Last year Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God inspired women across the country to take a new look at their relationship with food. Oprah featured Roth as a guest on two shows and the book was on The New York Times bestseller list for thirty-five weeks. The book was a success story but it came on the heels of a much darker story: Roth and her husband had lost their life savings and joined thousands of Americans facing financial disaster.
Now Roth is back with a new book for our financially-challenged times that shows how she and her readers can break free from old patterns and chart a new-and full–life based on principles that better reflect our true values. LOST AND FOUND: Unexpected Revelations About Food and Money is a memoir about financial free-fall and the experience of recovering from a major money disaster. It is an intimate and thought-provoking exploration of all the many meanings money has in our lives-largely unconscious and powerful enough to lead to questionable decisions and conflicted emotions. With penetrating insight and irreverent humor, Roth teaches personal examination, showing readers how to use their patterns of spending to discover the real fulfillment they long for and purchases never fully satisfy.
No matter the amount of money you have at the end of the day, Roth shows how you think and what you believe about money can be named, explored and dissolved-and must if we are to truly protect ourselves from the losses too many families have experienced.
PC: Lost and Found is the sort of book that is like, “‘sitting at Grand Canyon with a grocery bag over your head,’ and suddenly realizing that you can take it off” – to quote from your chapter Only Kindness. You speak of choice and the power we have over how we let the ups and downs bend our life. How important is that choice to you, and sharing it with others?
GR: Very important. But one of the recurring themes of the book is that most of us don’t realize we have choices about how we act and react. We think that the way we see things is the way they are, and then we act accordingly. So if I believe I am money-dumb, or am convinced I am a failure, then I will act in ways that correspond to what I believe. The choice here is not in choosing not to feel dumb or like a failure (we can’t really help our feelings)—but in my ability and willingness to question how I feel.
PC: I loved that at one point in the book – early on – you said you felt “money dumb.” So many of us do, but choose lack of knowledge, rather than educating ourselves. What advice do you have for someone who feels overwhelmed by the idea of getting their arms around finance and the world of money?
GR: We always have to start where we are right now, this moment. So if you believe you are money-dumb, I wouldn’t recommend getting ten quick tips on putting your finances in order because no matter how many wise or brilliant “tips” you are given, there will be a fundamental resignation, powerlessness and deep-seated conviction that you can’t put them into action. So you don’t try to jump over what you believe. You don’t try to fix it or make it go away. You take yourself into account here, and you become interested in what’s true right now: the fact that you are convinced you are money-dumb. Then, you question that: who told you that? Where did that belief come from? What would have to change or who would you threaten if you weren’t money-dumb? Those are the kinds of question that get to the root of what’s going on, and therefore, dissolve it.
PC: In the chapter Dieting and Bingeing, Budgeting and Splurging, you draw many comparisons between the nourishment and punishments that money and diet offer. Why do you think so many of us struggle with healthy balance in these two areas?
GR: I don’t know but I have a few guesses: It may be because both we need both food and money to survive, and once something gets tied in to our survival instincts, the linear parts of the brain are no longer in charge. It may be because they bring out the deeper and unresolved parts of our psyches, and so we ricochet between feeling like two year old’s—I gotta have that ice cream sundae no matter what because I want it, I deserve it, and I don’t care about anything else—and being adult’s who realize that it’s 8 am and an ice cream sundae isn’t exactly the kindest or wisest way to start a day.
PC: In the same chapter you also state, “Most of us have become so accustomed to acting out our internal version of ourselves that we are no longer aware that just because we believe something doesn’t make it true.” How have you found peace with this realization?
GR: By being willing to live in a constant state of curiosity about why and how I feel the way I do.
PC: How true would you say the statement, “Your perception of your reality” really is? What was the biggest hurdle for you, in reshaping your own reality after the Bernard Madoff scandal?
GR: A wise teacher once said that if a pickpocket saw Jesus, all he/she would see is pockets. We can’t help but see what we call reality through the particular and incredibly biased version we’ve developed over the years. After the Madoff debacle, I’d lost everything, all my savings for thirty years—and there’s nothing like losing everything to force you to see things differently and to remind yourself of what really matters. What always matters. Like the fact that I could still drink tea, see hummingbirds, breathe.
PC: Lost and Found is an honest, open and uplifting story of struggles that could have taken your joy from you. You don’t hesitate to share every crack and crevasse that comes from being dealt such a shattering blow. Did you have to become fearless to write this book, or was it an easy voice to raise?
GR: It seems that one of my job descriptions here on the home planet is to be a tour guide: to look in the hidden places of the heart and come back and say, “Hey guys, here’s what I found. It’s really not that bad. In fact, it’s pretty fabulous!” So…no, it wasn’t difficult to do this.
PC: What is the most treasured thing you found from being lost?
GR: That no situation, no matter how horrible or painful, is unworkable. That redemption always exists. That beauty is abundant if I am willing to open my eyes.
PC: What do you look for in a great story? As a writer, what elements do you find imperative to help you construct a work and as a reader, what parts of a story most draw you in?
GR: As a writer, I need to be pulled by a story. I need to be compelled. It doesn’t exactly feel as if it’s up to me—my wants and desires, my ego, my ambitions, but that something bigger wants to be spoken and it’s my job to show up for it.
As a reader, I adore writing that is as much about the craft as it is about the story. I love the poetry of words, the way a sentence makes me feel. If it’s fiction, I have to care about the characters.
PC: What advice would you give to people who “run out of creativity” when writing?
GR: I don’t believe in running out creativity, but I do believe in rest. I believe in what looks like doing nothing but what really is allowing yourself to recharge. Without the rhythm of work and rest, the cycle can’t complete itself.
PC: What’s the loveliest thing you have ever seen?
GR: My husband’s face when he laughs. Yeah, yeah, I know that’s corny, but if you’re going to ask me a question like that, you’re going to get an answer like that!
Geneen Roth is the author of the bestsellers Women, Food and God and When Food is Love and seven other books. She has conducted workshops for over thirty years and has lead retreats for the past ten. Roth is a frequent contributor to many publications including Salon.com, Huffington Post andGood Housekeeping and has appeared on numerous national shows from Oprah, 20/20, Good Morning America, The View, Primetime Live and NPR’s Talk of the Nation.