No. of Recommendations: 1
An earlier attempt I never followed up on


This collection of essays is a dialog with Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin, especially the life plan laid out in their influential and popular book Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence.

Or, maybe, it isn't a dialog at all, but a monologue instead, because I've never spoken with either one of them. I disagree with much they say: the “nine-steps-fit-all” manner of their program; their misunderstandings of how financial markets work; the theories of personality they fail to employ; their very Calvinistic ethics.
“Wow”, you say. “That's bad karma. I read the book and liked it.”
Well, I read and liked it, too. For sure, their hearts are in the right place, their writing strong and thinking clear. What wasn't clear to me, however, as I was reading their book, was how I, Charlie, fit into their scheme, and whether the distresses and dislocations to be endured would be worth the work required. They propose a demanding gauntlet to achieve goals that aren't quite my own, for me being me and they, them.

Rather than offer such a critique as one might find in “The NY Review of Books”, a lengthy, purportedly objective essay offering careful praise and an equally carefully cataloging of regretted mistakes and short comings, my book is the informal report of one person's stumbling his way along the path of Voluntary Simplicity before I knew there was such a thing. By nature and nurture I'm a tightwad, and frugality was long a way of life before I starting realizing its merits. The “how's” of Voluntary Simplicity are easy, right? the creative squeezings of dollars to make money go further, especially when compared to the “why's” of doing so, the bigger questions, the “meaning of life” questions, which their book talks about, but in a late 1980's manner that ignores prior centuries of conversations on the topic, and, more importantly, the very personal paths of persons trying now to find their own way.

Rather than being a prominent lighthouse established to guide all ships toward a safe harbor, I think of their book as a channel marker, one of many there are between the wide, open oceans ships sail upon and the landside destinations where they unload their cargo and passengers or take on new ones. If you're a ship of considerable tonnage, you stay in the shipping lanes marked out for you - whether demarcated by rusting, clanging, gull-perched buoys or the silent, accurate electrons of Loran and GPS - as must the pilot who takes command of your vessel at the harbor's entrance and directs you to your berth. But if you're merely the smallest of small adventurers on the waters of this planet - or in the world of ideas - rowing your own boat, paddling your own canoe, sailing a dingy, or just scrambling along the rocks of a bay-thrusting jetty, you have freedoms you want respected and freedoms you want to exercise. One of which is to ignore the light houses and channel markers, to look at the other side of that “No Trespassing” sign, as does Woody Guthurie in “This Land Is Your Land”, to see that “…the other side, it didn't say anything”, and to continue your explorations as you see fit. Explorations is what this collection of personal essays is about – excursions and attempts, as the root of the word “essay” implies - to find a path, my path, using a writing form I'm comfortable with, the informal essay, where the writer is as much subject matter as is the nominal topic.

It's become fashionable of late to label such reflective introspections as narcissism, dismissing them with the phrase: “You. It's all about you.”

“Well, yes.” I would reply. “It is about me”, and offer Thoreau's words:

“I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.”

To such of my family and friends who find themselves in these pages, my apologies if I portray you as larger than life or smaller. We both know what the facts were, but I'm also telling a story here so others may find themselves in these pages as well, and maybe become friends as well - at least with themselves - as they choose paths less traveled, or bushwhack ones anew. So I take such liberties as I must to make the story work, even though the story isn't one, but many. Like beads strung together to make a necklace, it's neither the whole matters, nor the individual parts, but both, as each reflexively gives meaning to the other.

What you will find in the collection of essays that follows is a bit of humor, comments on things financial, musing on the writing process, flights of fancy, and flings of language as I wordfully play with ideas that have interested me over the years. What you will find, in my bite-sized, one thousand-word chunks of prose, isn't the sum of those explorations, but merely a resting spot while I catch breath and tighten shoe laces before chasing again the eternal theme of an examined life and wherein might be found The Good. As literature or philosophy these essays have no merit, for that wasn't their intent. Nor should they be regarded as sagely investment advice. They are merely nonce pieces: swirling, fleeting oar-prints on the rivers, lakes, and oceans of life as the waterman that I am rows himself in journey on one such day of the many more there will be.

I would be remiss if I didn't offer at least a brief map before our journey begins, to let you choose whether to accompany me further or not. If you work for a living, buy your own groceries, pay your own bills, and books are an important part of your life, then you have all the experience you need to make sense of anything I might say, which can be summed up in one core belief: Who one is as a person is who one can be as an investor. That sentence is what is book is about, which will immediately dissuade three quarters of you – if the type psychologists have their numbers right - from pushing further. It's an introvert's book, a bottom-up, Richard Bolles-inspired approach - yes, he of “What Color Is Your Parachute?” fame, but more germanely “The Three Boxes of Life” - to Life/Work Planning & Investments, but grounded in Myers-Briggs type psychology, which is where I think the journey must begin. Not “out there”, but “in here”, inside the unique person each of us is. So, in a lot of ways, this book is just me talking to myself, letting you look over my shoulder.

To say again, least there be any misunderstanding, this collection of informal essays is a discussion of just some of the “why's” of some of the “how-to's” of some of the ideas that are kicked around when broad topics like “Planning for Retirement” are considered. (In other word, I've hedged my responsibilities for completeness – but not truth, or at least candor - six ways from Sunday, giving myself room to room wherever interests me, or ignore whatever doesn't. ) The approach I'll pursue is both more abstract and informal than the “Investing for Dummies” approach of most primers, whose advice might be 100% sound, but fails to teach you, the reader, how to distinguish between what might be conventionally wise from what might be individually inappropriate, for your being the unique person you are, with your own hopes, fears, needs, and skills. Lip service is paid to individuality in these primers, but the metrics by which you are to measure yourself are external, derived from convention and past practice rather than internally from the details of your head, heart, and soul. Thus, you are often steered away from things you should consider, and pushed toward things you might want to avoid. You're adults and in my book you will decide what you want to decide.

Such investment books as crowd the book store shelves are fish markets where good advice can be obtained, but Caveat Emptor rules the day, and the best fish go to experienced and discriminating buyers, which you and I are not, and to those who want to buy what happens to be for sale, which, presumably, we don't. Instead of a modern super-market with its chrome and glass, refrigerated counter displays, much less the great fish markets of this world, the acres of display of the New York or Tokyo markets, this book is an old-fashioned bait-and-tackle shop, a place to drop by, if you need worms, or ice, or a few new flies to replace the trout-mangled ones you still have from last season, a country store such as Sanborn's that Wetherell describes in “Vermont River, or a place like Bob's, where Hershon centers so many of his stories in “Tales from the Bike Shop”. In short, basic investment concepts that might be useful, if you choose which ones to own, as you fish the rivers and lakes of your life. I can't teach you to fish from reading a book, that comes from time on the river, [insert] but I can spin out a few tales that might encourage you to launch a boat, wet a line, or test the waters as you see fit.

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