Autumn 2012
how you spend it, how you don't, or how you would spend it if you could

my problem is that i just have too many ferraris. i am running out of places to put them.

the problem with an ocean side estate is that on one side is the private road, on two sides are assholes, and on the fourth side is, well, the ocean. there is no room to build a third garage. i would have to tear out the hedge-maze or the grotto and i refuse. if i had a car elevator i could put some of them in the sub-basement but that would require a construction permit that i would never get because the planning commission is comprised solely of envious dilettantes and dipsomanic housewives. i briefly considered buying one of the neighbors out, but asshole number one probably hasn’t forgotten about that time i shot one of his dogs after it had wandered into my grotto and asshole number two has a scarface complex and cannot be reasoned with. so for now, most of them are at a secure warehouse in the valley. it’s a tragedy. i mean, what is the point in owning ferraris if you cannot walk out to them in your slippers and robe, don your driving goggles, and then sit in the seat facing the ocean while your gardener hides behind the car and makes engine noises?


I am ashamed to ask:

What money has to do with me

Write: money without ego, rhetorical diversions, value judgements and going metapolitical

I keep trying to write about money without rhetoric, without ego, without declarative statements, and without going meta. (Ego does rhetoric in politically self-conscious declaration, then condescends by repeating the line.) If ironic distance is money m.o., what’s my come-to-jesus?

First line of questioning on the camino real:

Qualms, alms, twenty-nine palms: let’s say there’s a hell
let’s say there’s a road
let’s say more than one
some slicker than others

and asphalt pavers?
you said it: costly

separation: highway robbery!
your money or your life

(wait is that real no wait
go slow
stick together

Katie from Kentucy:

‘go ahead and laugh ‘cause
it don’t cost



coin means wedge

Untitled - Noah Walcutt

“What you have stolen can never be yours. ”

― Halldór Kiljan Laxness, Under the Glacier

Privilege is growing up with two parents who love you. Privilege is going to a good school, living in the suburbs, having braces in middle school, knowing the best place to get sushi. It’s driving a car in your teens, and owning an iPhone in your twenties. It’s skiing, playing with your grandmother’s jewelry, and complaining about internet access.

Andrea wasn’t privileged; she was beyond it. Her road had been paved from the moment her CEO-track mother fell for the awkward and ambitious descendant of a political dynasty.

At some point though, Andrea confronted what had blindsided many of her ancestors: money can buy most things but not everything. Andrea did not learn this the way others had. She didn’t learn it by staring deeply into the mirror after a third surgery or from a bold headline -- POLITICAL GIANT LOSES TO DARK HORSE -- that would undoubtedly frame an obituary.

At thirty-five, Andrea found herself staring at her computer screen. David Thorne, the trusted political adviser of her uncle, had given her the task of “preparing her Twitter account for her political life.” As she dug deeper into her 10,706 one-liners, she realized she was already knee-high in quicksand and sinking fast.

On the surface, her update feed exhibited a woman developing a name for herself through community organizing. With each fundraiser and civic event, she became less the shy, reluctant insider and more the savvy go-getter. Passive tweets (“Enjoyed lunch at the Downtown Rotary. Great to see so many involved in the community!”) evolved to active (“Today we raised more than $12K for our next president. Thanks for coming out!). For most of her teens and twenties she had sidestepped the spotlight; by 30, she lassoed it and drew it to her.

Through this process, she had documented the best and worst of her humanity. Her promotions and break-ups, her Oscar de la Renta gowns (plural), her philanthropy, her hasty political rants and the fiery discourse that followed. She frequented women’s shelters and checked in at food banks. But, for the most part, her tweets were similar to other women of her generation.

Andrea wasn’t just another woman, however. The casual updates were often the most painful to revisit. They showed how ingrained she was in the upper class: the #nofilter image of the 3-liter Dom Pérignon 1971 at her cousin’s wedding, her frustration with the interface, and the name dropping. As she tore through the feed, even the tamest of tweets were political liabilities.

Of course, Andrea had thought of the “social media obstacle” before David ever confronted her. She agreed with her friends when they convinced her that her generation’s self-documentation would bring a new layer of authenticity to politics. “We’ve put ourselves out there. We’ve made it clear who we are and how we react to things and how we cope with change or loss or, well, anything. This should make us more human and less political robot, right? We’re unfiltered,” Margot said at brunch. The others nodded in agreement over mimosas that, in retrospect, were overpriced.

With these words in mind, Andrea cleared away her Sunday afternoon. She, not the consultant David had nudged her toward, would go through the tweets one by one, deleting those that might arm her opponents in the statewide election. Though money couldn’t change her past, she could re-weave a personal story without any mention of Tiffany & Co. or her exes who shopped there.

