You can reframe anything


Melissa is driving through Darlington trying to avoid the police. If they see me they'll arrest me, and we know they know my car. I put the front seat back all the way so I'm out of view. I keep my seatbelt on because in case they see us, I don't want to be breaking any extra laws.

I have to start this story when I was getting a divorce. People told me the cleanest, easiest divorces are when there are two good lawyers. So I asked around for the two best lawyers in Madison. They knew each other, of course. And negotiations went smoothly, except for my lawyer quitting first when I started blogging about the divorce and then when I agreed to talk about the divorce with the New York Times.

The police are not actually chasing us. But we feel like we're on the run. I told my lawyer — not my divorce lawyer but my new lawyer, who deals with about-to-be-arrested types — that the police have been to my house three times to arrest me. The Farmer is so stressed he's not even coming back from the hayfield for lunch. The lawyer says, “You'll have to stay away from the house til I can get the papers signed by a judge.”

I was thinking of staying at Jeanenne's house for a few days but I feel bad asking her to harbor a fugitive. So Melissa and I are on our way to Madison.

As we pass the turnoff for our house I worry that we don't have our computers.

“Hold it,” I say. “I have an idea. Pull over to the side and drop me off in one of those corn fields and I'll wait for you while you go get our computers.”

“No. This is not The Bourne Identity. We have two iPhones and a charger. That's enough.

“You remembered the charger?” I say.


I look up at Melissa from my overly reclined seat and say, “You are such a good friend.”

We get onto the highway which is pretty safe. I sit up and call Ryan Paugh to see if we can stay with him that night.

He says yes.

I tell Melissa that Ryan was not phased by the warrant.

She says, “I don't think anyone who has agreed to be around you would ever be fazed. Except the Farmer.”

“You call him the Farmer? Are you insane? You live with him.”

“Yeah, when I feel like we're living a movie I need to use his character name.”

We drive for an hour and a half.

It turned out — I'm back to our divorce settlement now — it turned out that my ex did not want money from me or custody of the kids. He wanted to make sure I paid our IRS debt. So I accepted responsibility for all our debt — IRS, credit cards, doctors — and I signed that I'd pay the IRS before anyone else.

Ever since then, his lawyer has gone after me for the $4000 in lawyer fees. It's my responsibility to pay them, per our settlement, but not until after the IRS. So I keep having to file papers showing that I am still paying the IRS, and that I am not secretly a millionaire.

The problem is that it's easy for the lawyers to demand tons of court documents and it's very hard for me to comply. Remember, I am the on who can't get a driver's license because of the paperwork. I miss most airplanes because I can't keep track of all the numbers. I don't know my left and right.

So I missed a bunch of court stuff. And then I got indignant that the amount of filings they were demanding was harassment. This is, by the way, not an unfounded thought. It's a problem with debt collection in PA and WI and if I end up in prison you can bet I'm going to become some sort of legal activist.

We get to Janesville and I realize I will be happy having a day off. Successful people reframe bad situations. I can do that.

But I don't want to ruin my family life. I call the Farmer to apologize. I tell him there is fun cheese in the fridge for dinner. I apologize ten times and ask him to pay the $1000 retainer to the lawyer.

He asks where my money is.

I tell him that building up my diverse and exciting inventory of goat cheese is an expensive endeavor.

He says he would never invest in a startup.

I don't tell him that marrying a serial entrepreneur is like investing in a startup: You part with your sanity in exchange for a huge lottery ticket and a guarantee that life will be interesting.

The local police have empathy for the Farmer. One off-duty cop stopped by to tell us that there is a warrant out for my arrest. That was a nice heads up. The officer told the Farmer and the Farmer told me and I told Jeanenne and Jeanenne told about fifteen people until she got to the person at my ex-husband's law firm that could withdraw the warrant. Or whatever it's called that she was going to do. But the thing she did triggered something in the system that forced the police to arrest me immediately.

