Category: Journal

2017: A Year Wraps and Good Riddance

Good Riddance 2017

It was a good year, but not without its challenges.

The TL;DR is:

  • mL grew more than 10 percent but is still down from its 2015 high.
  • I co-authored and published What’s Your Bio Strategy?
  • I moderated a panel at SynBioBeta SF17 and keynoted at Biofabricate 4 and enjoyed it.
  • I now live with myaesthenia gravis.
  • I started a novel that’s been in my head for more than ten years.
  • I took time off to travel from Boston to Montreal on a family cruise. I also spent some quality time in the Adirondacks.

My three words were bold, creative, authority and I kept those in mind all year long.

Macro Events

New York City and my microcosm in Brooklyn was depressed after the 2016 election. (For God’s sake, there was a planned victory party – at the intersection of President and Clinton streets just a few blocks from I live.)

The sense of the unknown and dread filled the air. I mean you could, you really could, feel it. And I don’t say that lightly.

I counseled friends to focus on ONE issue. I suggested focusing on what you could control. I knew trying to make sense of everything would be overwhelming. That’s proved true.

I promised myself I’d focus on science and education. I emailed and called my senators and representatives when a science or education issue came up.

As the year progressed, my focus became local.  I started participating in fights against charter schools. I started calling representatives, at the local and state level on sad state of the New York City subways. This was me being bold.

As we enter 2018, I’d like to do a better job helping those who are less fortunate. Especially, those who don’t understand or speak the language, nor how the system works. As a communicator, that is one of my most important jobs.

Karl’s Life Personal

2017 was a weird year.

One morning in April, I woke up seeing double. I went to the emergency room and spent a day and night undergoing a battery of tests.

I thought I had a brain tumor. I thought I had suffered a stroke. Luckily, those diagnoses were ruled out quickly.

36-hours into my visit, the neurologist arrived and said, “I’m getting you out of here. It seems like you have myaesthenia gravis.”

I wore an eye patch for nearly two months and learned that in New York City, no one looks at you twice with an eye patch. I also learned a lot of people have suffered worse – from migraine’s to Bell’s Palsy, cancer and strokes.

It took another month to get the final diagnosis: Myaesthenia gravis, an autoimmune disease.

An excellent neuro-opthalmologist treated me with steroids. After two months, my vision was back to normal.

In retrospect, it feels like it was stress induced (though my doctor wouldn’t agree). I hadn’t been taking care of myself. I was doubting my business. I was overwhelmed by a book I was writing. Two of boys were making major transitions. I thought I was ready. Maybe I wasn’t.

I’m better now and appreciate the importance of good health.

Once the illness ordeal ended, late in June, both Alejandro and Felix graduated. Alejandro graduated from Bard High School Early College. He had been accepted to Cornell and would be going in the fall. Felix graduated from fifth grade and joined his brother, Tomás, at the excellent Math and Science Exploratory (middle) school.

My parents traveled from California, attended the graduations, then we drove to Boston. There, we joined my sister, and her two kids. We boarded the Maasdaam and took a week long cruise along the east coast down the St. Lawrence River to Montreal.

I had never cruised before but it turned out to be a lot of fun. The best thing was the mornings: I’d get up and take a table at one of the restaurants, write in my journal and drink coffee as everyone woke up. Eventually, my father would join me to read the paper. Then little by little our family would arrive.

The only downside was food. It was excellent but I learned that I had little self-control and by the end of the fifth day, I had chronic heartburn. I’m sure that was due to the over eating.

Karl’s Life messagingLAB

messagingLAB started the year with a two big projects that abruptly came to an end in March. I wasn’t prepared and had to scramble.

Those projects were interesting, pushed me to use digital marketing skills that I hadn’t used in years, as well as coming up with creative marketing solutions for my clients.

Later in the year, two projects required me to draw upon public relations skills that I also hadn’t used in years. One of those projects resulted in some pretty spectacular media placements.

I lost one piece of business because the project ended (we’re still friendly and looking for ways to work together); one piece ended because they ran out of money (we had a great relationship); and one piece of business I lost because the add-on was deemed very expensive.

I lost three proposals because messagingLAB was too expensive. I didn’t like that but took those losses as lessons to work harder to explain the value in hiring me.

