New year

Today, I drove down to San Jose. I had no real purpose in mind, except to get some kisses and hugs from my old cat, Toby. She’s been with her two daddies since I moved to Australia, and she is still spoiled rotten. Mission: accomplished. She is still such a love. Kitten kisses are good luck.

I could spout off New Year’s resolutions, but if you are anything like me, you have trouble sticking to them. Don’t get me wrong – I could go on with a new healthy habit for a year, but I’d still give up, and revert to old ways. So this year, instead of calling them resolutions, I prefer to look at myself in mirror, and I’m gonna make a change. (*Start singing Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” with me now.*) I am making positive life choices, and trying to grab my own life by the reigns. I survived another year. Coming off of a super shitty 2013, 2014 was definitely an upswing, and 2015 is going to be my year. I will make it so.

 photo survived.gif

I want to spend 15 minutes a day researching DSLR cameras, and how to capture images of certain things. I’m planning a trip in 2015, and I want a camera that can keep up with me and allow me to nurture my artist’s eye. Without giving too much away about the trip (the itinerary of which is still floating around in my head and haphazardly beginning to get organized in a master spreadsheet, cause that’s how I roll), I want to learn what kind of DSLR settings are required to photograph the Aurora Borealis, a beautiful sunset, fireworks, stars, and the moon.

I recently read somewhere that drinking 5 green teas a day will help you lose belly fat. Call me a sucker, but I’m going to give it a go. I may not hit 5 times, but I do love a nice jasmine green tea, and a little pick me up for my 3pm-sleepies during busy season may be just what the doctor ordered.

I need to start going back to the gym every day. I let my routine fall by the wayside when work got busy this year. I promised myself I wouldn’t do that when I spent the last year of my life finally making time for me and getting healthier again. When I go to the gym every day, I need to start doing abs again. Every time. I did an ab challenge in July 2013 that was insane, but I got results. I haven’t done it since. Time to get back into it. No excuses.

I also want to spend 15 minutes a day beginning to learn basic German. I want to be somewhat conversational. I want to have what may be the worst conversation of a fluent-speaking German’s life, but hey, at least it’s a conversation.

I enjoyed the sunny drive in the cold air. The music that happened to come onto the radio during my drive down really set my mood for the whole day. I spent much of the day in my head, just thinking things.

I’m ringing in the new year where I feel most comfortable – in pajamas, in my apartment, and in my head. No line for the bathroom, no bra or pants required (though pants are on because hey, winter.)

So pour a glass of bubbly and sit with me on my couch. I’d love to share moments with you, remembering this year, the highlights, the lowlights, and everything in between. Play some YouTube roulette with me, and listen to the videos on YouTube in the order of the playlist below. Some you may know; some you may not. See what thoughts the lyrics inspire. See what movements your body wants to make to the rhythms. Let it go.

1. Santeria – Sublime
2. Shut Up and Dance – Walk the Moon
3. Ho Hey – The Lumineers
4. Burn It Down – Linkin Park
5. The Heart Wants What It Wants – Selena Gomez
6. Walls (No. 3) – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
7. Somebody Loves You – Betty Who
8. Cough Syrup – Young the Giant
9. I’ve Got the Magic in Me – B.o.B.
10. Some Nights – Fun.
11. Shake It Out – Florence and the Machine
12. End of the Line – Traveling Wilburys

I’ve never felt stronger about this. I’m gonna make the rest of my life the best of my life, and it starts with January 1, 2015. Happy New Year!

 photo boob.gif


10 tips for a prosperous life

Last night, I realized my Netflix list had only 3 movies on it, and the rest were mostly TV shows to binge-watch. I needed to add more material with which to distract myself from life. I wanted to see things with purpose and intent. One of the genres I went into with gusto was stand-up comedy as I browsed the titles.

Stand-up comedy has always been something I’ve loved from afar. I love the cleverness, the timing, the honesty, the different perspective a funny person brings that I never even though of, but it’s brilliant and now I can’t help but think that way about things too.

Today I watched “American Ham: 10 Tips for a Prosperous Life” stand-up comedy show by Nick Offerman. If you don’t know who that is, he is the Ron Swanson of Parks & Recreation, and Megan Mullally’s very lucky husband. He has the moustache of manliness, and turns out, a wit that resonates with my humor, my brain, my heart, and my beliefs. I never would have thought the man behind Ron Swanson would have similar values to me. Today I learned it might just be the case.

 photo cleanup.gif

What I loved about his special was how multi-faceted his talent is – he walks on stage shirtless to deliver on his promise for partial nudity and is totally comfortable with his gut and body hair. He plays the guitar, sings, does woodworking in his spare time, dances silly, thinks about things, and interjects his show with forcing his viewers to switch media to youtube for his songs/videos that would be too censored to be comprehensible if aired on television. That’s a true dynamic performer and human being. He’s an advocate for gay people, and is a real American. This special made my games of Cards Against Humanity look tame. Love.

This hour and 20 minutes of my time was so good, I spent a second hour and another 20 minutes watching it a second time to catch his 10 Tips for a Prosperous Life:

 photo clear alcohol.gif

and the following:

1. Engage in romantic love – this is not applicable for me at the moment. I am a huge sap when I look at my true nature, and someday I shall find that person who will welcome those romantic gestures from me. I have a lot of love to give – just need to find the right person. No point wasting time with people who don’t make me happy. You can’t hurry love, and I’m good being single at the moment. Next.

2. Say Please and Thank You – I truly agree with this one. I say thank you to the SF muni driver every time I get off the streetcar or train or bus. If someone shares something with me, a personal anecdote, a drink, their time, I am truly grateful. I try to say thank you often. Under this point, he brought up a great idea. There should be separation of church and state (I know! It’s so new and radical!) and politics should be based on the Hobbit. He thoughtfully asks if Elron, the androgynous leader of the Elves, had a gay partner. We don’t actually know because (brilliant) **it’s none of our business**. Simply brilliant. It doesn’t affect how he does his job. Which is politicking things. I want that.

3. Use a handkerchief – It’s funny that he says this. I’ve been saying this for the last two years, since I got a set of 6 handkerchiefs in Kmart in Sydney. I have them, I bring them to work instead of travel packs of Kleenex. He clearly knew this pearl before I did. *bows to sensei*

4. Eat red meat – I could give or take this one. I spent some time doing the weekday vegetarian thing, and I really liked it. Being a lesbian in California, I have a lot of lesbian vegetarian friends. I’m undecided and bi-omnivore for the time being. I’m ok with that. Sometimes, a girl just needs a cheesesteak. Also, bacon.

5. Get a hobby – he prefers the word ‘discipline’, and I couldn’t agree more. This was the strongest tip of his that resonated with me, particularly with where I am in my head and in my life right now.

When you phrase it that way, suddenly, it clicks that you’re allowed to have multiple disciplines. You may be a jack of all trades, and a master of none. That is exactly how I identify. I can’t do anything particularly well, but I can do a lot of things to a pretty good standard, for a novice. I have felt most of life, however, that everyone is supposed to be good at something, and I always somehow felt deficient because I didn’t have that one thing. I had a lot of things. I’m not the best 33 year old lesbian CPA, but I’m certainly not the worst.

