When I first interviewed for a job in financial journalism several years ago, I knew nothing on the subject, but one of the interviewing editors told me: think of it as learning another language.
I got the job and found that he was right. I “learned the language.” I learned what a private equity fund was, how a collateralized debt obligation worked, how money changed hands between investors, banks and money management firms and how it all worked, but I took it all for granted and didn’t ask the tough questions. We were just taught to ask, “Where are you putting your money tomorrow?”
That is until the 2008 market crash, when it all came toppling down and we learned to ask whether some of these instruments were too complex? How can you be betting against one security while selling it to investors on another end and basically: what the hell were you thinking?
Similarly, when by some sequence of events, I fell into several alternative scenes and subcultures in New York, including the Burning Man crowd, polyamorous people, fetish-party-going kinksters, goths, burlesque dancers and various other fun-loving crews and glamorous creatures of the night, I also initially just “learned their language,” observed their habits and didn’t ask questions. I took it at face value and assumed that things just worked differently for these people and I could adapt to their environment.
That was all until the crash of 2012. Of course this is a “crash” of my own invention, the stock market actually did very well in 2012, but many other things went down: the European debt crisis, the fiscal cliff, the Connecticut school shootings, to name just a few. Particularly, a lot of things went sour in my own life and those of my friends’: many people’s long-term relationships fell apart, including my own three-year relationship; my friends’ parents died, many lost their jobs, others were making drastic lifestyle changes, still others were moving towns or countries or quitting the scene (whichever scene I happened to find myself on that day). So again, I learned to ask the difficult questions, such as: what have you been doing up until now? Does this even make sense? What do you ultimately want? (I had to finally face this question myself) And, basically, what the hell is the point?
In having some of these conversations with friends and doing more so-called research lately, I found the best thing I could ever hope for. I found surprise. Surprise that not all financiers are fraudulent greedy bastards or squares in suits, surprise that not all polyamourous relationships fail, not all burners are pot-smoking hippies living in their parents’ basements, not all kinksters/BDSM-enthusiasts are freaks who need to be ostracized from society, not all normal people are “vanilla” (in fact, some are chocolate or strawberry!) and not all dwarves like to be tossed. (Google dwarf tossing! It’s a thing, really!)
The thing is: stereotypes and preconceptions aren’t always completely erroneous or misguided, but they’re extremely limited in their scope. There is so much more to life, to a certain group of people, or even to one specific person than any of these blanket statements.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of the most exquisitely freaky, decadently dirty, uniquely creative and wonderfully starch clean people in the last few years. Here are some of their stories, interspersed with some of my own, as well as some random humor, wackiness, truth masquerading as fiction and vice versa.