The Bag Lady Papers

( 9 )


In December 2008, my worst nightmare came true . . .

How do you pick yourself up after the one thing you most feared happens to you? Alexandra Penney's revealing, spirited, and ultimately redemptive true story shows us how.

Throughout her life, Alexandra Penney's worst fear was of becoming a bag lady. Even as she worked several jobs while raising a son as a single mother, wrote a bestselling advice book, and became editor in chief of Self ...

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The Bag Lady Papers: The Priceless Experience of Losing It All

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In December 2008, my worst nightmare came true . . .

How do you pick yourself up after the one thing you most feared happens to you? Alexandra Penney's revealing, spirited, and ultimately redemptive true story shows us how.

Throughout her life, Alexandra Penney's worst fear was of becoming a bag lady. Even as she worked several jobs while raising a son as a single mother, wrote a bestselling advice book, and became editor in chief of Self magazine, she was haunted by the image of herself alone, bankrupt, and living on the street. She even went to therapy in an attempt to alleviate the worry that all she had worked for could crumble.

And then, one day, that's exactly what happened.

Penney had taken a friend's advice and invested nearly everything she had ever earned--all of her savings--with Bernie Madoff. One day she was successful and wealthy; the next she had almost nothing. Suddenly, at an age when many Americans retire, Penney saw her worst nightmares coming true. Based on her popular blog posts on The Daily Beast, this memoir chronicles Penney's struggle to cope with the devastating financial and emotional fallout of being cheated out of her life savings and illuminates her journey back to sanity, solvency, and security.

"I will work harder than I ever have before--which was pretty hard indeed--and see what happens. I have the feeling something good will come of it: tough, challenging work and laserlike focus have always paid off for me. . . . Was it better to have it and then lose it Yes, yes, yes! Even though I lived with horrible bag lady fears of losing it all, now that those financial fears have materialized, I'm in pretty good shape and looking to what's next. Experiences--good and bad, exciting and boring, tragic and absurd--make up a life. Not to have lived to the fullest is the saddest, most irresponsible life I can think of."

. . . from The Bag Lady Papers

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A victim of Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme, mom and former Self magazine editor-in-chief Penney (How to Make Love to a Man), hyperventilates her way through this intriguing memoir of putting it back together. Finding herself almost entirely without money, Penney faces the unexpected need to retrench with a daunting sense of paranoia; brought up by aloof parents, Penney lived for a long time with a chronic, seemingly irrational fear of becoming a destitute bag lady. As a "Person of Reduced Circumstances", Penney bolsters herself with chin-up wisdom ("unless you've been mummified, you have choices and alternatives") and bravely vows to apply her own nail polish while eulogizing her days as an expensively-dressed editrix at Conde Nast. While she ponders lists labeled "money can still buy" and "money can't buy," a collection of well-heeled and influential friends encourage her with quotes from Emerson, invitations to the Caribbean and tax advice. With considerations like, "Is it worse to have had money and lost it? Or is it worse to never have had money at all?" Penney can be an (admittedly) unsympathetic protagonist, but her struggle is genuine, her charm expansive and surprising, and her strength winning.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From The Critics

"[Penney] writes in an appealingly plainspoken way...about gaining a deeper appreciation of life in her reduced post-Madoff circumstances." ---The Wall Street Journal
The Barnes & Noble Review

Bag Lady Syndrome may not be an actual disease, but it is a disorder that apparently haunts quantities of successful, well-heeled women: the deep-seated fear of losing everything and ending up destitute and alone.

"In December 2008," Alexandra Penney writes, "my worst nightmare came true. I found out I was dead broke. I had lost all my savings in the colossal Ponzi scheme of Bernard Madoff, forthwith to be known as the MF, which in plain English stands for…." -- well, maybe you can guess what it stands for. The bad news, appropriately enough, came while Penney was setting Baccarat crystal glasses on the dining table in her Manhattan apartment overlooking the East River. Before the evening was over, she couldn't be sure she even had a home left.

"Dead broke" in fact turns out to be a bit of an exaggeration, and Penney was never in danger of the kind of real poverty that soon faced some of Madoff's victims. She possessed some real estate, mortgaged though it was; she had countless influential friends and associates; most importantly, she had earned her living all her life and possessed a strong work ethic. (In fact Tina Brown called her as soon as she heard the news and asked her to write a blog for The Daily Beast.) Also, as Penney readily admits, the prospect of losing her son or her health would have been a worse "nightmare" than what actually happened to her. Still, The Bag Lady Papers is a spirited and thoughtful meditation on just what money can and can't buy, and on the deep irrationalism of our financial hopes and fears.

--Brooke Allen

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781401341558
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • Publication date: 12/28/2010
  • Pages: 240

Meet the Author

Alexandra Penney is an artist, best-selling author, and former editor-in-chief of Self magazine. She had a one-person show at Galerie in Berlin and her work was shown at Miami's Art Basel. She lives in New York.
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Table of Contents

Glossary xi

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 December 11, 2008 5

Chapter 2 AAA-Activity Alleviates Anxiety 13

Chapter 3 There Is No Such Word as "No" 21

Chapter 4 Rich Bitch: MF + 24 HOURS 27

Chapter 5 Road Trip with "The Girls": MF + 2WEEKS 39

Chapter 6 Urgency at Ail Costs! 53

Chapter 7 There Is Such a Word as "No" 59

Chapter 8 The Copy Shop Collapse: MF + 4 WEEKS 67

Chapter 9 Change Is Good: My Fishmonger Days 75

Chapter 10 The Kindness of Friends and Strangers: MF + 5 WEEKS 87

Chapter 11 Everyone Has a Story to Tell 101

Chapter 12 If You Think You Have No Options, Think Again 113

Chapter 13 My New Life as a Person of Reduced Circumstances (PoRC): MF + 6 WEEKS 123

Chapter 14 How to Make love to a Man 133

Chapter 15 What Money Can and Can't Buy: MF + 7 WEEKS 143

Chapter 16 How to Heal a Broken Heart 153

Chapter 17 Real Estate Woes: MF + 2 MONTHS 161

Chapter 18 The Pink Ribbon 167

Chapter 19 What Can I Live Without?: MF + 9 WEEKS 181

Chapter 20 What the Bag Lady Really Fears 191

Chapter 21 How to Look and Feel Good When Recently Broke 199

Chapter 22 The Bag Lady Throws a Parry 209

Acknowledgments 217

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