Make something. Learn about how to do something well. Apply yourself. Use your hands. This year, I ventured into that space and started this blog. I, too, had a deep down need to create something to throw into this world as mine. When you create, you become a local artisan. Poetry, writing, photography, painting, woodworking, playing an instrument, making music – there are so many different media out there in which to express oneself. I need to figure out what media I work best in, and what subject sets my creative juices flowing, and my fire burning. For now, I’ve had 6 months of creativity, 95 posts, and I reached over 3,000 views just this week. I’ve got something tangible after 6 months of working at my craft. I used a lot of raw materials, made lots of mistakes, but I kept at it. I don’t care if I’m good or bad at it; I just need to get it out.

Plus, hobbies are sexy; he argues there is nothing better than watching your loved one creating something they love to make. I have to agree completely. I challenge you to find something sexier than that, no matter which way you swing. When I see a woman, doing something she loves, there is something that attracts me to that person. Makes my whores moan, if you know what I’m saying (yes, hormones). I feel it in me waters.

Find your thing. A coworker in Australia used to “boom” out review on our audit engagements. It was a running joke, and one guy on our team got a custom stamp made one day over his lunch break in the financial district that said “BOOM” on it just for her. I need to find that thing that makes me go *BOOM* – put my thing down, drop the mike, and step away. This truly hits a button – it makes you sexy when you boom it out. And I need all the help I can get.

If you can’t do what you love as a main job, work a reasonable schedule so you have time to do what you love outside work. That’s the crux of my current dilemma in life. I don’t love what I’m doing. What I’m doing for a career does not afford such a thing as spare time, especially in the months of January through June, in which I can do something I love on the side. While it’s been revolutionary to have such a tool for global access to information, that time now spent googling and facebooking used to be the time in which I read books, painted, went on walks/travelled and took photos, watched movie and TV shows, or as Offerman says, “ living like a motherfucker.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. If you want to be more interesting, get off your phone. Expose yourself to real people, books, thoughts, ideas, and not just games.

Learning a new discipline allows you to shape whatever medium you choose into anything you want it to be. I have a lifetime ahead of me to learn, and I want to learn to do something – anything – beautifully.

I want to use my body – it’s been through $100,000 and 5 knee surgeries. Somehow I can still walk. Our bodies can do amazing things. We are obligated to do more with our bodies beyond farting around on mobile devices and typing on laptops all day. He reminscied to those simpler days, when the phone was on the wall. It wasn’t a smart phone. You answered it when it rang. But you didn’t sit there waiting for it to refresh or the chasing dots of a text message response to materialize. You don’t sit out on life waiting for a phone.

6. Go outside, remain – Get out in the fresh air. Check.

7. Avoid the mirror – Now this was especially en pointe for me, as my aunt left a Marie Claire magazine from October 2014 behind at my place from her flight here. I browsed it today, curious about what’s going on in that world. It’s been a decade, at least, since I read any kind of magazine. Looking at the magazine and comparing myself to the models is pointless. Yup, my response to that is 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, because I can’t even. You’re beautiful. I’m beautiful to someone too, and not just my mother. What is naturally occurring is diversity among the species. Offerman used the concept of collecting leaves from every tree and looking at each one. Some are super fucked up compared to that other one, but each one is still beautiful in its way. Besides, leaves wouldn’t know if they’re beautiful or not – it’s simply not in the realm of care for a leaf. How it looks simply doesn’t matter. As long as it doesn’t have shit in its hair, or something.

In scanning this magazine, I did a little exercise. I folded the pages of any content that piqued my interest, or captivated me for longer than a minute. Here is what I came up with:

a. A quote from the actress who portrays Crazy Eyes in Orange is the New Black, Uzo Aduba, that her momma used to say to her: “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.” That means people can learn to say my last name too.

 photo wrongname.gif

b. “Don’t take ‘no’ as a full stop. Take it as a comma.” Those words spoke to me about persistence and flexibility.

c. Black leather birkenstocks with rhinestones – yes, I’m a card carrying lesbian and I admit the thought of black leather birkenstocks with bling buckles appealed to me, and I cannot exactly explain why. Move on.

d. Moisturize really well. As I get older, this is getting more and more important. I’m horrible at doing it; I just get lazy. It should be my new year’s resolution. I’ll add that to the list.

e. Perfume promiscuity is actually a thing, and I have it bad. I have built a collection over the years of my favorites. Each scent has a different mood, and they’re all like putting on your favorite t-shirt. Some women collect shoes; I collect scents.

8. Maintain a relationship with Jesus Christ if it is getting you sex – meh. Pass. Not applicable.

9. Use intoxicants. I liked Offerman’s key point here: strike a balance. Use, don’t abuse and ruin it for the rest of us. Use in proper doses, and in safe company. Don’t be an idiot. If used properly intoxicants can produce creativity and be fun. If used improperly, meth can make you look like an ewok. Your choice.

10. Paddle your own canoe. Great advice. There’s no one else in your canoe. You have to make the effort if you want to get anywhere. It’s up to you.

This reminded me of the letter from Benjamin Button to his daughter. I’l just reiterate that wonderful piece of advice here for relevance and effect:

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early, to be whoever you want to be.

There’s no time limit, start whenever you want.

You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing.

We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it.

And I hope you see things that startle you.

I hope you feel things you never felt before.

I hope you meet people with a different point of view.

I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”

“What would Jesus do? Paddle my goddamn canoe.” If I somehow manage to not capsize my canoe, if I overcome my inherent klutziness and live a long life, I don’t want to look back on those years and wonder where those years have gone.

Sometimes a moment occurs when what you need to hear is said, and you’re simultaneously open to hearing it, and it just clicks. That happened today, at the hands of this man:

 photo enthusiasm.gif

Won’t you be my neighbor

Growing up as a young whippersnapper in the suburbs, I had the pleasure of actually knowing my neighbors. As I may have alluded to in posts past, we even had block parties, and built a real sense of community.

In San Francisco, and even in Sydney, I didn’t really know my neighbors. In college, I lived in an apartment that got broken into once, and I began to trust neighbors even less. They weren’t friends. They simply just happened to pay rent and live nearby. It changed a little when I bought a flat with my ex back in 2008, and we got to know the owners of the flat above us. I also got to know the older man who lived next door on the ground floor, since he’d always be outside, chain-smoking his cigarettes, while I landscaped the backyard, painted, or drank my coffee on our deck. Some were annoyances who played thumpy bass, and they existed merely to serve as the subjects of my evil eye and scornful disdain.

 photo wedontlikeyou.gif

It’s a bit different in the building I live in now. Our fire alarm went off one random day this autumn, and many neighbors bonded while standing outside waiting for the fire department. Our lobby resembled Niagara Falls as the person who owned the apartment directly above it somehow didn’t realize their kitchen sink had overflowed and flooded through. I’d seen some of the people who have apartments on my floor in passing, and I even know some of their first names. One guy on my floor has the cutest cat, and he has a piano in what must be a broom closet, and he plays beautiful music for hours at a time. I say hi to those I meet while doing coin-operated laundry in the basement. In my 10-Q and 10-K posts, I’d mentioned the ongoing rivalry between the grinch who stole neighborly congeniality (the crotchety neighbor) and me. If you weren’t up to speed, the score was 1-1, and I’ve been curious and eager to see what round 3 would have in store.

 photo tree.gif

This afternoon, we both got off two different elevators at the same time, and I held the door open for her as we walked the same direction down the hall to our adjacent apartments. It was mildly awkward, but I was cordial.

 photo problems.gif

She invited me in to see her apartment, and so I entered. Besides having a cello, multiple guitars, and other string instruments, she had a middle seat of a van in her living room. Interesting seating option, I commented to her. Her apartment was full of clutter, though mostly organized. She kept the windows closed, and the apartment didn’t seem to get as much natural light as mine does.

