The rubber sheets wrapped tight around my bed were soaked with pee every morning when I woke up. I was four years old. I wet the bed every day. And I remember it clearly, getting that first bed. My dad carrying it into my room, replacing whatever cage had previously held me. Now I was free! My own bed! Every morning, my flannel pajamas soaked all the way through with urine and I’d have to peel them off. But I was four years old, I was totally free and the world was mine.

But then school. Then keeping your head on the desk during the naptime. A rap of the ruler on the head if you moved. Punishment. You can’t play on the playground! Unhappy grownups with their husbands cheating on them perversely lashing out on the least powerful beings in their universe. We would all wink at each other in code. Rap! The teachers too smart for us. Punishment for pretending to be free.

Freedom again. Seven years old. Getting home from school. Getting on the bike. Riding until the sun went down. Random women (mom? Babysitter? Grandma?) yelling “Jaaames!” in the distance while I pretended not to hear. The icy sun wasting its last washed out colors of the day on aluminum suburban houses, dark street lamps, the reflectors on my bike, the last moments of my freedom for the night.

(I was in love with Ally Sheedy)

High school. I was free of the beatings of junior high school. All the schools in the area blended together. The little kids from the Jewish neighborhood mixed in with our torturers. We were beaten solidly for two puberty testosterone-driven years by kids in plaid shirts, sparse moustaches, the smell of the greasy underneath of cars, hair slicked back and girls whispering about each other’s aborted pregnancies. We were soaked through in hormones and turning into monsters that would’ve been considered unbelievable before the radioactive age. 13 years old and I would’ve gladly volunteered to get any one of those girls pregnant. I would’ve sold them drugs or hypnotized them or paid them every last dollar of my allowance to get them pregnant: tall, blonde, slutty….and a guy in a denim jacket, two feet taller than me would elbow me in my back until I was down on the ground, “don’t fuckin’ stare at my girlfriend.” But in high school I was free to stare.

But 9 to 3 classes. Boring classes. Who cares about Chaucer? Shakespeare the worst. I wish the Bronte sisters had died in childbirth. The most boring writing. Math was ridiculous. All I ever needed ever after was how to multiple and divide two digit numbers in my head. Do you ever need the Pythagorean Theorem for anything. Or an integral. Do I need an integral to get a check in the mail? To convince someone to buy something from me. The periodic table? WHAT!? I had been tricked again. High school was the worst prison. I asked Nadine Davis out. “no way!” I asked Debbie Dreger out. “Not in a 100 years!” and in that moment there was possibility because 100 years didn’t seem so long to me. A prison sentence that long was conceivable when I was that young.

(Natalie Portman in an Emily Bronte "joint")

College! Freedom! No parents. Nobody to tell me what to do. No standards to live up to. I could be morally decrepit. I could cheat, drink, girls would finally touch me. I could cheat on the girls who would touch me. But still tests, grades, money, loans, debt. I cheated to graduate college. I stole ramen noodles to eat. I needed somewhere to live so stayed with a girlfriend who wanted to despise me. I didn’t want to work a real job so begged to get into graduate school.

Later, jobs. I was rich on $40,000 a year salary in NYC. I was a lowly programmer at HBO’s IT Department but my answering machine said, “This is James Altucher from HBO.” Girls calling me would think I was a movie producer. I was “from HBO”. But I was in my cubicle. [See, Prostitutes, 3am, and the Best Job Ever] And my boss had a boss who had a boss who had a boss who had a boss who had a boss who had a boss who had a boss who had a boss. And that top guy eventually got fired. By who? God? It was a prison all the way through. I was told “you can’t do that!” when there was something I wanted to do that would improve the company. I did it anyway. “you can’t do that!” when I wanted to start a company on the side. “you can’t do that!” when I would walk into the office of the CEO with him not there (now he’s the CEO of Time Warner) and all of his passwords for every account were in his desk drawer. “You can’t do that!” when eventually I left, escaping for the last time the jail of corporate America.

Freedom! When I sold my first company and made money. A lot of money. So much money I could give $100 tips to cabdrivers because I had nothing less and they had no change. I’d fly helicopters to Atlantic City. I’d buy paintings from my favorite realists without even bothering to negotiate. I bought a 5000 square foot apartment that was a sailboat factory in the 1800s and I rebuilt the whole thing. I was Free. I couldn’t ever be killed. I was a demi-god.

