happened over the last nine months, can anyone tell me? 

I examined it from various levels – 40,000 feet, mostly. Then a nosedive to ground zero.

I  was working to convince myself: Perhaps my time in this life had run out. I wanted the control. I wanted to release the coil. To discover where the energy goes. I mean everything runs its course, right?

I asked myself the following:

Would I have better hair? Straighter please. Like David Cassidy.

Would I have private parts that more resembled my father’s as opposed to my mother’s? (Self-deprecating humor is healthy, people).

Would I be famous, more accomplished, a better writer, a more empathetic person, richer, would I have a better nose?

Would I make wiser decisions for clients, friends, loved ones?

Would I be fooled again to trust, to love, to cherish?

Would I still be lactose intolerant?

I couldn’t answer any of these questions. Because you can’t lay out a path for the unknown and your past tricks you to answer negatively. 

I realized how important it was, is, to focus on the present.

The breeze taught me so.

At a Valero station. As I pumped gas. I closed my eyes. Focused on where I was, what I was doing. The beauty of the moment. I was grounded. I was still here after all the mental anguish.

Then from nowhere, a breeze came. Warm. It hit my skin and burst around me. The wind (ok, a breeze squared), rare in Texas, felt like nothing I ever experienced.

Why?

Because it’s 100,000 degrees in Texas and just plain felt good? Maybe.

hot in texas

Or was I in the present? Aware of the now, which accentuated the sensation. All these years I’ve spent building toward the future, I never fully appreciated where I was today. What a waste.

What a waste to treat the now like it’s merely a weigh station between what was and what was to be. Especially when you realize, life, who you are is right now. Today.

Maybe that’s why I love financial planning so much as I’m always trying to paint the picture of a financial future, when I should be increasingly focused on where people are financially right now.

I’ll never forget that breeze of enlightenment.

Random Thoughts:

1). Realize your ego is the greatest enemy. Your ego thrives on tricking, misleading you. It’s like those hot kids in high school who incessantly reminded you how unworthy you were to hang with them. You weren’t perfect – too short, your face was ugly, too fat, too skinny. My ego constantly reminds me of how I’m not successful enough and if I hit a certain level of success (my ego has not defined) I will be happy. The ego is flowing with conditions and impossible goals that can’t be reached. And if you do reach them, your ego says “listen asshole, you’re just keeping up here. Move to the next level and then I’ll deem you worthy of existence.”

I have learned that the more I focus on what’s underneath me and not what’s in back or in front of me, I can shut that ego down. Focusing on today distracts the ego from its goal – to destroy your self esteem. Limit your potential. It wants you to fail so it can tease, bully.

2). Learn from the past. But don’t let it weigh down your present. I have learned some valuable lessons from people in my past. For a time, those people made me angry. Not any longer. The lessons I’ve learned from the past, help me appreciate the present even more. Some experiences have made me who I am today, added to the texture who is me. Appreciate your layers, who you are, faults and all. The faults, the dents, are great arsenals to appreciate the present.

3). Breathe more. Sounds stupid, I know. During the day, I use deep breathing to gear me to focus on the present. Breathe in deep – hold for 6 seconds. Release. Three times. I then close my eyes and open wide. It’s like I stopped a film, mid scene. Then I ask: What am I grateful for RIGHT NOW AT THIS MOMENT? I can’t tell you how this has stopped Mr. Ego in his wicked tracks.

4). Don’t take out fear and greed on your portfolio. Fear, greed, are ultimate destroyers to portfolio returns. The S&P 500 is off roughly 6.5% from its high point in May, and we’ve seen incredible overreaction by bond and stock investors to sell. If you have specific, written rules for rebalancing your portfolio (buying and selling based on specific guidelines), then you can take advantage of swoons (buy low) and manage euphoria (sell high).

5). Appreciate your humanity. Nobody is perfect. Perfection is an illusion of the ego. I’ve learned “perfection within imperfection” where imperfections allow for differences, discussions and if you’re open-minded: Learning.

The wind was warm today but it was there. From nowhere.

I’ll believe it came just for me. To add perspective.

Appreciation.

Where will your breeze come from?

What will it be?

Today.

Now.

A Sign of the Times: Ten Reasons to Envy the Undead.

Zombies are overwhelming your metropolis. No, no, not politicians and bankers.

Real live (dead) zombies!

Zombie one

Ok, not as spooky as politicians or bankers (especially the central banking types), but you get the picture.