I also celebrated five years of working with one client. That was a significant milestone and says a lot about the relationship we have.

I took a bold financial risk# in the middle of the year that didn’t pay off and ended the year at a loss. I’ve been in the hole before and it’s no fun, so I’m taking aggressive steps to move on. (#No, it wasn’t Bitcoin, though I believe an online currency is an inevitability.)

I decided to examine messagingLAB’s offerings. I added media relations and am making it a policy to start all projects with a roadmapping session. I’m also creating a training company to help people understand the opportunities presented by biotechnology.

What’s Your Bio Strategy?

In November, John Cumbers and I published What’s Your Bio Strategy? We interviewed 25 trailblazing academics, entrepeneurs and thought leaders.

It was an incredible experience. And it helped cement me as an author and authority.

I started my career writing music reviews. My first published (and paid!) articles were interviews. I’ve written dozens over the years. The group interviewed for WYBS were among the best.

John invited me to moderate a session at SynBioBeta on Strategy. A month later, I gave a keynote at Biofabricate.

I’ll admit that in both cases, I was very nervous – it’s been many years since I took the stage – so I practiced. And practiced. And practiced. For SynBioBeta, I spoke to all the people on the panel before we got on stage.

For Biofabricate, I rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed. That way, when I got on stage, the presentation was automatic. 

Both were well received.

In December, I taught a bio strategy class to a non-technical audience. They enjoyed it. I also appeared on the FutureTech podcast.

So, I plan to do speaking and teaching in 2018.

The Dragon Burns

When the boys were very young, I would wake up with them, help them go back to sleep. Usually, I couldn’t fall back asleep. So, I picked up the bad habit of surfing infomercials.

Why?

Because infomercials among the most sophisticated marketing stories you can study.

At the time, Alejandro had already started to read chapter books. And like most boys in second, third, fourth grade, he read a lot of books about dragons.

Tomás would continue this and to this day, at age 13, he reads fantasy novels over other genres.

(He also plays Magic the Gathering, which includes a whole story line (Tarkhir) about dragon lords and how all the dragons are extinct. But one guy goes back in time to makes peace among the clans and revive the dragons.)

One night, I had this idea that it would be great to order a dragon from an infomercial.

The idea stuck and I ended up working the idea into a screenplay with a friend. We worked on it for more than a year.

We got busy and dropped the project. But the story never left me. It’s been brewing for five years. During that time, I’ve gotten a lot smarter about what we can create with biology.

I started writing the novel in September and joined a writers group. I workshopped the first 30 pages and got a positive response.

I’m going to continue the book and will tap into my community to get the science right.

It feels like a big book. It’s about applying creativity in new ways.

And now that I’m a bit more than half way through the draft I’m wondering where I’m going to go with it. I’ve written novels and screenplays in the past and wrote them for the enjoyment of it.

That’s how the book feels right now. So, I’m just enjoying the process.

I have no idea what 2018 will hold but I’m excited to define my three words, focus on growing messagingLAB, enjoying the writing, and my family.

2017 started with a sense of dread. 2018 looks to be very exciting.

 

Career Advice to a Molecular Biologist Starting to Write

If you want to write, you need to write.

Write and write some more.

Read the science media.

Fill your head with the best writing you can find. Read The New Yorker. Read annual anthologies of the best writing — not just science writing either. Here’s The Best American Essays of 2016.

Practice generating ideas on what to write every day. Especially after you read a science story and some really great writing that isn’t science. Look for ways to combine ideas.

Start a blog to demonstrate your writing skills.

Then guest post on blogs that are in your topic area. Start developing the relationship with those bloggers as soon as you start writing your own content.

Find the publications that you want to write or work for.

Follow the writers and editors on Twitter, Facebook, and Quora.

Develop relationships with them. Be transparent. Tell them you want to write for them. Ask them questions.

After you’ve developed those relationships, start pitching ideas. Pitch them lots of ideas.

Don’t have any expectations.

Remember, like writing, getting a job in writing is a process. The more you work on pitching, the luckier you’ll get. The more you write, the luckier you’ll get.

Remember that if you’re going to make a living as a writer, there are a lot more opportunities writing for companies. You can carve out a very nice niche writing for life sciences companies.

