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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

29

An Interview With the [Former] Editor of The L Magazine, Jonny Diamond. Or, When to Quit a Job

Edith Zimmerman: Jonny, you just quit your job. I'm going to send you a bunch of questions and you will hopefully respond to them, and I apologize in advance if the questions don't link up with the responses immediately preceding them, but maybe you can use your amazing editorial skill to link them up?

Jonny Diamond: If you'd taken your time, Edith, to do a little research, you'd note that central to my resignation was the desire to do more writing, and less editing. So no, I won't be helping you edit this email Q and A into a flowing, coherent conversation.

Perfect. So, you ran The L Magazine for 10 years (and you were my boss there for one of them), and then you added Brooklyn Magazine, and that was also good. Why'd you quit?

I never really envisioned a career in magazines (nor wanted one) — I don't really like magazines all that much. I was an off-the-boat Canadian who needed work and ended up helping launch something that nobody thought would last. But it lasted, and the work was fun, rewarding for the most part, so I stayed. And stayed. For years I'd do my best to get up really early in the morning and write fiction, which was okay, and I was able to write some stuff I liked, but over time it no longer made sense to pour everything into a job that was sort of close to what I wanted to do with my life, but painfully far off at the same time. When you find yourself spending all your time covering people who are making things (art, writing, building, design, music) in the way that you would like to make things, you eventually reach a breaking point.

It's also, obviously, a perpetually anxious time for print media, and insofar as we started this thing out of a love for the alt-weekly — which is now, as a form, essentially a regional novelty — I am definitely not the editor to figure out how to make the transition into whatever is coming next. Frankly, I'm really, really fucking tired of trying to figure out what's coming next. Because you know who has an opinion about what's coming next? Everyone.

I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to work with so many wonderful, smart people over the last decade (like you, Edith!), but I want to spend more time working on projects with my wife (who's an artist, and a writer/longtime contributor to The L and Brooklyn Magazine — she wrote the great cover story for my last issue of Brooklyn), and my son (who is neither artist nor writer, but is two). I think maybe not being the editor of two magazines and two websites, for the first time in ten years, might mean that I actually start to like magazines again. Which sounds nice.

The L Magazine — that's the one about Williamsburg, right? Yuk yuk. No but that's the women's magazine?

We were originally going to be El Elle L, a southside Spanish fashion magazine for lesbians.

Do you remember when I did that thing about Williamsburg for Taxi TV, I think almost entirely because the Taxi TV people thought we were a magazine about Williamsburg?

I remember that very well. You were so tiny on that little TV and I was mainly drunk when that happened to come on, so ... it was great? I've lived in Williamsburg for 11 years, my wife for a lot longer, now. It had some cool stuff in it, and still does, but it's just a neighborhood in Brooklyn. There was a time, I guess, when it was not a bad thing to be mistaken for "that magazine about Williamsburg."

What will you be doing with your time?

Writing more, editing less. I've said it a number of times, a number of ways, but I'd rather fail doing what I really love, than drift into my forties tired, angry, and wondering if I really gave it an honest shot. Of course, I have to pay bills, so it's not all going to be villanelles and 2nd-person monologues — I hear you can get rich as a freelance writer in New York City! [Note to magazine editors: I actually do like magazines, particularly yours.] And, as I alluded to above, I'm pretty excited to spend more (and better) time with my wife, Amanda, who deserves a lot of credit for surviving ten long years of perpetual start-up hours and crowded parties in weird lounges fueled by strange, clear spirits. More (and better) time means traveling, writing, making art, building things, teaching my son SEO — you know, back to the land, and all that.

How did you announce it? Something insane or dramatic?

I failed to live out the dramatic quitting fantasy that sustains this city's bottomless media pits. And for that, I am ashamed.

[No you're not!] Are beers at 68 Jay still $3 at happy hour? Do they still have goldfish?

I think they're $4 now, but they have a little pizza concern working out of the side room and it's pretty good. Also, yes, goldfish.

Are you excited that it's almost spring?

Yes. My wife loves spring. She plants things, and starts gardens, and though I don't really understand it, her enthusiasm is nice to be around. And we can sell the vegetables she grows to pay for the insurance we will no longer have! I am sad that hockey season is over, but it's nice to open the windows and let some air in. Metaphor, renewal, etc.

Is spring a good time to quit jobs?

Yes, because the neurochemical fireworks resulting from all that crazy sunlight and bird noise make everything seem true and possible. But, you know, April/cruelty, etc. Maybe in six months I can start a column for you about the hopes and dreams of a really old barback who has opinions about serial commas and aspires to get a letter published in Lapham's Quarterly.

I think it's been five years since I last saw you. Also not a question, sorry.

Correct?

Wait, no — how have you changed, grown, perfected yourself?

I started playing a lot of hockey this winter, which I have loved very much. And I have a two-year-old son, who seems like a nice guy. But having a child has definitely not been a life-altering experience. I love the kid, and he loves me. I sleep less, and care about all the same things I cared about before he was born, some a little bit more, some less. Though I guess I've realized there are more important things than web traffic and editorial meetings. Like drawing cows on cocktail napkins for your son. And cake.

In this Tweet you said you "finally" quit your job. JONNY! Aren't leaders supposed to be paragons of serenity or whatever?

I've received an awful lot of earnest, anodyne emails from people I've never met telling me how "the time has come for a new direction" and that they've "parted ways" with their employers. I quit my job because I didn't want to do it anymore.

You write novels and other stuff. Are they any good?