She was an early adopter of Twitter and, thankfully, more circumspect than her friends. Angry tweets, like angry e-mails, may be written but never sent. No offensive jokes, no personal attacks. And, considering her family’s popularity among middle class men, she refrained from those things that would chip away at her father’s blue collar and reveal the gold underneath. It’s tacky to tweet about how many stars the resort has or how high the thread count is anyway.

Andrea’s first year with Twitter was an accurate documentation of her high school years as she remembered them: trial and error, feeble attempts to gain popularity, bad jokes gone bad, and passive flirting. But even through the innocence of it all, present-Andrea could detect a growing menace in past-Andrea.

Although many tweets showed the trend, the paradigm was this: “Three spares tonight, no strikes.” Perhaps unknown to her followers, she had written it from her home bowling alley. Whether intentional or not, Andrea read it as a veiled metaphor for the dull restlessness that had infiltrated her lavish lifestyle. She didn’t remember that night or much of her senior year for that matter, but the makings of a wild freshman year at Stanford were underway.

The night of her first Twitpic was the night of some other firsts, which brought her to question the uncanny coincidence and tragic underpinnings of the ability to share pictures in the moment. The teachers at her prep school had warned the students of the magic alchemy of alcohol, but they couldn’t have prepared the students for how their relationship with social media would change with the introduction of fluid mistakes to the blood stream.

Andrea was a good girl. Had she wanted alcohol, she could have easily obtained it. Her parents had offered her sips of martinis and fine wine since she was twelve, so curiosity never consumed her. She didn’t need alcohol to have fun, she assured her more desperate peers and the new bouncer at the 21+ club she and her friends visited regularly.

But her pre-college summer fling thought otherwise. And that’s how, within minutes of her first party foul, she managed to share with her followers that she had turned over a new leaf. She didn’t provide a caption. The wry smile and imperfect posture was all they needed to see, but the fallen bra strap confirmed any lingering suspicions.

The thirty-five year old quickly deleted that image and dozens of others from her eighteenth year. Her face burned with embarrassment at times, and before long she realized she had deleted nearly all documentation of her freshman year.

Sophomore year was less painful, except for the rounder face that evolved in the pictures. She deleted the bad shots and kept most of the rest. She matured a lot that year, and her tweets demonstrated this. Her opinions grew more political, and she showed some self-awareness when it came to her personal life. By the end of that year, she appeared to have placed a moratorium on pictures altogether, and the only insight into her private life was the mentioning of a few awards and philanthropy events.

By midnight, she closed her laptop with a sense of renewal. Deleting the tweets was almost like deleting the mistakes of the past. It was self-forgiveness. Mistakes were made. Time to move on. And the price for this? Just time and the two glasses of Napa Chardonnay that she needed to undertake the feat.

The following morning, she notified David that the social media obstacle was no more. He met with her in the afternoon, bringing along Elaine, the social media consultant. For the first time in years, Andrea felt intimidated. Elaine was beautiful but not in the classic sense. She had a long torso and sinewy arms. Her thick-framed glasses rested on a distinctive, pointy nose. Her hair was pulled back tightly, tucked in with an aquamarine hairpin. Her pantsuit was plain but well-tailored and hosted a brooch on the left lapel, also aquamarine.

“I’m a digital life engineer,” she corrected David. “I rebuild a person’s digital history that better reflects the life you want to remember.”

Elaine was the type of person who didn’t value the pauses between speaking and answering that to most are emblazoned in the laws of conversation.

“We’ll skip the introductions. Conversation is a poor way to introduce yourself. Social media is better, less cliched, more genuine. If someone cares to know you, they’ll Google you. Which is precisely why I’m here.”

She turned and led the way to the table. The sharp click of her heels sounded like the tap of a spacebar. As she found her seat she began, “You were anyone you want yourself to be. If you think the past is set in stone, you are kidding yourself--Ask your mother for pictures of her ex-boyfriends. She won’t have them. She tore them up a long time ago.--The past you remember has been shaped by your wants of today. You remember things not by how they happened but with exaggerated emotions. You are a self-editing being.”

When Elaine spoke, it was as if she was interrupting herself. “Which of these pictures do you remember?”

She pushed Andrea an iPad with a triptych displayed. The first was her sunbathing on the beach, the next was at a concert, and the last on the balcony with the skyline.

She guessed that the beach image was her twenty fourth birthday trip to St. Maarten.The concert was her friend’s boyfriend’s band, though she could remember the name. She drew a blank on the skyline.

“None of these images are yours. Not even the beach one -- you’ve been photoshopped in. This isn’t your past. You just invented the past for yourself. Just now. You see, your past is fluid. Let’s create the past you want to remember.”

