After childhood in the 1970s and 80s, and college graduation in the 1990s (Rutgers University), I split time between New York City, New Jersey and Miami-Ft. Lauderdale in pursuit of the self-made working identity, autonomy and other rites of passage we desire in early adulthood. Days were spent at companies that allowed me to build up a knowledge base in writing and editing, editorial and layout design, desktop publishing, web and graphic design, charting and information design. Working full time while in constant pursuit of level-ups and next-phases, I took on freelance journalism gigs in the modern art, music, and skateboarding scenes to build cred on the side. Nights and weekends were focused on testing undiscovered pathways in rhythm and percussion (acoustic + computerized); composition, production and songwriting; and electronic sounds. Agenda: Play well with others while knowing how and when to disappear into constructive absorption. Don’t nap.
From 23 to 25 I was the youngest member of a five-man band that blended a guitar-heavy, electronics-infused alt-rock sound. We subsequently developed stage visuals and a light show designed to entrance but energize. Naturally, the band wants to offer a unique “sensory package.” We learned a few things with experimental intensity and sonic cohesion, toured well but not enough, played showcases and were eventually signed to a reputable New York record label with proper management and commercial distribution. We had no illusions about how difficult it would be to get it all connected, pressed and played on the radio or in the club, subsequently adding the graphic design of band identity attached to merchandising and PR. There really doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day, and so you rob your sleep and keep it going while the inspiration lasts. These were fortunate and acquisitive years. (See MUSIC for further background, discography and timelines for three different bands, plus solo material.)
Music provides tenuous and unreliable scaffolding for life’s basic needs, and cannot be trusted. Staying realistic, I kept up the writing and editing jobs while interning at a small desktop publishing company. This is where I went under the wing with a wise and enthusiastic mentor in the ways of print/web content creation for targeted audiences (see WORK section for more). As the band’s trajectory peaked and began to arc downward into commercial failure, I switched some of the residual energy back over to the media industry and the creative side of the financial services sector.
I was a Web 1.0 site builder in the mid-1990s in both NYC and Miami, and helped three companies launch their first-ever web presences while attending post-graduate courses in new media studies, information design and advanced communications theory at New York University. It helped me get better at conceptualization and pattern recognition.
It begins to sink in that anything good in life’s uncharted odyssey is ultimately tied to what a work-to-learn ethic propels—a deeper force that moves us ahead without lecture halls or other instruments of academia. Most of what I understand about “what’s really going on” in the world cannot be effectively taught in a classroom, and is instead driven by the spirit of the autodidact.
During the autumn of 1996, I switched industries and moved to San Francisco to help form the west coast content creation and communications arm of a multi-disciplined, Palm Beach-based internet startup. The degree of entrepreneurial risk was exhilarating. My involvement lasted four years as we traced the infamous dot-com bubble toward its inevitable fizzle in 2000. Situated in downtown SF near Kearney and Market Streets, it was initially a site construction/hosting node for the west coast, signifying its finest hour when pushing the envelope of web design and database development. using ingenuity that helped define that quaint and seemingly-ancient epoch. In addition to creating web portals and publications, we serviced a range of businesses, including private enterprises as well as municipal and institutional firms. We also supported new and pre-existing content for an interesting array of clientele such as subscriber-based entertainment and video database sites, corporations (e.g., AMC Movie Theaters, Publix Super Markets, etc.), and info-sharing hubs for school districts and utility grid operators.
From 1998-2000 WebPower splintered as it pursued more utopian ambitions (a common goal in the last tech bubble). A fatter budget allowed us to build an in-house web magazine with expanded writing/editing/production staff from the likes of Wired, BoingBoing and Mother Jones. We went up from four to 22 in-house employees, then added a phalanx of freelancers on the stringer, and increased the office space eight-fold. Some of these people helped lay the foundations for Web 2.0 which, like its predecessor, plies its fortunes knowing well the roles timing and serendipity play.
The boom-and-bust cycle can get nasty, but it ultimately drives innovation. As WebPower’s core focus and internal structure changed I began to lose interest, fell out of sync with its long-term goals and moved on to freelance work and short-term contracts for a brief interval. By mid-2000, I was offered a decent long-term contract with a sole employer, relegating freelance to the wayside. I’ve been living in San Francisco ever since, working in and around the city and Silicon Valley through several economic cycles and the intense cultural upheaval technology has wrought…all of it leaving a wake of unforgettable moments.
