Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

A Memoir In Progress

By Levi Asher on Friday, January 2, 2009 01:51 am
I was a frustrated software developer and unpublished novelist working at a Wall Street bank in 1993 when I first heard of a strange and exciting new phenomenon taking place on our computer networks: email, Usenet newsgroups and the World Wide Web. A new communications technology was about to change the world, and I quickly made up my mind that I wanted to be part of the change.

I left the banking industry to join Time Warner's new media division, where I played an integral role in the now-famous disaster known as Pathfinder. I also launched my own website, Literary Kicks, was hired to build Bob Dylan's website, and had my own first taste of creative satisfaction and personal success. In 1999, I finally struck it "rich", cashing in on one of the biggest IPOs in stock market history, just as my marriage broke up and my workaholic tendencies reached a hysterical peak. A year later, the high-flying dot-com stock market began to crash. My paper wealth disappeared along with my job and much of my remaining sanity. I was beginning to gather my resources back together in 2001, only to face new shocking events of a completely unexpected kind. This is the memoir of a software developer who learned how to be a survivor, and a record of the life lessons learned along the way.

The chapters below, composed and posted between January and December 2009, make up a complete first draft of what I hope readers will consider a relevant and universal story. I'd like to thank the many readers who posted helpful comments and advice following each chapter (you can read these comments below). Here, still untitled, is the first draft of the story of the most difficult and dynamic ten years of my life.

 

Chapter One: THE BREAK



Summer 1993: How I became a computer programmer ... Why I was working on Wall Street ... A co-worker alerts me to the existence of the Internet.




Chapter Two: FINDING THE INTERNET



Fall 1993: I hunt down and find the Internet, becoming obsessed with Usenet newsgroups ... I find my first online home at rec.music.dylan ... The nascent indie/literary scene of the early Internet days.




Chapter Three: BECOMING LEVI ASHER



Winter 1993/1994: My first short story, a satire about my job, is accepted by the first online literary journal, Intertext ... I make a sudden decision to create a pen name.




Chapter Four: LOST IN THE SUPERMARKET


Spring 1994: Life as a Wall Street techie ... I get an idea for a website called Literary Kicks.




Chapter Five: THE LAUNCH



Summer 1994: The World Wide Web grows more popular ... I launch Literary Kicks one quiet summer day.





Chapter Six: ENTER MOZILLA



Summer/Fall 1994: Technological innovations on the web ... The first "browser war" begins ... The culture of Wall Street in the 1990s.





Chapter Seven: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE WEB KIND



Fall/Winter 1994: Going on a radio show ... Hanging out on Usenet ... Meeting a whole lot of new friends, "creatures of the web".





Chapter Eight: JOB-HUNTING: HOTWIRED, DELPHI AND PATHFINDER


Winter/Spring 1995: a new job market emerges in New York City ... I seek out and evaluate various job opportunities.





Chapter Nine: THE BEAT



Spring 1995: the neo-online Beat Generation/literary scene in the early web days.





Chapter Ten: THE SUMMER OF THE WEB



Summer 1995: I begin working at Time Inc. New Media (Pathfinder) ... Silicon Alley starts to take shape, and the NASDAQ stock market starts to take notice ... Grateful Dead concerts on Father's Day weekend.





Chapter Eleven: IN THE PATHFINDER BASEMENT



Fall/Winter 1995: Working for Time Inc.'s web startup, Pathfinder.com.





Chapter Twelve: LIT SCENE





Winter/Spring 1996: The online literary scene is really starting to come together ... I organize the world's first "web writer's reading" in downtown New York City on Valentine's Day 1996.





Chapter Thirteen: CLICKING THROUGH



Summer 1996: technical challenges at Pathfinder ... Silicon Alley becomes real ... I help to build Pathfinder's groundbreaking advertising servers.






(First Quarter Interlude)




Chapter Fourteen: DISCONNECT





Fall 1996: a friend and I get a historic opportunity to create a book of fiction and poetry from the web ... At Pathfinder, our big project is starting to look like a disaster ... Opportunity to build BobDylan.com.





Chapter Fifteen: PATHFINDER GETS PERSONAL



Fall/Winter 1996: I do my best to avoid becoming involved in Pathfinder's Personal Edition, one of Silicon Alley's most historic and laughable failures ... The quiet launch of Personal Edition.





Chapter Sixteen: MOVING TARGET



Spring/Summer 1997: defeatism and desperation at Pathfinder ... Rising hype in Silicon Alley ... Building Bob Dylan's website ... Two of my favorite Beat Generation writers die.





Chapter Seventeen: GETTING REVIEWED



Fall 1997: Coffeehouse: Writings From The Web is published ... We get a few good reviews and one bad one.





Chapter Eighteen: DISNEYWORLD





Winter 1997/1998: Staying sane in Silicon Alley ... Unhappiness at work ... An inspiration from Dostoevsky turns into a hare-brained creative idea.





Chapter Nineteen: DINNER WITH DOSTOEVSKY



Spring 1998: I direct a digital movie of Notes From Underground





Chapter Twenty: WEBBY VALLEY



Spring/Summer 1998: LitKicks gets nominated for a Webby Award but is going nowhere fast ... Creative frustrations ... Dreams of indie publishing





Chapter Twenty-One: MY MOVIE



Summer/Fall 1998: My digital movie of Notes From Underground hits the streets and gets some attention.






Chapter Twenty-Two: FRINGE




Summer/Fall 1998: Drifting at Time Warner ... More work disasters and literary confusion.






