The Chat

EP: 1 Karen Livecchia

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This is the first episode of The Chat, a monthly talk with fellow creatives about their business, inspiration, and anything that comes to mind--all while having a drink...or two.

When I started Bigger Creative Agency, I knew we needed great content creators.  The first person that came to mind was a talented editor I met at a few networking events in Brooklyn. We hit it off immediately. So, when it came to setting up the first session of The Chat, Karen instantly came to mind.

Since Karen still chooses to work a 9–5, we met on an early Friday evening in one of New York’s newest architectural wonders known as The Oculus.  It’s about 5:30 and I am wrapping up a purchase of a new Shure Microphone for my iPhone when I get a text from Karen. She is on the second floor of this massive shopping mall/transit center.  After not seeing each other for a few months, we embrace in a warm hug and get down to brass tacks.

It’s time for The Chat and it starts now...


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Brian:

We are here with Karen Livecchia of NY Edits and this is the first edition of The Chat.

Karen and I are going to talk a little bit about what she does in terms of editing and content creation, and we'll talk a little bit about New York and art. So, let’s take it away...

Thanks for giving me the time today Karen.

 

Karen:

My pleasure, Brian.

 

Brian:

We are actually located in downtown Manhattan in the beautiful Oculus…what do they call this a train station, or do they just call it The Oculus?

 

Karen:

Well, I think it’s called a Transit Center now. <laughs>


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Brian:

The Oculus Transit Center! It is basically a travel hub in New York City, located at Ground Zero. The A train, the E train, the C Train, the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 subway trains run through here…well, most of the trains in the city come through here, and you can also transfer to the NJ Path trains as well. For people who are not aware or have not been to this area, why don’t you just describe what you see right now.

 

Karen:

Well, it’s probably the most exciting architecturally interesting building that has been completed in New York in...I’m thinking, at least 35 or 40 years. It's just a gorgeous space--it's not only beautiful to look at, but it's just a truly impressive place.  It's a real hub for downtown Manhattan. I mean, sure, it's a luxury mall, but it's more than that--it's really a real meeting place and there are lots of cultural activities that take place here.

Right now, I am looking at something called “Up Close” and it is actually a gigantic art exhibit. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel has come to New York and there are high-quality reproductions of various scenes from The Sistine Chapel. They do a lot of interesting things here. It is a great thing for New York, particularly for downtown.


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Brian:

It also doesn’t hurt that during the summer it’s all A/C, so that is kind of nice as well.

 

Karen:

Oh, it’s beautiful--it’s a gigantic white refrigerator.

 

Brian:

(Laughs) Honestly though when you actually come here...I remember the first time I stepped in it, it was void of all these people, the back section was still cut off with a huge American flag hanging and there wasn't all this energy.  There's this energy right now, because it's rush hour. There are a lot of people going home and a lot of people are coming out to play. It’s a Friday evening, so there is a lot going on here.  So, how does this place make you feel?

 

Karen:

It feels open and expansive. It makes you feel hopeful for downtown New York--and for New York in general. It's a really impressive project. I love coming here because it is white and light and bright, and in a city where things are crowded, there's a real sense of space.

 


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Brian:

Okay, speaking of the city, what does New York City mean to you?

 

Karen:

Wow, just about everything. I mean I dreamt of coming to New York when I was a little kid. I came here when I was five or six. I grew up in New Jersey, just across the river, and we used to come in at holiday time and maybe once or twice throughout the year.

One of my favorite trips to New York was always in the Fall because the city had a real snap in the air...there was excitement. Things were reallyhappening. I joke about it, but it’s really truly the Center of The Universe--it is the most exciting city in the world.  That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

 

Brian:

Describe what you do to someone who doesn’t exactly know what it is that you do

 

Karen:

I get that question a lot. Basically what I do is I’m a content creator. I edit all types of content:  business content, personal content, website content. I feel like I'm a natural-born editor, I've had 14 years of experience doing this. Basically, I take your content and I give it a good review.  Then we talk about your goals and and what you want achieve with your content and how you want it to work for you--for whatever you are using it for. Then we put our heads together, you know you and I have done this, I enjoy collaborating in this way. That’s pretty much what I do basically.

