I grew up in Santa Rosa, California, the second of four boys. At age 11 I discovered rollerblading and starting spending most of my time at the Santa Rosa Skatepark. Around age 15 I started getting opportunities to travel, compete, and perform, and at age 16 I dropped out of Piner High School to take them up. As a pro skater, I traveled around the world, to Japan, Germany, France, Korea, Spain, England, Thailand, Malaysia, Sweden, and many other countries; I competed in the ESPN X Games three times; and I invented several tricks and am considered an early founder and proponent of a style of skating called “mushroom blading”.
Dropping out of high school had a curious effect on me: when no one was telling me to read and write, I badly wanted to read and write. So that’s what I did during the many hours of travel downtime. Before long I was reading a lot of philosophy and dreaming of studying it in college. But the idea of college was vague and scary: I had dropped out of high school and neither of my parents had college degrees. Around age 20 I decided to enroll in the Santa Rosa Junior College. After a few years in community college, and with the help of many inspiring teachers, I transferred to UC Berkeley, where I spent five intense and rewarding semesters. I put the last of the money I earned from skating toward college and was supported throughout by Federal and State financial aid. I went on to get a PhD from NYU and took up a tenure-track assistant professorship at the University of San Diego.
I write mostly about aesthetic value and its place in our lives. I am working on a long-term project that develops a new way of thinking about aesthetic value and its importance. The project has positive, negative, and historical aspects. On the negative side, I argue against what I see as pernicious influences in aesthetic theory: individualism, hedonism, “disinterest”, the idea that we should be connoisseurs in our aesthetic lives, the thought that art and aesthetic value are separate from our everyday lives. On the positive side, I argue that aesthetic value is deeply connected to self-cultivation and understanding, on the one hand, and to flourishing social and communal life on the other. This has led me to write about love, personal and artistic style, ideal self-conceptions, aesthetic language, and street art, among other things. I also think and write about the aesthetic theories of Kant and Friedrich Schiller, and increasingly those of the post-Kantian German philosophers.
I also write for non-academic audiences and have published work in various popular outlets. For my take on the Internet, check out my piece in McSweeney’s. If you want to know about the nature of awesomeness and suckiness, read my book On Being Awesome: A Unified Theory of How Not to Suck (Penguin, 2017). You can hear about some of my work on this episodeof the Slate podcast Hi-Phi Nation and read more about me in this interview with Scientific American.