Someone I admire, he’s like a Socrates for our times,suggests that zombies represent a world of pervasive loneliness. I love this man to death but I sat there puzzled, thinking:  I still don’t comprehend the zombie loneliness theory as they do tend to stagger together in groups. In the blockbuster TV show “The Walking Dead,” the living “living” coins this behavior as “herding.” The living dead herd. Who knew. That’s a form of bonding, no?

Good enough reasons to keep your doors locked, people!

Not that locked doors work for long. After all, a mere few zombies can turn over cars; bolted doors and flimsy plywood nailed over windows buys you just enough time to say goodbye to loved ones. Let’s face it: Sooner or later you’re a food source. I was told that by a senior-level executive at one of those big box home improvement stores that most plywood is now exported from China. Chinese plywood = balsa wood? I don’t trust it.

zombies and windows

Zombies are so white hot-popular right now; these decaying, staggering masses or the dead­est of “us,” easily steal attention away from the likes of a Kim Kardashian or the pinkish-hue of a Lindsay Lohan. I could be a bit off base about Lindsay. Her antics can easily draw attention away from zombies depending on the severity of the wardrobe misfire or an occasional sexy bikini wedgie (thank you, TMZ).

The living dead have risen in prominence. And this time the uprising could be permanent.  For decades their popularity has ebbed and flowed yet their presence has never truly decayed. Now they’re everywhere you turn. It’s the zombie time to shine!

I’ll occasionally catch myself darting an eye over my left shoulder when in a public place because I’ve grown downright zombie paranoid. In this economy, I should be more concerned about the living seeking to steal my wallet but since I believe a zombie apocalypse is now imminent, I continue to be increasingly living-dead aware.

I’ll list the rationale behind my deep-seated zombie fever and why I so envy them:

Random Thoughts:

1). They don’t fret over making ends meet.  As a matter of fact, their ends are sort of decomposing, falling apart. Zombies don’t fret to pay the cable bills, meet mortgage payments or deal with brain-rotting college tuition costs. The days of anguish over the daily money monkeyshines of the living are gone! Surviving takes on a totally different perspective. How I relish those with reckless abandon who can just chase and bite, stagger and gnash like rabid animals.

The Federal Government has even been known to send dead people unemployment and social security checks but they have no need to cash them. I’m jealous. The very mortal coils of everyday fiscal obligations are broken. We are envious of the financial freedom. Who wouldn’t be?

2). There’s a thrilling bon vivant nature about the undead I admire. Zombies are brazenly wasteful and they just don’t care!  Again, I’m envious.  If the living dead are so hungry why do they take no more than two bites of prey and move on? It’s not like there’s endless supply of warm bodies to nosh on. Humans don’t grow on trees.  Has anyone seen what’s happening to global demographics? We’re all aging. It’s only a matter of time before there are more living dead than living.

The undead must do better with food handling. What about all the starving zombies in China? Even when they decide to dig hard and tear deep through a victim, zombies don’t appear to be eating. Looks like they’re playing with their food (in this case elbow-deep in intestines, organs and other nondescript red slimy entrails). If I played with my food with such passion as a kid, I would have been in enormous trouble.

Again I reference the best cable show out there – In the AMC hit television series “The Walking Dead,” a believable explanation for the genesis of said program title emerges. At least it allays some of my frustrations over the deliberate waste of the fresh, walking food supply.

In the Season One finale “TS-19,” the sole remaining doctor at the Center for Disease Control (gingerly insane yet very sage from a lethal combination of: Isolation under­ground for an extended period, shooting his wife, test-subject 19, in the head once-her usefulness as an infected under observation concludes, and conceding to the awful truth that there is no cure for the afflicted,) outlines findings I find plausible.

Doc Jenner explains:

The disease invades the brain like meningitis (OK - I heard that’s bad).

The brain stem is restarted. Gets them up and moving (makes sense to me).

Most of the brain is dark: Dark, lifeless, dead. The frontal lobe, the “you,” the human part is gone (it does appear that way).  

TWD writers are so damn smart.

I have concluded (I think), animated dead folk are indeed ravenous. They just don’t possess the human or humanity (what’s left is a tiny spark of light at the base of the brain) to make the most of preserving the food source.

I’m cutting the dead some slack. Although I’m sure if they cornered me I wouldn’t be shown mercy. My physical trainer says I’m very “fatty,” so my succulence would be too much for all those walking brain stems.