 

Brian:

Would you say it’s your dream job?

 

Karen:

Yeah, I would say it is pretty close. I do love the process. I enjoy the writing process and Ienjoy the editing process. What I really enjoy is being a collaborator. If you find the right people to collaborate with, you know you don’t have to agree on everything, but to be of like minds and be with creative people who appreciate what you do, you know, your talent it can really take off, and I really really enjoy that.

 

Brian:

So, it’s not exactly perfect, what would be the perfect thing for you to do?

 

Karen:

You know I've been thinking about this a lot over the past six or seven months and I am sort of at a crossroads. I’m always wondering how to expand and take things to a new place, and I still come back to the fact that I love when people come to me and ask: How can I communicate better? Or this is my goal, or how can you get my contentto where people really understand the essence of me? That’s really what it comes down to. I’m always about expanding more, and how can I do that with more people, with different kinds of people, for different kinds of businesses.

 

Brian

So, what would you say are the positives of being a content creator?

 

Karen:

Well, the world is your oyster creatively speaking. I mean, if you get the thumbs-up from a client or collaborator, you know, you can pretty much do whatever it is that you want to do. That's the great thing and it’s also kind of a scary thing.

 [Quick yeah from Brian...]

Yeah, it's like having a budget with no limits. You're just like, wow, how do I work it now? Sometimes the constraints actually make you more creative, but I think it depends again on who you are working with.

 

Brian:

Also, what I do is create visuals, it either strikes someone's attention and they’re there, they get it, they’re in the moment...or, they don't and that's it. Content writing--there is a lot that goes into that. With visuals, I think, that's are a bit more subjective than writing is because it is written word, so you kind of have to strike the right balance in order to get the tone you want to resonate with somebody. Yeah, it can be more difficult, but I also think it’s more rewarding.

 

Karen:

That’s the challenge, you know, there are billions of words--I mean, I don’t know how many words their are, but…

 

Brian:

Bootylicious and stuff.

 

Both:

<Laughs...>

 

Karen:

Bootylicious is a favorite.

 

Brian:

It actually is a real word! <laughs>

 

Karen:

It is a real word!  It's actually in the Oxford English dictionary now.  So, thank you Beyonce, thank you, Bey!

You know, it’s about striking the right balance. The right word that evokes the right feeling toevokes that sense. When you read a really great book, whether its fiction or nonfiction, you get a feeling from the writer, and that is the real challenge.

I mean, I say this a lot:  we all have the same words, but we all bring to it different sensibility, different experiences, different mindsets, and that’s really the true art of collaboration in terms of content. It’s that you really do want to get the right tone there.  You know, when you read something good, it really sings.

 

Brian:

I think that’s also a benefit to the freedom of your profession. When you read something with no visuals, you can create your own thoughts and your own visions, and can imagine to how you are formulating those words.  With what I do, it is what it is. If you don't like blue, there is no way to change blue. You use the word blue and you can think of different tones of blue. When you have words with no images, it's can be more powerful than visual arts because you are in the hands of the writer. It's about letting them run with their own imagination and create their own visuals.

 

Karen:

Sure, that's the magic of books, generally speaking. You can create your own picture and then when you share that with somebody else and then they have a picture and you go “Oh wow I never thought about it that way.”  It’s real, you know, we talk about shareability of books--it’s really when you get the meeting of the minds like that, it can be real magic.

 

Brian:

What are the negatives of your position? I mean, we just went over the positives, but everything is a double-edged sword.

 

Karen:

If you take pride in your work and someone isn't feeling it, it doesn’t even go to your gut , it goes right to your heart. If they don’t get it, or they don't (or, can't) feel it--or, if it was different than what they thought, then people don’t value it.  That can be a real heartbreaker.

 

Brian:

Sometimes with words, you run the risk of being offensive more than visuals. If someone doesn't exactly understand or comprehend what you are saying, they could take offense to the verbiage you’re using. There is definitely a fine line to walk.

 

Karen:

Yeah, it’s a double-edged sword for sure. You can swing it around and it could be really impressive, or you can swing it in the wrong direction and you can cut someone's you-know-what's-off, so it’s tricky doings. Also, the fact that people think when you are an editor, that all editors are the same, and we are not . We do different things and bring our own unique sensibilities to the work at hand.