I have had two narrow escapes when they have come to my house. But now I'm on the run.

Melissa is excited to go to Chipotle. I'm excited to go to Starbucks. These are luxuries to girls who eat off a farm.

We are mid-burrito, when Melissa gets text message. It's the investor we are supposed to be meeting in Chicago. James Altucher. We are huge fans of his blog and he does not know he's an investor but we want him to be an investor. He is confirming that we'll be there in three hours for dinner.

“What!?” I say. “You told me it was next week, not this week.”

“He said next week but it should have been the week after. This week is always a hard thing to understand because this week and next week are regional. You know, like if it's Tuesday and you say this Tuesday is it next Tuesday or this Tuesday?”

“You didn’t check the date? Are you kidding me? You are so lame! That is so lame!”

“We have enough time to get there.

“Yeah. If we had a private jet.”

“No. Really. We do. Let's just go right now.”

We go. I drive. Melissa looks around my car for a shirt she might like better than the one she has on. She finds nothing. She asks if there is a Forever 21 near the place we're having dinner.

I tell her we can go there after dinner if it's an all-night store.

Then she puts on my makeup.

She’s very serious. Then she smiles.

I say, “You look so good in my makeup.”

She says, “I think that's because you never see me in lip gloss.”

“What? I don't have lip gloss.”

“Look,” she says. “I found this in your glove compartment.”

“Oh yeah. I got that free from Booty Parlor. It's a porn shop for women. They want me to write about them. That lip gloss is an aphrodisiac … that’s so great for our investor meeting… Here, give me some, too.”

82 replies
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  1. Alesya
    Alesya says:

    Well, this comment will tell you what kind of a nut I am. As long as you are not in jail…how did the investor meeting go?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      He’s actually a really nice guy. I mean, I did choose to marry him once. So how bad could he be?

      I didn’t mean to present him in a bad light. The settlement is odd. I know. But he comes to our house every Sunday and our whole family spends the day together, and he works just as hard as me and the Farmer to make that go smoothly for the boys.

      People are not all bad or all good. They are complicated. And divorce amplifies that.


      • Kathleen
        Kathleen says:

        Penelope, I think this reflection and observation about your ex is a wonderful example of reframing. Sometimes, I think reframing is stepping back and, instead of focusing (obsessing) on a particular negative, seeing that “negative” within the context of larger picture.

      • Mara
        Mara says:

        “…and he works just as hard as me and the Farmer to make that go smoothly for the boys”
        The boys’ Mother being on the run is not smooth! It looks to me like he could use this to get custody of the boys. Please be careful!

  2. Steve Wax
    Steve Wax says:

    Penelope: this piece, or whatever you want to call it, is really nuts. But fascinating. I gotta go back and pick up the tread from earlier posts cause this legal news is new to me. And what did happen at the investor meeting?

  3. Don Becker
    Don Becker says:

    Me too. How did the investor meeting go. Is James Altucher as funny in person as he is on TV? Loved the dodge of the warrant story. Great way for me to start the day. Hope everything works out, including the goat cheese venture.

  4. Brad
    Brad says:

    According to CCAP, which nearly everyone in Wisconsin who owns a computer knows about, the warrant for your arrest was issued last September. Rather amazing that you only just now got the word.

  5. Amy Parmenter
    Amy Parmenter says:

    I love running from police. As a reporter I like police. They like me and give me info they’re not supposed to give me. But as a citizen…i’ve run from police on more than one occasion. and every time it ends up being a good story — even when they catch up with me, which they always do. i’m not a huge outlaw – usually it’s a minor traffic incident — but it’s still fun. For instance…

    Once I got pulled over in the pouring rain for rolling thru a stop sign. I did kind of roll thru but the sign was at a “T”…not a four way stop…it was night…and I could see there were no lights/cars coming. What I did not see was that the car parked UP the street with NO LIGHTS was a cop.