Zombie two

Dr. Steven Schlozman, a psychiatrist, Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and author of the book “The Zombie Autopsies,” would agree with Dr. Jenner’s conclusions and sizes up zombie appetites in a further professional manner perhaps because he never lost a loved one to a zombie nibble:

“The ventromedial hypothalamus (in the brain), which tells humans whether they’ve had enough to eat, is likely to be on the fritz in zombies, who have an insatiable appetite.” 

It’s clear to me now.

3). Zombies don’t require exercise and it’s inevitable they’re going to lose weight without much effort. I so hate them for this. As a matter of fact, even though Hollywood never seems to get it, if survivors can survive long enough, hunker down, the dead are literally going to rot. It’s not like they’re embalmed. Well I guess some are – I’m sure, even preserved, staggering corpses ostensibly succumb to harsh weather elements.

I sort of admire how “walkers” (what zombies are called in “The Walking Dead,”) can be wasteful (and eat whomever they want) without any repercussions. Damn them. Damn them all even more than they’re already damned.

Give it time: The weight loss will be deadly. Zombies should be dragging around close to the ground like clumps of fermenting flesh if you’re patient and resourceful enough to stay alive. Then go ahead. Leave your hiding place, brazenly walk up and do a step and squash on what’s left of a head. Simple. My boots are ready! Although stomping on zombie cranium “feels” too much like exercise to me.

And what about those quick sort of disturbing athletic zombies in movie director Zack Snyder’s respectable remake of “Dawn of The Dead?”  I stubbornly refuse to relent to running zombies. These primal hollows of our living selves just cannot (should not) sprint.

From Doc Schlozman’s book “The Zombie Autopsies,” the wisdom flows freely like blood from a gaping bite wound:

“Slower degenerative processes in the cerebellum explain the initially intact gait of the infected, even though they all become increasingly unbalanced with time. That’s why they hold their arms out in front of their bodies: for balance and increased coordination. They just want to remain upright, on their feet. But the process continues, the cerebellum degrades, liquefies. Virtually all late-stage ANSD humanoids ambulate via crawling.” 

AH-HA! See? Running zombies are an abomination! Listen up movie-makers!

I prefer my zombies slow, staggering and overwhelmingly off kilter. Like me on a Friday night. Hey, call me a purist. AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” gets it right. Again!!

FYI – ANSD stands for: Ataxie Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome. The internationally accepted diagnostic term for zombiism. Thanks again Dr. S. Feel free to steal this for your next cocktail party. 

running zombies

4). Zombies don’t seek to bathe. And the living don’t seem to care! C’mon - Zombies should stink to high heaven. So, why don’t victims smell them coming from at least half a mile away? I once went an entire week without bathing in 1989. That’s after parent-basement sex with two women, eating several boxes of Entenmann’s orange-swirled icing and chocolate Hal­loween cupcakes, ten Big Macs and washing it all down with large cups of coffee overwhelmed with  heavy cream. I recall plenty of female grimaces followed by waves of disgust. Good thing I barely left the house back then.

You rarely see disgusted looks on the faces of the living who meet up with the rotting side of us.

How many times have you heard the following lines in zombie flicks?

“I can’t handle the smell of these walking maggot bags.”

“My eyes are watering from the stench of these fuckers.”

“I’m going to vomit from the ungodly odors these dead things throw off.”

Not many.

Well, to give further credit (yet again) to the writers of “The Walking Dead,” there have been various references to puke, puking and zombie dead-body odor peppered throughout episodes. They’re passionate about authenticity unlike most who cater to us zombie zealots. I salute them.

5). Zombies don’t discriminate. They’re equal opportunity biters, infiltrate all races and cut a bloody swath across political lines. They gain greater attention when economic conditions deteriorate or improvement is anemic. Sure, they seem to pop up during times of social unrest. Since the last recession, the most severe in decades, zombies have been in a downright frenzy to take over the world.

6). The undead have been around longer than you have. I envy the staying power. Although, I don’t recall them as relevant and so overwhelmingly popular. And I’ve been keep­ing track of their ebb and flow since I first bug-eyed watched the groundbreaking black and white cult classic “Night of the Living Dead,” by zombie Master Movie Maker George A. Romero, on a yellow plastic thirteen inch black & white TV in 1973.

In 1968, the year “Night” was released, the Vietnam War was raging, civil rights protests were grabbing headlines and Martin Lu­ther King, Jr. was assassinated. It cost a grandiose $114,000 to make which even then for a movie was a pittance of a budget. It had grossed over $30 million worldwide.

