Journal of a Sabbatical

breakdown in progress

February 10, 1998

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sex and money and the nature of the machine

In yesterday's cliffhanger we left our heroine - that's me - sitting at Starbucks 148 pages into my copy of Close to the Machine by Ellen Ullman teetering over a terrifying abyss contemplating the nature of the satisfactions experienced while programming and what it has to do with sex and money and the nature of the machine, about to quote St. Augustine:

"I carried inside me a cut and bleeding soul, and how to get rid of it I just didn't know. I sought every pleasure - the countryside, sports, fooling around, the peace of a garden, friends and good company, sex, reading. My soul floundered in the void- and came back upon me. For where could I flee from my heart? Where could I escape from myself?" - Confessions of St. Augustine

So, how to stave off the void? Reading? Too bad it was reading that opened the cut bleeding void... Lunch then? Yeah, that's the ticket, lunch.

the bagel toucher

I limped next door to Bruegger's to get a hummus sandwich on a bagel. There was no one behind the counter to take my order.

The only other customer around was a deaf guy who hangs out there all the time. Once he walked up to our table and stole Tom's newspaper right out from under him. Tom tried to tell him it was his paper - he didn't know the guy was deaf - and when he didn't respond to English he tried Spanish. Finally another guy who usually hangs out with the deaf guy explained that he was deaf and somehow conveyed to him to return the newspaper. As I'm standing there wondering if I should leave and get my sandwich someplace else, the deaf guy wanders back behind the counter and starts pawing the bagels in the bins, picking them up, examining them, putting them back as if he's shopping for ripe fruit in the produce department. He handled quite a few bagels and then started to walk toward the kitchen or the bakery area or whatever you call that room with the big vat where they boil the bagels. Finally an assistant manager or something appeared and gently directed the guy away from the behind the counter. The deaf guy wandered around picking up newspapers and the assistant manager guy ordered someone to take my order. After all this I wasn't sure I still wanted the sandwich, but I got it anyway.

financial dummy

OK, so lunch didn't do it for me. I couldn't put it off anymore. I had to deal with my finances. Ever since my therapist mentioned last week for the umpteenth time that I should have my money in blue chip stocks instead of the stock of my former employer - and I should be living off the interest, I've been worried that I have been making stupid decisions. So I spent the afternoon researching mutual funds. I started with the Schwab funds just because that's where I have my account. A lot of people sell the stock they've acquired from ISOs at high-tech startups through Schwab. Ullman's book has that part of it right.

"Then came the first IPO, then the second. ... it's then you realize the impossible has truly happened. Your stock is not toilet paper. ...
Programmers suddenly become technical analysts. They order newsletters. They open accounts at Charles Schwab. They chart the stock and plan their "sell targets."" - Close to the Machine, Ellen Ullman

Been there done that. But now an afternoon of researching income funds (or value funds) leaves my brain tired, my eyes bleary. I feel like a financial dummy. I can't think straight. Nothing makes sense to me anymore. All the funds I look at pay about the same as the money market funds in which I've already invested the proceeds from the chunks of the stock that I sold. I don't understand what I am supposed to do differently. I still have some stock. It's doing well. Why sell it and deal with the taxes if I don't have to? I keep at it awhile. I pick a couple of the best performing funds and look at their holdings. The first one I pick has a huge percentage of its holdings in Philip Morris. I gag. I think I'm going to be sick. So now I'm both stupid and sick. Eeek.

This sets the stage for today.

naive too

Yesterday's search for a mutual fund I wouldn't gag on depressed me so much I thought I'd better get a job at Starbucks to live on, but they probably give out stock options too.