 

Brian:

Writing it just like any other art form. I would not go as far as to say that Michelangelo is anything like Picasso. Obviously, to say that is doing a disservice to artists, and, similarly, to say that would be doing a disservice to writers. You're exactly right!  If I pick up a Shell Silverstein book it is nothing like, say. Hemingway. They arenot the same type of writer at all, but they both have so much to offer.

 

Karen:

I mean, they evoke different types of feelings, and to say that one is any better, greater, or lesser than the other would be just plain wrong. It’s what you bring to it as a reader--and, that, is the challenge for the writer.

 

Brian:

What is your favorite type of project? What do you like working on the most?

 

Karen:

Wow, that a hard question to answer.  I just finished a piece for two clients and they have unique occupations. One is a medical hypnotist here in Manhattan.  He's a French expat in New York for three years now and he has in own practice in the discipline of medical hypnotism, which sounds rather exotic.  In continental Europe, within a healthcareenvironment, it is a quite common practice and is used for all sorts of things like weight management to smoking cessation to sleep and anxiety disorders. It’s really something that is unique, and he is at the very forefront of bringing this kind of treatment into New York hospitals. He also believes New York is the most exciting city in the world, and he came here to set-up his practice knowing he'd face a challenging environment.  I'm working on an article--a profile, of sorts, as he's partnered with an international life coach, who he works with clients at a high-level--super-achievers, really.

I’ve been collaborating with them for a few months now, and I just finished my first of two pieces for them. One has more of a marketing edge--sales-oriented piece. The other one I'm working on is actually going to be an interview/profile, which I will be finishing soon. I love working with them closely.  It has been interesting for me as an American to work alongside them because they are both French. They have a different way of looking at life and at business--particularly in this country.  Basically, they're talented professionals who want to work with clients who have come to a certain point in their lives--they are just about to reach the top of the mountain and they need that last push toward the summit.

 

Brian:

OK, so now we are just walking through The Oculus.  Since it's Friday, I need a drink! <laughs> So, we are taking this interview on the road.

 (We start walking through The Oculus to, Eataly, an Italian restaurant in WTC/Tower 4)

 

Brian:

What would you say would be your dream project?

 

 Karen:

My dream project would be to have a series of projects <laughs> so I can quit my day job as a medical editor. Just to wanting to work creatively and be a collaborator.

 

Brian:

OK, the one project, so let's say Victoria’s Secret <we're passing by the store now in The Oculus> comes to you and says we want to you re-write all of the content on our website. So, that would be the one project. Of course, every creative's dream would be to have a continuous flow of clients, so we can get out of the “starving artist" mode. <laughs>

 

Karen:

OK, here we go: The Metropolitan Museum of Art website so very much needs a re-design, even though it was just recently re-designed by a team of highly-paid professionals. That would be my dream project. Either that or working on the Museum of Modern Art's website--that would be an amazing opportunity.

 

 OK, so we're here at Eataly and we've just ordered a couple of drinks: I ordered a Peroni and Karen is enjoying an Italian rosé.  We've also ordered a bread basket and some delicious spreads.  The conversation continues...


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 Brian:

Who do you idolize and why?

 

Karen:

Creative or business or writers?

 

Brian:

Left open to interpretation, of course.

 

Karen:

Talk about being put on the spot, I mean, if you look at my Pinterest boards you will see what I idolize, um…oh, wow...so many people. I feel quite speechless by that question. <laughs>

In terms of writers, I would say Joan Didion because she was one of the women at the forefront of the New Journalism movement, which was very much a guy-thing. You know, Gay Talese and other heavy-hitting writers like that.  Her writing is genderless. Sometimes, you read a piece or a book, and though you obviously know the gender, there are some female writers that "write like girls."  And that's fine for them--that's their unique style. Joan Didion? Her writing is so unique in it's style. It's spare and cutsdeep no matter what she is writing about.  I have to admit I idolize her.  I love Salman Rushdie because he can create an entire world on a page. I’m really loving the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, because ofthe fresh vision he has for France. Oh my gosh, so many people.  It's really hard to pick someone on the spot! Of course, you know, Steve Jobs for making the most amazing products out there and for the vision. Lots of filmmakers, too.  There are so many creatives that I admire.