I don’t work in the media but work with and speak to people at publications regularly and I know there aren’t enough science-trained writers.

I wish someone would’ve given me this advice when I was starting out. It took me 10 years to figure it out.

Here’s my original answer.

A Brief, Personal Reading List – Fiction September 2016

Y the Last ManI recently shared this reading list with thesalesblog author and sales guru Anthony Iannarino. Anthony’s extremely well read but admitted he didn’t read much fiction. Here’s what I wrote him:

I grew up on science fiction and have read a lot of it and admit it’s inspired my career. But I’ve also read a lot of magical realism, international fiction, juvenile/middle grades (thank you kids!), binge-read mysteries and have a soft spot in my heart for trashy novels (like those of Lee Childs, Jackie Collins, Jacqueline Susanne).

Mostly, I like books that explore an idea, but the books that I’ve read and reread the most times are:

pedro_paramo

Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo, a very short, very Mexican book that has blown me away and inspired me every single time I’ve read it. At this point, I’ve probably read it dozens of times. It’s considered to the book that defined the magical realism genre and  inspired Gabriel Garcia Marquez to write One Hundred Years of Solitude. The book was so influential on Marquez that he could recite long sections of it from memory.

The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon. It’s his shortest novel but you can get most of his themes and big ideas there: paranoia, consumerism, American exceptionalism, and layers upon layers of mystery. Pynchon is probably most famous for Gravity’s Rainbow, written in the 1960s. It’s been couple of decades since I read that monster tome but parts have stuck with me. I haven’t gotten to his newer work but have been looking forward to reading Inherent Vice for a long while.
Neuromancer
Neuromancer by William Gibson. That’s the one where cyberspace is defined and first explored. It’s a fast-moving thriller/mystery. Been a while since I reread but it’s an old friend. I’m also partial to his Pattern Recognition, which is about marketing (just reread this summer) and Idoru (which you might enjoy since a rock star marrying an AI is part of the story). His last book, The Peripheral was a thought-provoking look at our not-so-pleasant near-future.

Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, a 1960s SF novel.

51lnx5lhjl-_sx330_bo1204203200_
Freaky Deaky by Elmore Leonard. I’ve read most of his novels — there’s too many to list — and this one’s about a pair of 1960s drop outs trying to pull one big job. If you’re a movie fan, Out of Sight with Clooney and J. Lo is the best adaptation of Leonard novel. It’s also J. Lo’s only great movie role, though John Travolta is great in Get Shorty, and you can see Leonard in most of Tarantino’s films.
Y the Last Man
 Y! The Last Man, which is a series of graphic novels about a plague that kills all but one man. He has to deal with women who have to deal with rebuilding the world. It’s awesome.
All The Birds in the Sky
Most recently, I read All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders and The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupo — highly recommend those. Earlier in the year, I was blown away by Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. I’ve also been rereading Octavia Butler.
I track what I read on a couple of Pinterest boards. This one shows books I’ve read and reread, you’ll notice a fair amount of J.G. Ballard, William Burroughs, Philip K. Dick, and Kurt Vonnegut. I can steer you to the best of those if you’re interested.
Ballard, Burroughs, Dick, and Vonnegut were huge influences on my thinking when I was writing fiction. Ballard and Burroughs were masters of description and people making their ways through unreal situations. Dick was one of the most prolific SF writers (Blade Runner, Minority Report were based on his books) and his influence is wide. Vonnegut’s view of the American condition is among the most critical and hilarious.

Nag Nag Nag: Cabaret Voltaire vs Akufen’s (karaoke slam mix)

It’s been a while, a long while, since I’ve posted anything music related, so I offer up a contrast of sorts.

Here’s Cabaret Volataire‘s brilliant Nag Nag Nag from their 1980 Live at the YMCA album. Simple distorted guitars, bristling synthesizer electronics, this was early – but still danceable – industrial music no doubt inspired by the Cold War and Sheffield*’s urban decay.

Some 30 years later, Montreal’s Akufen remixes the song and aptly titles it the Karaoke Slam remix. When I email him to compliment him on the mix, Marc LeClair answers “musics just getting crazier and crazier.” Not sure I agree with his sentiment but I love the remix.

Enjoy.

