Ten Years in Silicon Alley: First Quarter Interlude

I’m now thirteen chapters into my memoir, and I really wonder where the hell this thing is going.

When I began this project, I thought writing a memoir would be easy. Toss a few memories out — no problem. I now realize that writing a memoir is an extremely depressing activity. It forces you to see things as they actually happened.

We’ve covered three years so far — the summer of 1993 to the summer of 1996 — and a lot of exciting things happened to me during those years. I had a baby, changed my career, launched a popular website, got called the “Walt Whitman of the Internet” by an otherwise respectable journalist. I got a book deal. Maybe it looks like I knew what I was doing, but when I relive these years I only feel foolish. Did I know what I was doing? Was I ever actually self-aware? I thought I was, but when I piece the evidence together I see I spent these years grasping. Improvising, making shit up. Faking it.

Anyway, the story starts going downhill right about this point.

You thought it would stay rosy? It wouldn’t be much of a story if it did. In the chapters to follow, I can’t even explain some of the things that will happen.

Silicon Alley will get crazier and I will become suddenly wealthy — a paper millionaire — one single April day in 1999.

Soon after this I will be laid off and dead-on-my-ass broke. My once-popular website will be a shambles. The entire web industry will be a shambles too.

My marriage will break up, and I will go through some kind of slow motion nervous breakdown that I probably won’t be able to explain because I still don’t understand it myself. During the same years, the entire world will go through some kind of slow motion nervous breakdown of its own, as if in sympathy with me.

I never wanted to write a book about myself. That may seem hard to believe, since it’s been nothing but “me, me, me”, week after week. But the reason I’m writing about me is that I hope other people might be able to relate to some of the struggles I went through. I am trying to write about a shared experience: the experience of being alive in the past fifteen years. That’s the only value this memoir will ever have.

One strange thing that haunts me, as I sweat out these embarrassing chapters about my past, is how many times I tried and failed to become part of a group. I tried and failed to fit in with the yuppies on Wall Street, with the glittering freaks at Pseudo.com, with the grungy Unbearables of the Lower East Side, with the aisle-dancing Deadheads at Giants Stadium, with the earnest and hardworking Pathfinder team at Time Warner, with the money-hungry hotshots at Silicon Alley parties. But the only groups I ever actually felt comfortable in were the virtual ones, the ones that didn’t actually exist in real life. I wish I understood why this was true.

Another thing that haunts me is how weirdly paranoid and cagey I’ve always been about my identity (or identities), and how thin my public personality often felt. Levi Asher, Marc Stein … I was popular and people liked me, but my sense of self seemed to have all the grounding of dandelion fluff in the wind.

Who am I? I don’t know. I am what you see when you click my link. I am HTML.

I hope I am more grounded now. Today, I feel stronger and more secure. I married Caryn last year, and I feel blessed to have another chance at loving and being loved by another person. I am, somewhat ironically, working in the magazine publishing sector again, this time for a superb politics and current affairs publication based in Washington DC, but this time I think I have a much broader understanding of what I’m here to do, what value I can provide in this role and what mistakes to avoid. My kids are doing great, and watching them grow and change has been my greatest joy in life.

I’m really psyched about my future. It’s just my past that haunts me.

Thanks for sticking with my story so far — we’re about one-quarter done with the whole thing, and will be picking up in the late summer of 1996 tomorrow.

20 Responses

  1. Levi –

    This post is one of
    Levi –

    This post is one of the most honest, moving, and profound I’ve read. Thank you for it. There are a lot of surface differences in our lives, mostly because I’m older than you, but great similarities as well. I have gone a long way to resolving some of these things for myself, primarily through time (and an excellent psychologist). I’d be glad to share them. I’ve got to start working now; I’ll try to write more on this later. E-mail me if you like.


  2. Some Navy pilots refer to
    Some Navy pilots refer to landing a jet on an aircraft carrier a “controlled crash.”
    I think many of us have had “slow motion nervous breakdowns” that may not be recognized as such in the generally understood sense. The cool thing is, we’re still standing. Your memoirs would not be complete if they weren’t honest. I think I just had a revelation: Sometime we hear that a writer must create adversity in order to grab the reader’s attention, but we don’t have to create adversity – it already exists!

  3. Public anonymity is the
    Public anonymity is the ‘Linus blanket’ of our existence.

    Everyone gets to know of you, but no one gets to know you. Thus we become many and different separate people to a host of strangers, dipping in out of our written existence. Simultaneously, and without trying we become a host of, and for an online community of strangers, who enjoy the exact same relationship to oneself-in this instance ghost would be a better word than host to describe an online existence.

    And as with all spectral creatures, a history without a future, the present can seem quite eerie, which tends to make me think that the web is more Marlowe than Shakespeare. It has no community just a conglomeration of disparate and occasionally desperate individuals who indulge in the luxury of hitchhiking on the information super highway of each others existence, thus we become more transient than substantial figures in our own and each others existence.

    Or we are like the Fool from King Lear brilliant for the time we know each other before fading into nowhere.

    Despite appearances the web can be a very lonely place for crowds of interactive strangers. I was wondering when the going would get tougher on your online biography, that appears ‘to be’ now

    Writing’s writing is the bottom line, on the web or anywhere else, and that always has Faustian overtones and revealing undercurrents,and whether we like it or not, thats part of the literary process. There’s no hiding place in a sentence, and a chapter is complete exposure, you know.