 

Brian:

But, if you had to pick one though…

 

Karen:

Oh, this is going to sound so corny, but if I had to do it--because I'm doing it for you, Brian <laughs>.  I really idolize Barbara Streisand. My mother and I are huge fans. I grew up on her music and I think she is the singer for the ages. She is getting up there in years, she’s 75, but she can still carry it off after all of these years.  A true artist in every sense of the word.

 

Brian:

Your favorite writer...and why?

 

Karen:

My favorite writer, thats like asking if you have a favorite child, or a favorite color, or a favorite food. They are all great--you like some more than others, but they are all great. Oh, a slew of them--you know, I love Fitzgerald.  I know it is a subjective thing, but in my opinion, Gatsby is the Great American Novel. It has all the American themes:  reinvention, class consciousness, self-discovery...and it’s beautifully written. I love Jane Austen, naturally, as she created an entire world with only six or seven books...that we know of anyway. <laughs>

 

Brian:

C'mon:  One person, one writer.

 

Karen:

OK, I would have to say Fitzgerald. I don’t think anyone could top that in the 20th century. I know some people think it’s Hemingway, but for me, it's Fitzgerald.

 

Brian:

That’s because they like to drink.

 

Karen:

Yeah, sure, but Fitzgerald would be it for me.  Great style!

 

Brian:

If you could live anywhere where would it be and why?

 

Karen:

You know, if there were one country...OK, you know where I’m going, Brian.

 

 Brian:

I do!

 

Karen:

Yeah, you know France really has it all for me. I mean, there are a lot of great countries around the world, but there is something about France.

 

Brian:

Why France?

 

Karen:

The extraordinary history of that country. The people. The culture -- the way they respect and preserve the past. 

 

Brian:

It definitely is a culture-rich country.

 

Karen:

Culture-rich environment--on every level.

 

Brian:

I think that's a prerequisite for people like us, we need to have culture.

 

Karen:

Absolutely!

 

Brian:

If you don’t, you are like off my list...sorry. <laughs>

 

Karen:

I feel like France has it all.

 

Brian:

About 80% of the world?  Sorry, you are on that No-Go list <laughs>

 

Karen:

The No-Can-Go-There list! We are not flying to see you,  unless you have it all.  I mean, as a New Yorker you get spoiled, you know we have everything here.


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Brian:

There are places in America that are on that list.

 

Karen:

Exactly, exactly! Oh, I see we’re going to go there, my friend.  Hmmm, maybe after another glass of rosé, we'll go there... <laughs>

 

Karen:

Yeah, definitely France. The extraordinary history of that country. It’s culture, the people, the art. I mean their contribution to world culture is epic, you can’t deny that. The language, even with all it's quirks.  Love it!

 

Brian:

What is your top goal? Number one...a goal something you really want to accomplish before it’s lights out. I hate to be morbid, but...

 

Karen:

I just want to continue being a creative professional. Whatever that means for the time that I’m doing it. I just want to continue working with great people and doing different kinds of projects and contributing to the cultural conversation.

I wish I had like one epic goal, but my goals are small and I move toward them everyday. I just want to continue getting better, learning more, doing different things, being open to things-- new stuff, challenging things, different kinds projects.  I'm open to it!

 

Brian:

What is one place you want to go you have never been before and why? OK, and France is off the table because you already answered that one.

 

Karen:

Sigh...OK, France is off the table. I would have to say...

 

Brian:

Sorry France, we have to share the love a little bit.

 

Karen:

I think France understands. <laughs>  You know, I would go to Tokyo...in a heartbeat.

 

Brian:

Tokyo?  Really?

 

Karen:

Not exactly around the corner, right? But, I revere Japanese culture. I think they have the right mindset.

 

Brian:

Very disciplined, those folks.

 

Karen:

Very disciplined, very streamlined. Yeah, discipline is what I think of when I think of Japanese and their culture. Also, their history--they have an extraordinary history behind them.

 

Brian:

What is something you would like to do that you have never done and why?