No. The novel I finished last year is shitty. But it was good to finish and be done with, and now I can get on with the next one. Some of the stories are good, I think. Or at least some of the paragraphs are. That's a strange question. I'm just trying to write the things that I want to read.

Is Jonny Diamond your real name?

My full name is Jonathan Brooke Bird Diamond.

What's the best book you read recently?

Details of a Sunset. Early Nabokov short stories set in a cold, sad Berlin that went quite nicely with dark January.

Did this interview suck?

Not at all. No. It forced me to think about what I'm doing and who I am. So in terms of interrupting the subject's narcissistic self-justifying patter, I think it went well. (That last bit came off as narcissistic self-justifying patter, didn't it?)

Jonny Diamond is also on Twitter.



29 Comments / Post A Comment

Lu2
Lu2

wait, he was kidding with that first answer, right?

fondue with cheddar

@Lu2 I think it was a playful rib.

Lu2
Lu2

@fondue with cheddar oh, yeah. I can see that in context now... but right out of the box, without knowing the fella, I was like OOF! Hostile! I read a little further, but since I've never heard of anything they talked about (except Williamsburg), including the interview subject, I stopped reading. :) No offense meant to anyone! I'm sure he is a lovely, talented, and productive man.

This is my new username

@Lu2 Heh, I had a very similar reaction at first and then in the next question Edith mentions that she worked for him for a year, and then I was like 'phew, there is a personal relationship here and that is old colleague joking'

mattewmc

Pure magic!@t

frigwiggin

I really like this particular use of the word "concern." I think the last time I heard it used that way was on the Simpsons?

fondue with cheddar

@frigwiggin I don't think I'd ever heard it before. I like it, too.

Lu2
Lu2

@fondue with cheddar: Interesting. Just curious, have you heard the expression "a going concern," meaning a viable business? That's the same usage.

fondue with cheddar

@Lu2 I'm not sure that I have, or if I did there wasn't enough context to figure out what it meant.

Banana Stand Money

@frigwiggin: Recently, I went to see a new doctor at my doctors' office who noted in my chart that I work for a "roofing concern". It tickled me intensely, because that is not how I see my job, and it makes it sound much more interesting than accounting actually is.

laurel

@frigwiggin I'm trying to make a joke about my own little pizza concern but it's just lying there, inert.

fondue with cheddar

@laurel Your own little pizza concern is that you're lactose and gluten intolerant?

laurel

@fondue with cheddar Close! But not factually correct.

fondue with cheddar

@laurel That's okay, jokes such as these don't have to be factually correct. ;)

laurel

@fondue with cheddar Now you tell me.

jhibbertmd

@frigwiggin Osaka Orangeaid Concern! It's loaded with wasabi!

Probs

I cracked up at the "teaching my son SEO, back to the land" bit.

Cawendaw

So, who else read this terrified that Edith was going to quit in the next post up?

rabbitrabbit

I like this as a series! I have a great job, with amazing benefits; enough pay; access to substantive issues and networks I care about; opportunities for growth; smart/egoless coworkers; a safe comfortable workplace I'd even describe as feminist (despite being solidly housed in an extremely wonky, male-dominated field); etc. etc. I feel so lucky to have it, and have been thrilled to do my work for most of the past four years... and yet. I would like to try living outside of New York. I want to get a terminal graduate degree (for the right price/in the right city). I don't want to stay in the field I've fallen into for my entire career. And I am ready for a big life change. But in the face of terrible employment prospects across industries, and given all the great unknowns I'd be diving into by leaving my current job, it's terrifying to think of turning my back on a good thing - even though I feel ready for a new chapter. I know people without jobs are hurting, that many people who have gone to graduate school feel duped, etc., but it is really helpful and hopeful to see an interview with someone who ostensibly has a great job others would kill for leave it to (riskily) pursue something else. We can't all be paralyzed until the economy rights itself (if it does), but still, this is a brave move - made all the more admirable to me because I'm having a hard time making it...

OhMarie

@rabbitrabbit Yes, I would also genuinely like someone to tell me whether I should stick with my (totally acceptable if not self actualizing) job or find something else.

up cubed

@rabbitrabbit I saw the first three lines and thought you were a bot! All of your problems resolved when you started working from home on your laptop.
Although you didn't ask a question, the ellipses seem to be seeking a response. I'd suggest trying small, volunteering or taking a class in the field. Then if you like it, you have some experience to leverage to get started in the new field.

itiresias

@OhMarie Samesies to both. Except I know I'm quitting sooner or later, I just welcome reassurance that everything will be okay and I will be successful because I want it and work hard, despite my undying, widespread cynicism and one hundred thousand articles about millennials telling me I'm doomed.

sophia_h

@rabbitrabbit I quit my job and moved a year and a half ago and while there have been some good things about it, like getting out of a geographic area I didn't like and a rapidly-turning-toxic work environment, I've also had enough economic ups and downs to make me realize I have too much debt (student + car + minor credit) to be without a steady full-time job again for an extended period of time. I can't get one until at least August but I can't wait to be boringly employed again. Even though no disaster has occurred yet, I'm not made for this financial uncertainty.

itiresias

But, you know, April/cruelty, etc. -my invisible back tat

laurel

@itiresias Over on the Awl recently I made an April/cruelty, etc. joke and someone stepped all over it. I'm still bitter.

davidwatts

"When you find yourself spending all your time covering people who are making things (art, writing, building, design, music) in the way that you would like to make things, you eventually reach a breaking point."

This is the exact reason I quit arts publicity.

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