The Renegade Writer

Alexandra Penney, a Madoff victim, blogs

Many of you are probably too young to remember the bestselling book, How to Make Love to a Man. When I was in high school, a friend and I pooled our money to buy a copy. My mother discovered the book tucked between my mattress and box spring and promptly tossed the book out, so I didn’t get much time to absorb the material, so to speak.

But moving on. The author, Alexandra Penney, became enormously wealthy for writing that book, which was on the New York Times bestsellers list for weeks, along with the other sex-advice books she penned through the years. She was also Self magazine’s editor-in-chief for years. Then she became a freelance artist. In her late 40s, she invested all of her retirement money — her life savings — with Bernie Madoff’s investment company. And you know what happened next.

Now Penney is blogging about what it’s like to be nearing retirement with her nest egg gone on Tina Brown’s new site, The Daily Beast. She has written three posts so far on her blog, titled The Bag Lady Papers, and I’m addicted. She’s getting flamed like crazy: people are criticizing her for worrying about the housekeeper she’ll have to let go, the white shirts she’ll have to iron herself, and the second home and (possibly) her apartment she’ll have to sell. Sure, compared to many folks, she’s lived a privileged life, and you could argue she was a fool to hand her whole nest egg to Madoff. On the other hand, she worked hard to earn this money and she acknowledges she has enjoyed the good life. Seems like she has plenty of cause for anger when her future’s been pulled out from under her.

I think she’s brave to blog about her experience, her despair, her fears. One thing I like about her blog is that she sounds like a spunky chick; I have no doubt she’ll pull through.

What do you think? Do you feel any compassion for her or think she’s an entitled whiner? Post your comments below. [db]

Jan 6, 2009 Blogging, Money, Writers

17 Responses

  1. Terri says:

    As you said, she worked hard and earned the millions she made. It’s hard NOT to feel sympathy for her. I’m amazed at venom directed at Madoff’s victims. In hindsight, of course they should have been suspicious of the returns they were getting, but most of them were relying on the advice of well-compensated “financial gurus.”

    There’s an essay today in Salon from another best-selling author whose retirement savings were invested with Madoff. She’s trying to find some peace with the situation, but it has to be devastating.

  2. Aoife says:

    I’ve only read the first installment, but I had to comment:

    I think people were missing the point of selling the cottage and letting Yolanda go. Alexandra is retrenching. While a lot of people do not share in her style of living, the discomfort of retrenching affects everyone pretty much the same emotionally. And can we (not the we of RW, but we of commentators on The Beast) quit calling Yolanda “the maid”? She is not the accoutrement of a Manhattan lifestyle, she is a working woman about to loose her job in a vile, soon to be vicious, economy. Bernie Madoff’s treachery has ripple effects throughout the population.

    Alexandra Penney has assets and options. She won’t starve. She won’t end up in a state-run facility either. She’s very lucky. She strikes me as plucky and pragmatic – she’ll bounce back using what she has on hand: her brain.

  3. I love the recontextualization of that statement about the maid, Aoife. It’s so true. Sure, these rich investors lost their second houses, cars, maids, etc. But that also means they have less money to invest into the US economy. The impact is silent, yet profound.

    Great recommendation here. Thanks!

  4. Star says:

    Very interesting…I have a couple of thoughts. First, those people who trusted Madoff weren’t all greedy, in my view. They hired someone to do what they could not or did not wish to give up something else to do. How are they different from someone who goes to Edw Jones? Second, this woman did work for that money…and yes, she has assets, big ones, she can convert to cash…unlike some of us…and I am glad for her. I don’t resent it just because I can probably never sell my house now. This has taken jumps, this economy, for everyone.

    I used to be involved with ananda yoga for many years–in the Wayback–and my friends used to say the swamis were hypocrites because they came from a poor country and then lived high and rode in limos. The ones I knew, though, took it as it came. When they were in India, they hung out underdressed in chilly ashrams and temples or mountains. When they had access, they rode in a limo with equal equanimity. I have sort of tried to take it as it comes…We are only on this earth a short time–it can’t all be based on money.

    (I know–only a freelance writer would say that. But I used to have more than now when I had a big DC job. I wore silk, traveled, and ate out. Now, I stare at a cactus. But hey…)

  5. Star says:

    PS She could lose the suicide talk…I didn’t love that.

  6. June says:

    I first saw her story in The London Sunday Times and found it quite riveting. I figured she’d get a lot of flak from bloggers re: her “plight”. It’s all relative. She just lost on a grander scale. I think she’ll re-trench, as so many of us must do, and maybe find something positive out of the mess once she gets past her regrets!

  7. Andrea Kirkby says:

    I do think that anyone who hands over their whole nestegg to any single bank or investment adviser is very, very misinformed.

    The absolute first principle of investing is DIVERSIFICATION. If you want to do your friends and kids a favour – tell them. Split your money into at least five slices and make sure you’re never reliant on a single fund, a single bank or a single share for your fortune. However tempting the returns might look. Don’t, ever, bet the bank.

    It may be too late for Ms Penney. But it’s not too late for the rest of you.

