RANCHO SANTANA, NICARAGUA – In the feedback today someone says these Postcards are “narcissistic.” (See the mailbag below.)
Narcissism is something I’ve had to think about a lot since getting divorced. (And something I’ve been accused of a few times, too.)
My Revelation About Life
Mark Ford, whom I used to work with, expressed an important truth about life in his blog this week:
In the mid 1970s, my wife and I were living in a humble three-room house without indoor plumbing in N’Djamena, Chad. I was sitting on our front porch watching the rain spill off the roof and onto our little garden when I had this thought: “One day, you will live in a big, fancy house back in the States. But you will never live in a house that can give you more pleasure than this one.”
Our entire trip – with Kate, with the kids, all the countries and hotel rooms – has been a two-year “intensive” on this one idea.
We got detained by the Egyptian military at a remote checkpoint and spent the evening under arrest in a room with nothing but two broken, disconnected toilets in it….
We slept on filthy mattresses in a rundown love hotel in Hong Kong to the sound of amorous couples and headboards banging against walls…
We played cards on our suitcase in some eastern European train station in the dead of night when the train we were waiting for came seven hours late…
We haven’t had ANY home for two years.
And yet, like Mark, I look back on these times and they were among the most satisfying times of my life.
Because I was proud of what we were doing… and we were doing it together, as a family.
Nothing else mattered. Not comfort. Not money. Not possessions. Not even a roof over our heads.
We had a hard mission to complete: To travel around the world, live out of a suitcase for two years, and introduce the kids to the different cultures of the world.
We were doing it together. And we were totally fulfilled.
I’ve never been on a successful sports team, but I imagine this is a taste of what it feels like. The French have a word for this: Camaraderie.
This insight discredited almost every other “life strategy” I’d ever tried. It was such a revelation to me – that you can feel camaraderie with your wife and kids – it motivated me to start telling our story publicly with emails, photographs, and social media posts.
My Revelation About the Markets
Since I discovered Bill Bonner’s daily diaries nearly 20 years ago, Bill has been an important inspiration to me, too.
Like Mark Ford did above, he expressed in a very clear and entertaining way what I already knew in my heart was true.
And that is… things come and go… busts follow booms… investors get optimistic then they get pessimistic… and contrarian investment strategies always work, if you’re patient and disciplined enough to sit through the madness.
The strategy Kate and I are following with our money – using the Dow-to-Gold ratio – is the ultimate contrarian stock market strategy. (We got it from Bill!)
We buy stocks when they’re cheap. Then, when they’re expensive, we go to the sidelines (in gold – very important) and wait for stocks to get cheap again.
This idea was such a revelation to me, I still remember exactly where I was when I read about it for the first time. And it motivated me to a) bet all our money on it and b) start writing about it and thinking about it every day.
Is It Narcissism?
I write about my life… and about finance… and I take a lot of pictures of my family. I post it all online. Is that narcissism?
I don’t know.
But every day I ask myself why I feel the need to tell strangers about my life and share photographs of my family. “Is it because I love myself?” I wonder. “Or is it because my soul has a ravenous hunger for fame and validation that must be fed?”
This is what I’d prefer the answer to be…
I feel like something inspired me… some of which I learned from others (Bill)… some of which I learned from experience (our trip). And then I felt the tremendous urge to create something (pictures and words) out of it.
And, paradoxically, because I’d lost all my self-esteem through depression and divorce, I found the courage to begin sharing these pictures and words with others.
So I started writing emails to my family and friends and posting on social media. (It served the additional three purposes of letting them know we were safe, helping me organize my thoughts each day, and memorializing our trip in a nice way for my family to look back on in the future.)
And some of them wrote back to me and told me to keep going… that they were being entertained… that they wanted to keep getting them.
I started to feel pride in what I was creating. And it emboldened me to share with a bigger and bigger audience. Slowly at first. Then more.
Each time, the people I sent my “stuff” to validated me and encouraged me, which emboldened me even more. Then Bill’s publisher asked me if she could send them to her audience in return for a little money…
And here I am, telling you about our life every day.
Narcissism? I’ll leave it up to you to decide.
I don’t like that word, though. I heard it all the time when I lived in South Florida. And no one ever seemed to be able to pin down for me exactly what it meant… except that no one wanted to be around it.
– Tom Dyson
P.S. This morning, India reported TWO major but distinct clusters of coronavirus infections. I’ve been fearing this. India is the most densely populated and unhygienic place on earth. (We were there early on in our trip.) This is going to be a disaster with exponential proportions.
Also, 60% of generic drugs consumed in the United States come from India and India just HALTED exports (because it wants to keep the drugs for its own use.)
P.P.S. Today we took Penny horseback riding. She’s been excited about doing this for days. Here she is riding a horse named Palomo…
Penny and Palomo
More talk of Tom’s divorce story… traveling to Rancho Santana… gold… and currency exchanges in South America…
Reader comment: Sorry to bring a non-enthusiastic note into your accounts of your vacations and what should be your private family life… but for many people who move or live on three continents and experienced three or more marriages, perhaps survived wars and conflicts, who have enjoyed also the soft side of life, the beach, cocktails, lolling about swimming pools, who have attended proper psychiatric help when needed, and more… for those many, your Postcards are – to be polite – not interesting or instructive. They seem more narcissistic.
I am totally sympathetic to your attempts at honesty and “sharing” and it seems to inspire your readers that have not had the opportunity to have a variety of life’s experiences or to travel the world for pleasure or necessity.