Romero created a controversial stir by featuring a black man, unknown stage actor Duane Jones, as the brave and re­sourceful hero while most of the men in the cast were blowhard, wishy-washy or backwoods white folk.

Romero also played up the contemporary theme of government distrust as dead body brains are “activated” (allegedly) by radiation expelled from the explosion of a space satellite, the “Venus Probe.” Throughout the film, there are shots of military/government officials (actors) fleeing from television news cameras all the while denying the connection between the radiation and the returning dead who make a meal out of the living. For gosh sake I thought I saw Eric Holder running from a reporter.

The bitter irony of the movie is how Ben (Duane Jones) solely survives the night of ghoul attacks by locking himself in the basement of an abandoned farm house only to be shot in the head the next morning by a white member of a sheriff’s posse as he’s mistaken for one of the remaining zombies roaming the countryside.

I remember watching: Scared to death, frozen. Shocked. I recall muttering the words: “This really sucks.” I hated the ending but I understood the point Romero was trying to make. Well, I think I do. Back then I interpreted the messages through a warped mental pre-teen siphon. Actually, I still believe my interpretations hold up.

I wondered:

First, why even bother to survive a zombie hoard if you’re going to be shot in the head by your own people (the living kind) anyway? What a waste.

Second, make more noise and scream actual words like the living (not guttural grunts like the dead) if you see a posse out a window! Ben, Ben, Ben. You were too quiet. I understand you just went through hell and you’re bit dazed but if it’s me I’m screaming like a sissy living, defecating human who just soiled his Fruit of the Looms!

Third, based on the social turmoil of the 60’s, I think Romero sought to use the film to convey messages about the futility of the Vietnam War (conflict) and the tragic assassination of MLK, Jr.

In other words: Go ahead fight the good fight, be honorable, stick to your convictions, but understand there is still a great risk. The hero can indeed fail or die.

I hated how Romero sacrificed Ben at the end (I know I mentioned that, already).

Fourth, an interracial couple holed up in a farm house (even when the female is young, blonde and completely unresponsive) doesn’t mean sex is definitely gonna happen. Huh? Not when Ben is around!

I was wondering when he was going to rip off Barbara’s (played by a very blonde actress named Judith O’Dea), clothes but all he did was com­fort and protect her. Well, he did knock her out with a hit in the face but it was perfectly understandable. She was unhinged after watching her brother become zombie brunch.

Even after she clawed at her scarf  - “it’s hot in here, hot.” NOTHING. Ben, you helped me understand what being a gentleman really means. Can you imagine if Romero had Ben have his way with Bar­bara? Talk about controversy in 1968! Today, Ben would be in hot water for placing a slipper on a white woman. DID YOU SEE WHAT HE DID? A MINORITY WITH A FOOT FETISH LIVES AMONG US. 

Ben and barbara Night

You sure do get to see the best (and worst) in people during times of disaster. THAT was the true message in Romero’s classic to me.

I still vividly remember the first time I watched “Night” on the ABC Satur­day evening late show. The idea of zombies was sort of goofy to me before then. I believe I watched Scooby Doo trip one up on morning television. To me they were clunky comedy relief. In black and white, late at night and thirsty for blood, zombies gained more of my respect. Scooby Doo was either brave or just a big dumb dog.

It was that dead woman at the top of the stairs. It was that devoured face. It was the eyeball staring, piercing me through an old rabbit-eared RCA television screen. My perception of zombies had changed. Forever. They haunted me from that moment. If I would have known how popular they were to become I would have given up on this money management business a long time ago. There was a fortune still yet to be made exploiting the undead.

night woman top of stairs

OK, enough of that. Next. 

7). These ghouls laugh at our complacency with money. Actually I believe it’s a gaping, black-mouthed sort of bloody drool they mock us with.  If they could, walkers would indeed chuckle at the jaw-dropping (and on occasion zombies are missing a jaw) willingness for many investors to remain with financial firms that don’t treat them as they deserve to be treated. Not enough communication, too much conflict of interest, high fees which eat up returns. I hear the complaints consistently and then inquire about or suggest a course of action.

All I receive is a zombie-like glazed over milky-white pupil stare. Fight the zombie of complacency!! Seek an objective, fee-based registered investment adviser. Check out the following blog entry from Clarityfinancial, LLC on the right questions to ask your current or prospective financial adviser.