    It took him forever to write up the ticket. I was pissed. So, when he then hurried back to my car to give me the ticket in the pouring rain…I pretended I couldn’t get my window down. I struggled with it for a minute or two so he had to just stand and wait…and then kind of motioned to him to walk around to the other side of the car as my window is broken (why he didn’t tell me to just open the door I’ll never know — probably because he was too soakin’ wet to think straight!!) He walked around and gave me the ticket thru the opposite window…. which was lovely because I did not get wet at all!

    Still brings a smile to my face. See? Reframing!!

    Hope your meeting went well. I love Melissa.

    Amy Parmenter
    The ParmFarm

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s funny. When I read this post to Melissa, she asked the same question. And I told her to shut up and she’s not my editor. So now that you have asked the question I think maybe Melissa could maybe give some editorial input.

      I don’t even know what fun cheese is. I mean, all cheese is fun for me because I’m learning so much about it right now.

      Actually, here’s a moral of the story: If you get pissed off about editorial input it’s probably because the editor has pinpointed a weakness.


      • Lea
        Lea says:

        The best editors pinpoint those weaknesses instantly. I’ve found that my trust in an editor is based on how well, and how quickly, they find those weaknesses.

  6. Dale
    Dale says:

    I don’t know if you are disorganised or just can’t do without drama so you create it subconsciously. I love your writing, but you’d rather be in pain than bored wouldn’t you?

    Just my2centsworth.

  7. Diana Fisher
    Diana Fisher says:

    This is possibly my favourite Penelope post ever. It reads like an action film. I love it.And it sounds to me like your Farmer is very understanding of your challenges. Too bad the courts aren’t.

  8. Karina
    Karina says:

    You could sell merchandise for this post! The Melissa doll would come with porn-star lip gloss and The Farmer Doll with Monopoly money. I’m sure I’m not the only one that wants to buy into this caper and play Penelope for a day.

  9. Marie
    Marie says:

    I have to agree with Diana Fisher, this is the best post ever. From the first sentence I knew I was in for a treat. And its fascinating how this story is exactly the career advice I needed! “Successful people reframe bad situations.”

    Back to writing my resume with a bit more pep in my step… Hope things work out Penelope Trunk, it took four years but you compelled me out of lurking…

  10. ResuMAYDAY
    ResuMAYDAY says:

    If Melissa were really a good friend she would do more to bring organization, structure and completion of paperwork to your life, rather than messing up meeting dates which you can do well enough on your own. It seems that she is trying very hard to become your mini-me. I thought she was kind of brilliant in her former life. What happened?

    I don’t think your ex is evil at all; I think that once the legal system gets involved in your life (which it did once you got divorced) it’s expected that certain deadlines and requirements will be met, and his name is attached to those deadlines and requirements. I’m glad you stuck up for him in the earlier comment.

    As always, I think the Farmer should be put up for Sainthood and as always, I’m wishing you well.

  11. Irving Podolsky
    Irving Podolsky says:

    I ran from the police once and their approaching sirens…on foot, up a hill dodging scraggly bushes, lugging a pro camera and heavy field recorder, praying for the first time in my nice Jewish-boy life.

    "Dear – "(pant-pant-pant) Universal Consciousness – (pant-pant) If You get me out of this," (pant-pant-pant) "I promise I will never – " (pant-pant) "direct another porn again." Man this camera's heavy. Should I look back? No. Keep running. (pant-pant-pant)

    This praying thing, it sounds like making a deal. You do this for me, I do this for You. (pant-pant) So what's in this for God? (pant-pant-pant-pant) Why would All-There-Is care if I do porn or not? (pant-pant) Why would All-There-Is care about porn at all? If anything, the Vietnam War has a little more relevance than me. (pant-pant-pant) And then there's the rest of the universe. Stars are being born and dying. Galaxies are forming and ripping apart, over billions of years. (pant-pant) And what about other life on other planets we don't know about? All that needs attention too. But here I am, in a micro-speck of the universe, asking for a bail-out in a porn movie. (pant-pant-pant)

    A story from a long time ago. I was spared, and kept my promise.