In our talks, she expressed that she’s lost 11 people, friends and lovers, ever since 2009. That’s five years of death. I told her I could empathize. As you, dear reader, may have deduced from my explicit mention in many posts, I’ve had my fair share of loss of close loved ones in the past two years. She got to talking about her ex, and the break-up. Turns out crotchety neighbor is a lesbian, too!

I invited her into my apartment after she had done the same, quid pro quo, and all. I wanted to prove to her once and for all I don’t have a subwoofer against her apartment. She ceded that she had been confused when she thought I was being loud, as it was actually the people above her. She almost boasted that she had taken them to court before. A force to be reckoned with, that one.

Her kitchen was dirty; but hell, she indicated she’s been in the building, in the same apartment for 25 years. I’m sure if I lived somewhere for 25 years, I’d look like the Queen of the Hoarders, too. She, too, had seen a mouse in her apartment. We lamented over the sirens that wail down Market Street, and the streetcar that rattles down the tracks all the time except when you need to catch one. She told me she also had a scooter to get around town.

She asked me, hopefully, when she saw my apartment, if I played any musical instruments. I dashed her hopes with a hard no. She asked about the paintings on the wall my father did, and she asked about the huge piece I have by a local San Francisco artist. She asked about the photos I’d converted to canvas for a nominal fee – photos I took in Ibiza, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Hawaii.

It’s funny. She started out writing me a nastygram about noise when I first moved in, and the tension between us had been palpable ever since. In six months, she never said hi, banged on the walls, and then finally worked up the nerve to knock on my door when she thought my bass was on high. I thought she was lonely, and it turns out she truly was. She said she didn’t have many more friends left. I told her, that she can always make new friends.

That is what we did today. The cello-playing, scooter-riding, lesbian and I are now friends. We agreed in the new year, we’d share a coffee or a drink to possibly build some neighborly goodwill. Now that we are on slightly better terms,

 photo charmbomb.gif

‘Tis the season, indeed.

A merry little Christmas

It is Christmas Day, and again San Francisco is nearly eerily silent. It sounds like the quiet suburbs, not a bustling city. This is one of my favorite feelings in my city – when it’s just about emptied out of all the noise, and well, people cancer. That is when I fell in love with San Francisco, and it will forever be one of my happy places.

My aunt arrives at SFO in T-2 hours, and the apartment is nearly spotless. I spent a good portion of yesterday cleaning because 1) I’d put off any cleaning until just before a guest arrived out of sheer laziness and 2) I love when my apartment is clean. After procrastinating on my cleaning duties for a few days too long, I was decidedly living in “filth” (yes, first world problems). I didn’t realize how dirty it was until I made it clean. So it is with many things.

I’ve a cup of coffee, in a San Jose Starbucks mug next to me at my laptop while I write. Perhaps that is something you did not know about me, dear reader. I collect Starbucks mugs from cities or countries to which I’ve travelled. I never thought a mug from my hometown would all of a sudden be a “travel destination.” Since my mother sold my childhood home after my father passed, I can no longer say I have a home base in San Jose. It is now simply a memory spanning 17 years of my life where I grew up.

 photo coffee.gif

On past Christmases, my flatmate and I decorated a fake tree in Sydney with purple, turquoise, and gold ornaments, and white lights. This year, I went back to basics and purchased mostly gold and red decorations, with spots of green. I’m reusing our Sydney tree, to bring a bit of that home into San Francisco. But next year, I think I will have to get a fresh cut tree because the smell of pine is absolutely devine. After I’d already put my tree up this year, a Christmas tree lot appeared a block away, and every time I’d walk to the gym, or the grocery store, I would inhale deeply as I passed by to drink in the lovely smell of the pine. Yes, the smell is a panic/adrenaline response for a tree which has been cut, so the smell is basically the equivalent of the tree screaming in agony. But I love that smell. I’m a sick-o.

 photo cheekychin.gif

I’ve my best sheets and duvet cover on my bed for my aunt’s sleeping comfort. I’ll be sleeping on the couch. I have some stains on my couch from merely 6 months of use – nothing gross though. Turns out a pen found its way in between the cushions and to the underside of the middle bum cushion. I had hoped to turn over the middle cushion to hide the stains and make my couch look newer, but the ink from the pen got on what I hoped would still be the clean side. So, the stains are actually on the better side of the cushion. D’oh. But can’t I say that about life too? When I want to turn the good side out for showing, sometimes it’s worse than what you thought was the bad side. So I must leave those flaws out for all to see why I can’t have nice things. Even though I try to take care of them, inevitably, I get messy without intent.

No major plans are on the agenda today, besides staying sober until I pick up my aunt from the airport. After that, it will likely be food, drink, TV and a little bit of gift exchange. My aunt and I are quite independent and financially self-sufficient, and can each provide for ourselves should we want for anything. But it’s Christmas and gifts are what you do, dammit.

 photo bigang_1.gif

So have yourself a merry little Christmas, as I am doing. Enjoy the simplicity of not having to work (hopefully you are lucky enough to be able to take the day off) and time with those whom you may not see frequently throughout the year. Treat yourself, and try not to be a total asshole if you must go out in public today.

Happy holidays, dear reader.

Wrapping it up

In two days, I’ll be having myself a merry little Christmas with my Auntie Chianti until the 28th. It’s been a while since she came and visited me on my turf – and the last time she made the effort, she came all the way to Australia. She wants to watch movies, drink (of course), eat, relax, and I got us tickets for the Asian Art Museum to see the archaeology of Saudi Arabia exhibit. She is an archaeologist so it’s right up her alley. Hey, it gets us out of my tiny little apartment with the bedroom and living room all in the main living space.

Our office closes officially at 3pm on Christmas Eve. They are forcing us to take vacation in between actual holidays, like we have them to spare. Because I want to use my vacation days staying in the city where I live (dripping with sarcasm, obviously). I love me my staycations, but I don’t want to use up my vacation accrual unless I actually travel somewhere. Perhaps that makes me antiquated… or, you know, sane and normal.

Since I’m not technically off the clock til tomorrow, I’m engaging in online trainings. As if staying current on all the continuing education requirements for CPA qualifications compliance isn’t enough, the firm has me doing all the quality workshops from when I was gone two years ago. Yep, 2012 and 2013 audit quality standards – and they’re not even webinars. I have to read a bunch of content on my own, without any kind of simulation or case study. Today is my first day of doing this and I’m already bored to tears. All of these trainings are due March 31, 2015, which you would think is plenty of time for a reasonable person. However, once January hits, so does the hell of what-I-call “busy season.”

 photo baddream.gif

I shall set my Out of Office notification tomorrow and not return to emails for a long time (well about two weeks). My last expense report and my time sheet is submitted through December 31 (updating that through the 5th of January will be tomorrow’s big task.)

The clients for which I started work in August finally closed out this month, and I managed to recover some overruns from both clients. Of course I haven’t had sufficient time to celebrate the end of that work – how anticlimactic. I have 3 jobs with December 31 year ends (as of last check but that could change) taken as far as I can get them for the year, as staff do the same and get the hell out of dodge.