But what a horrible prison housing a horrible person. I was worse than the man in the iron mask. That same 5000 square apartment wrapped around me like a tight cocoon when I went broke, every thread sewn by the caterpillar prison guard another regret, anxiety, tension, stress. INTC had bad numbers. Time to flee? Can I get a loan? My 2 year old daughter the jailkeeper on my life. I couldn’t even kill myself without the threat of ruining hers. So close to the gun range yet so far. Every smile I ever did for two years was a fake. The clown mask painted onto me before the big finale.

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Finally! Sold my place. Now I could be a trader. The markets were mine. What freedom! I could wake up, trade at 9:30am, out by 9:35am, the day was done! What a lot of horse-shit everyone else had to put up with, working their plastic jobs at the cardboard box factory. Except for those days when the trade wasn’t over by 9:35am, wasn’t over by 4pm on a Friday night. Wasn’t over until next week and was horribly down. I lived next to a church. I never prayed in my life but I’d go there when it was empty and get down on my knees and say, “please let this trade work out!” Jesus Christ, please let INTC buy ORCL in the middle of a trading halt. Not a great trading strategy.

Freedom from trading! Started a fund of hedge funds. Freedom from worrying about crooked hedge fund managers! I started Freedom from Jim Cramer,, and the cubicle nation on Wall Street! I left and started doing my own investments. Freedom from NYC! I moved upstate. Freedom from marriage! I got divorced. Freedom from all the constraints of every publication on the planet! I started this blog. With its worries about traffic and where can I syndicate and what can I pitch and what can I write every day.

When I write a “top 10” list people say I have too many lists. If I write how I screwed Yasser Arafat out of $2 million people say “link bait”. When I bashed heads with Nouriel people say it was a payback post (it was, and I’m ashamed of it. I demoted the post to the ancient history of 4 days before it was published).

What’s freedom? A cave? Minimal food. The soft touch of love without jealousy or need. Creativity with no self-critique? Breathing as deeply as possible and holding that breath for as long as you want – freedom from the central nervous system that forces you to exhale. A body that sleeps as long as you want. Laughter when you need it, laughter when you create it. Laughter when you tease it out of the people around you. A mountain you can look at but never have to climb. A breeze infused with the smell of toasted starch that whispers directly into your stomach.

None of these freedoms ever existed. The planet itself is a jail. Your body cell block H, your brain the 6’10” cellmate who will rape you at night and leave you bloody on the ground for his friends. The electric wire always ready to shock you back into reality everytime you see freedom within touching distance. Just once, to touch it and taste it. To smell it. But the senses themselves bind you until your funeral.

A funeral where the most delicious sound I’ll hear from my perch in the afterlife will be the weeping of my own two daughters.  They never realized how much they would miss me. A life in front of them where they will never be able to talk to me or see me again or laugh at any of my antics. They can’t stop their weeping and what a beautiful orchestral sound that would be.

I’m 43 years old. Thank god I’m still alive. And loving every second of it with more passion than I could ever have imagined.


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  • Still think you need more fiber Jimmy

    • Going to try gluten-free.

      • I’ve been gluten free for five years. Email me if you have any questions on it. Udi’s brand makes the best bread if you can find it near you.

        • Oh, thats good to know. i can safely say now gluten free for 2 whole days and doing well. I think this might be the trick.

  • lee

    ..another enjoyable post James.  I think most, if not all of us, are prisoners to our own hidden desires and expectations.

  • JAupBen

    Wow, even the Prez is now talking about needing more stimulus, with the ‘recovery’ stalling.

    I wonder if the 45 million on food stamps read this blog?
    Doubt it.
    Wake up Amerika, James and his Fed cronies are taking it all for themselves.

    • If I have any Fed cronies please introduce me to them. SOme temporary amnesia must have caused me to forget them.

      • Hey James….

        you’re late with our monthly check.  get cracking.


        your cronies here at the Fed

  • While I am in the middle of similar storms you and Claudia have already weathered I find it refreshing to hear that it is totally possible to get through it all and end up even better than before. 

    I struggle every day to find my freedom.  I know it’s there.
    Great post again.

  • hey duke

    Well I have to agree with a lot of this – and although I didn’t hit it big like you I did leave my job and retired early and sold everything we own and moved into a motorhome to travel the USA… Freedom!!!