  12. James Altucher
    James Altucher says:

    I can safely say she escaped the police and they both made it to dinner. There was only one incident many hours later where I then almost got raped and mutilated in a gas station out in the middle of nowhere and it was mostly Penelope’s fault and a little bit Melissa’s.

    • rb
      rb says:

      This is the funniest comment on the funniest blog post ever. The best part is that it’s probably (mostly) all true.

    • Jani
      Jani says:

      Well now my curiosity level has topped out on high. So the big question is…are you going to write about the incident at the gas station in your blog? Or maybe you can write a guest post for Penelope…that would be a GREAT follow-up to this post!!

      P.S. I enjoy both your blogs – Penelope and James. (:

  13. KB
    KB says:

    Penelope, when you mentioned that you spoke with a TV writer about adpating your blog for the cable screen, it was like an ‘aha’ moment for realizing why your posts are so compelling. Definitely all the elements of todays’s best quirky, witty dramas.

    Who would you want to play you?

  14. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    I love that the two craziest bloggers I know had dinner together. While one was on the run from the law. You’re perfect for each other, investment-wise.

  15. Sadya
    Sadya says:

    the Ex seems to be finance savvy. he got himself a good deal but u got child custody which is even better and longer lasting, even though it doesnt look like that in this episode.
    Did u and Ex ever consider or do business together?

  16. Shayla
    Shayla says:

    This post is hilarious and a spark in my boring afternoon. Thanks for sharing. Be careful crossing state lines while there’s a warrant out for your arrest.

  17. BrittanyK
    BrittanyK says:

    Best. Post. Ever.

    Penelope, there’s a reason that you are my unofficial career counselor/role model. Somehow, your posts always make my day better.

  18. H
    H says:

    Wait. So you can fly to L.A. to get your hair cut and colored and you can buy your “business partners” (a.k.a. teenaged neighbors) new computers, but you can’t pay your past-due bills, including but not limited to your huge tax liability with the IRS, your numerous evictions, and the various other money judgments that have been made against you?

    And you’re the voice of new careerism in America? Words fail.

    • BrittanyK
      BrittanyK says:

      Actually, I think Penelope deserves her place as “the new voice of careerism.” We are all human, we all do things that some people don’t understand, we all make mistakes and we all have our own disasters to avoid. I’d rather take life and career advice from someone who is honest and who can tell a compelling story about her problems than from someone who sugar coats or pretends to not have problems at all.

      We are all train wrecks in our own way.

      • Marie
        Marie says:

        I second that BrittanyK… why are all the judgmental
        assholes so quick to post and spew all their sewage on the rest of us… did some bully take your bike when you were five? get over it… and stop pissing in the Kool-aid…

      • H
        H says:

        I guess I’ve come to think of this as the ultimate parody of a career advice website (what the Onion might come up with if a new columnist was added, for example), but hey, if learning how to evade an arrest warrant or how to avoid paying your debts seem like the kind of advice you need for your future as a successful worker, have at it. You’ll have to pardon me if I’m amazed that anyone still takes the author seriously.

  19. Bill
    Bill says:

    Penelope, when they make the movie, maybe something like “Walk, Don’t Run” by the Ventures for this part of the soundtrack. That’s what kept going thru my mind as I read this post. ;-D

  20. Diana
    Diana says:

    @H: do you HAVEto be so judgmental? Or are you just jealous. :)
    Pen, I bet you had a great time! It is so fun to run from the law!!

    • Marie
      Marie says:

      He wants the attention mommy and daddy never give him… go to therapy and deal…

      and Penelope I totally see a red-head Helena Bonham Carter playing you (the Bad Queen from Alice in Wonderland w/Johnny Depp)… She’s really good at being quirky, mean and lovable all at the same time..

      • Brad
        Brad says:

        It’s more fun than spending five days in the Dane County jail.