It seems so odd to me that only 6 months ago I called Sydney home, a place 7,912 miles away from San Francisco. It’s good for me to have come back here. Really. I didn’t have much in the way of expectations for when I got here, except not to fall flat on my face, literally and figuratively. It is what it is. However, I feel myself getting that old familiar desire to travel again and it grows stronger every day. I’ve spreadsheeted (there I go verbing nouns again) my destinations by continent or major country with multiple destinations within. I have looked at my work schedule for the upcoming 6 months, and sorted out a potential solution to allow me the time to travel as I wish. I’ve prechecked destinations and timing with a couple friends to try to arrange international rendezvous. Yes, the plural is exactly the same as the singular, I looked it up.

In my post here, I submitted for your, my dear reader’s, review of my 10-Q quarterly update. I hereby provide the abbreviated 10-K Annual Report for idigres to update you on the last 3 months in a concise manner.

Unfinished business:
• Crotchety neighbor remains crotchety and sensitive to sounds. However, she decided one day to be a halfway decent person and knock on the door, rather than pounding on the wall. I thought old people were supposed to get more deaf with time. I swear she has supersonic hearing, because she complains at my TV volume at only level 15.
• I still love my apartment – despite the water damage and new mold problem in my closet after the “biblical rainstorm” earlier this month, and the mouse I caught running through my apartment one night. It is also lacking a kitten to perhaps help with said mouse infestation, but not much I can do about bringing a kitty home if I don’t know that I can give it a good life and a stable home just yet. Further, now the repairs have been made to prevent mice from entering my apartment again.
• Many a guest have now stayed with me – visitors from the UK, Sydney, and soon from within the continental US.
• I disposed of my papasan chair and footstool assets, and acquired a new-to-me secondhand chair asset which matches my most adult non-IKEA couch.
• By keeping costs low, I’ve managed to save quite a bit more money. The budget for alcohol intake has been released since my alcohol consumption has been at staggering 15 year lows, but for these upcoming holidays.
• I’ve modified my portfolio based on my own personal hypotheses about Project Prophecy and have already seen gains on those new investments in the short time I’ve had them. *smug face*
• My Netflix stock is absolutely teaching me what a stupid decision it was to dollar-cost average that sinking ship. You win some, you lose some. Netflix is my loser.
• Weekday vegetarianism has gone out the window. As has my daily gym routine. And I have a bakery of mini rolls to prove it. Oh well, I go to the gym when I can, try to stay active, and my clothes still fit, albeit a little tighter.
 photo fat.gif

All in all, I really can’t complain. I’m alive, I have my health, and I remain single and childless.

 photo bridgetjones.gif

By idigres

Disney princesses and yearbooks

Last night, a friend of mine kind of sort of invited herself and her guest (who were already on their 47th drink each) to my apartment for “just one glass of champagne, I promise.” The guest was a stranger, whom she initially said was a gay man, but then turned out to be a very straight musician, who met me for the first time ever, and asked me what he framed as a very simple question. Now I normally do not let strangers into my home as a habit. In fact, most of my friends haven’t even been here. But I set aside my temporary anger at the intrusion and welcomed some company, accepting that I could not change that she and her friend were coming over.

We three were sharing a bottle of champagne in merry measure, and keeping the mood light. To lighten up a somewhat deep and potentially sour-turning comment made by my very intoxicated friend, I brought up Disney movies and how they fuel the unrealistic expectations women have about love from an early age. He had postulated, as any straight man completely baffled by the opposite sex would, that the key to figuring out any woman is to ascertain which Disney princess she is. Then, you know how to be her prince. My first response: Utter and complete garbage. But then I started thinking about it and letting his words sink in.

 photo IMG_2704.jpg

If I identified with any princess, it would be Belle, from Beauty and the Beast, because she’s not really a princess at all. She reads books. She doesn’t waste her time with frivolous things, she’s kind to animals, and she loves her dad. She’s not interested in persistent advances from Gaston, and she looks for beauty within. Ultimately, she ends up with a ginger (of sorts, depending on the version of the story you accept.)

So along his lines of thinking, if I identify with Belle, my “prince” would have to be extremely hairy, hated by my entire village, hold me hostage against my will, and expect me to fall in love with him because of a rose. I’m not allowed in certain parts of the house, and I’m forced to socialize with candlesticks, clocks and teacups. But something I can’t control in him will change when he finally feels emasculated enough to release me, and I come back to him because I’m a glutton for unnecessary roughness??? I then proceed to live – you guessed it – happily ever after. Riiiiiiiiiight. On second thought, still utter and complete garbage.

I could poke oh-so-many holes in that, I don’t even know where to begin. First off, I don’t want a prince. I’d definitely have a princess. Maybe my dream girl would be Ariel, or Cinderella, Mulan, but no one can presume to know me based on a Disney genotype. There probably isn’t even a phenotype when it comes to what I’m looking for in a potential partner. Insert sassy black woman shaking her finger yelling, “YOU DON’T KNOW ME!”

My dream girl:
 photo image1-1.jpg

My friend fancied herself after Ariel, the little mermaid. Why, I do not know, because the conversation bent on a sharp tangent to personalities of Disney princesses with new age attitudes. For example, my friend would be Ariel, but with a potty-mouthed tell-it-like-it-is “Fuck It” psyche. If you’ve ever seen the United States of Tara and know about her multiple personalities, this one would be most similar to a combination of Gimme and Buck. The gentleman also claimed my friend contained a Martha Stewart personality as well, much like the Alice character in United States of Tara.

 photo IMG_0114.jpg

The conversation then meandered (or stumbled drunkenly, whatever you prefer) to the topic of multiple personalities. I shared that I would guess I’ve about 12 different personalities in my head at any given time, much like that movie, Heart and Souls, with Robert Downey Jr. My favorite of all those personalities I house is a red headed freckled kid named Rudy with Down syndrome and a love of accounting. I do indeed have a sassy black woman, not just a coincidence for the source of my earlier you-don’t-know-me response. I also have a well-styled, well-groomed gay man asking me, “What-what-what are you doing?” and reminding me to be fierce, and to put down that hors d’oeuvre.

 photo image3-1.jpg

It was not until my guests were leaving that the gentleman made known his seemingly innocent yet loaded question of me. This left me the remainder of my waking minutes that evening to simmer. He “hypothetically” asked what the fact that my high school yearbooks are doing displayed on my shelf says about me as a person. He had some nerve.

What does having my middle school and high school yearbooks on one of the few shelves I have in my main room say about me? Well, the story of the books even being back in my apartment comes from finally getting them from a friend who was holding them for me in Napa for the last year I was in Australia. I got 60% of my books back (remaining 40% still to come) and I put them on shelves so they wouldn’t be stacked on the floor. The yearbooks are with some photo albums, and some old college textbooks of the business/finance/accounting variety. He said one could infer I’m proud of scholarly feats. I hear proud and I think of arrogance or the kind to the extent of being one of the seven deadly sins. I think broadly, one could correctly infer I love books. I have memories. I worked in a scrapbook store in high school so I knew how to put photos in a photo album for future enjoyment.

To be honest, I’d tried to forget middle and high school. I didn’t really bloom until college and after, in San Francisco. I’m blooming again in my 30’s. So that they are here and in the main living room instead of out of plain sight has solely to do with I can’t afford rent for a place much bigger than the one I’m in now, a whopping 419 square feet. If I had my way, I’d have a library and a garden, and these would not be on display at all. Then all books, including those yearbooks would be in the library where I could enjoy them, reading in a comfortable chair or a window seat in a quiet study.

 photo image2-1.jpg

My apartment is small, and whilst I have a sizable closet, it’s quite full already. Only so much can be hidden away or out on display here. I also haven’t opened those yearbooks in years. One could also infer the way they’re stacked horizontally, they’re not meant to be removed for viewing purposes. They’re simply being stored.

