The spook who counted her money

I finished The Spook Who Sat By the Door yesterday morning. Sam Greenlee has one hell of a knack for sharp writing, and regardless of my not being a proponent for militantism, the book struck a chord with me. Greenlee got at the heart of the loneliness of being black in a nation and profession that both expects you to act white “enough” (but only so much) and simultaneously disdains you for doing so (as you disdain yourself). It was and is a fine line to walk.

There are going to be spoilers here, but nothing that actually ruins the novelty of the book, I hope.

What resonated with me were the times when Dan Freeman (the main character) questioned himself, because he was propped up as a bit too perfect for the role of lead revolutionary. As he left the CIA, he wondered, “Have I given in to this middle-class thing?” He marveled at how easy it would be to be his cover identity: to have the women, the “respect” of white people, the nice apartment and the money. To be a whole person, though, he had to maintain two lives.

There are so many revealing gems, great uses of language and parallelism, and instances of pushing beyond the comfort zone. Freeman asks several times in the book, “So, how’s that working for you?” about the well-behaved “just keep waiting for them to notice that we’re worthy” movement. The answers were, of course, desperate and avoidant. The idea that it’s that latent, suppressed fear that would cause an uprising, not just the frustration and anger, was carefully built up throughout the book. The idea of education having value in and of itself, aside from its worth in pursuing a career.

It was such a different time… and yet some things still shine through. Problem is, this book could incite someone like me to become an apologist. “I feel bad for being a product of the privileges of integration and good education and blending that’s gotten me where I am.”

I’m going to have to hunt down the movie now; the library system here doesn’t have it.

I’ve gotten very little app development done these last two weeks. I’m still about 16 hours from a working prototype of the character sheet system for Greg to beat up, but I’ve been relaxing a little more in my spare time. Torchlight is fun. So is Left 4 Dead 2. Spook was a great read. So was Not Becoming My Mother.

As I’ve been figuring out how people work on this retirement saving thing (speaking of being middle-class), two questions have come to mind:

  1. If you can only contribute $5k a year to an IRA, how do you handle wanting to invest in 5-7 different mutual funds that each have $1000-3000 initial investments? Dump money into a taxable account and split your portfolio? Leverage your 401k more (even without employer matching), which doesn’t seem to enforce investment minimums?
  2. If you use a discount broker like Sharebuilder, how do you handle 401k rollovers? I asked if I could keep the securities (investments) rather than having to cash out, and they said, “only for those securities Sharebuilder carries.” Which are, like, none. That’s partly why I’m using the 401k — to diversify more. So would I open a rollover account at a brick-and-mortar bank for the rollover? Or at some fund family site, like Vanguard or T. Rowe Price? I hardly want more bank accounts.

That brings me to another thing: asking for advice. I read Get Rich Slowly (awesome blog, by the way), and occasionally, J.D. hits on the idea of the “millionaire next door”. That person who lives frugally and drives the 10+ year old car and eats at home. (I’m happy to say that I know that guy. ^_^)

For those of us late to the game–and maybe I only feel so late in comparison to him–I think one of the most valuable things the millionaire next door can do is share their knowledge. Not lecturing about not eating out or clipping coupons or frowning on big-ticket purchases. I’ve found that frugality–like weight loss–is something internal, with the external aspects being the sharing of processes, not validation. So not frugality, but answering questions like the two above and:

  • How and where did you start saving?
  • What were your sources of info? (Esp. if it wasn’t parental.)
  • What do you consider reasonable risk in terms of investing?
  • Do you even invest? (I know a few people who feel the speculation of stock market isn’t something they want to be involved in.)

I get the feeling that people are wary of seeming like they’re passing on financial gospel, like we want the best stock picks, a formula for success, or the ultimate portfolio. I’d love to sit down with someone with financial experience who isn’t getting paid to sell me a product and just shoot the shit about financial organization and knowledge.

Most of the people my age are as new to game as me, and those who are older are much more risk averse or don’t geek about this. Money goes into the 401k and they don’t worry about it except to freak when the stock market plummets.

Hmm. I’ve been just soaking in knowledge and learning lately. Life is good.