Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Friday, May 16, 2008

Life's options.

I had a great exchange with my friend in Vietnam this morning my time, her evening/night time. Well, it started a few days ago and was then restarted today after she had had a few days of dealing with floods in her apartment and a litany of Intenet connection problems, which meant that my messages went unanswered for hours. But we managed to maintain the thread of our conversation, with only a little "chatting" at cross purposes, as the hours and days passed. By the time that she reads this, she may wonder what happened.

She had read my recent "history of dealing" post as she termed it, and asked me what I was going to do next. I said that I had no plans, but was open to whatever new opportunities presented themselves. Some people had asked me to deal for them. Maybe. Someone has asked me to lead a team of dealers handling a few million US dollars. Tempting but complicated, because I am still under contract to my employer and I don't feel committed to the idea enough to have to bother to "ask permission" from my nanny-ish employer. I was also a bit nervous about the sums involved and how it would be to handle such a large fund. But I am philosophically open to the idea, especially if I get a basic fee and a performance bonus.

All of that led to a remark from her about people in their later years along the lines that it's not very often that one meets people way into their 50s who have other plans and stay open to ideas other than the objective of retiring on a paradise island (a geographical point that she thought I had already reached). That led me to ponder retirement. I am not the retiring type in the shyness sense; nor do I quit easily: I played Barbados' number one tennis player in a tournament last summer and my knee was just about on its last ligaments. But sorry, Michael, you had to beat me for the game. Stubborn? Maybe. Proud? Definitely? I nearly broke his serve and had him at deuce a few times on my own service, and with two good legs, next time buddy, you gone! Big words now that I have come back from six months of rehab on that knee. When I coached kids, we never lost a game; we came second sometimes. It's an important mindset.

I don't know what retirement from work really means, not having officially done it, but also looking at so-called retired people such as my father and my mother- and father-in-law and others of their generation. Younger friends who have taken early retirement are not so different. For most people, retirement means stopping that daily grind of a job that they have been doing for decades, with or without enjoyment, and having time to do other things that they have put off during their working years. Travel. Write. Learn to surf. They often take on new tasks because they are bored or feel that they still have energies, etc. and contributions to make. Some leave an employer and then quickly become consultants so that they can continue doing what they did but presumably for at least the same amount of pay, and perhaps fewer hassles--no organizational ladder to keep scaling. There are few people like Winston Churchill or Roy Jenkins, who while handling the heavy burdens of high political office found time to read regularly and in volumes, but also to write regularly and in volumes. There are others, like the actor Anthony Hopkins, who have talents from childhood that they continued to nurture while pursuing a successful career in another field--in his case, he is a concert-capable pianist, who is now giving that a run for its money now that he is into his 70s.

I went through a period about nine months ago, when my knee injury was really painful, when I took the opportunity to sleep for long hours. It was like hibernation. My body needed to heal. I could not walk easily, and certainly could not run. My daughter was confused. "Play football with me, Daddy." was met with a sad face and a gesture to my knee bandage as I said, "Precious, Daddy can't kick. Let's play heading." Some people thought that I had had it, but I knew that there was not much I could do short of hobble around, and get into the car for school pick-up. Legs elevated for long periods of the day, some yoga stretches daily, and a determined belief that the knee would heal, were all part of the restoration process. So was plenty of sleep. Anyway, I had no job to go to so where would I be rushing, like a headless chicken?

Part of our "conversation" then moved to motivation for work. I've explained some of my interest in and need to trade in financial markets. Over the past month, as I have monitored more closely what I have been doing, it has been interesting to see that I can make money from this activity. I may not be the world's best trader, but making good profits in 5 of 6 months is, I think, good going. I started to scale up my target this month, to 2% a day, and I have met it. I think I could really do about 4% a day, with a certain change of mindset and patience. Do I want to? Not sure. If I had a regular income or got a windfall the need would not be there. Would that change my mind? Let's see.

We agreed that this is a very interesting experience for me, but is it something for the long term? It's not boring, because every day is different, and sometimes there is too much going on that is not making sense, but benefits are rolling in. In such times, I now back off a bit, and play with my practice account as a test of whether I am understanding something. Oil prices change. What is that affecting? Gold prices change. What is that affecting. Equity market prices change what does that affect. New data come out. What will that affect. I have discovered something called the "VIX index" (see link), which is a gauge of investors' confidence or non-confidence in market conditions. It's also used by some as a measure of complacency and panic: the further VIX increases in value, the more panic there is in the market; the further VIX decreases in value, the more complacency there is in the market. I haven't followed this closely yet but it has hit my cerebal buttons a lot this week.

But, as I have said, it's important to stand back from the confusion (in the market or in my mind) sometimes, and try to figure out what is going on without being in the mix. Anyway, I am getting better at reading the market tea leaves. I need to find a VIX index for people, though.