So my multi-leveled response to him would be not to over-think it. I’m too transient at the moment and not a person too set in my ways to make an educated conclusion about yearbooks being amongst those on my shelves. While it may say something about me, it is not me.

Beyond that, any real woman can’t be compared to a Disney princess. Not all girls are princesses. Some are scientists, mathematicians, pilots, judges, litigators, artists, authors, poets, athletes, and the list goes on. A real woman doesn’t need a prince, or a princess, to make her life complete.

So there.

Also, no post involving Disney princesses is complete without this:

Walking along the abyss

Many people use the idea of an abyss to explain depression. Perhaps, that is because it is so insular and isolating. You feel alone, afloat, adrift. It looks so big, and you feel incredibly small and insignificant. It’s black – it’s full of everything yet nothing at the same time. It’s mysterious.

There are good days and bad days with depression. Most people don’t hear about the bad days.

I know what triggered my depression in 2013 – that’s easy enough. I lost my dad, my girlfriend, and a promotion I felt I’d earned all within the span of a month. My mother sold my childhood home and moved. All while I was a foreigner and living abroad, outside of any comfort zone that could be had. My world came crashing down.

If I had to pinpoint the source of my depression though, I’m not really sure I could say. You could say I’m genetically predisposed to it, as members of my family have permutations of it, and other maladies of the brain, as well. I wasn’t necessarily abused. But hey, we’ve all seen some shit. I guess it was just a loss of a foundation, a rock, a rope, something to hold onto, to keep me tethered to reality. I stopped keeping up with friends and wrapped myself into a cushion of solitary comfort.

Holding fast to that rope which keeps me firmly planted in San Francisco in December 2014 can sometimes be difficult. Yesterday was a bad day, and I lost hold of the rope. I found myself once again, meandering aimlessly alongside the massive abyss. I gazed into it, wondering what life was without that tether to reality. Turns out, not much.

I couldn’t leave my apartment yesterday. I had physical symptoms that accompany depression – I was crying, hard, which I rarely do since the antidepressants entered my system. I was shaking, had a headache, couldn’t keep much food in me, and even struggled with water at first. I was fatigued and irritable.

Luckily, I found the rope again by evening. This time’s trigger was the fear that I might be losing someone to whom I’ve grown very close and attached over the last year over misunderstandings in electronic communication. This was exacerbated by goings-on at work and stresses related to projects that needed to get wrapped up before the holidays. A fog swooped in my head and enveloped me, and there was the abyss again. Suddenly I could no longer understand the work emails coming through my phone. I couldn’t read and comprehend, and I couldn’t watch TV or listen to music. I could focus on nothing but the thought of facing loss again. I told myself to be strong, to go into work anyway. My body would have none of it. When that spiral begins, when the fog rolls in, I feel powerless to command it to stop and go away. It enters my eyes; it enters my head, my heart, and my guts.

If there was a sliding scale for depression – say 1 to 10 – 1 being not noticeable and 10 being suicidal, yesterday was a 9. I like to think I’ll never be suicidal. I hope I’ll never jump into the abyss and give up. But I’m less afraid when I look out upon it, now. I’m getting used to it. So maybe my personal scale would be 1-9. Yesterday’s 9 reminded me that you’re never completely over things – triggers appear out of nowhere and dredge up old feelings – feelings you thought you’d picked up, looked at, dealt with, and moved on since. Apparently, I wasn’t as over it as I thought.

I could at least try to wear a uniform, a costume, a mask, when the spiral begins. Even that is near impossible. Anything that takes effort doesn’t seem to happen. It does help to tell someone, and reach out to someone. I feel bad for whomever I reach out to, that they have to deal with me in a less than ideal state, so I try not to make it dramatic. But I find I need that lifesaver ring to hold onto. I try to mix it up and not rely on the same person every time to pull me in.

What I saw in that abyss yesterday reminded me that I don’t want to be in it. Sometimes though, it can be a sight to see. A clarity, a sense of knowing it’s there, looking right back at you, almost daring you to jump in, just to see if you can be different than everyone else is and get back out once you’ve leapt in.

I didn’t buy it for a second. I shall be content to walk along the abyss, but I have no interest in accepting its taunting challenges. In my head, I imagine the movie Stardust, and the Wall. I like to think I’m the Guardian of the Wall. Yet at the same time, I am the person who timidly approaches the Wall, terrified yet curious, wondering what might be on the other side.

Yesterday was not the day to find out, nor will the next time be. I hope I never enter that abyss.

I’ll ride with you

After living in Sydney for 3 years, I was gutted to hear about yesterday’s siege at the Lindt in Martin Place. Martin Place was the one cityrail stop between the office (at Town Hall), and the closest station to my apartment (Kings Cross). Martin Place housed many of my firm’s clients, one major one in particular, which I worked on. Many of our employees and our clients’ employees work in that vicinity of the Lindt café.

My teams would ask around in afternoons or late mornings and do coffee runs to the Lindt, because they swore by the chocolate in their mock-a’s (not to be confused with how American’s pronounce mocha as moh-ka.) It could have been anyone on my team I sent down there with my order and orders for the whole team, and they could have been held hostage in that café. Sydney is a café culture – they’re all about their coffee, and if it wasn’t Lindt my team was after, it was the Little Vienna coffee shop on the way to MLC centre.

I’ve been following the story since the first newsflash came across my Facebook feed from a lesbian friend who lives down there. I was then glued to the news sources on my laptop as the story unfolded. I hesitated to write this post, not that I feel I have anything controversial to really say. I hesitated because words can be taken out of context. I do not condone the actions of the sole extremist who held these innocent people hostage. It’s not for me to. There will be one judge, and that judge is not me. Whether you believe in God, or that only you can judge yourself, you are entitled to your opinion as I’m entitled to mine.

In America, we love our guns. I don’t, by any means. I don’t own one, and I don’t think I need to. We have a right to bear arms in my country, and many people maintain that right. Australians aren’t really gun-toting people though, at least from the impression I got while living there.

In America, there are crazies who shoot up high schools and elementary schools; they bomb abortion clinics, or who try to terrorize our citizens from the inside. I want to wrap all of Australia in a big sister hug and tell them, from a citizen of a country where this kind of stuff is more commonplace than I’d like it to be, that it’s not their fault. It is going to be okay. It’s hard right now, because they’ve not been terrorized on their home turf, to my knowledge. It will take time, but you will get over this and be stronger because of it.

I want to tell them having some religious extremists who kill in God’s name doesn’t mean that God really wanted any of that to happen in His (or Her) name. Australia has just been through a traumatizing event – something you wouldn’t wish on the worst of your foes. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to be comfortable with this kind of thing happening more frequently.

My first experience with terror on home turf was on 9/11. I didn’t live in New York, but please don’t assume I was impervious to its tsunami of impacts. I wouldn’t want for anyone to go through that, directly or indirectly. But, perhaps that experience desensitized me.

If I am to be truthful, I formed an opinion of Australians that I admit does generically cover a wide variety of people, almost creating a stereotype in my mind. I am sure I have a small sample size, and I’ve not documented my study, so yes it is all based on here say. Just my experience while there.