How to Grill a Current or Prospective Financial Partner

Read more. Perfect segue to push my book, but I don’t want to appear self serving.  It’s too ghoulish. However, order Reformed Broker Josh Brown’s tome “Backstage Wall Street.” There’s lots of meat in this (for the living). Josh’s has a gift to communicate. His writing so sharp, the information delivered so lethal, it’ll slay the evilest of complacency corpses. Want the true story about what motivates your broker? Then..

Order Josh’s Book!

8). Zombies seem to get along just fine without technology.  It’s like when they die, then eventually rise again, they have a keen sense of where the next two-legged meal happens to be hiding. No GPS required. No Google Maps. I also like how the living dead don’t feel the pressure to create some retweetable bon mot along with clever hashtags for it – #holdinginmyliver #thatguytastedlikechicken #wheredidIleavemyseveredhand #birdnestineyesocket.

9).The ultimate revenge: Zombies may eventually be hired by large corporations.  The time is almost near. Employees of large publicly-traded organizations are burning out, dealing with lowest wage increases (if any) in decades in the face of some of the fattest profit margins in years. It’s all about the shareholders now. As a money manager I love it. As an employee I abhorred it.  So it’s only a matter of time before you as an employee are replaced by the living dead. Makes perfect sense. They won’t need to be paid,  just fed entrails.

No benefits, no vacations, no sick days. No more being pissed off over hiring workers in emerging and frontier markets as they no way could compete with a zombie workforce. Hey, you no longer need an HR department either (hell I don’t even know why they exist as they appear to be human and resourceful exclusively to the executive level).

In Romero’s classic “Dawn of The Dead,” the zany scientist was making progress  teaching “Bub” the zombie how to perform simple tasks. And that was over thirty years ago. Imagine the progress we would make with today’s technology. Stick ‘em in a cubicle. When they desiccate, just scoop what’s left, discard. Replace. And no 401(k) rollovers to worry about either. Or pensions. Oh wait, what’s a “pension?” I’m thinking corporate R&D spending will be focused toward “Bub Projects.” Don’t laugh. You’re a bub away from replacement.

It’s all about the profits and share prices. You’re an expense to corporate America. Don’t think so? Read on:

Shareholder value is ruining America

10). Zombies compel me to examine the fate of the human condition. Why do they fascinate some of us? Do they represent how primal we can become?  Why did the first nude zombie turn me on? I’m just not intellectually gifted enough to interpret all this. Truth is I just want to enjoy being afraid.

nude butt night

Leave it to George Romero to feature living dead butt. In 1968. Not bad, right? Admit it.

Perhaps my smart friend was right. Maybe zombies do represent loneliness, our lost ability to communicate, the hunger for human warmth, the need to fortify when conditions feel out of control.

Or perhaps, we just plain like to be scared.

Don’t overthink.

Just go with it.

The Colors, The Times, of Your Life – Will You Remember?

We were free. Moving quick in a white hot breeze. 1977. When the world flew by in lime green.

Slit through a black bowel of public housing. Deep in the middle of the aged carnival colors of blueviolet, aquamarine and bisque. Coney Island. A narrow way forged between the metropolis, slick brown with rot. The summer New York heat penetrated, bounced from dead, white alley cats forming a yellow haze floating neon pungent sluggish slow in still heat. Bright orange, with a burst of unhealthy steel-gray around the edges, like a healthy pink hue that hesitantly abandoned its soul, was there too. Cats and garbage rotted just that way in July. In 1977. In Coney Island. I remember.

The odor scorched the outer part of our pink nostrils until they flared red. But we didn’t care because this moment was designed to be fleeting. The clear blue of escape from a place we should not have been, was near. And as long as that moped motored us out  in one piece, alive, all the Sunday ritual – staring at the newly-painted off white walls behind the rich, marbled altar of St. Simon & Jude’s Church would have been worth it.

Until.

black out NY

Boom! Black.

The lights went out. A deepest black seeped in from the edges. Beige smoke rose above. From everywhere. It suffocated us like a color. Purple maybe. Stopped us dead. Frozen.

Then.

Restless white noise. Muffled sounds of agitated souls. Blood-red anger.

Frenzied, white round bursts of bright. Scattered. Flash lights cutting through, getting closer, like silver shards.

In the dim gray mist of yesteryear, when lapels were wider than a McDonald’s Happy Meal and Mayor McCheese still held power over us.