        Financial responsibility is conformist and boring. Only the people who foolishly rent to Penelope, extend her credit or loan her money get screwed. The rest of us are merely entertained by her fantasy life.

    • Steve C
      Steve C says:

      “It is so fun to run from the law!!”. No, it’s not really fun at all. Especially when you get caught.

  21. redrock
    redrock says:

    I am with H. Financial responsibility is part of savvy career advice. Running from the law is not, especially when it is for really stupid reasons.

    • GingerR
      GingerR says:

      I haven’t read this blog long enough to have taken in the entire story about the IRS debt, but I have to agree that it seems a little inconsistent with other advice about not seeking endlessly after cash.

      It seems like making sacrifices and a big push to pay off that debt would be a life simplifier, and keep lawyers and police away. It’s not like the IRS is extending you an interest-free loan.

  22. chris Keller
    chris Keller says:

    But seriously . . . what did you/will you tell your sons about police coming to the house? How is this reframed for kids?

  23. sandy
    sandy says:

    Well it was certainly an entertaining post. Hope the legal thing gets resolved.

    But Melissa does seem to lack a defined role. She was portrayed as an accomplished business woman/nanny. But now she seems to lack ambition. Isn’t there some work she’d like to do that would help her to live independently? I do worry that she sees to have given up on accomplishing something on her own.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Sandy, I think your comment about Melissa encapsulates why Melissa is so enchanting on a career blog. She makes all of us question what it means to accomplish something, to live up to our potential, to be an adult. I don’t think there are black and white answers to those questions.


  24. Bells
    Bells says:

    The main question I have from this post is what is fun cheese? I googled and found nothing so now I’m really curious. I’m sorry to say I am thinking it’s something processed and awful because I think Americans eat a lot of awful food! Pls explain.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Goat provolone, goat swiss, goat cheddar… All those types of cheeses are actually names for the *process* of making cheese, which you can do with a wide range of milk for different results. I like learning about all that and tasting it.

      Also, goat cheese mixes with lots of different flavors that cows milk does not absorb as well. So, for example, you can have lavender provolone from goat’s milk. (I have that in my fridge).


  25. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I think this post is interesting and keeps us up to date to your life and life on the farm. However, the following –

    “Ever since then, his lawyer has gone after me for the $4000 in lawyer fees. It's my responsibility to pay them, per our settlement, but not until after the IRS. So I keep having to file papers showing that I am still paying the IRS, and that I am not secretly a millionaire. The problem is that it's easy for the lawyers to demand tons of court documents and it's very hard for me to comply.” –

    I believe is a distraction to you and the people around you. Find some way to not have these court documents come your way or have someone take care of them for you. Resolve the matter in the most expedient and yet lasting way possible. Maybe you’ve already done this or you’re in the process of doing this now. I think I’m lecturing here, which of course is not popular, but I think you’ve got to ask yourself if it’s worth it to knock heads with these meat heads. My time and peace of mind would be more important to me if I was to find myself in your circumstances as I understand them from reading this blog.
    Also, the subject of reframing is interesting to me. I think we do it in a number of different ways and even subconsciously to get ourselves through some really difficult times such as you did on 9/11.

  26. Eddie
    Eddie says:

    This is funny! But for many of people it’s not! Anyway, for me is still funny cause everybody want’s to say something and is awaiting for reply, but nobody gives the reply.

  27. AutieZombieGirl
    AutieZombieGirl says:

    Penelope, so many things you said resonated with me. The paperwork and court thing really hit home. I have so many problems with the court thing because it’s really a paperwork thing and social rules thing that I can’t deal with.
    I laughed when I got this because I have been living in abject terror of being arrested because the stupid judge in my divorce case loves to try to send me to jail for stuff. I have just spend 2 months stressing that he did something that would keep me from getting a passport for our vacation and then I lived in abject fear for 13 days on vacation because I was terrified he put out a warrant for me on the new order and I had to show my ID about a million times. I was sure he’d put out a warrant and that I would be arrested in Canada and my husband would never be able to get me out of jail and suddenly I would be trapped in some demented episode of “Locked up Abroad” on NatGeo.