But my friend wondered if I was being "creative". I really had problems with that. Why was it necessary? My most creative periods have been when I renovated an old Victorian house and took it from shabby to really quite exquisite: tearing down walls, putting up paper, redoing plumbing and wiring, redesigning rooms, planting a garden from scratch, etc. Five years of patient renovation and cultivation. I also feel that when I play sport I can be creative; my imagination is always at work trying to get into better situations and avoiding being put into awkward ones. Also, preparing the "get out" for defeat: the sore toe, the bad night before, the wizard opponent, my series of dumb plays. My aged legs but seasoned mind against your youthful greyhound hinds but greenness. I also got creative coaching kids, whose attention spans are very short so new ideas have to flow fast to keep them engaged: close your eyes, here comes the ball, kick, missed, try again. Basic work seemed more lacking in creativity; too much churning. My friend felt that one could argue that however administrative it was, working with an international organization (not for) was working for the people. True but working for such an organization often seemed to be about lots of things where "the people" had been forgotten.

As I've mentioned before, I am now doing a lot of things I always wanted to, like writing and taking photos. They now have taken on some purposes that I did not design, but I like, such as unifying people (even ones who are closely connected but somehow were not in touch with each others, such as some cousins of mine, or friends who somehow find it easier to be out of touch with each other than in touch). I let people have my camera readily and encourage them to use their eyes and other senses to capture images. They seem to get a buzz out of that. Camera sales will rocket this Christmas.

But are the adults into too much navel gazing? My navel big and neat; your navel don't look so nice. Perhaps. A lot of adults have fallen into "Filofaxland", if I can coin that phrase: dealing with agendas. Everything is a competition or needs a plan, is a mystery if you can't find an adversary, fails if it's not in a plan, blah-blah. I have a masters degree in planning, so try to avoid it like the plague--not always, but often. So much of life is about "something for something" that people are really uncomfortable with forms of altruism or "something for nothing (much)". Of course, one has to compete and schedule, otherwise you lay down and get trampled on and that's not good for the ego--that fragile thread--or we do things like miss flights. Sure, many resources are scarce but they can be shared; economists don't have good models for sharing, but do have them for competition. On planning, my elder daughter is mastering that latter thing better, now, and constantly checks time, date, airport, terminal, etc. And if you invite people to an event then you better prepare for their arrival--though I remember many times arriving at a friend's home to see a shocked face, in front of a very unprepared house not ready for the dinner to which I had been invited. Ok. Let's go to the pub and have a pint. Or if you accept an invitation then don't find yourself somewhere else when the people call you and say "Hey, what time you gonna reach?"

I now get to do things in a no- or less-pressure time frame. I haven't worn a watch regularly for about 6 months; but I do keep track of time usually with the help of daylight and a few prompts that come my way like phases of fatigue. I really have enjoyed spending time around kids, whom I have always found more interesting than many adults because they rarely have "agendas"; though they really do compare navels. I think agenda-dom starts around adolescence. They do seem to be more sane than many adults. It's a blessing, so I am enjoying them as much as possible. Not everything has to be perfect for a child. If they say it's chicken even though I know it's beef, it's really not so important for them...they're enjoying it...we'll learn the difference later. If they say that they "readed" the book, yes, I'll tell them that it's "read" (not the colour, darling), but won't get into a tizzy everytime they say "readed".

Maybe it's because I am approaching a time when I may be senile, but I enjoy getting to drive my little daughter to school and trying to read a My Little Pony story to her in Spanish when the traffic is at a standstill: "Era una noche perfecta en Ponylandia..." (Neither of us speaks Spanish much, but so what?) I enjoy watching her make her own decisions about what clothes to wear and do not understand fully (except as her hankering for our home in Maryland) why she wants to wear north American winter gear in Barbados, but she is always happy in her sweater, woollen leggings and Wellington boots while the 30 degree heat is beating us. I enjoy her floating between the cultures that she has to absorb: speaking like a Bay-jan with her class mates; learning to talk Jum-a-kan, man, with her new friends from Kingston; or parlant en francais with me and her French-speaking nanny.

My friend told me that this is exactly the time when communication bewteen children and adults is on the same level. She thought it had been studied extensively. She added that apparently young and old have the same sort of sane reactions to the outside world. They don't need to "show a face", "fit into a mould", etc. Physically, the old go back to a level of dependence and closeness/openess to perception that is quite similar to infants. I got that from spending some weeks with my Dad, recently, so it makes sense to me.

Just on a random search on Google for "young and old" I found an article on the subject on the first listing, and as is often the way with these things it had me painted all over it--it was published on my birthday! Weird. Have a read of "Happiness is being young or old, but middle age is misery" (see link). Of course, I noted "Only in their 50s do most people emerge from the low period". Oh yeah! But that does not change my view about Obama versus McCain.

As I wrote earlier this week, "God's in his heaven, all's right with the world" (which comes from Robert Browning's poem "Pippa Passes"). I have held that quotation in my head from years of studying English Literature. That, along with William Wordsworth's stanzas from "Upon Westminster Bridge" (near where I went to school and upon which I stood many an evening and early morning), are good mantras for thinking about life and its choices:

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear

The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

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