Chapter Twenty-Three: JOB-HUNTING: BROADCAST AND IVILLAGE



Winter 1998/1999: The dot-com stock market begins to peak ... I entertain job offers and plot my next move.






(Second Interlude: July Breather)




Chapter Twenty-Four: LIKE IT'S 1999



Early 1999: Why I needed to get rich quick ... Turbulence at work and at home ... The kids ... Rooftop dreaming.





Chapter Twenty-Five: DESIGN PATTERNS FOR AGONY



Early 1999: Arriving for the new job at iVillage ... Hesitating to walk in the door ... Why bad tech projects happen to good people.





Chapter Twenty-Six: WORKING FOR CANDICE CARPENTER



Early 1999: The inspiring leader of iVillage.com ... Courage and anarchy in the office ... Work as a character-building experience ... A new CTO is hired.





Chapter Twenty-Seven: A LITERARY LIVING ROOM




Early 1999: Why I didn't care about the late 1990s lit scene ... Poetry clubs of Greenwich Village ... Performing at the Living Room with David Amram.





Chapter Twenty-Eight: BEFORE THE IPO



Early 1999: Borrowing money for a stock market gamble ... chaos and a new boss at work.





Chapter Twenty-Nine: CELEBRATION DAY



March 1999: The long-awaited iVillage IPO is a historic success ... I'm rich and my company is famous ... The parties begin.





Chapter Thirty: METAMORPHOSIS



Spring 1999: After the IPO, willing myself reborn ... Planning a big 5th birthday party/concert for Literary Kicks.





Chapter Thirty-One: BACCHANAL


Summer 1999: The meaning of happiness ... Searching for my place in the world ... IVillage goes to the movies ... the crazy Literary Kicks Summer Poetry Happening at the Bitter End is the hot ticket one Wednesday night in New York City.





Chapter Thirty-Two: BREAKING POINT



Late Summer 1999: Transferring into the marketing department at work ... Confusion and malaise ... Pokemon cards and San Francisco ... Divorce.





Chapter Thirty-Three: SINKING



Fall 1999: Finding a new home ... Dealing with post-divorce trauma ... Things go from bad to worse at work.





Chapter Thirty-Four: MILLENNIUM



Late 1999: On "probation" at work ... Trying to find my footing ... Changing pop/Internet culture in the age of Eminem and Kid Rock ... I become a hermit in the middle of New York City ... The Y2K scare, the apocalypse ... Times Square, New Years Eve, at the turn of the millennium.





Chapter Thirty-Five: RUNNING THE NUMBERS




Early 2000: Working with the Community team ... Learning how to develop good product proposals ... Launching member profiles on iVillage ... Listening to Springsteen ... A quiet peak moment passes unnoticed by all.





Chapter Thirty-Six: THE BIG SLIDE



Spring/Summer 2000: An article in Barron's magazine kicks off the dot-com stock crash ... Share prices plummet and an industry falls apart.





Chapter Thirty-Seven: PICKING UP



Fall/Winter 2000: After the crash, a destroyed industry gathers its resources ... Mentoring sessions with Candice Carpenter ... Initial plans for LitKicks 2.0 ... The Mets in the World Series ... A confusing election night ... An unexpected turn of fate.






(Third Interlude: Bringing it Home)




Chapter Thirty-Eight: VERSION 2.0



Winter/Spring 2001: Digging into Java programming ... Dot-com market continues to slide ... Reinventing Literary Kicks as a message board community site.





Chapter Thirty-Nine: FALLING OUT



Summer 2001: worrying about getting laid-off ... Plans for BobDylan.com ... Getting laid-off ... Becoming an independent consultant and thinking about e-books ... A welcome phone call.





Chapter Forty: TUESDAY



September 2001: scrambling to finish BobDylan.com in time for the record release ... An all-nighter followed by an unexpected day ... Dust and death in the financial district ... Firemen and the primal scene.





Chapter Forty-One: GATHERING



Late 2001: the aftermath of September 11 ... Self-publishing my first novel as an e-book ... Getting a literary tattoo on my 40th birthday.





Chapter Forty-Two: POETRY AND POLITICS



Early 2002: intense debates about how the USA should respond to Al Qaeda ... Getting back onto the poetry reading circuit ... Being unemployed ... A new poetry club opens up at the corner of Bleecker and Bowery ... The LitKicks Spring Peace Poetry Happening.





Chapter Forty-Three: LUCKY GUY



Summer 2002: a cool new job building websites for art museums ... The philosophy of poker ... Finally getting together with Caryn, climbing a mountain, being in love ... A sudden farewell to the cool new job.





Chapter Forty-Four: HOW TO GO BROKE



Late 2003: unemployed again ... Borrowing money from the parental units ... Searching out business opportunities for LitKicks ... Another Bowery Poetry Club reading.





Chapter Forty-Five: SINGLE POINT OF FAILURE



Early 2003: a new teaching job ... A breakdown in the classroom; a wayward Sharpie ... The invasion of Iraq ... Literary Kicks community members go crazy on me ... Bounced paychecks ... Reaching an all-time low.





Chapter Forty-Six: THE RAFT



Summer 2003: another new teaching job ... Learning .NET ... A new consulting gig ... Learning PHP ... Wondering what to do with LitKicks ... Not seeing the literary blogosphere ... Kids growing up ... Big questions and the eternal search for whale oil in the universe.

 

This article is part of the The Memoir series. The next post in the series is THE BREAK.


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