Life Lessons


Life Lesson 1: Fear No Fear

Documentary filmmaker
Fort Greene, Brooklyn

I always marvel at filmmakers who stay so compartmentalized in their role as a director or producer or cameraperson that they manage to avoid learning how to record sound properly, or how to light an interview. I never went to film school—it seemed too insular—but since I’ve ended up becoming a one-person crew, I’ve had to learn the technology of making movies on my own, and by watching others on the job. But the technology of moviemaking just gets more and more complicated all the time.

My handicap is that I have one of those ADD [Attention Deficit Disorder] dispositions that make technical manuals read all hierogliphy. I got around this by faking it for as long as possible, and by having friends I could call in a pinch. And believe me, every editor has someone they call regularly—often late at night—when first learning an editing program. Sometimes I have low-level panic attacks where my brain can’t seem to absorb any more information about frame rates, codecs and compression data. I’ve had to get over my technophobia in order to take advantage of new cameras and software that really advance the quality level of low-budget productions. But therein lies the challenge of what I do: Every time you think you’ve learned your trade, everything shifts just enough for the curve to get curvier and the road to get longer…

Extra Credit

Do I enjoy the technical aspects of documentary filmmaking? No. Is the end result more important than wounded pride and a few brain cells? Yes. It’s what the old folks call priorities.

Get Smarter

Mac Editing software classes,
Final Cut Pro individual training,
Avid and Mac editing systems training,

Life Lesson 2: Pass the Tests

Vice President, Sales, Corcoran Group

But before you can do that you have to get your license. And to qualify for that you have to go through something like 22 hours of extremely intense classroom study and reading, then pass class tests and then pass the state exam. It’s all legal information, and mostly rules that you won’t necessarily use in a day-to-day sales situation, but that you need to know exist—to protect your client and yourself. All transactions here require a lawyer, but if you don’t know the legalities of mortgage commitment and anti-discrimination and so many other things you can mess up a deal before it really gets started. Learning this can be grueling depending how you do it, because it’s all, ultimately, rote memorization—and that can be pretty dry. Some people take their classes one or two nights a week, spread out over a two-month period, but it’s hard to retain all that information over such a long time. But I took two three-day intensive courses at NYU, where they compress all this information into six full days over two weekends. It was much easier for me to retain what I needed to know to pass the tests and get my license. And, like I said, while I don’t use it everyday, it’s in my back pocket when I need it.When I started in this business I was hired by a company who let me “hang my license,” which means I sold properties for them instead setting myself up as a broker. I learned the skills to do this as I went along: how to sell a property, how to deal with clients, all the steps of making a deal.

Extra Credit

Although it’s really important to know all the rules and regulations that apply to the business, it’s really the ongoing experience of learning how to work with different types of people in different situations, and how best to teach them what they need to know about what’s probably the biggest purchase they will ever make in their lives that’s most important. You can really only learn these things on the job, and it’s ongoing.

Get Smarter

NYU’s Real Estate Institute,
New York Real Estate Institute,
Continuing education courses in real estate,

Life Lesson 3: You’re Smart Enough


As a chef, I envision myself as a sort of laborer—I’ve always hidden behind that self-definition as a way to avoid facing my embarrassment over not being “book smart.” But when I was running a catering business in San Francisco I found myself learning things I never thought I could. For example, like how to translate a recipe that’s meant to serve six people into one that serves 800; this has much more to do with math and physics that the sort of culinary vanity that the folks on Top Chef would have you believe. In school I had zero math and science skills. I felt incapable, and shied away from learning equations. Later, though—through of trial and error, and with the help of a simple calculator—I was able to figure out what foods hold heat longest and which should be in the ovens at what time, and how to make sure that everything is prepared and assembled at the right moment, and how to orchestrate when all of these should go in and come out of the ovens… It’s like some sort of derranged John Zorn session crashing a wedding in the Hamptons.

Extra Credit

Sometimes, when we learn things that we don’t realize we’ve learned, we get a stealthy sense of knowledge and self-confidence that we might never have otherwise. Being open-minded and ready to work—be it with a calculator, computer, mop and broom, or any other thing that we find intimidating, or above us or beneath us — is definitely the path to greater knowledge.

Get Smarter

Recipes/ suggestions for serving large groups:
Institute of Culinary Education,

Life Lesson 4: It’s Not the Hair

Publicist, Sterling Publishing

I was living in Athens, Georgia, and had found a job in California as an au pair— but that suddenly fell through when the couple broke up. So when a friend decided to move to New York, I hitched my skateboard to her pickup truck and here I am. I was pretty unprepared for the reality of a big-city job hunt. The jobs I’d had before I found through friends. I sent my resume to my parents, siblings, and extended family, asking them to reach out to anyone they knew in NYC who might help me get my foot in the door somewhere. I spent a lot of time reading articles on the Internet, and researching jobs on sites like Mediabistro and Craigslist, and in the papers. And I discovered that recruiting agencies are useless for a beginner like me—instead of being out there on interviews I was sitting at home, waiting for the phone to ring.

As the hunt wore on I grew less and less confident. I began to think I’d made a big mistake in coming here; that—more than anything else—really worked against me for a while. Eventually, I figured out how to present myself in a way that’s accurate but also more accessible than perhaps I normally come across to people. I sent out dozens of resumes and went on 37 job interviews before I found the right job—and my hair, which was pink at the time, wasn’t a problem.

Extra Credit

The knowledge that if I can make it here—as the song goes — I can make it anywhere.

Subhed: Get Smarter

Village Voice jobs listings,
Craigslist jobs listings,

Life Lesson 5: Flesh Counts

Park Slope

About six years ago I picked up a pencil and taught myself to draw. I’d drawn a bit as a child, but never pursued it. Thing is, before I found someone who loved me enough and in the right way, I couldn’t sit still long enough to devote myself to learning to draw—I was mostly preoccupied with pursuing romantic partners. So I can credit one thing and one person with making that possible for me: my wife, Sarah Schecnk. Weird, but true.

Much to my surprise, I discovered that I really love drawing, and I haven’t stopped since. I started with Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, and went on to take night classes at the Art Students League. I’ve had cartoons published in The New Yorker, Barron’s and other publications, and have exhibited at New York galleries. I’ve worked in publishing most of my adult life, but now I have this second, growing career as a cartoonist. In fact, on September 24th, I’m teaching a one-day class in cartooning through Media Bistro.

Extra Credit

The side benefit I’ve discovered is a heightened sense of well-being. I feel so much better when I’ve been drawing. In fact, when I practice on the subway — I draw on my way to work and on the way home; the ride may be a bit bumpy, but there’s never a shortage of models — at the end of my trip I’m often in a mood to socialize. That’s quite a contrast to the usual feeling of being overcrowded, rushed, and annoyed.

Get Smarter

Art Students League,
Queer Men’s Erotic Art Workshop at Leslie-Lohmen Gay Art Foundation,
How to Draw and Sell Gag Cartoons’ with John Donohue,