here’s an unfortunate tendency for these bio things to read like thinly disguised résumés. However, I can hardly avoid talking about my professional pursuits, since that’s what I spend almost all my time doing. I don’t really have much of “a life” in the conventional sense — you know, family, vacations, crabgrass — although I’m open to offers. Mostly I spend my time working, so this “personal” version of my bio necessarily discusses work, but from a personal angle.
Left Brain, Right Brain
I’m both a writer and an illustrator. I know that combination sounds a little unserious, for a couple of reasons. In general, we tend to give more credibility to specialists; and some professional combinations seem especially suspicious. How many people would trust a heart surgeon who had a side business etching satanic tatoos into bikers’ forearms? Or a baker who worked nights in a toxic-waste dump?
My own combination is not that threatening — or colorful — but the ubiquitous stereotype about “left-brained” vs. “right-brained” people makes the concept of a writer/illustrator seem dubious to some people. As far as I know, the only w/i’s who are taken seriously work in cartooning (comic strips, comic books, or editorial cartoons) or in children’s books. My work history is broader than that. It gets worse: I’ve also worked extensively in related graphic-design, computer-technology, and teaching professions. This naturally raises a painful (for me, anyway) question: can I expect people to take me seriously in any of these vocations?
I’ve observed that most people focus their lives on three or four different things, each of which they (and the people around them) take seriously. Usually only one of these is an occupation; but the others are still preoccupations, chosen from a wide menu that includes family, community, religion, charities or other public service, travel, popular culture, an active social life, and various hobbies. I don’t do most of that stuff. I have no more time at my disposal — and therefore no more possible focuses — than anybody else; I’ve been able to pursue more than one vocation simply by giving up other things that people typically pursue.
I try to minimize my professional image problem by compartmentalizing my working life somewhat. My occupational diversity is obviously no secret, but I try not to push it in people’s faces, either. Writing clients sometimes have no idea that I can draw, and, conversely, an art director who knew me only as an illustrator once expressed surprise that my emails were so well written. I even maintain multiple email addresses for my different professional identities.
Born to be Bifurcated
It may sound crazy that I became both a writer and an illustrator, but there’s a logical (and totally different) explanation for my involvement in each of these fields.
I initially became a writer for a simple (and unflattering) reason: in my youth, I was able to succeed at writing and other language-related activities with relatively little effort. For example, I pulled straight A’s in my college English major, as well as in graduate courses which I took to get certification as an English teacher, without ever working very hard. (It took years before I learned that sustained hard work can be more fun than just hanging around.)
You might like to see a few photos and brief text about my trip to Tokyo during a killer heat wave. I was there to research local Web-development practices, give a public talk to developers, and see the town.
Since then, as an adult, I’ve worked in numerous language-related fields. I was a high school English teacher in New York City — first in a gang-ridden inner-city school that one newspaper called “the most violent school in New York,” then in one of the country’s top-rated schools for the intellectually gifted. Later, in Boston, I worked as online columnist, editor-in-chief of a business webzine, marketing writer, tech writer, and public speaker. (I’ve given talks or professional training sessions in Boston, Cambridge, New York, Detroit, London, and Tokyo.) Unlike in my student days, I had to focus intensely on each of these language-centric gigs — probably too hard, obsessively hard — but it all came pretty naturally to me.
y contrast, I had to intentionally plan, focus, and study in order to raise my visual artwork to a professional level. Although I had drawn joyously and continuously from childhood right into adulthood, I had to work hard in art courses. I never thought about my motivation at the time, but in retrospect, it wasn’t very mysterious; in fact, becoming a visual artist in the first place wasn’t even a conscious decision. It’s just what one did in our household.
While normal children went outside to play, my sister and I drew pictures, made collages, and built miniature dioramas in shoeboxes, encouraged by our bohemian-artist father, who filled our home with his paintings and subjected us to nightly rants about aesthetics and art history. In fact, by the time I was fifteen, our brownstone wasn’t exactly a “home.” Many of the interior walls had been ripped out, and what had been intended (by the Victorian builders) as living space was largely devoted to a neighborhood art center, complete with a gallery, picture- framing shop, tiny art-supply store, and private studios rented out to a couple of local artists. Every Friday night, perhaps a hundred or more people would come to lectures by various local luminaries in the gallery, right below my bedroom.
Given that slightly peculiar upbringing, it may not be surprising that I moved out for good when I was barely seventeen, and spent most of my twenties as a painter. I continued to study anatomy, perspective, composition, and lechery at various art schools in New York.
Eventually I drifted away from fine-art painting and became an illustrator and designer, which seemed more closely related to my interest in storytelling, and also helped to pay the rent. I still fantasize that I’ll start painting again someday, but it’s not exactly the sort of thing you put on a to-do list.
I’m not sure that this little history of how I became both a writer and a visual artist does anything to reduce the subtle prejudice that versatile people face; but it may, at least, make my career choices seem less incomprehensible.
About My Name
When people ask what “San” was shortened from, I’m tempted to answer that it was lengthened from “Sa” — but I restrain myself, because nobody likes a wiseass. Actually, my ancestors lived on the San River in central Europe.
I like my first name (Lawrence) but I dislike the nickname that’s commonly substituted for it — it simply doesn’t fit my personality. On the other hand, I like “San” so much that I often use it alone as a professional name. Most people call me either “Lawrence” or “San.”
Where Am I?
I often ask myself that question, philosophically speaking. But geographically, although originally a native New Yorker, I’ve been living in Boston for many years now. It’s a beautiful city — some people say the most “European looking” of American cities — and I get great pleasure just walking around here (which I do a lot).
Can We Talk?
For the few (very few, I’m sure) people who’ve read this far, here’s a suggestion: send email with your thoughts. For example, you might comment about this page, or about one of my stories, or mention a project I might work on. Whatever you’d like to talk about, I’d love to hear from you.