The essential skill set developed from 2000 up until now has been rallied in the quest for clear and engaging content across myriad subjects and formats, with strength in financial/technical commentary and in-depth articles; economic and market overviews; periodic reports (annual/semiannual, etc., any style); complex research/analysis accompanied by meticulous backup/fact-check/attribution techniques; collaborations on thought pieces, topic papers, brochures and books. I’ve continued to layer related skills under the vast print/web development umbrella, and a more finely-honed background in multiple disciplines has emerged from behind the scenes: information design, data analytics, general communications theory, desktop publishing and production, and economic and behavioral theory. Regardless of the sector or industry for which it is created, the work is centered broadly on the expert rendering and delivery of text and data, and the alignment of visual layouts for each. I’ve adapted the ability to quickly absorb diverse and niche subject matter, thorny processes and various regulatory frameworks.
What many content creators find most labyrinthine and esoteric is finding the few correct paths to simplifying complex ideas through words, charts and other infographics, adhering strictly to whatever the guidelines might dictate for final distribution. When everyone’s looking for some perceived perfect fit, your output and earnings hinge upon the discipline. Whether alone or working with teams, there exist techniques for multitasking without diluting disparate efforts, and coordinating smoothly no matter how long or complicated the production schedule becomes. Along the intended path, useful byways of knowledge coalesce in regard to project management, print/web production, content management systems (Quark, etc.) and the troubleshooting of computers and other systems.
Depth and mastery, if and when it ever arrives, might add the feel of a Swiss Army knife to your working identity. I’ll let the others decide if I reached the stage where I’m able to place something meaningful into all phases of conception, creation and production. It becomes a way to remain effective through the blue line and launch. It subtly says you know it’s not over until it hits the archival tomb and nobody has sued you in the aftermath—because your information and data were airtight. In this manner I fit no set template exclusively, and strive to not perish from lack of cohesive yet pliable talents.
These days, there are algorithms and “machine-learning” software that can and absolutely will replace mid-level writers (endangered species of the 21st century) as the programmed sophistication evolves to assimilate and subsume workers who are old-fashioned enough to have pulses. Additionally, there is a vast supply of increasingly talented humans in India, Poland and elsewhere who will gladly tackle any work you do for half the price. The correct transformation in this unforgiving world of creative destruction is kept on track by reminding yourself to stay one step ahead of the algorithm. The arc of my skill set—covering all phases from cold start to preened, finalized documentation—justifies a proper quiver of software and communication tools. This changes everything. It allows you to have ideas that matter and produce from the root of accumulated knowledge.
In the leisurely intervals an ever-inchoate mind rifles through yet more information, seeks novel unifying theories and attempts to write the one book or screenplay of a timeless and memorable nature. There exists a strong drive to see what everyone else has seen, then think what nobody else has thought—to make a discovery.
When desk time ends it’s the ancient pull of the ocean, its denizens, and the negative ions that beckon. We only fully understand when our “ons” are “on” by putting “offs” in between them. This originates in the surfer life (from age 13), having grown up in a family that loves the sea, preceded by skateboarding since kindergarten. Glide theory learned on saltwater and asphalt were eventually applied to winter snows and steep terrain, and there’s nothing like it in the world. Around Lake Tahoe there are magical places, even a hidden vestibule of the ice gods, in and out of bounds at Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows and Sugar Bowl.
Beyond this, drumming since age seven. Trained early after abandoning piano and kept at it well past the mythical 10,000-hour threshold, in pursuit of beats sublime and unconscious. Devour philosophy and current events, snap photos, occasionally cycle and write detached, observational lyrics about possible futures as a means to deconstruct the past as prologue. Chess, backgammon, Uno, dominoes, Risk, Monopoly, Dungeons&Dragons, motor sport, rod and gun…whatever game’s on offer, I’ll dabble and potentially obsess. Speaking of obsess…
In the geometric confines of tennis there’s much to adore and despise, in even mixtures, about a merciless sport that distills flaws and sets solo players upon a lonely island, transformed into their own worst enemy. For similar reasons, I also draw inspiration from the fine art of athletic torture as portrayed in Tour de France mountain stages.
I recently visited Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park, Austin, New York City, Carmel, Monterey, Big Sur, Lassen National Park, Lava Beds National Monument, Mount Shasta, Crater Lake, Asheville and Black Mountain (North Carolina), Greenville (South Carolina), Maine, Newfoundland, Catskill Mountains (upstate NY) and southern New Jersey (where I grew up).
When four decades of life can be summed up in a few paragraphs, it’s all just a warm blur…