chalk on a sidewalk. portland, oregon

The Search for Meaning in a World of Rampant Success and Overwhelming Misery

XOXO 2013

Lance Arthur
10 min readSep 30, 2013

Here’s something funny: I suffer from clinical depression.

Some of you, who are familiar with my body of work, are already nodding your heads and looking at each other in your coffee shops where you steal your WiFi from and mouthing ‘ooooh, of course, it all makes so much sense’ with all the shock and dismay I imagine you also evinced when I came out online as gay after so many articles about shoes and hair products that, really, how could I not be?

This is a recent diagnosis from a professional therapist to whom I pay $150 a week so that we may sit across from each other in dreaded comfy chairs and he asks, inevitably, “How was your week?” to which I answer, inevitably, “Uuuhhhhmmmm….”

If you’re unfamiliar with what makes it clinical depression versus just, like, sort of bummed out about your coffee tasting slightly off, think of it this way: When one is depressed, it’s like just hearing they cancelled Twin Peaks. When one is clinically depressed, it’s like Twin Peaks is still in its amazing first season when there were dwarves and throwing things for Tibetan insight and coffee and pie and you just heard that they cancelled Twin Peaks every day.

See, that’s how dark my world is.

In a way I guess I have always suffered from it (though it feels far less like ‘suffering’ and far more like ‘slogging’), which may account for my on-going need to be despised and disliked online for everything I do and say.

That’s really what this is all about, my continual though stuttering output of words, words and more words to an invisible audience whom I will probably never meet nor need to please. I can sit here in relative safety with this beautiful brushed-aluminum contrivance before me and push my mushy fingers at the mushy keys and the shit stuck inside my head comes out here.

You, of course, are never forced to read it, and I’m certain that makes us both happy — or whatever I do that masquerades as happiness and looks like I’m smiling rather than grimacing and looking for someplace to hide.

In a sense, it’s somewhat of a relief to realize I am mentally unbalanced. I had always suspected that to be the case, and to have clinical proof of it makes me feel oddly comforted.


Clinical depression is no way to live. In fact, it’s often how one dies. I’ve come close a couple of times but never really summoned up the, what, courage? Not courage. Cowardice? Shame? Horror? Whatever it is, I’ve never scooped enough of it into the soup bowl of everyday living to down a bottle of pills or shotgun my head off or go to the White House and behave irrationally so that the police are forced to gun me down like a character in Grand Theft Auto.

Making it through life, or maybe this dream that we’re all sharing (though why we’d all agree to put the Kardashians and the state of Florida in this dream — often at the same time — I have no idea), is sometimes challenging. I am more often cowering in my apartment than accepting that party invitation you issued to me and others online and I had to come up with the lamest excuse imaginable or maybe just lie and say I was going to attend, getting dressed up and flossing and shellacking my hair into place only to look at myself in the mirror and watch my own lips move like someone else looking back at me from a better, prettier world than this one as I tell myself that I’m not going anywhere, don’t be foolish, who wants to see you like this, anyway?


I am in therapy, as I mentioned. Or back in it, since the first time didn’t seem to take, determined to get better, whatever that means, because from the bottom of this hole things don’t look all that much like I want to be a part of them. Congress and Syria and bankers getting away with ruining everyone’s lives and Russia being an asshole and on and on and on. Really, how do any of you actually have kids?

I don’t know how to do that, turns out. Not the making kids part, which becomes pretty obvious fairly early in life (though I had decided that I didn’t want to introduce more little human lives into this place that I don’t see as being particularly supportive of them), but rather the digging my way out of the cesspool and into the bright, shiny daylight.

I am trying, and one way I thought it might work would be to take a trip from my safe, shit-sidewalked, homeless-filled, douchebag-breeding environment of San Francisco and go to a magical place filled with happy people doing exactly what they always wanted to in hopes that it might rub off on me somehow like a leaking plastic bag at the bottom of the lunchbox.

I went to XOXO.

I miss writing. I used to do it a lot and enjoyed spilling the words trapped inside the darkness of my head into glowing pixels on someone else’s screen. Truth be told, since we’re being honest here, you and me, I also enjoyed the attention. Maybe that’s because I couldn’t handle it in real life, the part where people like you and want to be with you and understand you and still like you having understood you. Maybe that’s because I’m an egotist and need to be stroked intellectually since people touching me physically often makes me flinch.

Either way, I miss it, and can’t pinpoint why I no longer do it with the regularity and exhausting amount that I used to do. I tell myself the following at different times:

  1. I hate repeating myself and I think I’ve told you all the stories I have.
  2. Who the fuck cares?
  3. It won’t be the same because that was the birth of the web and it was something magical and special and we’ll never repeat that now and who wants to project more vomit out there into the vast nothingness anyway? Fuck facebook. Fuck Twitter. Fuck everything.

