GUEST BLOG: Sittin' On the Dock by Aegis J. Frumento Esq

July 25, 2019

Emma Chamberlain is 18 years old and dropped out of high school to start a YouTube channel. Her self-imposed job is to spend over 20 hours each week creating one 10 to 15-minute YouTube video, and the rest of her time promoting it. Her topics are eclectic, everything from sewing a dress to baking cupcakes. She presents herself as a bit of a ditz, but she is anything but.

According to reports, Emma has upwards of 8 million viewers. No one knows exactly how much she earns; speculation ranges from $120,000 to $2 million a year. But there's no indication that she began doing it for the money. She had this urge to create that I well recognize, even if spending all that time in front of a screen editing and formatting her videos in 10+ hour sessions has given her chronic back pain. The secret to her success is that she does it week after week, with the humor of a stand-up comic and the technical proficiency of an internet nerd.  See
. Emma is my new hero.

I don't pretend to be in Emma's league. Still, this is my 52nd consecutive weekly piece for Broke-and-Broker, so I flatter myself that she and I are at least denizens of the same community.

An anniversary seems the appropriate time to look back and take stock. I began this column -- I hate the word "blog" -- because my friend and publisher, Bill Singer, had been urging me to it. I long hesitated because I knew if I started, I would need to commit to it for a long term to gain an audience. I'm rather proud of myself for having met that commitment, producing these essays each week without fail, for a year. After 70,000 words, they could be a small book. The site statistics suggest about 4,000 of you read it each week. As I say, not in Emma's league; but let's face it, her videos are fun. Thank you for deploying a few minutes of your Thursdays to reading the column. I hope your time has been, now and then, repaid.

When I started this, I didn't quite know where I'd end up. I thought I would simply write short essays in my field, securities and finance law, commenting on recent events that I found interesting. I didn't want to create yet another newsletter merely reporting those events. There are already plenty of those, and good ones, far beyond my poor power to add or detract, including not least the rest of Broke and Broker and its sister site, Securities Industry Commentator. Instead, I hoped I might say something original and maybe even memorable, something better than might be found in that deep muck of shallow thinking that is the Twitterverse. But I didn't know how. I'd published a fair number of articles in my time, but they all took a lot of time and were seldom under strict deadlines. This was different. I aimed to emulate some of my favorite print columnists. I didn't know how they did it, and figured the best way to learn was simply to jump into the deep end and try it myself. I now understand why they get paid a full-time salary for writing "only" a couple thousand words a week.

Every writer has to face the blank page. A dedicated columnist has to stare it down anew every week. Each time is a leap of faith. I never know exactly how the next column will start, much less end. Then, one or a couple of things catch my eye or get me thinking. Thoughts rattle around and jog other thoughts, some new, some remembered. A stew of ideas soon emerges, often a chaos that I hope will coalesce around something tangible as the deadline looms. And it inevitably does, but by an alchemy I can't explain. A news report fits here, a remembered quotation fits there, a lyric from an old song seems oddly apropos. A first draft emerges, which sucks, as all first drafts do. Rewrite. A little better, but still lame. More rewriting, until the deadline strikes, and then it's done with, so far as I'm concerned. Out of time to make it better, it is what it is and it's off into the ether.

As I describe it, it seems a torture, which begs the question, why do it? Certainly not to garner business, at least not directly. I could be a more effective rainmaker by hosting a few lunches and dinners, or speaking at a few more conferences, with the time I spend on the column. No, I think I write these pieces for a more important reason.

William Zinsser, in his book Writing to Learn, explores writing as the way to understand something. Thoughts can only cohere when we wrestle them to a page and pin them down with words. We all have ideas rattling in our heads. Most are just brain-droppings, and woe to us if we repeat them, or God forbid, act on them. Eastern meditation tries to tame those wild thoughts, to calm them and permit us to observe them objectively and direct them to positive action. Because we are at bottom creatures of action; thoughts are mostly vain unless some action comes of them.

Taming our thoughts, imposing order on them, is therefore vital. I've written these pieces to bring order to the random thoughts in my head that sprout from more random events of the world I live in. I have never lacked a subject. That surprises me, but it shouldn't. The universe burps up chance events all the time, constantly offering opportunities for good or ill. Writing these pieces has made me more appreciate those bubblings. I write these columns not for money or respect, but as a meditation.

These essays, then, are me thinking out loud, trying to make my thoughts companionable. There's no guarantee that I have succeeded to anyone else's satisfaction, or even my own for very long. All writers take that risk. I can only hope these offerings have pleased some of you, some of the time. As with everything, some are more durable than others. I take some solace from knowing that every hall-of-fame batter struck out most of the time, and that with time most of them have been forgotten anyway. Life is ephemeral; you learn to live with it.

I am taking the month of August off from writing the column. I'll spend part of that time rereading what I've written. I'm curious which of my past year's views I still agree with. All conclusions are inherently tentative, because none of us is omniscient. Opinions should change as life and the world changes, which they always do. We waste time holding back that tide. Send a train of thought barreling down one fork and you arrive at a terminal entirely inconsistent to the one you would have reached by the other fork. If you go down both forks at the same time -- which is what real thinking entails -- sooner or later you'll contradict yourself. It's ok. I -- and you too -- contain multitudes.

So, I hope I don't find myself preaching any foolish consistencies. Benjamin Franklin said in signing the Constitution that he had lived long enough to doubt his own infallibility. Me too. The Civil War taught Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes the hard way that being too sure of yourself is dangerous, that certitude leads to violence. "When a man knows that he knows," he wrote, "persecution comes easy. It is as well that some of us don't know that we know anything." I'm with him, as I am with Groucho Marx, who memorably proclaimed, "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them . . . well, I have others."

It's August. I'm gonna bet that for the next few weeks, "nothin's gonna come my way, nothin's gonna change, everything's gonna remain the same." Till September, then, everyone stay cool.



Aegis J. Frumento
Stern Tannenbaum & Bell
Co-Head, Financial Markets Practice

380 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10168

Aegis Frumento is a partner of Stern Tannenbaum & Bell, and co-heads the firm's Financial Markets Practice. Mr. Frumento represents persons and businesses in all aspects of commercial, corporate and securities matters and dispute resolution (including trials and arbitrations); SEC and FINRA regulated firms and persons on regulatory compliance issues and in SEC and FINRA enforcement investigations and proceedings; and senior executives of public corporations personal securities law and corporate governance matters.  Mr. Frumento also represents clients in forming and registering broker-dealers and registered investment advisers, in developing compliance policies, procedures and controls, and in adopting proper disclosure documents. Those now include industry professionals looking to adapt blockchain technologies to finance and financial market enterprises.

Prior to joining the firm, Mr. Frumento was a managing director of Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, a partner and the head of the financial markets group of Duane Morris LLP, and the managing partner of Singer Frumento LLP.

He graduated from Harvard College in 1976 and New York University School of Law in 1979. Mr. Frumento is a frequent author and speaker on securities law issues, and is often quoted in the media on current securities law developments.

NOTE: The views expressed in this Guest Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Blog.

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