Where Do I Come from? What Am I? Where Am I Going?
The best thing about ties Magazine is that it sounds like "Time Magazine" when you say it over the phone. "I began my career at ties," I tell some editor, and there's a Robert Reich-sized chance she'll think I started off at the popular newsweekly, and not at a trade magazine for "technology educators" (read: "shop teachers"). Of course, the sonic symmetry doesn't always work to my advantage -- sometimes an editor will ask about ties, and, as a good journalist, I must report the facts.
I shouldn't be embarrassed by my ties to ties: they were the first publication to take me seriously. When they hired me as their associate editor, in 1996, I was happy to have a magazine job, even if I wasn't writing literary or personal essays (I'm a great admirer of E. B. White and R. W. Emerson). In my three years at the New Jersey-based pub -- which had 45,000 readers when I left -- I learned all about service journalism, the anatomy of a feature article, and line editing. (I basically wrote articles and revised pieces by unlettered, and unpaid, teacher-correspondents.) Also, as ties was published on the campus of The College of New Jersey, the job led to several adjunct positions instructing undergrads in the basics of rhetoric, composition, and tech writing. I thought these gigs would be a bit more literary. I was wrong. Many students thought Nabokov "a snob" and "boring," and even more complained that Henry Petroski's wonderful history of the Post-it note was "stupid."
In 1999, I went off-campus, and my career took a right turn toward business journalism. I became the champion of "independent professionals" (read: "the self-employed"). My task, as the associate editor of 1099, an irreverent magazine co-published by the Boylston Street staffing agency Aquent and Ziff-Davis, was to offer encouragement to solo practitioners of every stripe: Foley artists, event planners, jingle writers, you name it.
While 1099 was still service journalism, it satisfied some of my writerly aspirations. The magazine combined can-do practicality -- advice on money and taxes, marketing, client relations -- and a strong, humorous voice ("Leonardo da Vinci was a great painter, a brilliant scientist, an inventive engineer, and one of the most catastrophic project-management screwups in the history of freelancing") in a winning manner. My 1099 time also gave me my first real exposure to card-carrying freelance writers, people who actually made a living from their own words. Managing these free-range folks was usually a lot of fun -- well, the dependable writers were fun to manage -- and instructive.
Then the economy famously tanked, and 1099 was 86ed without ceremony. Since the spring of 2001, I've gone from writing about self-employment to living it. I often contribute to the Boston Globe Magazine and Boston Magazine. What else? I've also written national pubs such as The New York Times, Salon, and the Forward and I recently spent a year documenting the first year of my daughter's life for Child Magazine. And right now I have a cool part-time gig as the editor of JBooks.com. What's next is anyone's guess.