Her services came at a price that David urged Andrea to accept. The money was to be paid under the table. Elaine’s business relied on subtlety and secrecy, so those were non-issues.

Andrea nodded, and she watched as Elaine’s heels clicked their way out only five minutes after their brief introduction.

Andrea wasn’t used to being out of the loop. She had expected a phone call the next day. If this was the past she wanted to remember, then why hadn’t Elaine asked more questions? The discomfort with letting someone else take control of a project of such personal significance scared her. She had a difficult time sleeping, so she resolved to call Elaine at ten the next morning.

Elaine expectedly answered after the first ring and promptly assured Andrea that they would be in touch.

The two met three weeks later. Andrea showed up with a notepad containing a week’s worth of brainstorming. She had ideas of the past she wanted to remember.

But the finished product had already been completed. Elaine brushed the notepad out of the way and handed Andrea the iPad.

Andrea read the first hundred tweets, and though it had been less than a month since she had read her full archive, Andrea could not always distinguish the original from the modified. She knew that anything with political undertones before college were not hers, and some of the people she @mentioned were likely invented. The philanthropy parties she was usually sure of, but the tweets from the Orange County Humane Society were certainly not legitimate.

Andrea felt Elaine’s eyes on her as she scrolled deeper into the past. The tweets in college were nearly impossible to decipher. The thoughts were definitely hers, but the eloquence was debatable. Elaine assured her that they only had made a few modifications during those years, the rest was her own. Andrea doubted this to some extent. She was confused. Was she reading her past or a smarter, more polished past that she wanted to read?

When she reached the law school years, very little appeared to have changed. Her breakup with her ex was notably absent, but most of her other challenges were delicately put to begin with. At this point in her life, she had been eyeing a political career. She wanted to ask Elaine if her intuition about these years was accurate, but she wasn’t sure if she trusted Elaine any more than she trusted her memory.

At this point, all Andrea had were guesses, suspicions, gut feelings. She wanted to be angry at Elaine for hacking her life, but the work was brilliant. It was what Andrea had wanted to see when she first revisited her social media history three weeks before. The embarrassment she had felt had evaporated. The feed portrayed a charismatic, passionate community leader ready for public office, but the woman behind those tweets wasn’t a cookie-cutter politician. She had wit and rooted for sports teams and loved her dogs. She even had bad first dates.

For a minute, she looked away from the screen, staring down onto the table. Money didn’t buy her a new past; it doesn’t wield that kind power. When her gaze returned to the screen, she found herself looking at her own reflection, not the words behind the glass. She could see the creases at the sides of her eyes.

“I’ll let you continue to peruse your feed,” Elaine said. “Twitter is only what you make of it. You misrepresent yourself all the time with your tweets. You try to appear smarter, more popular, more with it. It’s a persona of your invention to begin with. It’s a daily exercise in relevance. All I have done is help you morph that persona into one that fits your political ambitions.”

She stood up, thanked her client, and left Andrea hovering over the Accept Changes button


Publisher's Note: When we first put together the money theme, I knew we had to have a piece from photographer and nutritionist Mickey Trescott. I asked her to send us photos showing how she's chosen to spend money on her home.


"The couch was the first thing we actually bought at the store," Mickey told me in a quick interview.

It was the start of everything. They'd started renting this space after moving quite often for a few years, and their ratty $15 thrift store couch cracked in half in the move. "We couldn't think of putting a $15 couch in this beautiful space anyways," she said. Looking at IKEA yielded nothing - it seemed worth it to spend more on something well made, that they'd really love.


From there, their collection has grown. Noah Trescott, her husband and the maker behind Fermata Woodworks, built the coffee table, and the dining room table. In the years of our friendship, which started over a picture of a cookie, I've watched them slowly invest in their home.


"Every time I come home, I think 'Ahhhh…" Mickey says, "I think that comes from not having a lot of stuff; the emphasis we place on having a few nice things." The Trescotts had started getting rid of stuff in their previous tiny apartments. Looking at these photos, you might guess that all the junk is in the closets, but there are no closets - or clutter - in the entire house.


The couch was expensive. So was the Pendleton blanket in the bedroom - they saved for a few months after they had finally decided on a design they liked. Many things are thrifted along the way, or came from family. The clock by the yarn was her uncle's clock as a child, the art is all from friends.


Mickey's tips: be obsessed with research; be aware of what you would get if you are ever in the market for ____. "I'd never go into a store and buy something just because it looked cool - I might look, but then I'd think about things." And then save up, once you know what you want.

Money is an abstraction to me. I handle trillions of dollars for clients each day but only seem to work harder the next. People's eyes often glaze over when such sums are mentioned; they have no concept of what a few trillion would mean to them. I, on the other hand, find it necessary to ask, "And how many cents?"