 

Karen:

Oh, Brian you are killing me with these questions! <laughs> Wow, give it to me one more time.

 

Brian:

What is something you would like to do that you have never done and why?

 

Karen:

I don’t even know how to answer that. <laughs>

 

Brian:

Go to the Bronx!  <laughs>  Just kidding...

 

Karen:

I would be a traveling chef.

 

Brian:

Wow, straight out of left field.

 

Karen:

You would cook and eat your way around the world...and not just France. <laughs>

 

Brian:

But France is included in there though.

 

Karen:

You bet -- might be the first stop on my world tour. <laughs>

One of my favorite programs to watch is Tony Bourdain...when he was on the Travel Channel. I like the thing that he does on CNN, but it's a little "vanilla" for me. It’s for the CNN audience and I get it, but the one on the Travel Channel, called No Reservations, where he's just a New York guy who eats his way around the world.  I don’t think there is any other way of explaining who he is and where he is from. He knows he is from New York and he gives it to you straight up.

 

Brian:

So, a traveling chef. Hmmm...

 

Karen:

I am totally totally jealous of him. He goes to these far off places and eats all this crazy stuff. He meets such amazing people and he makes food a language unto itself.

 

Brian:

You ready for a biggie? This question is a loaded one.

 

Karen:

Let’s do it!

 

Brian:

If you can go back and give a message to a young Karen what would you tell her and why?

 

Karen:

<Taking a big gulp of wine.>

 

I would go back to when I first came back to New York in 1981. I would go back and tell her not to take it all so damn seriously.

 

Brian:

That’s good advice.

 

Karen:

Not to take it so damn seriously. That, you know, it’s all temporary.  When I started to work in certain places, I thought this is where I am going to be for the rest of my career. It was kind of that time in the early 80’s where people still had lifetime employment. 

 

I come from a family that enjoyed lifetime employment, and that's just part of mythinking and up bringing. I really put a lot of stock into that, and somewhere along the way it all changed and now I have a totally different mindset.

 

You know, I came here when I was 19 and I wasn’t a traditional college student. I came to New York wanting to do creative things--whatever that meant. Yeah, I would have said to her not totake it all so seriously, and don’t believe everything everybody tells you, and don’t believe everything you read. I would just say "Lighten up!" <laughs> I think I would have enjoyed it more had I given myself the chance to, but I wasn’t mature enough yet.

 

Brian:

But, asthe saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.  We can easily go back and say should have, would have, could have. That’s the point of life: figuring out the mystery of it all...the allure of your dreams and the decisions you make to get there...and you ask yourself how is this going to turn out:  Is this gamble going to payoff or not? It sucks when it doesn’t, but it makes you stronger of a person.

 

Karen:

Every decision is a link in the chain.

 

Brian:

So,  last question:  What do you fear and why?

 

Karen:

Wow!  I fear not living fully enough. I am not what you call a happy-go-lucky person. I’m someone who's very focused and very disciplined in both my work and in my personal life.

I have my ideas and I put them to action, moving towards things steadily. I know people who could not possibly operate like that.  But I am always fascinated by people who do things on-the-fly, or who just get an idea and think outside-the-box. They go and run in that direction. I have a certain way about me. I don’t feel I am set in my ways, I mean, I feel open to things. People have told me I am open, but I don’t feel I am open enough in some ways. I am very focused--I know what I want, how I want it, and when I want it.

 

 * * *

 

It was great learning more about a creative partner I have been working with for a while. We were in such a groove at this point that the formal interview didn’t stop here.  Though the "fear question" is the last one, you'll find an audio file for The Extended Chat below.

In it, Karen and I cut it up a bit more and started to talk about advice she would give other writers, her favorite tools for writing, and we even managed to play a very interesting game of word association.

 

We really hope you learned more about Karen and how she makes the Bigger Creative team stronger. I want to thank her again for the time she gave me on a beautiful Friday evening in downtown Manhattan.

 

The Chat will be a monthly installment and our next guest will be Rich Joseph of Brokenland Productions.  See you next time and enjoy The Extended Chat where we discuss choosing clients, creative collaborations, self discovery, and we play a little game of word association.