* I didn’t know this but in researching Sheffield, I also learned the city spawned The Human LeagueHeaven 17ABCClock DVA, and is home to the legendary Warp Records.

Why I Write (Or How I Started Writing)

“Two hundred years of American technology has unwittingly created a massive cement playground of unlimited potential. But it was the minds of 11 year old that could see that potential.”
– C.R. Stecyk

My first stories were skateboarding stories inspired by C. R. Stecyk‘s Skateboarder Magazine articles, his fabrication and chronicling of the Dogtown’s Z-boys’ adventures. As a sheltered kid turned skateboard geek growing up 60 miles away from Santa Monica, I was blown away by the exploits of the Z-boys and the skaters that became my heros. But I also devoured and dissected the stories and began “borrowing” his openings (which I would later learn he’d borrowed from Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett or Hunter S. Thompson), then wrote my own skateboarding procedurals.

My main character was a teenage private eye, asked to solve some mystery or another, find a missing person. Criss-crossing Southern California in a hot-rodded Volkswagen Transporter, blasting Led Zepplin and Ted Nugent, and (later) punk rock along the way, the stories inevitably climaxed with the arrival at an empty backyard swimming pool or hidden ditch that begged to be ridden. After an epic skate session, he’d solve the mystery and arrive home in time for dinner.

Why I Keep A Journal

Why I Keep A JournalI’ve been keeping a journal for more than 25 years. I should say “mostly keeping a journal” because there have been periods of time where I haven’t written in a journal regularly – though probably, I was writing just not in a journal.

At the pace of one page per day, that’d come to 9,132 pages or some 2,283,000 words. I’m sure I’ve written five times that.

My father suggested I keep a journal of a Eurail trip I was taking after college. Since I knew I’d be spending time alone on trains, in foreign cities, and since I wanted to write professionally, I started writing in a blue lab notebook back in mid-1980s and pretty much never stopped.

If you want to keep a journal, you need a notebook.Keeping a journal became a habit pretty quickly. It’s not something I think about, I just write. (Unlike blogging which I do in fits and starts and am much more self-conscious about.)

I wonder how much that particular point in my life – my early 20s – motivated the writing. I’d just finished my formal education, hadn’t written much more than school papers and a few stories, and knew the only way I was going to become an author was to write. How much was motivated by being in that funny place between graduation and still trying to figure out who I was and what I would do. And how much was motivated by my father’s suggestion that I keep a journal.

Over the years, the journal became my the place where I’ve documented my marriage, the birth and growth of my three sons, my life in Brooklyn, and the ebb and flow of my businesses. It’s where I’ve given thanks for the blessings that fill my life, admitted my jealousies, fears, and shortcomings, celebrated successes and worked out anger and conflicts. I’ve also explored ideas for businesses, stories, novels and articles, analyzed dreams, made predictions, lamented the loss of friends and money, mourned the death of ideas that I’d finally grown out of, confessed and complained complained complained all in the confines of the written page.

The journal has taken many forms. From the blue-covered lab notebook to soft-cover oversized lab notebook, spiral-bound and hard-bound blank-paged sketch books, and loose leaf sheets of paper from companies that changed names or went out of business, canary-colored legal pads, to black-, green-, mango-covered Moleskines decorated with skateboard brand, band and random decals, I’ve written everywhere I’ve lived my life: in dens, kitchens, bedrooms, dining rooms, offices, hotel rooms, on boats, in trains, on planes, in cars. In every city I’ve lived in and visited in North and Central America and brief visits to Europe. It would be rare to find me without some kind of journal to write with.

I have tried keeping a journal on a computer, used Penzu for a couple of years, even have a secret email account that I will on occasion send notes to, but I prefer writing on paper, mostly with a fountain pen (a Lamy 2000).

Keeping a Journal with a Lamy 2000 fountain pen

The poet, Allen Ginsberg, founder and frequent lecturer at The Naropa Institute, warned me that the wrong ink, particularly ballpoint pen ink would destroy the paper. He also warned me that my journal would accumulate and that at some point, if I was diligent with my writing, I’d have to contend with quantity. It’s true, I have several plastic containers in my basement, a suitcase in an attic, and a shelf of my most recent scribblings in my bedroom.

(I’ll continue this post later.)

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