Interview with Paris Smith from Coming for Money by F.W. vom Scheidt
In a fascinating twist on the usual format, rather than the author interviewing the protagonist, the protagonist has stepped up to interview the author.
The protagonist of Coming For Money is Paris Smith. His story is found in the international investment industry. As he steps onto the top rungs of the corporate ladder, he is caught between his need for fulfillment and his need for understanding; between his drive for power and his inability to cope with his growing emptiness where there was once love. When his wife disappears from the core of his life, his loneliness and sense of disconnection threaten to overwhelm him.
When he tries to compensate by losing himself in his work, he stumbles off the treadmill of his own success, and is entangled in the web of a fraudulent bond deal that threatens to derail his career and his life. Forced to put his personal life on hold while he travels nonstop between Toronto, Singapore and Bangkok to salvage his career, he is deprived of the time and space to mourn the absence of his wife and regain his equilibrium.
The author is F. W. vom Scheidt, a director of an international investment firm who works and travels in the world’s capital markets, and makes his home in Toronto, Canada.
Paris Smith: Certainly these days with the financial meltdown and everyone’s quest for cash, it seems this is a most topical book because we are all “coming for money.” But while money has its value printed or stamped on it, you seem to be saying something quite different. Is that right? To you, what is the value of money in the life of a person?
F.W. vom Scheidt: The question might better be: What is the value of money in human life where we all face certain mortality? The ultimate futility of the acquisition of material things that do not accompany us in death is obvious. The misery of poverty is obvious. The merit of altruism is obvious. Despite all these truths, the value of the money itself remains, for most human beings, mired in layers of greed and fear.
PS: How is that? Or, perhaps more importantly, why is that?
vom Scheidt: When you strip away the material acquisitions, recognition, and status that are the transient rewards of greed, and expose that we can be as easily hated as admired for the accumulation of money, you are still left with the paradox that we seek money to measure the progress of our endeavours, to improve the circumstances of our lives, and to protect ourselves and the people in our lives from future adversity.
PS: So what’s left?
vom Scheidt: Working every day in close proximity to money, I was forced to spend a great deal of time and thought on that very question, if for no other reason than to construct some sense of meaning in my own life. Over the years the answer that came to me was that the value of money to a person is that money accelerates experience.
PS: Accelerates experience?
vom Scheidt: It’s a concept that begins with recognizing that the most precious thing in this life is time, because our time is limited by our death. We cannot buy more time with our money. But, like Albert Einstein’s theories for uniting space and time into space-time and “bending” the velocity of space-time, in a parallel way we can increase the amount of time in our lives by combining experience and time into experience-time. We can “stretch” the amount of our experience-time by accelerating the amount of experience in it. And that is the value of money.
PS: If that’s the theory, how does it work?
vom Scheidt: Imagine two men living in separate huts by a river. For both men, the experience quotient in their lives is the sum of the experience of living in the hut and the experience of walking from the hut to the river and back fetching water each day. Through some fortunate circumstance, the second man acquires some money and buys a goat.
The experience quotient of the second man begins to increase, because now he is bringing food and water to the goat, watching the goat grow, milking the goat, making cheese from the goat’s milk, walking miles to a market to sell the cheese, taking in all of the sights along the way, and hearing other voices and other opinions in the market.
The result is an exponential increase in the second man’s experience quotient. Meanwhile, the experience quotient of the first man remains the sum of the hut and river. Two lives with an equal amount of time measured by an equal number of days, but the second life has much denser experience. Because money accelerated the experience in the second man’s life by increasing experience-time, even this simplistic example illustrates the value of money in enriching our life.
PS: Moving from the personal experience of someone who is empowered by money to lead a richer range of experiences in life to the larger impersonal picture, the money markets themselves seem quite ruthless or unsentimental in how they allocate resources. That seems to be a central theme of the recent financial and economic collapse. Is this your view?
vom Scheidt: The markets themselves are not ruthless and unsentimental. In theoretical economics, markets are efficient, attracting capital where it will obtain the greatest return with the least amount of risk. But markets are “made” by human beings. As human beings do in all endeavours in this life, they bring an untold wealth of knowledge, talent, integrity, and imagination to financial markets. But they also bring the human weaknesses of greed and fear.
It is usually when the equilibrium between all of these things is lost that greed and fear become the driving forces in the financial markets. Greed and fear are ruthless and unsentimental in how they allocate resources to any human endeavour. As we have seen time and again throughout history, not just in the recent developments alone, when greed and fear drive markets into unsustainable levels, all such markets inevitably collapse.
PS: I guess that’s why, even though money markets are often spoken of as autonomous entities operating almost like a force of nature, in Coming For Money you paint a portrait, really an insider’s view, with humans very much present in the scene. Are you saying the general public perception of the world of high finance is incomplete or simplistic?
vom Scheidt: Very much so, just as simplifying or stereotyping any human endeavour is always inaccurate.
PS: Then should a person whose life becomes enslaved to money – making it, taking it, manipulating it – be pitied, like any other addict who’s lost control over his or her own life? Is that a message in Coming For Money?
vom Scheidt: It is not the central message, but it is certainly one of the messages.
Because our societies equate financial success with a successful life, we are often blind to the inner stories of countless people in all endeavours who, in their desperate search for inner happiness, endlessly repeat a formula for financial success even while remaining deeply unhappy due to unresolved emotional and psychological issues at their core.
PS: With the approach you take to money, and the philosophy you’ve just been expressing, do you feel Coming For Money is breaking new ground?
vom Scheidt: At my last count, there are not many literary writers originating from the financial world. I write from personal experience. I write from what I know best.
