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.