    At least you have a lawyer. I can’t afford one because my ex and I have been in court for 5 solid years off and on. I thought my life would be easier when I got the Asperger’s diagnosis for me and my kid. Instead it got worse. They gave my kid to my ex and deemed me an “unfit parent” because of my Asperger’s and I haven’t talked to my son in 4 years. He’ll be 20 soon.
    It’s sad that the court system is so ignorant of our disability and that they get away with some of the crap they do because of it.
    I feel for you. I’m beginning to think that the whole system is crap. Especially because it highlights all the things that we’re bad at. Negotiating social rules and behaviour, waiting….you know all about it.

  28. Sowmya
    Sowmya says:

    Penelope, I can’t believe it…you/your editor didnt check the NY link… ’tis dead. I suppose the article has been pulled off the NY website…!

  29. bok
    bok says:

    I am really bothered by this post, entertained, but bothered. Penelope, you are “reframing” this story to absolve yourself of the consequences of your irresponsibility and failure to act as an adult. You can twist something around so it a cutesy adventure, but you fail to claim responsibility for the outcome – on the Farmer, on your children, on pretty much everyone in your life, it seems. I hope this “advice” or whatever you call it isn’t taken seriously by anyone but can be enjoyed as part fantasy, part train wreck.

  30. Carl
    Carl says:

    Paying back taxes is an area I wouldnt want to delay very long. The IRS doesn’t seem to have a sense of humor. Is good to hear of you speaking positively about your X if he’s spending time with the boys on a regular basis etc. Since his name is on the tax return etc and that’s what you agreed to, then if you are lax in getting it done, he has a right to want to get it cleared up.

    I wonder sometimes how much of the blog scenarios are created or adaptations to make the points of the column.

  31. Leon Hewer
    Leon Hewer says:

    I bet all the people who gleefully describe running from the law are rich whiteys. Noone aware of all the folks on foot shot by cops every year (and I’m in Australia, I can’t imagine the US situation!?)
    Also: This story smacks of reframing.

  32. Alana
    Alana says:

    @ Carl and others. I’m surprised at how often you (and others) don’t really read. Why waste your time scanning?

    Penelope mentions she is still paying the IRS. It’s the ex’s lawyer who wants money. As I understand it, Penelope just has to file some documents weith the court saying that she’s paying the IRS, it’s not his turn yet, and the warrant will go away.

    I don’t know the legal system in the States, but wouldn’t that be Penelope’s lawyer’s job?

  33. redrock
    redrock says:

    pretty sure this is indeed the lawyers job. However, at some point there might be a reasonable expectation of payment for the IRS money, I doubt it can be dragged out forever. And while it might not be the ex-lawyers turn for the money… I mean he did his job so I am not surprised he wants to be paid at some point in time.

  34. Janet
    Janet says:

    I love this. I hadn’t read your blog in a couple weeks due to my wedding, my sister’s wedding, and jury duty all in the space of three weeks. I check in on you and this is what I find.

    Most writers and bloggers display the pretty, clean, uber-competent side of life and nothing else. All of us (or those of us with interesting lives) have had moments that feel like a scene from a crazy movie. Thanks for putting yours out there so everyone else can feel normal.

  35. Steve C
    Steve C says:

    Well, being in debt and in trouble with the law is a sure way to stick to the entrepreneurial path at least. With a bad credit rating and an arrest record, you will be duly shunned by the mainstream job market. It’s all good fun till that bit of reality hits home. So is jail, as long as you get bailed out immediately and never spend more than one night there. For the folks who can’t pull that off, not so funny, I’m afraid.
    I’m guessing the lawyer you owe the money to read that post about flying to LA to get your hair done. A hazard of the trade, I suppose. Good luck explaining that one to a judge.

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