“We need to get out of here. In there,” I pointed. And kept pointing and she knew what I was pointing to. What I meant. Like she could see through midnight blue.

“Fuck no,” she said. A spanish, italian, puerto-rican fire mix of black-coal eyes, deep brown bouncy curls in red spandex and cherry-red heels.

“If you don’t get in the dumpster you’re getting raped and I’m getting robbed,” I said. Heels off. She moved. The color of imminent danger was crimson with dark-red daggers.

We dove boldly into the acrid stench of the mix. Eggplant in color, wet, with sticky blotches of yellow green. The lime-green Puch Moped that was to take us into the wild blue now secured behind the jungle-green metal coffin for the discarded muck public housing didn’t  want. Too much green. We puked. The gagging color of cloying hot crimson arose in our noses and throats.

A city summer. In a blackout. 1977. I remember the shades of memories. The colors brought me back to an alley. When looters almost discovered a boy, a moped and a girl’s saturated skin with Love’s Baby Soft (always smelled cotton-candy pink to me). All this clear vision from a lone lime-green bicycle I barely noticed. In a driveway. Yesterday. In Houston, Texas. A million miles away – faded into a lemon chiffon of time.

love's baby soft

Oh the colors, the colors. Perfect.

Colors have the astounding ability to anchor you back to a time and place for as long as you live. No matter how far to the past you venture. Colors are seeds that blossom the past to the present, immediately. Sort of like songs. Sort of like a person you love, or cherish. If you remember the colors, you’ll know what you feel about a moment is true. And real. Even when others doubt you. Even when you doubt you. The colors make it true. And true is slate blue.

Random Thoughts:

1). How will colors conjure up the past? Today I re-lived the memory of a first dinner. I smelled the thick tapestries of dark & tomato reds. The rich browns of hair and delicate tan of lines, of form, of grace. I’ll never forget the fire-brick colors of what ignited in mind and heart. The reams of gold in the conversation. I re-live those pigments every day.

2). Red & green are the colors of money. When stock markets are green, as they have been since the fiscal cliff (version 1) concluded, I use green to trim growth and profit. When there is red again, a trickle of crimson in the streets, I’m motivated to buy. Use the reds & greens to make smart financial decisions.

3). How will today’s colors form your future? Be careful with the colors you use today to form the thoughts that move you forward. Today I’m staring at coral, firebrick, and forest green from my windows. All soothing, positive colors to me. I’ll make it my business to avoid true dark shades today.

4). What colors will propel you to thank someone today, love someone, be grateful for a communication, a note, one positive word. Close your eyes. Think of those colors. Shamelessly relive the good memories tomorrow of how you changed someone’s attitude. For the better.

Like it’s 1977.

Because times were good.

Because we lived to escape.

The blazing yellow sun eventually showed us the way.

To the blue.

Back on course and lime-green.

Once again.

Like you.

And your memory.

Lime Green Puch Moped

Black Monday Memories & More.

 

Markets will fall again. Live with it.

Black Monday 1987 should remind investors that markets are people, people are irrational and “crashes” are part of the territory, unless you listen to Modern Portfolio Theory loons who believe market derails can only occur every 4,000 years.

Thanks Tom Zizka for the Fox interview.

 

One of the best interviews regarding the conditions high-frequency traders create:

http://www.moneyscience.com/pg/newsfeeds/Admin/item/380964/mark-cuban-highfrequency-traders-are-the-ultimate-hackers

Random Thought:

Happy Saturday!

What the Wasp & Butterfly can Teach you About Money.

