Monday, March 21, 2011

About me

Several people who so generously responded to my request for input suggested that I expand my profile. Since Google limits “About Me” to 1200 characters and I didn’t know how to edit my life that dramatically, I opted instead to write an autobiographical post. Perhaps this option is preferable. At least my exercise in self-absorption will be buried in the blog, not prominently displayed.

I was born in a town in western Pennsylvania that, as a result of the remaining traces of a regional accent, I still have difficulty pronouncing properly. I grew up not far away in a place that, during the height of the coal boom, had the most millionaires per capita of any town in the country. By the time I arrived that was a long forgotten memory. Instead, the town was to become the site of a food stamp pilot program.

It was easy to excel academically in an environment in which 20% of the students went on to “higher education,” which included beauty school, and where most scholarships were awarded to athletes—many of them admittedly extremely talented. All I wanted to do was get the hell out. I rehearsed my exit by reading voraciously.

In college, to the annoyance of the English department which thought it had a lock on me, I discovered philosophy. I guess I’ve always been attracted to questions that don’t lend themselves to easy answers. Unfortunately, I also have a penchant for burning myself out. So after graduation I worked for a year at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, an educational foundation, which was a wonderful place to recharge my batteries. Then it was on to graduate school.

Throughout college and grad school I dabbled in the stock market, usually—contrary to all wisdom—on borrowed money. My trades, normally lasting only a few months, were on balance quite profitable. The notable exception occurred when I took the advice of a student who, by the way, went on to a brilliant career as a hedge fund manager. Good personnel decision, bad stock choice.

After serving as the first female residential college dean (Yale College had just gone co-ed) and while still teaching part time in the Yale philosophy department, I decided to go to law school. What was I thinking? I lasted only a term and a half before I threw in the towel—bored and exhausted.

I had to reinvent myself. Teaching jobs were incredibly scarce and the few posted openings were unattractive. Moreover, I had ties to New Haven. So I launched Brevis Press (actually pre-press, I kept the name intentionally vague in case the business evolved from pre-press to full-blown publisher, which it didn’t). For a couple of decades I and the press’s dedicated staff faced impossible deadlines and worked far too many hours. I was so busy producing books that I had no time to read.

My only escape during those years was the occasional weekend of dog shows. Of course, in order to have something to show I had to breed (which entailed many sleepless nights), develop an eye for a good dog, train show prospects, groom, and learn how to show a dog. And, oh yes, take care of a kennel of unruly basset hounds. (Basset hounds, by the way, are not normally unruly; I was the anti-“Chinese mother” who encouraged unbridled spirit. While other basset hounds slept peacefully at ringside, my lunatics were jumping up on the trophy table seeing what they might win. And guess who took home the trophies!)

Aside from funding my IRA I invested only sporadically until around 1995 when I became more active. This was also about the time that the book production business was starting to disintegrate. The barrier to entry had fallen dramatically ($250,000 became $5,000), printers began to accept electronic manuscripts, and manufacturers of typographic equipment and software folded. Brevis Press outlasted many, but when backup systems failed and replacement parts were no longer available it too shuttered its doors. Reinvention time again.

Too young and not flush enough to retire, I decided it was time to learn more about trading. I studied far more than I traded, which meant that the market didn’t hand me an outsized tuition bill. Nonetheless, I made my share of really dumb mistakes.

Today I continue to evolve as a squint-eyed trader and investor. My plan is to retire at the age of 90, at which point I anticipate my retirement account will be fully funded! Until then, I’ll keep busy trading, reading, gardening, and (at least for a year or ten) shoveling snow. And, with any luck, adapting rather than reinventing.

I’ll share my reading—at least until I decide that the effort far exceeds the reward. This blog, as you can imagine, is a huge time commitment. I may be a fast reader, but I’m a slow writer.

My trading, however, remains a private journey. It’s not that I have a proprietary system that I refuse to share. I just don’t play well with others. I tried that once, and it had a decidedly negative impact on my trading. I don’t want my retirement to be set back another ten years.

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