Right around New Year’s, I was struggling to pull myself out of a depression. It was the anniversary of my dad’s death. My cat had just died, and someone broke into our garage and stole some of my dad’s tools and some of my unfinished art. I was deep into all of the ways this past year has hurt. And as anyone with depression is probably familiar with, I was feeling like my pain wasn’t comparable to the pain in the world, and I should suck it up and get over myself. And also I couldn’t stop crying.
My way out of it this time was art. I decided to create something out of the literal junk I have been carrying around with me for years. Some of it came from boxes I inherited from my dad, who carried it around for decades first. (Source: one of the boxes was addressed to the house I was born in. We left that house in 1988.) I thought I was going to build something jagged and angry, with broken glass and rusty nails like the spines of a dragon. But what started forming was a very different creature — sweet, but sad. Her name was Failure and I loved her. I bound her broken pieces together in rebar wire, given to me years ago on the side of the road by a stranger after our muffler had fallen off. I kept repeating to myself, she doesn’t have to be perfect, I just have to finish her. I kept crying and creating, and loving all my messy, broken pieces.
Failure is so dear to me that sharing her feels necessary and also terrifying. She is the mascot of my year, my company, my path. I posted about her on online, and wrote:
“Her name is Failure. I made her out of broken things I cared about and bits of junk I’ve carted around for years and my sadness and shame.
She is not very good at much but she made you this flower and she wants you to know she loves you.”
I was buoyed up by the responses. There was one in particular I want to share. A writer I deeply respect, Max S. Gordon, said this:
“Robin, I’m speechless, which is rare for me. This is so profound and meaningful for me right now, I’m almost in tears.
I’ve been looking for the artistic antidote to what has been happening with this administration and the incredible loss of life and violation of human rights and dignity on so many levels. So many people run from Failure, when actually there is so much she can tell us about vulnerability. And despite the wreckage, she still chooses to love. I’m doing some writing on childhood right now and you’ve pierced my heart with this. I’m so glad you shared it.
Very grateful for your art. I wish the entire world could see this. You’ve given me much needed sustenance today. Thank you.”
Max’s writing is so deeply raw and vulnerable and healing. His latest piece “Aftermath: Surviving As A Nation After Donald J. Trump” is a nuanced, personal, and systemic exposure of the racist administration that just left office. Please go read it. I cannot do justice talking about it here. I am honored that I was able to give back some sustenance, some art, some love to this man.
And I need that. I need reminders that online connections are real. That art and vulnerability and creation matters. Because I am trying to co-create a company. And it is very easy for me to get lost in the failures. It is very easy for me to feel dispassionate about online conferences and branding, and uploading receipts. But I do have passion. It’s passion about human beings and making spaces for us to be weird messy growing humans together.
My friend Jenny messaged me that day to tell me she was tearing up at that post and the comments. About the one from Max she said “I don’t even know him and his comment affected ME.” Jenny is another friend I mostly see online. We have been friends since we met at a gaming convention around 9 years ago and built a friendship through heart emojis, birthday wishes, and conversations about handling online attacks from friendly neighborhood white supremacist cops.
I got another message from Jenny this week at 3:16 AM on Sunday. It said “feeling a little scared right now. and i see you’re online…” I had woken up to go to the bathroom and ended up staying up for another hour with her.
Jenny’s cat was dying and we talked as she and her husband held each other and their cat, Molly (the fierce princess), for her last hours on earth. It was just texting. I couldn’t hug her, or pet her cat, or even see her face and hear her voice. But it wasn’t just texting. She asked me to be there, with her, and I was. And she was there for me, too. The best comfort is never one-sided. It shares heartache and tenderness and laughter, making you both lighter, safer and grounded in each other.
It’s been a hard winter for me so far. We are over a year into building our startup, and it’s… not exactly easy. We are building a tool for connecting people online and somewhat ironically, I hate working from home. I’m an extrovert and I don’t self-motivate well. I constantly feel like I’m failing. I don’t always understand why I’m doing this thing. I don’t always feel passionate and I feel the downward current of the pandemic, sedition, and systemic violence sucking at me.
I need Max and Jenny and so many others in my online community. They give me a North star. This past year has starkly shown us so many ways that technology has enabled misinformation and emboldened white supremacy, but I’m passionate about being part of the tech startup resistance. We will build ways to connect humans to humans. We will have hard conversations and create space for sharing vulnerabilities. I am passionate that we need our technology to support that vision.