Thursday, September 26, 2013

I failed, and why that's okay

(Preface: HOLY CRAP I didn't mean for this post to be so long. So grab a cup and make yourself comfortable, because this is a bit of a marathon.)

Dear Readers,

This month, I learned an important lesson about the state of failure. You'd probably think this was because my Kickstarter project, Sincerely Sophie, failed to meet its fundraising goal. In truth, that was just the tipping point - I'd been failing on a lot of fronts before that. After some very stressful conversations with the girlfriend, who it should be said brought me down to earth and balances me in the most wonderful way, I thought it might be nice to air some of my dirty laundry. Not even dirty, really. Stressful laundry. The laundry of failure.

Failure is a dirty word in our culture. A shameful word. Employers no longer even tell you where you've done "wrong," or where you've "failed," but instead offer and inspect "ways you can improve." It's a word that we're scared of and that we shelter ourselves from because we're scared that it reflects poorly on our character. After all, if I failed at something, that makes me a failure, doesn't it?

My question: so what?

We all fail at some things. I'll never be a professional football player, and if I tried, I would surely fail. That doesn't make me a bad person. At the same time, that example is easy to dismiss, isn't it? I don't really care about football (sorry if you're reading this, Chris Kluwe) and so it wouldn't bother me to consider myself a failure in that sport. The issue becomes when we fail at things that are near and dear to us.

I failed at raising money to support starting up a show. I've loved acting and being in the spotlight for a long time, and I used to watch networks like TechTV and G4 with twinkles in my eyes. What if I could be like Morgan Webb or Adam Sessler? What if I could join the Screen Savers? I didn't idolize Justin Bieber or Kanye West, I idolized dorks and nerds who, like me, also liked to perform and put themselves out there. So yes, when that failed, I was hurt. I was let down. I didn't particularly like myself. And I lied.

I lied, and told people that "It doesn't matter, I'm just proud that I tried." I told people this more often than not to get them off my back, to give myself some space, to avoid acknowledging the colossal failure that stood before me. But eventually, I had to look it in the face. I had to, because I was confronted with another failure that sent me over the breaking point. Readers, let me tell you a story about dog shit.

Last weekend, someone in our apartment complex left (presumably) their dog's feces lying in the middle of the hallway. Not far, far down the hallway so as to leave one half of the complex clear, not off to the side, but right in the middle. If you were to come in the main entrance and take either the stairs or elevator to the second floor or, if you were a second floor resident who used the main doors to leave as opposed to walking to the edge of the building, you would be greeted by dog shit.

I was, to put it simply, pissed. Not only was this disgusting, but a plethora of owners not looking after their dog had already inspired the landlord to threaten to not renew the lease of any dog owners (which, as you should know from my Twitter, I am now). I also tend to get very angry when people don't take responsibility for their actions, probably overly so. I wrote a letter, is what I'm saying.

I wrote a letter telling whomever owned the dog that if they didn't care enough for their animal to pick up after it, if they weren't thoughtful enough to the rest of us who had pets who might not be able to live here come lease renewal, that they should give their dog to someone else. Oh, and I also began the letter with "DEAR ASSHOLES," just like that, in big, all-caps rage.

Admittedly, that's probably not the best way to start a conversation. I usually pride myself in remaining calm in stormy seas, as I believe that's a much healthier approach to discourse (see: Penny Arcade and Mike's "transphobic" commentary). Soon, other notes began to appear, as equally angry as mine. "Whoever wrote this should MOVE" said one. "Sounds like all you're good for is picking up shit," read another. It was like looking at a Facebook flame thread in real life.

I tore the whole conversation down, crumpled it, and threw it in the trash. The girlfriend tried to help me calm down, but I was beyond that point. I threw my wallet to the ground, stormed off without a word, and didn't return for some time. When I came back, I saw how hurt she was, and I was hurt that I had hurt her. It took awhile before I could properly express myself instead of sputtering out random syllables between sobs, but eventually I broke down. I told her everything was my fault, and that I was a failure. (I bet you were wondering when we'd get back to that theme, huh?)

Everyone had jumped on me for using harsh words and admittedly being kind of a jerk. No one chimed in to support my claim that people should be responsible for their pet. It was now my fault that tension was so high on the second floor, and I had failed to get some irresponsible jerk to clean up their act. But that wasn't all. I continued spelling out my failures to the girlfriend: I had failed at Kickstarter. I'd failed to make her happy. I'd failed to live up to being Sophie.

(Wait, what do you mean by that last one? Confession time, readers: Ever since my family and I went on a summer vacation to Colorado, where everyone who wasn't family called me "dude" and referred to me as masculine pronouns, I haven't had the confidence to live as Sophie. I cut my hair, had my breast implants removed, and am currently trying to see if I'm happy living as a male. I know that I still want to be Sophie, but I don't have the enthusiasm, energy, confidence, or resources to do it right now. For those that are supportive of me and the trans* community, I ask that you be patient and respect my decision to do some soul-searching until I come to a definite answer.)

The girlfriend, as she often does, helped me see the bigger picture: sure, I didn't get the money I'd asked for on Kickstarter, but I had supporters willing to give me money to get a dream of mine off the ground. How many people can say that? I have true fans, and unlike my parents and grandma, these fans aren't obligated to love and support me; they just do. I might have failed to get the bad dog owner to admit wrong, but I stood up for what I believed in. It might be cowardice that made me turn away from being Sophie, but I was bravely facing life as a male, and asking myself hard questions that frankly, many in the LGBT community would rather I not ask.