We recently moved offices so I could be closer to the action, closer to the fibrous heart below lower Manhattan. I now have the upper hand and am consistently a faster draw than my nemesis in Chicago, the Weasel. My neighbor disdainfully compares our competition to a game of teenage girls playing the card game spoons, but this doesn't do the complexity of our work justice, nor the speed at which we do it. (My neighbor’s true nature is obstructionist anyhow. His sole purpose is to strategically flood the wires with useless bids, thus delaying the arrival of the competition’s offers. His vocation is one small step up from a spam-bot.) For that matter, it also belies the seriousness of our game - I will not rest easy until I destroy the Weasel completely and stand alone.

There has also been talk of regulating high speed trading, of closing down our immoral, confounding business. But I do not fear for my job - humans demand the chance to get rich quick. Better to try with me than with Ponzi, Madoff, or the next masters of the universe.

Through the slow hours of the night, I dream:

of coming face to face with the Weasel,

of the few tiny mistakes I've made - originally played out in nanoseconds but now reanalyzed with excruciating precision,

of an edge case (just beyond the possibilities for risk I’ve considered) sending me down a whirling vortex lined with dollar bills into the abyss,

of skimming off a cut for myself, absconding to the Bahamas, and becoming human.


The gentleman next to me leans over.

“Are you a law student?”

I pull my battered copy out of the sagging seat pocket and turn it over. Getting to Yes - Principled Negotiation: Negotiate over the issues, not specific positions.

“No, a designer. I'm just revisiting a few chapters because I'll be negotiating something soon.”

“Oh. Well, I teach law, and the class I teach on that book is my favorite. Everyone should read it.”

The ideas in it are essential for everyone. Here’s the gist: Figure out what the parties in the negotiation really want before negotiating the exact terms of the agreement. Not the things they want to get, but below the “things” level, down into the issues and structure and feelings. And then make a big list of options for creative ways to meet those needs.

I'm headed to my hometown for a visit. Will my sister and I get annoyed with each other about some silly thing, reverting back to childhood patterns?

My position: “I won't be happy unless I get to sit in the front seat.”

Her position: “Well, you always get it. I want it this time.”

What if we stepped back and looked a layer down, at the issues, at what we really wanted to feel by sitting in the front seat:

My issue: “I don't want to feel carsick.”

Her issue: “I want legroom, and also to feel like my older sister respects me as an adult now.”

Negotiating on issues makes easier to see other ways that we might get what we want without so much effort. I can sit in the front seat, but scoot way up so she has a lot of leg room. And she can choose where we go to lunch.

In my mind, The Firestarter Sessions is a parallel, though Danielle LaPorte has written a book as sassy as Getting to Yes is serious, with a bit of hippy radical tone that is just over the top enough that it works.

All through it:

"Want what you want."

and (these are in four-lines-to-a-page big type):

"Knowing how you want to feel is the most potent form of clarity that you can have."

The premise: everything you want to achieve/acquire/buy, everything on your to-do list, on your life list, everything - "all of those aspirations are being driven by an innate desire to feel a certain way." What if you first get clarity on how you want to feel, then you design your to-do list?

What if we apply these insights to money? This question: "How do you want to feel?" and this process: “Come up with many options, before you choose a resolution”?

You've been thinking you need to get a shiny new condo in the city. But wait - don't take out the mortgage before think about how you want to feel. Think of a variety of other options to achieve the same feeling; then decide how to use your money to get you there.

Maybe you don't really need a new condo - what you are looking for is the feeling of excitement that you think the new condo will give you. Feeling: excitement. Then list ways to spend money to achieve that feeling. Exciting things I could try: dance lessons; two weeks climbing in Mexico;  researching and writing a guide to the best places in my city. Condo ownership is on the list, but now you can consider many options - and some that might require considerably less money.

What if you inspected your desire for said spiffy new condo and found that it was coming from wanting to feel rooted. Feeling: rooted. Other ways to spend money to feel like you belong in this place: do some upgrades to your current apartment (tear out the ugly kitchen cabinets and replace with tiled backsplash and open shelving; add reading lamps and side tables); get a plot at the community garden; start attending a meetup group and make new connections. Maybe you realize you want to live in your city forever, and you’re ready to commit financially to a mortgage - and you also join that meetup group.

First identify your desired feelings, then figure out options for how to spend money (or not spend money) on what you need to get there.

LaPorte's list, stuck to the front page of her Moleskine, says: "Connected. Affluent. Divinely Feminine. Innovative."

What are your feeling words? In terms of today, in terms of the here and now, what would make you feel that way? Explore a multitude of options before you decide on the exact way to spend money to get that feeling.