  • LB

    James – I’m 33 and long to feel the sense of freedom you describe. I know it will feel incredible for a moment and then I will be motivated to win the next round. My happiness comes from places which are completely unrelated to this personal need to go beyond my ordinary self (my wife, my babies, knowledge that real peace is within). Thank you for posting regularly. You really, really inspire me.

  • Sefdogsefdog

    Sometimes true freedom is as simple as wanting what you have, not always having what you want.
    In the rat race the rat always wins.

  • James, about your apartment:

    I have been meaning to say: Crikey, 5000 sq feet. Like a palace. 

    I remember visiting Versailles, ad at first I was impressed, then I was sad and then angry. All those royals, stuck with each in that palace, trapped in thinking how superior they were instead of using their wealth to help their own people.

    I am so glad you got out of that palace.

    • Edie, me too. There was so much maintenance. At any given point i’d step out of my office and there’d be a dozen people wandering around doing things and I’d have no idea who they were, how much they cost, and what they were even doing there. I’d turn around and lock myself back in my office. 

  • Alex

    I want my children to laugh and be happy on the day I die, just like on every other day.

    We breathe in, and we breathe out.
    We eat in, and we sh*t out.
    We get born, and we die.
    Letting go is a relief.  
    If the dinner was enjoyable and filling, why cry when the meal is over?

    I highly recommend this book:

  • Alex

    I want my children to laugh and be happy on the day I die, just like on every other day.

    We breathe in, and we breathe out.
    We eat in, and we sh*t out.
    We get born, and we die.
    Letting go is a relief.  
    If the dinner was enjoyable and filling, why cry when the meal is over?

    I highly recommend this book:

  • Anonymous

    James, you are fearless and insane.  How you get all the crazy, stream-of-consciousness stuff out on the page in a coherent way…I’ll never understand and always be amazed by.

    As I’ve said before, keep it up.  You show us we are not all nuts.  Or, we are all nuts and that might actually be normal.

    • Yeah, I hope thats the normal way. Or I’m in trouble.

  • Anonymous

    James, you are fearless and insane.  How you get all the crazy, stream-of-consciousness stuff out on the page in a coherent way…I’ll never understand and always be amazed by.

    As I’ve said before, keep it up.  You show us we are not all nuts.  Or, we are all nuts and that might actually be normal.

  • Great post. Exactly how I feel. Structure in suffocating.

  • Shjourdan

    One of my favorites.

  • Anonymous

    I did wonder why you used H block, it seemed an odd choice for an American…

  • wsc

    you are the best james.  breathe deeply, unshackle yourself from your wants, and be free!

  • I had a good friend abandon his corporate job and give up his house to become a landscaper and gardener because he was just happy being outside all day and didn’t want to give a shit about his job when the day ended. Happiest guy I know probably. 

    • Benoit

      Ask him how happy he is when he’s 55, with no savings and broken back for doing manual labor for 20 years.

      • Some people aren’t made out for office work. I think there is some value to finding work you enjoy and living modestly (even meagerly). 

  • Is freedom simply non-attachment then?  If so, am thinking of how to apply that in our society where I do want to accomplish great things (is it me or my ego?).  Perhaps give my all to the activity, the endeavor, the breath, but have no attachment to the outcome.

    Oh, had the biggest crush on Ally Sheedy too.

    • Ally Sheedy was the best. I could’ve watched that movie a thousand times over. In fact, maybe I did. That and Star Wars.

      You ask a great question about freedom, non-attachment, and success. I think it’s possible to go full force into the moment (to take a Hindu example, as Krishna describes to Arjuna when Arjuna wants to give up in the heat of battle) and still be able to do it ultimately as an observer, one free from the results.

      I’ll give you one example: I’m always obsessed with either my gaining or depleting bank account. In 2006 it was depleting adn I was adding it up every day. Obsessing on it. Panicking on it. Once I started I was spending even more, because I was building it and not taking in money. And yet, my obsession on money was over. I never even looked at account. I was taken up with the passion of what I was doing and how i was trying to help people (and ultimately succeed in selling) with the site. I think its when our mind leaves us to our own devices that we begin to worry, that we begin to get enslaved, without training the mind to relax and let be. But its hard enough that its basically impossible in 99.999% of moments.

  • SMF

    Now I know why you had urine on your mind yesterday

  • Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.  Nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’, but it’s free.  (From a lonely country song by Kris Kristofferson, before Janis made her iconic pop cover).