  8. Either way, she’s generating buzz. That’s real journalism right there–you get people talking.

  9. rick says:

    I sympathize with Ms. Penney–no one deserves to be robbed. But my sympathy is somewhat limited because:

    -She was unwise to give all her liquid assets to Madoff (sounds like she still owns valuable real estate, so she will not starve).

    -She does come off as self-absorbed and clueless. It is fine to have a cleaning lady, and worry about not being able to afford it anymore, but don’t tell us she’s like family. Don’t admit you haven’t been in a subway for 30 years (I know loads of people with a lot more money than Alexandra who ride the subway all the time). And don’t pretentiously call your boyfriend your “consort”.

    -The interesting stuff has all been said, and Ms. Penney is not nearly a good enough writer to hold our interest in mundane details

    -Apparently she has shaved 10 years off her age and adjusted all the “facts” in her posts to fit her made up age (she’s nearly 70). If the posts are intended to give us the unvarnished truth, then don’t make stuff up.

  10. No one can know where Ms. Penney will go with her new education, and her new still-fresh wounds. I can only suspect that with her self-made know-how and creative can-do attitude, she will indeed resurrect herself. In so doing, she will show us all examples of how we can regain our footing and confidence as well. I further suspect that she will share some of her wealth with organizations that lend a hand-up to those less fortunate–those women in particular who lack the “back-up” assets that Ms. Penney fairly admits will buy her some valuable time.

    Curiously, I can’t stop thinking about her last name. Ms. Penney isn’t Penniless literally. This self-made woman would never be penniless, due to her creativity, work ethic, sense of humor, and some luck. Yet you do remember that old, still true saying about luck meeting tons of preparation don’t you? So, while a lot of her money is gone, no one can steal Ms. Penney’s mind. (I’m not Jewish, and I know and respect that.)

    Not that you asked for my advice, yet if you have not yet “made it” to the extent that Ms. Penney has, curb the urge and save the time it would take you to write jealous remarks, and reread the part where she outlines her working three jobs, etc.,. Only in America, right? Refocus any veiled contempt and busy yourself writing the last chapters of your own success. Yes, you are on the road, and you CAN finish big, but never by quitting.

    We are all richer for Alexandra Penney (and anyone) telling her truth, and for a country which allows us to do so, and finally for an internet to give us both the instant and far-reaching platform in which to share.

    Let’s create and embody solutions. Let’s continue to offer a shoulder to anyone who is suffering, much like the inscription on the pedestal of our proud lady, the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free”. Let’s not excoriate people who say they feel down-trodden, especially when they flat out exclaim they don’t want our pity.

  11. Bru says:

    Yes, I do sympathise with Ms Penney. I am also not surprised by the seeming lack of sympathy and support given her by some of her fellow Americans. As a Brit I always believed our American cousins were warm, friendly and inviting, but these past two years travelling in the US has shown me a darker side to some Americans I wish I had not had the misfortune to experience.
    Miss Penney, do not allow the vitriol and apparent disdain to touch you. Mostly, these unfortunates are merely jealous. You are a successful and professional woman – albeit a somewhat financially depleted one right now. So you have a housekeeper and you misread the year of your birth once or twice. So what? I do it all the time!
    Collect all your blogs and turn them into your next book. I’ve loved reading them. Others will too.
    You go, girl!

  12. […] Penney is now blogging, voluminously.  Those interested can check out her Bag Lady Papers at the Daily Beast.  […]

  13. pericles21 says:

    I like Alexandra’s new attitude, and work, a lot. Takes one back to Paul Krasner with a taste of Hunter. Sorry that the Madoff experience happened to AP but imho it took her into a different writing path that connects with a lot of us. Now hat AP has seen how this wealth culture has but a irridescent, fragile soap bubble, I’d sure like to see her style turned to (on?) other modern icons – people, institutions, mores.

  14. Kathryn Heath says:

    As I do feel bad for what Ms. Penney went through, I also feel as though she has misled some of you with her story and where she grew up. Ms. Penney is 70ish as she graduated from High School with my mother. My mother is 70 and one of the youngest in her class. Also, she grew up in Scarsdale, NY not Connecticut. I just wanted to comment on this because I saw her on Larry King prior to reading the article, and she had given him the same incorrect information.

    I am sure that in time she will recover some of her hard earned and will be happy. I feel sorry for all of those who put their trust in Bernie Madoff and I am sure he will not see the outside of prison walls for the rest of his life once he begins serving his sentence.

  15. coco says:

    If, indeed, Ms. Penney has lied about her age, and lied about where she grew up, are we not wise to scrutinize everything she has written about her Madoff debacle as to its veracity? Perhaps most of it has been concocted out of thin air.

  16. Kristina says:

    I feel lots of compassion for her. To me it doesn’t matter if she was wealthy or if she made a mistake giving him his money…it is still wrong and she is the victim and Madoff is the thief.
    I live on a humble income and lived nothing of the life that Penney lived…but I feel for the woman. She was stolen from in a big way and that is horrible. It makes me sick the comments blaming the victim. What this reveals about them is their jealousy. I wonder how they will feel when they are the next victim of a scam artist. Those who can’t feel for Madoff victims deserve no compassion when it happens to them or someone they care about.

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