Unlike Americans, when students graduate from the equivalent of high school, they continue living with parents, and go to university while living at home. It’s a more common American experience to venture out of the nest, and to launch into an independent life in a new city, on your own, studying.

Unlike Americans, Australians have never seen a depression or a recession. Their markets have seen 25 years of positive returns (equity markets that is). The real estate market in coastal cities is booming. Prices just seem to keep going up. They didn’t have a dot com boom, and the effects of the GFC (global financial crisis), while felt there, were indirectly so. Australia itself did not have material exposure to the subprime mortgages and thus, didn’t have the real loss of a retirement nest egg.

Unlike Americans, Australians didn’t have Bernie Madoff; they didn’t have 9/11. I’m sorry to say it but the image of Australian youths I formed in my head was that they were spoiled, self-entitled, shielded babies.

They never had interns, hungry and biting at their heels, willing to step in and do their job for less or even free, just to have a function in society. In America, if you don’t like your job, or if you don’t do a good job, an ambitious person 10 years younger willing to do the same work for twice as long at half the pay will gladly step in. So you learn in America, you don’t complain. You work hard. You’re not owed anything. You work for it. That mentality probably has desensitized me, now that I really think through it.

Perhaps though, it’s not Sydney’s fault. As my friend who’s still living in Sydney now said to me, “Shit happens.” We’re all a product of our upbringing. Yesterday’s siege is a rite of passage for Australians, in a way. It shows them what the world is really like on their home turf, and it shows them that when the time comes, they can be strong.

One person was said to have started a movement yesterday, out of sheer kindness. “When Rachael Jacobs noticed the [Muslim] woman sitting next to her on the train silently removing her hijab, she told her to keep it on—”I’ll ride with you.” Australians are rising in solidarity, against the racism that leaks everywhere in events like this. Suddenly, the groupthink takes over and what is an isolated event by an extremist suddenly becomes a whole religion against Australia. It happened in America in the wake of 9/11 – an anti-Muslim sentiment rocked the nation. Even my finance professor, who’s a class under his supervision, watched on in stunned silence as he insulted an Afghani woman in my classes because he was an ignorant, racist prick.

I’m so fucking proud of you, Australia. You just earned your stripes, in my opinion. But like a teabag, we didn’t know your strength till you were immersed in hot water. Job well done. Or as my Aussie mates say, “GOOD EGG!”

Just like not all Americas voted for George W. Bush (and he has never represented me personally in any way), not all Islamists are bad. Freedom of religion is one of the many things we enjoy here in America, and to each, his or her own. We’ve learned that lesson in our own hard ways. The important thing is to rise against the racism, and kill it where it stands. That is the real enemy.

Seeing the hashtag movement of #IllRideWithYou warmed my heart. America could take a page from Australia’s book in this regard. But I will still hold that Australians are just as racist as Americans, in general, if not more. But what I liked and respected about Australia was how they did treat certain communities. Lebanese and Muslim communities really thrived in Sydney. They found suburbs where they felt safe and rose up. They are Australians. While travelling throughout Sydney, I would see more women with hijabs or burqas more often than I ever did in the US. After 9/11, Americans would see these women dressed differently and behave completely inappropriately, or quickly rush away in fear. Don’t believe me? Just sit in an American airport and watch someone dressed in traditionally Muslim garb sit down in the gate area. Watch the looks go to and fro. But in Australia, people managed to rise above that. So for the record, in case you question my allegiances, #IllRideWithYou. And I mean it.

I watched the documentary Dumb, Drunk, and Racist, about people from India who travel the far reaches of Australia to see for themselves the good, the bad, and the ugly of humanity on that continent. Aboriginals are formally recognized when a meeting gathers on original lands, and the elders are respected and thanked. That’s more than Americans ever do to acknowledge the sacrifices my Native American ancestors made. But suburbs within Sydney with high Aboriginal population still fall prey to the second/third class treatment all the time. I would argue in some circles, Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders are hardly treated equally, even today. Australians are very racist against Indians (watch the documentary – it’s worth it) and Asians. I’ve witnessed this racism first-hand. I’ve seen profiles on my flat mate’s Grindr app where guys have flat out put out there that people of Asian descent should not even waste their time reaching out to meet up.

Racism is socio-economic driven – people are racist against those who compete with them for jobs. When operations get offshored to India, or call centers are sent to the Philippines, people see jobs being taken away. When global companies create hubs and back office operations in Singapore or China, people see those as more jobs going away too. The globalization of the world, as a megatrend, forces us to deal with the real threat that certain jobs can be done anywhere in the world. Some people will do it for less than others, so in a market where differentiation is nearly nonexistent, then cost will drive where the labor goes.

I’ve also watched enough episodes in the first 3 seasons of Lie to Me to know that this hostage situation did not end as well as we would have liked. Ideally, no hostages should be injured, let alone killed. We never know how we will react in the face of danger until we are there, ourselves. So, please note I explicitly do not pass judgment. But like anybody, I’m skeptical and have questions.

I do think, however, that some things could have been handled differently, but I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same things if I were there. I watched video feed of two men who were being held hostage, one older, and one younger, race away from the café first. Then 3 more are said to have fled. I have no idea what they were going through, or what circumstances led them to do what they did when they did. But I can only speculate that someone had to have known that the man with the gun would be pretty pissed off if some people got away, and may take it out on remaining hostages. Did those fleeing early set those who were still being held inside up for ultimate danger? Is it cowardly? I don’t know. If given the chance were I in the same situation, I might have run without looking back and without regard for my fellow hostages, too.

Who in the police force was doing the negotiating, too? I don’t know all the protocols, but it sounds like this was being treated both as a terrorist threat and a hostage situation. If Australia is like the US, they do not negotiate with terrorists, and this gets far outside the scope of my knowledge, being a lowly CPA. But somehow, I feel that perhaps the lives of those hostages lost could have been saved somehow? What’s done is done though, and I must applaud the police for keeping Sydney as safe as possible and responding. It’s not an easy job. I don’t know if I could do it.

This week, we should all shine a little more light, and be kind. Whenever tragedies like this happen, it’s hard not to ask questions like why, and speculate as to better ways to handle the situation. At least now it’s over, and people can pick up the pieces and move on.

You’re growing up, Australia. Good on you. Big hugs from your big sister.

Behavioral finance and bad decision making

In managing my portfolio of stocks recently, I may or may not admit to falling victim to some of the most ridiculous investor behavior – I can neither confirm, nor deny. I must admit, I was surprised a couple weeks ago, when I woke up one morning, to 47 views of one post in particular of mine: Project prophecy and your phinancial phuture. I guess the tipping point occurred where now many more people are clued in to the dire state of the US economy and how it hinges on a few foreboding economic indicators that predict chaos and disarray. People actually read that post and may have actually gotten something from it. I could insert my smugness here, but really you’re only as good as your next post, so I shall not dwell on my satisfaction for long.

What I will say is finance and investing can sometimes be completely irrational. People hear Apple is splitting its stock, so they freak out and sell it, because it can only mean there is something wrong with the company, or it’s a sleazy predictor of tough financial troubles up ahead. Our markets are based on participants’ behavior. In no other place is it so emotional than when it comes to people’s money – the nest egg for their child’s college tuition, retirement so they can sail the world on a boat, or even a flexible health savings account at work to get laser eye surgery or braces. Investors overreact to good news and bad news. It’s absolutely fascinating.