We are fans of your buddy, Bill Bonner. You are fortunate to have the opportunity to share his insight into life and money. He writes on both subjects philosophically, informatively, and with dignity. We wish you much success and joy within your family life and your activities. P.S. And no doubt, we will continue to read your Postcards.
Reader comment: Thank you for sharing your divorce story. You have really grown as a person, family man, and writer through your travels with Kate and the kids. What a blessing to make this personal discovery, this turn-around, and to see the truth while there is still time to enjoy life with your family. Thanks for sharing, and I enjoyed the photos too! Beautiful…
Reader comment: Now we are friends, because only friends can share common difficulties and burdens. I loved hearing about your story with Kate, and especially appreciated your total honesty – something that’s in short supply nowadays. Just remember, Tom, that we’re all a work in progress, and I greatly admire your and Kate’s efforts to “right the ship.”
There seems no doubt that you discovered your true love of Kate and your beautiful children, and in doing so healed the void within yourself – the “win-win” of love. Continued good luck on this new travel adventure and stay safe from those nasty viruses.
Reader question: Quick question I never see you address and seldom hear talk of. Are you not afraid of some form of tax to pay when trying to redeem your gold into whatever currency?
Tom’s response: It already exists. It’s called capital gains tax. I’m not afraid of it.
Reader comment: I saw the comment about you being a one trick pony, always banging on about gold, and of course Bill Bonner has been doing so for years. Nevertheless, I believe you and he are correct. There is a creeping recession anyhow; I have been astonished and dismayed by the fall in the value of money, not just in my time, but in the last 10 years.
Your travels in China were fascinating and depressing. This is a nation which apparently embraces with relish a real 1984.
Reader comment: I am very happy for you and your children that you were able to get back together with Kate. Given the dismal state of education in the U.S., homeschooling and experiencing a variety of different cultures is probably the best education they can get. I enjoy reading your Postcards.
However, while it sounds quite dramatic that you sold all your belongings and are living out of a suitcase or two, you forgot to mention that you probably have a nest egg of about $500k in income for life policies. And thanks to your previous job, you also have millionaire – and perhaps billionaire – friends that let you crash at their properties (case in point: Rancho Santana and the corporate apartment in Baltimore).
In addition, your former job enabled you to distribute these Postcards and I would assume that you are getting some income for writing them, which probably covers your expenses in most foreign countries. And yes, I agree that the current asset inflation is ridiculous and that gold is the ultimate currency. Although putting 90% of your eggs in one basket seems a bit risky to me. I would probably put 20% in crypto for diversification.
Enjoy your travels and hopefully your children will be able to forge some lasting friendships with other kids, wherever you decide to settle down.
Reader comment: I see you are visiting Rancho Santana. I have never made it down there but I have read a lot about it over the years. I just retired, and I wish I had bought one of the casitas when they were building them.
Reader comment: I spent eight days in Rancho Santana with my wife. It was glorious once we arrived. It was a little unsettling getting there since we got stopped and had to pay off the cops.
When I arrived in the evening, I went straight into the water. I walked out to about mid-thigh deep and stepped on a stingray. Cut me up pretty bad. I bled like a stuck pig. Needless to say, medical help there is much to be desired, so I would have the kiddos be very careful while you are there if I were you. Have them avoid being in the water at the end of the day when the stingrays all show up.
You are right, your photo doesn’t do it justice. I have some awesome sunset pictures from there. I even surfed the last day. The breakfast on the veranda was my favorite part, and I absolutely loved the café – or coffee as we would say. It was incredible. I also loved the debates we had over dinner with the family. We loosened up a bit with a little Malbec to mellow us. I love it.
Tom’s response: Yes, on a trip here seven years ago with my brother, we were stopped and had to pay off the cops, too. I think it’s pretty common.
Reader comment: I am 60 and have raised five kids with the same woman. That is a miracle in and of itself, and great evidence of the grace of God in my life. My kids have all turned out extremely well in every way.
I want that for your family. Keep on being a good dad and a good husband. Things go bad when it is all about “me.” You know what I mean.
Reader comment: My sense is that the traveling life will get “old” after awhile and you will want something more stable. Personally, I am attached to the land, raising things and developing a self-sufficient lifestyle. Obviously you don’t have to do that, but my sense is that, at some point, you will want to be doing something (rather than just bumming around).
Tom’s response: We don’t see what we’re doing as “bumming around.” We’re educating the kids and re-finding our love for each other and for life itself. (At least I am. Can’t speak for Kate and the kids.) But I take your point, too. At some point, it’ll get old and it’ll be time to move onto the next chapter…
Reader comment: I just joined your newsletter. Thanks for the opportunity to share in your experience. Hope this question is not too personal. Being off the grid must make it difficult to provide financing for all your travel and living expenses. Assume you would not carry a lot of cash on you. Look forward to hearing of your travels. Thank you.
Tom’s response: Wherever we’ve been in the world, I’ve gone to the local ATM machine and I’ve withdrawn local currency using my ATM card, which draws from my U.S. bank account. (My bank was even refunding the commissions at one point, but then it got taken over by another bank and that stopped.)
This never failed us. Not even in Africa or China.
But soon we’ll be in Argentina, where there’s a black market for dollars. I’ll be able to get more pesos by selling hundred dollar bills in the back streets than by using the banking system to draw from my bank account. First time this has been the case since I went to Venezuela in 2016.
As always, please keep writing us at [email protected]! Kate and I read every note you send us.