The Wasp and the Butterfly…

When you think of a butterfly and a wasp, two very different visions come to mind.  At first glance, one looks beautiful and alluring, while the other inspires fear. However, it’s important not to let first impressions deceive you. Visuals like this can help you to remain vigilant as you weather the financial climate and manage your own investor emotions in the face of a market environment dominated by “program” traders who are able to push and pull millions in and out of markets with a single mouse click.
Here are a few rules to consider when (if) the market is “bugging” you. And it bothers many individual investors today as money has been bleeding from stock mutual funds for years now.
Random Thoughts:
 *DON’T BE FOOLED BY THE BUTTERFLY  - In the short term, market is psychology-driven and moved by mood. A  series of days or weeks in the green can be very alluring and make you feel like you’re watching a beautiful butterfly soar to new heights.
You could get seduced by this flying beauty to indulge more in stocks,  discard your strategy and throw risk management out the window.
So, how do you prevent this from happening?
Be skeptical and  slightly fearful of the butterfly. When the market is happy and ignoring the bad news, it’s time to examine your plan and see if you should be      trimming your overheated stocks or overweighted asset-class exposure based on a rebalancing plan
For example, this year the U.S. stock market specifically has been the most beautiful and soaring of butterflies. If you were a  it skeptical, then you might have trimmed your exposure from areas like high-yield bonds and utility stocks(clipped the butterfly wings a bit).
 *EMBRACE THE WASP - Just the thought of this is scary enough. When the market is looking ugliest and most ominous, it’s an opportune time to stay focused, and see the beauty in the sting of it all. Discover the beauty in buying low. Eventually, the sting of a down market will dissipate and you’ll be glad you didn’t  panic.
*CONSIDER THE FATE OF THE ANT – According to National Geographic Magazine, ants are sometimes caught in  the crossfire between larval butterflies and wasps. During an attack, ants, manipulated by chemicals, are driven to fight each other, turning them into incidental casualties.
Don’t be fooled by the wasp or the butterfly or get caught between them.
Create and follow a personalized  plan based on your goals and attitude for risk. Having clear, written investment buy and sell rules will allow you to command the wasp and the butterfly to  your advantage.
*IT’S NOT ALL BUGS   - When gathering information you’ll see, hear and read opinions that will make you feel more tempted to side with the wasp or the butterfly. In other words, you will notice more headlines designed to validate the current “mood” of the market. Fear begets fear and euphoria begets euphoria. Remain guarded with your written plan and don’t be dissuaded by captivating headlines and the media in general.
Stick to your disciplines! What the hell are they? Do you know?
Using the wasp and the butterfly as visual motivation can help you control your actions in the face of an emotional and volatile stock market — you’ll never look at them the same way again!

I want you.

What a Princess Taught Me About Money. And she Ain’t No Dog, Neither.

I hold a great affinity for animals, especially dogs and specifically my Princess. There’s a primal beauty to them-and us. Our instinct keeps us alive; it’s imbedded in our internal code to protect. We are hard-wired to survive at all costs. Unfortunately, the skill set required to protect ourselves from predators is not exactly proper to employ when making investment or overall financial decisions.

I’m not exactly sure her name fits her either since Princess is far from graceful but I can tell she knows it and she’s certain I’m going to love her anyway – As I watch her behaviors I see many similarities and differences we can learn from  when it comes to managing finances. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned.

1). Occasionally we believe ourselves to be something we’re not – It’s human nature to be overconfident in our personal investing abilities. Numerous academic studies prove that over 80% of investors who deem themselves to be “successful,” or have achieved better results than the overall stock market actually experienced extremely poor overall returns. When examined closely, taking into account several variables including taxes and commissions, the majority of investors turned out to suffer from below-average return rates. It’s best to be yourself and understand how markets are humbling mechanisms. Create rules and disciplines that make sense to you and stick with them.

2). Sometimes we lose control – When Princess gets excited she has a tough time controlling her bladder. When we get excited we have a tough time making a decision and that will usually lead to a mistake. Those who make investment or financial decisions in the heat of fear or euphoria will most likely wind up in worse shape longer term.

For example, those who sold off all their stock positions in March 2009 or purchased tech stocks in the heat of the moment back in 1999, fared worst than most. Unlike Princess who can’t control her excitement, you need to step back, consult with an objective third party and create a strategy first before taking dramatic financial actions. Those individuals who make large purchases impulsively, especially on credit cards are paying dearly for their impetuous nature as the average credit card interest rate currently hovers around 15%.

3). Biting off more than you can chew is a bad, bad thing – Princess loves her toys; she also finds a way to destroy them in record time and her “daddy” keeps purchasing her new ones. Not a good financial decision overall on my part but she appears conditioned to continue since there’s always a new toy on the way.

Over the last 20 years, many bit off more debt than their households can service because of the assumption that asset prices, especially house prices would continue to increase. Households, saddled with historically large debt loads, stagnant asset prices and little increase in wages are now working slowly through household balance sheet repair. This is a long, arduous process which will take many years. It’s best now to watch spending, aggressively pay down debts and not take on any excessive debt going forward.

Princess may certainly get a new toy very soon; we don’t appear to be receiving any relief from the fiscal side (Washington & congress) or rising house prices anytime soon (at least the heated prices you remember), so it’s up to us to take responsibility now and get through an anemic economic cycle on our own.