Investors, just like everyday people, can be incredibly stupid. I love learning about the psychology of investing, and why people make the decisions they do when it comes to money.

 photo nodecisions.gif

The first leg of behavioral finance stands on something called heuristic-driven bias: heuristic refers to allowing a person to learn on their own, usually through trial and error. So, this method of learning relies on the availability of information. There can also be a bias that you develop, your own personal blind spot, because of the source of where you get your information. For example, if you relied solely on the media for information you used to learn about terrorist organizations, you’d have a very biased view, perhaps, that these terrorist organizations are pure evil. So you may lose sight of the similarities you might share with a terrorist – a belief in God, love of country, and wanting to protect your family. If you only relied on the media as your source of information about anything for that matter, you’d have a very skewed, very fearful view of most things.

The second leg of behavioral finance is how decisions and information are framed, or better said, the lens with which you look at available information. Someone raised in times of war, of frugality, and having nothing would approach a financial decision from a much different point of view than someone who was raised in the dot com boom. In one scenario, someone grew up with the fear of losing all their money and most likely would stuff cash in their mattress before investing in the stock market, whereas in the dot com boom, venture capital was flowing freely from the fountain of capital and was available to anyone with an idea and a business plan.

The final leg of behavioral finance is the efficiency of markets. Simply put, because of investor’s overconfident, biased, or flawed rationale when it comes to investing, prices move away from the underlying fundamental value for long periods of time, but eventually revert to the true value. That’s an interesting thought – because it means at any given time, a price does not reflect the true value of something. Because of which information is shared in the distribution channels and publicly available, because of the lens investors are using when they make investing decisions, the market is therefore inefficient, and prices aren’t reflective of value. Alan Greenspan defined the state of the US stock market as that of “irrational exuberance”, and I’d have to agree with him. People are crazy, especially when it comes to money.

OK, my tail is totally wagging now. No shame. Hopefully, you’re not bored to tears yet.

 photo glazed.gif

I was a teacher’s assistant in college for a business statistics professor. Yes, I’m a self-proclaimed math geek. There was this concept in statistics of confidence levels and probability curves. Inexperienced investors are more confident in the probability that their investment decisions will beat the market than experienced investors. That is to say, a new investor, acting on some piece of information they think is important will tend to be overconfident in their prediction of what return an investment can produce. Overconfidence is an easy trap to fall into when you are not aware of its existence, and overconfident people are surprised more frequently as things don’t tend to work in their favor.

Let’s chat about something I find incredibly interesting and love talking about at parties (may explain why I’m usually standing by myself by the end of the night): gambler’s fallacy. Wikipedia defines this best, in my opinion, as, “The mistaken belief that if something happens more frequently than normal during some period, then it will happen less frequently in the future, or that if something happens less frequently than normal during some period, then it will happen more frequently in the future (presumably as a means of balancing nature).”

For example, in high school, I read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, a play by Tom Stoppard. The opening scene depicts the characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, flipping a coin. Despite you and I knowing that the probability of heads will always be 50/50 every single time the coin is flipped, Rosencrantz flips the coin, and it comes up heads every single time. This leads Guildenstern to believe something is wrong with reality because over a long period of time, tails should come up because it too has a 50/50 chance. Gambler’s fallacy is a phenomenon where people inappropriately predict reversal, that future outcomes will trend more to the mean, rather than being approached as independent coin flips with the same odds.

Guildenstern was guilty of gambler’s fallacy – despite the odds being equal, reversal must occur. It’s the law of averages, that over a large sample, we if we flipped a coin 1,000 times, the number of times we should get heads should be close to 500, if the probability is 50/50. However, in that book, they got heads 1,000 times. If someone were to bet that way, they’d find themselves in the hole betting on the tail that never comes… It’s amazing. People will try to predict the process as a whole, the outcome of 1,000 coin tosses, so they may alternate between betting on heads vs. tails every time. Based on the run Rosencrantz had flipping his coin, at one point, one should catch on that betting heads is the better way to go. Look at each coin toss on its own – and if you’ve flipped it 999 times and it’s come up heads, it’s still 50/50 for odds, but if you bet the 1,000th time it would be heads, it would actually have been the most optimal prediction one could make in that scenario. Makes perfect sense, right?

Hersh Shefrin in his book Beyond Greed and Fear (one of my favorites) postulates that, “When investors are pessimistic, they are overly pessimistic; when they are optimistic, they are overly optimistic.” Investors overreact to all news, good and bad, when it’s released into the market. Based on the lens with which they absorb this newly released information, they’ll often seek and adhere to information that confirms their point of view, and overlook evidence that disproves their point of view. Add to that bias and overconfidence, and you have a recipe for investing disaster.

Don’t believe me?

 photo madonna.gif

I think something that has been on the rise with investors and the market alike is that of corporate and social responsibility. There are portfolios specifically designed to be socially responsible – that is, they do not hold alcohol, tobacco, and firearms stocks. The portfolios may invest in companies which have a high community service priority in their mission. They’re after good companies. One thing investors don’t realize though is that very often, good companies have bad stocks. There is a cost to being socially responsible, and not many of these portfolios are money makers. Let’s face it – there is a huge market for all three of those socially irresponsible industries. Whether things are going well, or the world is in chaos, people will not quit smoking, reach for a drink to numb the pain, and defense spending will always be a huge part of the national budget. As an investor, make sure you keep in mind that good companies do not always equal good stocks. So you may be able to sleep at night, because you have a responsible portfolio, but perhaps you shouldn’t be sleeping because your portfolio probably isn’t making as much money as it could.

 photo pasta and alcohol.gif

Here’s a great concept too, that I’m guilty of in my personal life, if not in my investing decisions as well: Get-evenitis. This is the difficulty we experience in coming to terms with our losses. 2013 was a huge year of personal loss for me, and letting go of those is something I still face every day because I’m not completely over the loss of my father.

I give you, as an example, my current feelings toward a stock in my portfolio, Netflix. When I moved back to the US, I immediately opted for a 7.99 subscription to Netflix rather than subscribing to a $100+ cable package with Comcast. Netflix had a great inventory, though not exhaustive and inclusive of all my favorites, so for that price, it was exactly what I needed. It had been an adaptive company, which formed when it saw inefficiencies in Blockbuster, and I’d bought it many years ago after its IPO (knowing about the IPO effect that stocks decrease in value after going IPO). Because it was still around, and had strong fundamentals, a return on assets and equity, positive operating and profit margins, I thought it was a good investment. I bought 30 shares at $428 per share. Seems I bought right at the peak. So later, I bought another 15 shares at $363, and just last week, I bought another 20 shares at $336.

I told myself I was dollar cost averaging, and I thought the company still had solid fundamentals. I checked out recent press releases on Netflix, and the outlook wasn’t looking good, given the recent subscription price increase from 7.99 to 8.99. They charged $1 more per month for their service, and customers reacted. It’s eight-freaking-dollars!

So perhaps, I’m guilty of riding this loser too long, putting more money into a loser, trying to bring my average cost down across multiple lots. Even the best of us make mistakes. However, when it comes to my broader portfolio, I’m sitting on some other stocks with massive accumulated unrealized gains. If I wanted to, I could sell out of those positions to realize those gains, and sell out of Netflix, to offset those gains, minimizing my tax impact on those long term capital gains. So from a tax perspective, I don’t mind holding a losing stock. But the point of investing is not to buy high and sell low – I know that much is true.

