BMWs and the Black Swan

I’ve marveled occasionally over the past few years at the explosion of wealth in this country, and the totem for these reflections is the BMW.

I lived in Louisville during the ’70s, and BMWs were all but unknown. The only BMW dealer was a small garage well out of town in a hamlet on the Ohio River. People who drove Beemers were enthusiasts who prized them as high-performance machinery.

Now, I commented to my friend Saul the other night, BMWs are status symbols and as common as Hondas.  “There’s a lot of money in this town!”
I said.

“It’s not money,” he said  solemnly.  “It’s credit. They’re doing it on credit.”

“And there’s nothing behind it?”

He nodded.

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Tasmanian Devils and Moon Shots

It’s a Friday morning in early June and my girlfriend and I are on the front porch of her house in Atlanta sipping coffee. Spring is tapering into summer, but it’s not too hot to be outside, and the mosquitos don’t come around to the front of the house.
The year is 1997, and I work the 2:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift at I write about elections in Nigeria, the trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and, on one memorable night, about a woman in Australia who found a Tasmanian Devil under her car.

My girlfriend is a realtor, and she’s got a problem of her own. “I don’t have any business,” she said. “I’ve talked to all my clients, I’ve called people and I’ve been through my Rolodex, and I just don’t have any business.”

This, as any guy knows, is an invitation to fix something. It’s one of our specialties: we discover a problem and we think we’re supposed to fix it. And ordinarily I might have blundered right in, trying to do just that.

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A Note to Voyeurs

I got an email the other night from a lady I used to run into often, but had lost touch with. Her note says, in part:

“I came across your website, and wanted to reach out and let you know that I enjoy reading your entries, and value your willingness to be vulnerable and publish your journey. I guess it gives those of us on a more secluded path an opportunity to be spiritual voyeurs. :-)”

Odd, the timing of it. I’ve wondered at times whether anyone beside myself was getting anything out of this. It started as a place to report my experiences as I reinvented myself. I knew others had been tossed over the side by corporate America, or left their jobs for some other reason and might need the encouragement of someone else’s experiences.

And I probably also hoped it would buck up my own spirits. I tend to get despondent over setbacks, a consequence of growing up with a mother whose father was an alcoholic.

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The Abundance of the Moment

I was talking the other night to a friend about the gas shortage here in Atlanta, and admitted that I was embarrassed how it had unnerved me.

Hurricanes Gustav and Ike shut down the refineries on the gulf coast which produce the gasoline that is pumped through pipelines to the southeast. It has taken the refineries a long time to get back up and running, and the gasoline reaching our area is well below normal.

The result has been shortages, long lines and the barely muted panic of a population habituated, and unable to get, it’s substance of choice.

The first line I saw was a week ago when I went to get my car washed at a gas station. (Due to a drought, we’re also restricted from engaging in another American birthright: the domestic joy of washing the car in the driveway.)
There was a line half a block long at the station. The attendant said it was because they were selling lowest octane gas at $3.87 a gallon.

I got the car washed without waiting, but the experience was disturbing.

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Blue-Chip Discipline

I’m in one of the stuffed purple chairs at Starbucks, editing a story on my laptop. An academic friend of mine is in the adjoining chair, checking his assets in the Wall Street Journal.

“You gonna work much longer?” he says, folding the paper in half and then in half again.

“As long as I can,” I say, bemused.

He meant was I planning to retire soon. I’ve made no secret that reinventing myself has taken a toll on my finances. That it has eluded my friend probably says more about his preoccupation with finding a woman to marry at the age of 51 than about my circumstances.

Which are anything but robust, at least in the Wall Street Journal sense of the word. But in a world that seems to be lurching from one financial crisis to another, I’ve got some blue-chip experience when it comes to what Andy Stanley calls “faith tension.”

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LinkedIn as a Metaphor

I got an email yesterday from a friend whom I had invited to be one of my connections on LinkedIn. The essence of her question was: why? And the essence of my answer was: I don’t know, but I’ve been sitting on the sidelines all my life acting like I’m in control when all I’veRead more

The Quality Commitment

I came across a remark from Jimmy Page  the other day in the June 12 Rolling Stone that reminded me about the importance of commitment. In an interview with David Fricke, Page said, “The main thing is quality… The important thing is to commit to playing. You have to put a lot in to getRead more

The Wisdom of Squirrels

The pistol shots began about 730 on Sunday morning: BANG! BANGBANGBANG! BANG! BANGBANG! I don’t live in that kind of neighborhood, so I got up and wandered into the living room. The sun was still low and hung up in the foliage east of the house. But it had broken through in one spot andRead more

Buckminster Fuller Reconsidered

“Young man, you amaze me.”

That’s how Albert Einstein greeted Buckminster Fuller when the geniuses met in the 1920s. Einstein had just read the manuscript of Fuller’s first book, “Nine Chains to the Moon,” and asked to meet the young unknown whose chief distinction was that he’d been thrown out of Harvard not once, but twice.

The anecdote was reported by the Christian Science Monitor in a long article it published a few days after Fuller’s death in 1983. It came to mind when I was flipping through a back issue (July 7) of TIME recently and happened upon an article about Fuller.

The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York is exhibiting his drawings, sketches, etc., by way of remembering him 25 years after his death. TIME acknowledges Fuller as “the famous advance man for the future” (Wikipedia refers to him as an architect, author, designer, futurist, inventor, and visionary), but he was more than that.

In fact, it may be that the drawings and inventions were not Bucky Fuller’s greatest contribution. In a world beset by hubris, greed and aggression, Fuller was remarkable for his love for mankind and his commitment to peace.
“War,” he once declared, “is obsolete.”

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Taking Inventory

I started this website in 2005, four years after losing my job in corporate journalism. The idea in writing about learning to re-invent myself was that I might learn a thing or two — writing is a process of discovery — and perhaps encourage others who may be considering doing the same, or who may be forced to do so by circumstances beyond their control. 

With that in mind, I offer a tincture of advice and a glass of experience (the glass is half-full, by the way):

• Yeah, times are tough, and if the gloom and doom scare you, turn back now. Conventional wisdom is the kiss of death to dreams. And to those who say "it’s reality," I would argue that it’s merely one version of reality – the media’s – and it reeks of victim theology.

• I have more serenity than I have ever had, which is not just surprising, it is miraculous. I owe this to Al-Anon, the 12-step program for families and friends of alcoholics. It has taught me, among other things, to turn my life over to God every day, and to refresh that surrender every time I am stressed or start obsessing.

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