On the Outside Looking In

i have been lost for words – I mean, really lost for words, and for years now. I’d written my entire adult life – university newspaper, the local alternative rag in Athens, GA, as a freelancer for outdoor publications, then for 15 years as an interface designer (copy=design!), and then for a decade as a founder and CEO of two companies. And then it all dried up. And that was 2018.

Nearly four years later, without writing anything other than private instagram updates to friends and family, I’m finally starting to understand how I got there, and then here.

In all that time, there were goals that I’d set for myself. Get published in the university newspaper. Write album reviews on a regular basis for the local arts/culture/music zine. Start one of the first blogs on the internet (before they were called blogs). Blog-related tangent: in the mid-90’s I bought readingrainbow.com. In addition to writing, I used to run design and code experiments on that site, including the “Holiday Wish Machine” that had a snowman graphic inviting any visitor to select which holiday they were wishing on, and then type in what they wished for. So, one would simply select ‘Christmas, Hanukah, etc’ from a pulldown menu, and then type in their wish. After entering a wish, one could then see publicly what everyone else had wished for. It was always beautiful and hopeful, in an age when the internet was new, people were genuine and more or less exploratory and positive, and seeing this made me fall in love for the potential of the web. I also built out a way for people to comment on any post I made, and in those days nobody required accounts because there were no identities or spam. People would just drop in and comment, and usually leave their name like you would in a physical letter. It was an innocent transitional period from old media. My community of people I’d never met continued to grow and interact, until eventually my site drew the attention of lawyers from the University of Nebraska, because UNebraska were one of the co-producers of the Reading Rainbow TV show. They sent me a cease-and-desist letter, claiming I was causing confusion in the marketplace, which was of course total bullshit. But, out of fear because I was 23 years old and clueless, and out of respect for LeVar Burton and the impact he’d had on me as a kid, I quietly sold them the domain name for $1000, and they shut down the site, doing nothing with the domain for more than three years. Incidentally and apropos of nothing, Reading Rainbow won a Peabody Award in 1992, and three-ish years later, I built the first ever Peabody Awards web site while still a student at the University of Georgia, with one page of course featuring the same shitbags who shut me down.

While the Reading Rainbow experiment probably only lasted from 1997-1999, it had become impactful enough for me to make me leave Atlanta’s pitiful tech scene for San Francisco in 1998, because that’s where the web was.

For the next two decades I wrote. I learned how to be concise in user interfaces. I learned how to introduce online vernacular to staid old businesses that were migrating to the web. I learned how to write to potential clients and launch my first company, Seabright Studios. I learned how to write for pitch decks for venture capitalists. And then I spent a decade purely focused on writing about two things: firstly, ensuring landlords, 95% of whom were coming from a paper-based world, could understand what Cozy was, what we did, and how it benefitted them. Secondly, that investors could understand those same things, how we spent money, and what our growth path looked like. For ten years, all I did was polish, iterate, adapt, and sharpen those messages. And then I sold the company, and that was that. I no longer had to write about Cozy. What a vacuum. I have never missed Cozy because I’m at peace that it served its purpose, but I have missed being so deeply in tune with a message and set of words that had been crafted and refined to the point that they were second nature. I’ve started to miss having a purpose, or an audience, or at least a target audience. I just haven’t found anything compelling to write about, and the joy of just writing for experimentation or life updates like I did with Reading Rainbow seem long gone.

On January 1, 2020 I left the acquiring company, and proceeded to have a double bypass on January 13. Hell, I’d barely recovered from my kidney transplant in April of 2017, and certainly hadn’t emotionally or psychologically recovered. And then, after starting my quarantine on January 1 for the surgery, then having the open heart surgery, Covid hit. Just as I started feeling like a human, the lockdowns and isolation began; isolation from work and freshly ex-coworkers, isolation and loss of my cycling community because I could no longer ride like I used to, isolation from my professional community, and isolation from a few true friends. All the meetings and random interactions that often come from being a successful entrepreneur and an expert post-acquisition couldn’t happen. Exploring new opportunities couldn’t happen. Even as I sit here in September of 2022, I’m still isolated because I’m immune suppressed. I can’t be in public places without a mask. Inside with other humans still isn’t an option.

In the past four years, I’ve been lost for words, despite wanting to write. I’ve wanted to process all this grief and PTSD. I’ve wanted to tell stories of Starla and my adventures in isolation in our camping rig. I’ve tried writing numerous times on this web site, and even hit the Publish button a few times. I probably got up to a dozen posts over two years, and then deleted the entire site. There’s been no goal, and nothing to strive for. Being the driven, Type-A person I am, I’ve struggled to write in the way I used to on Reading Rainbow. I used to do it for the joy of it, and the suspense of what interactions it might bring. I used to write the humdrum details of any given day and let whoever happened to find me read them. Then, for a decade of my life I became an efficient marketing writer, and a CEO writer, which requires every word to be examined, analyzed, and due to so much risk mitigation from so many angles, winds up sounding robotic, at least to me. These days I’ve struggled to find a foothold, or a core reason to write. I ask myself, “who would want to read what you’re thinking about when you aren’t particularly doing anything interesting, or at least not in the context of achieving something?” And while I know that doesn’t matter, the past 35-plus years of my life have always had goals attached. There are no goals anymore, other than to stay alive and make the most of the borrowed time on which I live.

Perhaps to see that I’ve bothered to peck these few words out, and to acknowledge where I’ve been, and why my writing muscles have been paralyzed is a sign of a crack in the barrier that has been stopping me. I still have no goals, nor a focused community to whom I could speak, but this act is movement. After almost dying twice now, I have internalized that movement is the only way to not give in. Maybe this is movement.

We recently went to Iceland, breaking our just-shy-of-three-year quarantine. I got Covid again as a reminder of why we’ve isolated for so long. These two photos are of a Búðakirkja (Black Church), but not the Búðakirkja. The cover photo I took by putting the lens against the window and looking in. The outward reflection, the odd, dark symmetry of the lens hood, and the simple wooden, vacant innards of the church were a surprise to me when I saw the exposure. Made with my Leica SL2.