Over the last two months, I’ve written over 40 blog posts. A good start, but it’s time for a pivot.
The original idea was 40 chapters, one series of blog posts corresponding to each of the Open Yale Courses, drawing on journals and unpublished manuscripts from the past nine years.
But I’m going to press “pause” on the My Yale Years project, put away my journals, and focus on the best thing to come out of this writing experiment – the memoirs of a perpetual student.
I first thought about a memoir after publishing LEON: A LIFE, the stories of my father from his early years during the Great Depression, his wartime experiences during World War II, his 23-year career as a ship’s officer in the U.S. Merchant Marine, and how he met my mother. We published the book in May 2019, just eighteen months before he crossed the bar at 98 years of age.
My father spent much of his childhood working for nickels and playing craps at the Brooklyn railyards. He dropped out of school, hitchhiked around the country, and rode the rails. He got a job in the boiler room of an oil tanker that left Pearl Harbor just six days before the attack, and then on a troop ship to Australia. In the Caribbean, he survived being torpedoed twice by U-Boats. He wrote a story about it for LIFE magazine, got into Kings Point Merchant Marine Academy, and became an officer. He worked with the War Shipping Administration in London during the Blitz, and experienced Germany, Italy, and Japan after the war. It’s a story of romance and excitement, from Argentina to Yugoslavia.
That’s a hard act to follow.
I grew up in suburban New Jersey. After college, I was a database programmer. I went back to school for an MBA and stayed in school to learn a language. My next job was as an editor with a banking trade magazine. I moved to the Boston office and attended night school at Harvard. Then, I moved out West and started my own business. I met my wonderful wife in Seattle, and we’ll be married for ten years this July. Happily ever after. The end.
How does that merit a memoir?
Where’s the daily struggle for existence? Where’s the adventure? Where’s the war? Where’s the drama on the high seas?
If that’s what you want, read LEON: A LIFE.
Mine is a different kind of story, a peripatetic life of the mind.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve managed a writing and custom publishing business with clients including some of the largest names in financial technology and consulting, along with a handful of innovative technology startups. Mine has been a profitable, yet highly seasonal, business shaped by budget cycles and conference schedules. The work arrives in waves, and I make good use of the troughs.
Following are the highlights of what I’ve done over the past decade:
- Learned to draw and paint. With no prior experience, I took about a dozen classes at Gage Academy of Art, mostly in drawing. During the pandemic year, I set up a painting and sculpture studio in the garage and joined a part-time still-life painting atelier taught over Zoom.
- Studied languages. I can hold a basic conversation in Japanese, read books in Spanish, and make my way as a traveler in French and Italian. I brushed up on Czech learned during a Prague summer. I learned some Bosnian in preparation for a trip postponed by the pandemic. I’ve leyned Biblical Hebrew in front of the congregation. Someday, I’d like to read Kafka in German, curse in Yiddish, and take up the classics in Greek.
- Played live music. I’ve performed klezmer ukulele, acoustic punk, and jazz guitar. I’ve also learned enough piano to have fun with a synth keyboard, synth software, virtual drums, and various effects routed through digital audio workstation Ableton Live.
- Combed the library stacks. I’ve had my academic work on Cervantes published in an academic journal, and I was reviewer-at-large for a Seattle book review site.
- Online lectures. I’ve watched and done the reading for dozens of online courses, including over 30 from Open Yale Courses (all but finance and the hard sciences) and many others from Coursera, EdX, and MIT OpenCourseWare.
It’s been a fruitful decade, with infinite thanks to my kind, patient, loving, and supportive spouse.
Through memoir, here’s what I hope to accomplish:
- To share my current passions with the people I’ve known in the past.
- To share my past experiences with the people I know now.
- To find partners for creative projects and business ventures.
- To explain my résumé to anyone thinking about hiring me.
- To share my personal history as an exemplary model for younger generations. Or a cautionary tale. It’s way too early to say.
- To figure out what I’ve learned, and I won’t know until I write it all down.
This is going to be an adventure. I’m glad you’re here.