As an investor though, when I think about my time horizon, I’m relatively young. I’m in the prime wage-earning years of my life. I’ve had a job with a reputable firm for over 10 years now. While I’d like to have 2 years until I retire (doesn’t everyone want to retire at 35 after becoming a self-made millionaire?), I probably have more like another 30 years until retirement. So my attachment to my nest egg, while strong, is not as strong as someone who will be retiring next year and needs that money. They would have a much stronger inclination towards preservation of capital rather than taking any risk with money they’ll need to start drawing on to live off of next year. So my risk tolerance would be a little higher than the risk that person 1 year from retirement is willing to take. There is a whole emotional timeline for investors that you may or may not realize. These emotions run the gamut from fear (focusing on events where outcomes are unfavorable), hope (focus on favorable outcomes), anticipation waiting for desired outcomes, anxiety when the negative outcome seems most probable, and ultimately, regret for making the decision in the first place. Most would argue that good investors try to minimize future regret with their decisions they make today. Most people lose sight of that, set themselves up for much regret. However, as I’ve learned, and many others before me, I don’t regret the things I’ve done, but those I did not do. We regret inaction, more so than action. Something to consider…

There was a study done on the impact of gender on investing decisions by Barber and Ocean (1998). They studied the trading patterns of men and women, from 1991 to 1997. Performance of investments selected were about the same, but some interesting findings surfaced. Men traded 45% more often than women, and men chose smaller company stocks with high price-to-book ratios and higher betas. As a result, because men chose riskier investments, their return was actually 1.4% less when adjusted for that risk. What was even more interesting is single men traded 67% more, and earned 2.3% less on a risk-adjusted basis. Looks like women tend to be more risk averse than men, but their returns are just that little bit higher because of it.

That buying and selling with tax considerations brings me to a great phenomenon I’d like to share with you, if you haven’t already heard about it. The January effect arises due to the US’ and many other countries’ end of financial and fiscal year being December 31. Many investors will sell off investments in December in order to strategically recognize gains and losses for the tax year before year end. Selling drives a bearish market in the month of December, which is then followed by a bullish market in January, as prices rise again. Many engage in what are known as wash sales, where they will sell to take a gain or loss in December, and buy back the investment within 30 days. This then changes the cost basis of the investment, but allows the investor to continue holding the investment if they speculate long term growth and money to be made. It’s a seasonal anomaly, and it could also be partially explained by year-end bonuses, and people using those bonuses to invest after the new year. It is arguable whether market anomalies like this truly provide arbitrage opportunities, but I find interesting nonetheless that I can predict with some confidence that Netflix tanking this month and allowing me another lower cost tax lot may provide me with a rebound in January, so I’ll hold on to that loser even longer just to see… And on a tangent, does Australia have a similar July effect? I’ve not heard of studies or data, but if the phenomenon holds true that prices are subject to seasonal fluxes, and since Australia’s tax and financial year end June 30, perhaps there is a July effect… I’d be open to the idea of a wealthy benefactor sponsoring my study of this by returning to Australia… Strictly for research, of course…

There’s a lot more interesting stuff out there on behavioral finance, the psychology of investing. I learned about most of the above in the aforementioned book by Hersh Shefrin, Beyond Greed and Fear, but there are so many more resources in this growing field. If any of that made your tail wag like mine, let’s go grab a coffee and chat while our tails wag together. Or give me someone to talk to at that Christmas party about this stuff.

 photo magnum-cum-loudly.gif

Oh wait… I did.

In the rain

There is an app on my phone to provide a soundtrack of ambient rain sounds. Rain dripping, forest rain, rain downpour, summer rain, city rain, thunderstorm, rain on a tent, and the list goes on. Tonight, I have no use for such a thing, as I have the strongest storm in 5 years outside my bay window in the heart of San Francisco.

There’s a word for the affliction I’ve had my entire life. I’m a pluviophile. I love rain. I love being comfy and cozy in my apartment, all dry and warm, and watching the drops hit the window, roll down, and puddles forming in the street. I light my candles even though we still have an hour until sundown, officially. It’s that dark. I turn on my fairy lights in the kitchen window, on the tree, and in the bay window. I begin writing – because writing in the rain is one of my most favorite things to do. I haven’t done it in a VERY long time. This pleases me.

I’m happy when it rains. Something like 15 storm and flood warnings were issued to residents of San Francisco and surrounding counties for this storm. Sandbags were being sold at nearby stores. Schools closed, too. Which meant parents now had to stay home from work to keep an eye on them.

I love Calvin & Hobbes comics – I still have a couple of Bill Waterson’s books, with every 7th comic (the Sunday edition) in color. In California, I grew up never having the joy of an unexpected snow day, but Calvin & Hobbes sure knew how to spend the perfect snow day with your imagination and a sled. I always wondered in Sydney why we didn’t have horizontal rain days. I would get to work soaking wet, miserable, looking like a drowned rat. Once, after being sopped by a passing bus, I couldn’t wear my socks or work shoes all day long around the office in Sydney. That’s how I knew I was unofficially finally Australian. When you work barefoot in an office, you might be a bogan. I had to air out my shoes and socks all day long, and they never dried. I get blisters when I walk long distances in wet socks. It is known.

If I ever had that spontaneous day off, I loved taking advantage of it, though it never came in the form of snow days, horizontal rain days, or other such closures due to natural disasters. I took mental health days. When I didn’t feel like going in, I’d ask my mom to call me in sick. I got to stay home by myself, a latchkey kid, and promise not to leave the house (which let’s face it, I always treated as more of a suggestion rather than a rule).

I loved being home by myself, no one bothering me, as I wandered room to room, looking at books, watching a movie, playing, and what not. I’m really good company, even if I do say so myself. I watch the best stuff on TV. I like being around me.

Today, I get that again. Work allows us to work remotely, so I had a laptop to allow me to complete critical tasks at home and inside today. It’s been absolutely wonderful. Wearing an old thermal long-sleeved shirt and pajama bottoms is the ultimate in business casual for me.

When I was a little kid, and we’d get rainstorms that knocked out our power, that’s when we got to bust out the candles and board games. That made scary storms a lot better. May have also led to me being a bit of a candle pyro, but I digress…

I’m home, safe, comfortable and warm. I have food to eat and a meager stash of bottled water. More importantly, I have champagne in small aluminum cans (earthquake survival kit may need replenishing soon though), and white chocolate macadamia cookies for dinner.

Last night, as I was running to the liquor store, half drunk, to get more champagne since the two bottles I had bought to ride out the storm mysteriously disappeared before it even started, I ran into our onsite building manager. We have two open units available for rent in my building, with different floor plans. I asked to see them, and he obliged. My friend came with me, as we scoped out apartment I could potentially shift to and move within my building to a bigger place. I love seeing empty apartments. They’re full of so much promise; they give me this warm feeling in my gut, that I’m pretty sure is not gas.

In seeing both those apartments, they were definitely upgrades – bathtubs instead of narrow stand-up showers, more square footage/storage, and better window locations/higher floors, I realized something. I had an a-ha moment.

I already loved my apartment and I didn’t think those apartments were as good as what I already had. I choose my life; I love it and it is mine. It’s not very big, but it’ll do. And nothing else beats my apartment. “It’s not getting what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got,” as Sheryl Crow once drunkenedly slurred to me in my dreams.

There’s no place like home (for the holidays). It is good to remember that from time to time. Warm fuzzies over here.