The Bag Lady’s Lament
Alexandra Penney—a New York artist and former editor of Self Magazine—lost her life savings in the Madoff debacle. Now she shares her wrenching trauma in a Daily Beast exclusive.
What makes Alexandra Penney’s experience with losing (or not having) securities and luxuries any more wrenching than people who have been without their entire life? No, I have not read all three parts of Penney’s trauma drama, nor will I. Skimming it is sufficient.
Using the Daily Beast’s use of the term trauma, I am quite sure Alexandra Penney has been traumatized. The poor thing is also too traumatized to understand all the vitriolic comments she has gotten about her story. I wonder if any of those comments have to do with the fact that she comes off sounding as if she is whining about having to work instead of being free to create art. Don’t you people understand, being free to paint and use taxis instead of the nasty old subway, was the reason she ever worked. Surviving had little to do with it.
I began to think about my options: I’d have to sell the cottage in West Palm Beach immediately. I’d need to lay off Yolanda. I could cancel the newspaper subscriptions and read everything online. I only needed a cell phone. I’d have to stop taking taxis. And who could highlight my hair for almost no money? And how hard was it to give yourself a really good pedicure?
To be honest, I wish she would shut the fuck up. This is how it always works, isn’t it. People like Penney are given a venue to make money off appropriating the narrative of the people who have truly lived (is living) that narrative. The fact that Penney has assets, regardless of how inferior those assets are compared to the ones she has lost, puts her in a more privilege position than many people who are living in poverty and people who are living pay check to pay check (you know, working class people and lower middle class people). When Penney realized that she had to go back to writing in order to butter her bread, you know that dreadful profession of writing that so many people would kill to suffer; did she have to worry about interviewing? Selling herself? Looking the part? Coming from the right schools? Knowing the right people? Compromising her principles? Or did she just have to make a few phones calls?
I wonder why Penney has decided to write about her time as a newly indoctrinated less fortunate (or as she calls herself, (PoRC) person of reduced circumstances), instead of writing about how people like Madoff was/are able to steal money. What is wrong with writing about the culture that nourishes a desire to get rich by exploiting others? What is wrong with writing about how removed from reality she became while living the life of a rich New Yorker. She has lived in New York City for most of her life and it has been thirty years since she has taken the subway.
And at the prospect of losing her housekeeper, Penney laments:
I wear a classic clean white shirt every day of the week. I have about 40 white shirts. They make me feel fresh and ready to face whatever battles I may be fighting in the studio to get the best out of my work.
How am I going to iron those shirts so I can still feel like a poor civilized person? Even the no iron ones need touching up.
Instead of putting an evil eye on the culprit, Penney (and the people who employ her) has decided to profit off the struggling class narrative. This of course silences the real struggling class. If a member of the struggling class decides to submit their stories, she/he would be told she/he has it all wrong, that her/his story lacks plausibility. “No, if you want an example of having to live hand to mouth read Alexandra Penney’s work. Then come back with a new draft and perhaps we can talk.”
The woman calls herself a bag lady. A bag lady!