    I think of those words when I remember points in my life I when was most Free, and most Trapped.  Inversely proportional to money and materials (What You Own Owns You?), directly proportional to existential suffering.  But Free.

    But my favorite words of Kris’s are the ones I carry in my wallet, and when I remember that little Scotch-tape-laminated piece of paper and pull it out and look at it once in a while, I chuckle because it always explains my frustration in the current moment, whatever the current moment is:

    If you waste your time a talkin’
    To the people who don’t listen
    To the things that you are sayin’
    Who do you think’s gonna hear?

    And if you should die explainin’ how
    The things that they complain about
    Are things they could be changin’
    Who do you thinks gonna care?


    I rarely leave comments, but I admire the beautiful way in which you sometimes bleed in your posts, James.  Sometimes I see darkness between the lines, though, and I sure hope you’re able to keep it at bay.


    • Will, thanks so much. I think we all have a little darkness that we need to keep at bay. At least i hope we all share that.

  • RIchmond Bill

    Freedom means you can live off-grid!!

    “There is no spoon…”

    • I’m not so sure that helps. Living off grid is a real drag also. That’s hard work.

  • Chris S.

    One of my heroes regarding this subject is a man I knew in college, Bernie Harberts.  He was an interesting, cultured, well-traveled fellow.

    But he graduated shortly after I started school, and we lost touch.

    Ten years later, I heard Bernie on the radio.  He had just returned home from five years sailing around the globe (literally), and was setting off on a mule trek across the US (NC to CA).

    Intrigued, I reconnected with him and got his story:  after working a corporate job for a couple of years and doing the usual yuppie thing – new job, new house, new car – he realized he hated the whole affair.

    He quit his job, sold his house and car, bought a boat, and left to circumnavigate the globe – solo.

    That was almost ten years ago, and he has never looked back.  Now he travels the world, meets incredibly interesting people, and writes about his adventures.

    Bernie is also, without a doubt, the happiest and most good-natured person I have ever known.  He has no money and no obligations, and he has done more and experienced more these last ten years than most people ever even read about.

    I think most people equate happiness with having things or wealth (to buy things).  But increasing wealth requires being beholden to others – which means sacrificing freedom.

    What a wealth-centered individual (who believes that wealth is connected directly to happiness) would refer to as “lowered expectations”, an experience-centered individual would call “an appropriate perspective”.

    • Sooz

      Chris S.,
      There’s a lot to be said  for your last sentence.
      How great is “an appropriate perspective”? 
      Pretty damned great..

      • Chris S.

        I keep trying to nudge my perspective closer to “experience-centered”.  It’s really tough.  No matter how hard you try, you just can’t help becoming like the people around you.  And almost everyone equates wealth with happiness.  

        I thinks this is what James is getting at when he talks about “upgrading your friends”:  If you want to be a better person, hang around better people.

        I know one other person (besides Bernie) who I think of as “free”.  He has said to me “I don’t understand why people have so much anxiety.  Life really is easy.  For all of human history, people have had to work their butts off just to get enough food to survive.  Now, at least in this country, you pretty much can’t starve.  And once survival is taken care of, the rest is just experiencing life and having decorations.”

        • Sooz


          • Sooz

            Bernie’s site is very fun to read.As a matter of fact, once you start reading it’s very hard to stop. I must admit I’m a bit envious of his unmistakable courage to explore the world(except for the leeches in Tazmania..yikes).Although my most favorite place to be is home but it’s fun living vicariously through other’s.   

          • Sooz

            ‘Tea for the Tillerman’ rates high on my favorite recordings list.
            It’s hard to believe that the lyrics to this song were written over forty years ago. It’s message more relevant forty years later…


            have a great weekend..:))

          • Sooz

            here’s a better version ‘live’ verses the youtube slooow copy from original .


    • I am far more experience-centered than wealth centered. (I quit my corporate job last year, by the way). I love your friend’s story. Very jealous in fact. 

  • ferns

    I have no idea how I stumbled upon your site, I’m a sex blogger and mostly I browse the internet for porn I like, porn writing, femdommery and such things (I’m female, by the way, as a way of discerning myself in a terribly sexist way from a typical male porn-seeker and aficionado).

    Writing like this inspires me, it is like free range fruit, articulate and strange and rambling and it makes perfect sense to me.

    Thank you for it, former four year old bed pee-er.


    • Well, I for one am very glad you stumbled here. Us former bedwetters need to stick together.