So I showed up for therapy depressed and about 3 minutes late because I was listening to The Connection on the car radio and wanted to hear the end of the hour. About 5 minutes into the session, my breakdown began. I just went on and on about how even if I had sold all my Cosmodemonic stock the day I exercised the options, after the taxes I still wouldn't have had enough to preserve the principal and live off the dividends invested at the rates any of the funds I looked at were paying. Then I got onto my horror at the sorts of stocks the high performing funds were invested in. (Yeah, yeah, I know that should be "in which the high performing funds were invested" but that is the sort of grammatical rigidity up with which I will not put.) Now, what are the two things you never discuss in polite company? That's right. Politics and Religion. But I was having a breakdown. My inhibitions fell. I started in on Philip Morris and the tobacco industry and moved on to big companies that bust unions and other anti-labor practices and just started babbling about how I was raised on social responsibility rhetoric since birth and the guidelines for my life are contained in the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Red alert! I've mentioned politics and religion! In therapy! Eeeeeeek! I've never felt understood or listened to about the influence of the Catholic Left, religious liberalism, liberation theology, social justice rhetoric on my thinking. This isn't the first time it has come up in therapy but this is the first time I was completely off the wall. I kept trying to explain. I got animated and excited. I made less and less sense. My therapist told me I could find something wrong with any stock. I kept trying to explain. I even told her to read Rerum Novarum by Leo XIII, one of the classics on the rights of workers and the social responsibilities of capitalists. I think that put me over some weird edge so I switched to ranting and raving about how insane it is to bomb Iraq. Do we really want to start a war?


The hour was up and I left in a state of agitation. I picked up a combo plate at the Earth Food Store for lunch and headed for Starbucks. Dunno why I thought I'd find sanity in Starbucks. Right wing Anne was there copying over and updating her address book. Tom was sitting by the window reading Krishnamurti. I got my coffee and sat down with Tom, who had just gotten his hair cut. The first thing he asked me was if I had heard The Connection this morning. He did exactly what I did - sat in the car listening to the end of the conversation and was late for his haircut appointment. It was a really good show. What can I say?

The guest was historian Mark Peterson talking about the Puritans. A lot of writers have been bringing up Puritanism in discussions of the Clinton penis situation, so it was about time to debunk a lot of the misconceptions about Puritanism and talk about what the actual Puritans actually did. Yes, adultery was a capital crime in the Puritan colonies but powerful leaders (men) frequently got away with it. Sometimes they were exiled but not usually executed. The discussion was lively and far ranging. Tom and I talked about it some more - his wife Julie is a historian whose specialty is crime and punishment in colonial New England - and related it to historical events we'd read about.

We also got onto talking about the new book about King Philp's War, The Name of War: King Philip's War and American Identity, by Jill Lepore, who was interviewed on All Things Considered last night. Colonial New England is having its 15 minutes of fame this week, I guess. I remember playing King Philip's War as a child - English colonists vs Indians (as we called them then). If you grow up in Massachusetts or Rhode Island you sort of absorb some of the history unconsciously. There was this trail we used to go for long walks on that had monuments about various things that happened during King Philp's War - a village burned here, a massacre there, whatever... Of course when we did our historically inaccurate re-enactments everybody wanted to be the Indians - nobody wanted to be the English. Made for a kind of one sided mock war. (Nota Bene: our parents did not know about these mock wars).

Right wing Anne finished redoing her address book and came over to join us. Tom had to go because his parking meter had run out. The parking enforcement has stepped up lately. When I left Starbucks yesterday to go home and beat my head against mutual funds, the car parked next to mine was being towed for nonpayment of parking tickets. Dave, the parking officer was standing there supervising the towing company. I couldn't get out so I chatted with Dave who told me that some people had hundreds of dollars worth of tickets they hadn't paid. Anyway, Tom was afraid of getting a ticket so he left and Anne begged me to stay. So we chatted about how all the television announcers were mispronouncing Nagano (Anne grew up in Japan), and how some Lubavitchers from Crown Heights have moved to Andover and are starting a community here. Anne and her kids went to Shabbas dinner at their house and after about the third prayer JoJo announced he was bored and when could he eat. She's planning to send the kids to some school vacation week camp run by the Lubavitchers. She was into her usual thing about how I need to find a job - she finds my reluctance to work threatening for some reason. She hasn't studied American history so I couldn't switch the subject back to the Puritans or King Philp's War, and my meter was about to run out, so I was off to the mutal fund mines again - salvation through investing - yeah, that's the ticket.

web surfing

On the way home I got this idea that I should put together a FAQ for this site because I often get the same questions, one of which being "are you the Janet Egan I know" . Since I've already put links to the places I used to work , I decided to see if my alma mater had a web page. Found it on the first try. So I hereby come out as an aluma of Regis College. Gave up on the FAQ because I knew I would not rest until I found some resources on socially responsible investment. Voila! They exist. I am not entirely crazy. Some of the social responsibility funds have even out performed the S&P 500. Blessed are the socially responsible for they shall out perform the market.

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