    Only the brave and the beautiful survive publication unscathed.

    I notice you’re still standing and still kicking, gotta count for something.

    We look forward to the next installment, although more pics of interesting ties and unusual haircuts help to illuminate the process.

    As Lear used to say there’s no fashion like an old fashion.

  4. There is a quote on the
    There is a quote on the picture of Andy Warhol that is attached to a sheet of the stamps [$.37] with his portrait: Andy says that all his paintings, films, and art is all Andy Warhol is. This rang true as one of the most authentic statements I ever read.
    You are who you are because of your past and you have an ex-wife, wife, kids, so I think you are more than HTML, but then, maybe I look at my socio-economic postion and remember: “The wise never advise.” That said, I now say, just finish it and quit the memoir and call it whatever literary fiction Norman Mailer called Executioner’s Song.
    Good luck. Let go of the negative energy. Buddhists call that attachment.

  5. You’ve always been one of my
    You’ve always been one of my most earnest friends and colleagues. Yes, many of us experienced a slow-motion crash after 1999 and are still picking up the pieces! But we are living much more truly than our counterparts might have been allowed to do in earlier generations. Here’s to new love and new life!

  6. Hi Levi, long-time reader
    Hi Levi, long-time reader first-time caller.

    I don’t know how relevant this is, but I think that our honest, unflinching memories of ourselves are a series of inspiring naivety and gut-churning regret. If you cling to the first, you will not be able to grow, and if you focus on the second, you get consumed by guilt. So we just write it, learn from it and laugh about it. I mean pick the coolest person you can think of – even they wrote Tarantula or were in the Sugarcubes. Cheers.

  7. “I spent these years
    “I spent these years grasping. Improvising, making shit up” – sure it’s nice to have a plan, but I have to say that I have never felt more alive (or sometimes more terrified) that when I was flying by the seat of my pants.

    Duncan, nice perceptions.

  8. Levi:

    I’m loving your

    I’m loving your memoir! Every time I open my Google Reader, I always hope you will have a new entry. This is one of the most enjoyable ongoing blog post series I have read!!! Please keep up the good work.


  9. Thanks to everybody for these
    Thanks to everybody for these very nice responses!

    I couldn’t ask for better encouragement than this …

  10. Most writers have
    Most writers have written/write nonfiction, disguised fiction. Booze and drugs have aided many, and have taken many out.

    I guess, Levi Asher, you’re thankful you have a book deal. Still many of us talents hidden under the rocks, as Bukowski would not say.

  11. I read first quarter
    I read first quarter interlude and my stomach dropped. Interludes can be lengthy you know….but I was glad to read it was a brief interlude, a short reflection period. But depressing? Really? I guess because of the losses?

  12. “Let me see, is this real,
    “Let me see, is this real, let me see, is this real, this life I am living? The Gods, who dwell everywhere, let us see, is this real, this life I am living?” –Pawnee song

    “I hope it is true that a man can die and yet not only live in others but give them life, and not only life, but that great consciousness of life.” –Jack Kerouac

  13. Cal, that Pawnee song says it
    Cal, that Pawnee song says it all. I like that.
    it’s weird when you stop and look around from inside the flow, isn’t it?

  14. Thanks for the update Mr.
    Thanks for the update Mr. Asher. I was going to tell you that this entry was a complete cop-out until you got to the point of explaining why you’re writing this. It sounds like a Heavenly and Holy thing to me when I read it cause that is the only reason I ever read anything, to find out what it was being alive, or at least what it means to a person at a time.

    I have no sympathy for any amounts of difficult emotions, depression, nervous, whatever. As I have a history with mental ills as well.

    If you ain’t goin thru any amount of that you might as well be a door-knob. That, and your writing would suck, a lot more, than it already might.

  15. If as some people imply,’they
    If as some people imply,’they have no sympathy’, they could try the Oxford Dictionary, they’ll find an abundance of the stuff there to redress their impoverishment.
    It dwells between shit and syphillis.

  16. Dear Mr. Brown,

    Thanks for
    Dear Mr. Brown,

    Thanks for clearing that up. I wrote that entry in a frenzy on my break. I meant to imply that I have no sympathy for writers who ONLY have that in their writing. As in, I have my own problems so when I read Im looking to escape that part, or have it jousted. Cheers.

  17. Dear Mr. CasimirWojciech.

    Dear Mr. CasimirWojciech.
    We all have to spend some time in the Augean stables, it goes with the literary territory.

  18. I’m glad you’re writing this.
    I’m glad you’re writing this. We worked so closely together in that time and I have such a different perspective on it, but I can’t say that the story I tell myself about what we did and what we failed to accomplish then is any more true than the one I’ve gleaned in conversations with you and am reading now in full.

    This may pain you to hear it, but I’m afraid this memoir may be the best writing I’ve seen from you yet. Or perhaps it’s the uncanny simulacrum of my parallel memories that makes me feel this is so (But, look at the reader comments! Maybe I’m right….)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What we're up to ...

Litkicks is 26 years old! This website has been on a long and wonderful journey since 1994. We’re relaunching the whole site on a new platform in June 2021, and will have more updates soon. We’ve also been busy producing a couple of podcasts – please check them out.

World BEYOND War: A New Podcast
Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera

Explore related articles ...