      • *pets the little bed wetter on the head* Sorry sweetie, it’s just you…


  • its beautiful to always know that when someone has reached his “self-actualization” level would be able to find peace in the things around him, but i do believe that some, if not all of those freedoms you talked about “do actually exist”. 

  • Anonymous

    Freedom is a myth that conquers all too many people. -A variation of pride grown out of a misguided need for ‘self sufficiency’. -As if such a thing were possible or desirable. I am bound by the ties of friendship, of marriage, by my loves and my hates, by everything that I invest the precious capital of my life and emotions into. These bindings define me and enable me to make my way through the difficult days of my life.

    Freedom by itself and of itself is not something I aspire to, but rather to spend what time I have in the pursuit of bindings that stretch me into something more than I currently am. Only a monster is truly free, absent all restraint and a moral compass.

    “I’m 43 years old. Thank god I’m still alive. And loving every second of it with more passion than I could ever have imagined.” -I think you are free in the only way that matters.


  • James, what did you think of Cornell?

  • hard to enjoy at that peak though. I was stupid. Thats the part I remember most.

  • I don’t know. I really don’t. Success might be when you can stand still and not feel like moving.

  • Thank you Penny. And good point about the daufhters You made me think.

  • CMS

    It’s also important to free your mind of ideas that you have
    not taken action on. I’m thinking about setting up an anonymous website, to
    post to the public domain, business plans that I’ve designed and haven’t
    acted on.  Anonymous so it’s a clean
    break from the idea and so I’m not bugged with questions.
    This accomplishes a
    few things.
    A couple being:  I believe
    ideas are created in vacuums, if my mind is filled with things that I don’t take
    action on, new ideas won’t come in; my mind is too occupied.   And to
    give a sense of urgency, knowing if I don’t act on the idea it goes into the
    recycle bin. I found, the more I think about something the less likely I’ll act
    on it.  Paralysis by analysis, as they

    • CMS

      Wow, pasting from Word really jacks with the formating.

      • Thats ok. Reads like a poem now. You make a good point about the mind being filled with things. One has to shit them (the bad ideas, the ideas you will never act on)  out the way you excrete other toxins.

        • CMS

          Yea, I was about to mention that it’s like constipation.

          Reminds me of an old joke:

          How did the mathematician cure his constipation?

          He worked it out with a pencil.

  • Sooz

    When my teens were much younger I would summon them home with lungs full of air and blowing into the largest conch shell.(nieghbor kids all grown up now but still bring up their memories of that sound). Not only did my children return home propmptly but all their friends came along too. As if the ship was about to sail without them.
    Stephan, I like your discription ‘grandsprouts’.
    A reverse take on the cell phone subject, which drives me crazy, is when my children assume I’m going to blast on down the road the very second  that they dial me up(via cell) because their extra~curricular activity(sports..etc)let out 5 min. early.  That’s usually when I make them wait the longest..:)

    • Sooz

      … so when the lights go out for me, J.A., that’s what I want my children to remember; conch shell sounds and all the goofy things I did when they were growing up. Maybe(hopefully) they’ll only weep for brief moment before they smile.

    • searching for conch shell ringtone…

      • Sooz


  • Just an absolutely beautiful piece, until the part where you wanted your daughters to be sad when you were dead, and seemed to relish their sadness.  Did I misunderstand that?  If you really love someone, you don’t want them to be sad.

    • Well, I don’t think you misunderstood that (but maybe we have different conclusions). Sometimes there’s nothing sweeter than seeing a little girl cry and you know that one day it will be all better. 

      • Yeah, okay, I guess I can agree with that.  But personally I don’t look forward to my family crying when I’m dead.  It seems like a peculiar form of narcissism to me.

        But I suppose it’s okay if we disagree, as I agree with just about everything else you write.  Thanks for sharing so honestly; I’m really enjoying this blog.

  • A Day On

    Wow!  Really enjoyed that one. For what it’s worth, a description of freedom that I’ve run across is “enough.” The idea being that one more than enough enslaves you. Still trying to find that balance myself. 

    To me, the quest for freedom feels like standing at the edge of a diving platform and being paralyzed even though in your mind you can “see” a perfectly executed dive. Performance anxiety, I guess.  When I just let go and enjoy it I can really experience it, but then I find myself cowering on the edge.

    BTW, I really enjoyed the last images you chose to use. Your bravery in using them, to me, is how I define art.