I'd failed, but I'd also succeeded and found new avenues for happiness, new perspectives through which to see my situation. To go back to the football player example, if I had tried to be a pro football player and failed, would I give up on everything, or would I find new goals? Would I think of new dreams? I'd like to think I would soldier on, and I would be able to admit that, although I had failed at one specific thing, I was not a failure of a person.

Failure isn't a roadblock. Failure is a detour sign, leading you to new places, or even reminding you of old ones. As I thought about the Kickstarter failure and why it failed, I realized I lacked several key things: creativity, among them. Nothing really made Sincerely Sophie stand out, and I wasn't really pushing my mind to think creatively as I knew I could. So now that the Kickstarter is over, I'm putting that lesson to use.

Below, you'll find two pieces of myself that have been neglected for a long time: fiction writing and art. The unfinished sketch you see is a Warforged from Eberron, drawn as a gift to one of my usual roleplaying group members. I think I'd like to finish it, and draw some more characters. The piece you see below that is the beginning of something I call "Eden." I don't know if I'll continue with it or not, but I wanted to test myself and see if I was still capable of creating interesting characters and intriguing storylines. Why don't you tell me? (Just to note: Both the writing above and below the header are part of the story.)

I used to tell people I was just happy that I tried. As I've now told you, that's a lie. I'm not happy I tried. I'm happy that I failed, because failure has taught me more than success ever could.

Sincerely,
Sophie


"Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen."

What a bunch of shit.

EDEN


My name is Luca Haupello. You, I don't care who you are. I don't care what you've done, who you've hurt, how wrong you were, how badly you deserve to have your bones gnawed on like a chew toy, my job is to keep you out of prison. But I'm not your friend, and I don't want to be.

I work for Trotter & Bertrand, one of the largest law firms in Atlanta. I handle defense cases for just about everyone and anyone. Sometimes my clients are innocent; sometimes they're not. All of them reek. All of them carry with them a thick, heavy stink made of sweat, grease, and most of all, fear.

That last one, fear, that can be a lot of smells, but there's always this bitter undercurrent to it, like grapes which haven't quite ripened.

One woman, she was so terrified she'd been caught, so sure that her life as she knew it was over, that she pissed herself. That was one of the least pleasant smells of fear I've ever known. Finkelton was her name. Marcy Finkelton.

Ms. Finkelton had been brought in on manufacturing and intent to distribute charges. Marcy was a successful dealer for several years with her boyfriend "Duke," but as with so many couples, financial "disagreements" rocked the apartment more than their bi-weekly slugfests.

See, Marcy and "Duke" had started out small, dealing out pot to the neighborhood stoners: harmless college kids that mostly just wanted to get high, rub genitals, eat Cheetos, and play Call of Duty. Not necessarily in that order. This went on for awhile, but the couple figured, 'Why make money when you can make more money?' They started dealing harder and harder stuff, making more and more money.

Now, you'd never have suspected this looking at the two of them together. Duke's real name was David Thompson – he was clean-shaven, with a jaw like a cinder block. His short, dark hair was always parted boyishly to the side, but the growing bald spot at the back of his head betrayed this illusion of youth. Marcy, meanwhile, looked more like someone you'd expect to hand out lemonade than pot: her blonde hair was nicely curled, and thick mascara made her blue eyes pop. June Cleaver would have been jealous.

Marcy and Duke were also smart, or at least smart enough to not get caught, and smart enough to not use their own stuff.

But all good things must come to an end, and so it was that Duke left Marcy for a woman whose skin was just a little bit smoother, her eyes just a little bit brighter, and her butt just a little bit more plump. Meth labs aren't the kind of thing you bring to small claims court though, so when Duke and his new bunny rode off into the sunset, Marcy kept the business.

Of course, she was devastated. Every emotion Marcy didn't know how to deal with kicked down the door to her brain, took off their shoes, and made themselves at home. And just like that, there was a very lonely, very unstable woman in a house full of drugs. What do you think happened?

Marcy started getting sloppy, blowing cash as soon as she'd gotten it, taking hits off her own supply, that sort of thing. Her teeth yellowed, her hair started falling out, and the lumpy masses of saline and silicone she'd paid for looked all the more obvious against her bony frame. Her tits in particular stuck out like a pair of rotten watermelon pushing out against a plastic garbage bag.

The more she spent, the less money she had. The less money she had, the more desperate she became. The more desperate she became, the worse her management skills. Marcy started selling in new neighborhoods, to new crowds, without vetting the clientele.

No surprise then, when Marcy was busted by an undercover cop. The case was pretty cut and dry; Marcy had the drugs on her person, in her car, and at her apartment. The narc was a veteran officer and knew how to get her to say exactly what he needed her to. Trapped in the confines of an interrogation room, she gave in all too easily in the desperate hope of being let off easy. She was a fox chewing apart its leg because it was told there was probably a trap somewhere nearby.

Her entire body quivered as she took the stand. Each step sounded like a pin dropping on tile, her barely-functioning leg muscles straining to carry her across the floor. I think it was the moment she had come to full rest, the moment she let her sunken eyes look out into the courtroom, and onto the face of the prosecuting lawyer, that I could smell the pungent odor from across the room – faint, but unmistakable.

You'd think the case was open-and-shut by the way the prosecution handled themselves. Proud, arrogant, and sure of a win, they pushed her aggressively. In the end, that was their downfall. In their haste to put Marcy away, they'd forgotten to properly coach the narc for taking the stand. Turns out the guy's brother was killed by drug dealers, which is what inspired him to be a cop in the first place. That's a heavy emotional toll to bring with you into a job though, and a liability if people knew how to push.


I knew how.