In this novel I’ve written as truthfully as possible about the world of international finance – not with the over-dramatization so common in film and television, but with an intimate telling through a first-person narrative of what it can be like to labour in the world of money spinning . . . of how the money’s immense leverage for triumph or disaster doesn’t so much corrupt people as corrupt the way they treat each other . . . of how the relentless demands of the money so often deprive a person of sufficient time and energy to live through the events of their emotional and interior life.
PS: Love lost can create feelings of guilt, bitterness, even despondency. Here you portray a character, Paris Smith, who is trying to carry on despite such a hole in the very centre of his being. Do you think this is common?
vom Scheidt: I think we all suffer the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” in this life. I do, sadly, see many people succumb to this. But I also see many carry on. In fact, I have come to think that what is best about us, what may be our highest calling as human beings, is surviving and continuing and always summoning enough courage to take the next step in the journey of our lives.
PS: When referring to “courage,” do you see that as a defining attribute of surviving?
vom Scheidt: Yes, but let’s be clear about the complexity here. As much as this is a story of conflicts between people, it is also a story of the conflicts of a man with himself. He has doubts about his abilities. He has guilt about how he has failed and hurt others. He has heartbreak of losing at love when he needs more than anything to be loved. He is angry at being betrayed in his marriage and in his career. He fears failure.
He is, in short, living with many of the emotional issues that confront all of us in our daily lives. So that is why I have tried to tell this story in a way that will let others in our increasingly isolated society know that they are not alone.
PS: It would be easy to feel oneself a victim in such circumstances.
vom Scheidt: We hear a lot about victims in our era. That is why I have also tried to say something in Coming for Money about the value of not surrendering to the seduction of victimizing others, as a defence against being victimized. In writing a narrative about not giving up, I attempt to capture something true and evocative about how all journeys toward the light begin in darkness. I hope to offer readers some assurance that, in undertaking such journeys, they can become restored to wholeness, because that is what I believe. That is what I have witnessed.
PS: How did you conceive of this particular character and his story?
vom Scheidt: I sat down at the keyboard. Although I have always been a literary writer, I had no idea how I would capture my experiences in international finance in literary fiction. Without thinking, the first sentence came to me. I typed it. Then I looked at that sentence for a long time.
Instinct told me that the sentence had risen from something that was deeply absorbing me, and that it was something I had to tell. I knew I had to find some way to tell it truthfully. From that point, I knew there was no way out . . . except to construct the novel.
PS: Hollywood makes movies about the glamour of money, and other writers have treated the lives of those caught in worlds of high finance they cannot control. What, if anything, sets Coming For Money apart from those works?
vom Scheidt: While Coming For Money is a story that advances from chapter to chapter along the corporate intrigue that beats at its heart, and continually mirrors the financial headlines of our daily newspapers, it is much more. It is an illustration of what happens to us as human beings when we lose emotional connectiveness, when we lose emotional logic. I think that is somewhat different from writing about the lives of individuals caught in high finance plots they cannot control.
PS: Is this why you portray individuals, not behind steel bars, but imprisoned rather in their emotional cells?
vom Scheidt: I illustrate in detail the plight of one man, Paris Smith, whose story begins in a state of emotional imprisonment – because he is tragically, if admirably, flawed. He is not flawed in the classic Shakespearean sense of a noble man who is brought to ruin by his own avarice or rage. His weakness is not that he lusts after wealth or power or flesh. Rather, and far more important for us in these times, he is flawed in that he never learned the great lesson of his generation: don’t become emotionally involved!
Smith’s weakness is that he needs, and has always needed, emotional involvement in order to sustain his life. It is for him – as, ultimately, it is for us all – as necessary as breathing.
PS: Is that emotional connectiveness the core of the story?
vom Scheidt: Essentially, yes. I think that, as Paris Smith refuses to relinquish his search for emotional connectiveness, he becomes a character we learn to appreciate and admire. I hope readers will appreciate him as much as I do for the sometimes stuPSorn, sometimes creative, battles he wages against other men in his corporation who are pitted against him. In doing so, Paris Smith becomes ever more conscious of how he could stem his personal pain and loneliness. He might do so by simply retreating emotionally and victimizing those around him. Or he might learn anew how to offer up his own emotional involvement. I’ll leave it for readers to see how this plays out in the end, and what moral they may want to find about the human quest in contemporary times.
PS: Let’s turn from Smith to you. Earning an MBA is a common apprenticeship for entrants into the world of commerce and finance, but you arrived by a very different route as an artist, musician, and writer. Did this give you special sensitivity to understanding the pressures of big money?
vom Scheidt: I suppose it brought an emphasis on creating something of value, and a discipline to practice and concentrate on doing it well, like artists must. Seeking to capture life truthfully in any medium requires a dedication to integrity. That artistic code becomes a natural advantage when transposed to a business environment.
I found that a practice of concentrating on integrity brought a bedrock of truth and governance to my business management. I also found that it applied greatly to investment decisions, which not only require foresight and judgment, but also integrity of conviction to avoid the sway of greed or panic, and maintain clarity amid the noise and confusion of information overload. From this flows the value you add to the amalgamation of money and opportunity.
PS: What about artistic sensibility or sensitivity? Did that transpose well also?
vom Scheidt: My sensitivity has, perhaps, been in simultaneously understanding the pressures of money and in understanding people. The great fallacy of the financial industry is that its workings are accomplished with money. They are not. They are accomplished with people – people who need to be understood and valued, people with whom you must communicate. Maintaining sensitivity to people in an insensitive environment helps bring them to a common focus: on value, on integrity, and on success.