4). When you’re done, you’re done – There are some dogs and people Princess simply does not care for and I can sense when her triggers have been hit. Recent studies show that as a generous people, we will continue to give money to family members and friends with established track records of spotty financial behavior. To preserve your own situation, it may be best to draw the line and say no.

There’s nothing wrong with encouraging others to seek different avenues for loans and gifts, especially if your current household debt levels are unsustainably high. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t make Princess a bad dog either if she feels she doesn’t “like” certain people or dogs.

Some dogs are more fashionable than you are.

Princess knows what her boundaries are.

Do you?

What the Dead Taught Me – Lessons from an Urban Cemetery.

It was out of place then. It’s out of place now. Hundreds of years ago-perfect. And when I climbed the fence or dug a hole underneath to enter this hallowed wedge almost directly underneath the elevated “F” Subway line, I felt at home. Calm. An oasis of rest. There was nothing to fear, no one to judge. Just whatever is left after bodies move beyond the rot and weathered gravestones, some with captivating epitaphs.

First time I saw the sign was 1970. It’s timeless.

Hey, the cemetery was founded by a babe (lady). A plus.

There was a rumor that a tunnel existed underneath the caretaker’s abode; allegedly, this channel lead to the back of the cemetery, up through an unmarked grave to daylight. It was an escape route/hiding place during the Revolutionary War. I never had the guts to investigate the validity of this tale, although at times I was tempted. A couple of nights a week, especially during the summer, I’d find myself waking up early morning behind a grave marker. I felt a very live affinity for the dead.

The infamous caretaker cottage. Sealed for decades.

I’m not so macabre. You’ve been there. Many of the living hold a fascination with graveyards and tombstones. My connection, however seemed deeper. As I sat on lumpy ground deep inside iron gates, I’d close my eyes and attempt to cast out a spiritual thread. I was desperately seeking answers. Hoping for a visceral spiritual pull. Once, at 1AM through an August late night that turned to early morning, I felt a tug on the other end of the ethereal thread. It woke me. A voice.

I was startled. Awoke with a rapid heartbeat. It was so strong, I recall my ears closing up to any external sounds. The voice was inner and soothing. He said his name was William. Who the hell was William. I didn’t know a William, or a Bill. The words filled my ears-I live by them 40 years later (or at least by my interpretation of them):

                                                      “We are all the same.”

Underneath the surface not much different.

Random Thoughts:

1). Deep Down We All Seek. Love, good health for us, friends and family, success, fortune. Our paths to what we seek are different. Could be life experience, frames of reference, luck. Yet, no matter what, there is a measure of peace we all wish to discover. You wouldn’t know it based on the day-to-day surface noise we encounter which keeps us divided-class warfare, politics, work, the kids, constipation. Remember though we all share a spiritual thread. The key to reward is to cast it willingly and see what happens. Deep down we are all the same.

2). Empathy/Fairness Strengthens your Signal. If you learn (not easy) to set aside the divisions and truly connect with the very human elements of others, then you will learn something that will make you a well-rounded individual surrounded by friend with rich experiences. Empathy or fairness provides mental fuel for the adventure. Regardless of who you decide to vote for in November, we are all the same.

3). Stock Markets are Fear & Greed Machines. It’s helpful to understand beyond the sophisticated math formulas and technology, financial markets are people. Irrational people. Fear & greed cycles through all of us therefore it flows through markets. It’s not different this time. Far from it. It’s always been this way and always will be unless the dead create a stock exchange. It’s best to understand and work within this framework. You’ll sleep better and deal with the fact that “it is what it is.” The thread that winds through markets is  all the same.

4). Better Them than Me. Recently I watched (50th time) the latest movie remake of “Dawn of the Dead.” When asked to say a kind word over the bodies of the dead (and dead again) Ving Rhames’ character blurts out candidly: “Better them than me.” Yes, better them than you. If you’re alive, keep an open mind. Rise above petty politics and trivial distractions of the day. Get acquainted or possibly connected with other breathing souls. Because when you cut through all the shit realize we are all the same.

And being alive and all the same is better than being dead and all the same.

Ok, Ving R. is a badass. Maybe a bit different? No. Just an actor.

The voice was gone. Heartbeat normal. The streetlight above was bright. I was able to read the gravestone.

Asleep in Jesus. W. Williams. We are all the same.

I went back to sleep. I was no longer the kid with the crazy mom. I was the same. I fit in.

Thanks for the lesson, William.