Those all seemed like good reasons (excuses (reasons)) to me.


I have no passion. None. For anything or anyone. I lost it somewhere. Or it abandoned me, which amounts to the same thing. And one needs passion, I believe. It doesn’t matter what it’s for as long as one has it. Passion fuels the fire to keep going. Passion is the thing that gives life to love, and power to dreams, and pushes us on when nothing and no one else will.

I wanted passion back. So I figured that if I surrounded myself with it — with people fired up with it in a variety of ways — that simply by some emotional osmosis I would soak it in like a dry sponge tossed into an ocean. Even if I could not — would not — personally engage with the people pumping out passion, there would be just so fucking much of it that I’d have to rediscover it, wouldn’t I? The passion to do, to make, to feel, just to fucking feel something other than this dark worthlessness.

That’s why I went to XOXO. That’s what I was looking for. Escape from my darkness by becoming a passion sponge.

That’s just the introduction, by the way. And now you’re groaning and looking at your bookmarks because, “Really? You’re that concerned about us knowing your secret inner turmoil which, c’mon now, anyone who knows you or who’s read anything you’re written in, like, forever can smell your secret turmoil like a dog fart in a space capsule.”

It’s my struggle, okay? The struggle to be understood when I don’t even understand myself. I don’t understand you. I don’t understand people. People who fall in love so easily and people who follow their dreams and then, against all the odds and demons and landmines, actually find them. People leading lives of seeming ease and happiness.

I don’t understand you, but for some reason I ache for you to understand me, then maybe you can explain me to me and we’ll both be in the same time zone.

That was the aside. I do that a lot. Rambling dissertations leading nowhere. I think I learned that in college. This is another aside explaining the former one. This one is now over.

It was constantly threatening to rain in Portland. The skies were murky grey like used dishwater, the wind was pushing things around like a high school bully. The first day was deemed “Social,” a word that usually makes me want to run screaming in the other direction.

It’s important (for me) to note that I don’t not like people. People I like fine. I don’t like me. So I enter situations like this determined not to meet people who I am convinced will then also not like me, and we will all not like me at the same time in the same place.

Is that rational? Do people hate me the moment they meet me? Usually, no, they do not. But why take that chance, am I right? Who’s with me on this one? Cool, let’s all go someplace in separate cars and agree never to see each other again.

I’m super uncomfortable in crowds of any sort, and particularly in crowds where I know less than half of the people in those crowds. Here I was in a crowd of hundreds and I personally knew much less than half of them. My goal in these situations is to try to disappear and not make an impact on any of them, stay out of their way, try not to talk to them and become human wallpaper. As a 6-foot, 1-inch 240-pound man with a fairly large grey beard and the grace of an alcoholic elephant on a bender, that’s sometimes a challenge. I often dress in dark clothing in order to camouflage myself as a moving wall, perhaps designed by Alessi to appear to be vaguely man-shaped. Still, I give it my all, I keep my head down, my mouth shut, and hug the real wall as if it were my mother’s teat.

But then I need to go back and revisit one of my goals in coming to Portland in the first place — passion sponging. Easy to stay a dry sponge if you never approach the ocean. So with heart in my throat and sweat in my palms, I found a chair near the back and began to listen to stories.

As Derek Powazek taught me, the world and its people are made of stories. One does not stand up before a crowd of other people and spout random words connected into sentence facsimiles and expect to connect. One tells stories. So I listened to the stories of others finding the pathways to passion and success.

I teared up a few times on Saturday. Passion does that to people. Passion and onions. We heard from one of the guys, Max Temkin, behind Cards Against Humanity, or as I like to call it, That Game Where You Find Out Why You Like Your Friends. He told the story of the making of the game and used two examples of passionate people, Aaron Swartz and David Foster Wallace who were so passionate about the things that they were passionate about that they killed themselves.

Which, yeah, not what I was hoping for. I mean, that wasn’t my only takeaway from that one but, Jesus.

Saturday proceeded along these lines as I strained to recognize kindred spirits and inspiration in the talks we were given. I’m not sure what I was looking for, but I wasn’t finding it.

I hasten to say that this wasn’t because the talks were bad, because they weren’t. One or two were…awkward, from my perspective. But you’re never going to like every donut in the box.

Admittedly, I am also reticent to be critical of any aspect of the conference since it feels more like being invited over to someone’s living room to enjoy a light repast whilst discussing important matters and decisions with people you like and would like to be around more, except why would you be invited over there when all you keep thinking about is, “I hope I do not fart too loudly when using the public facilities, for people will think badly of me and my farts.”

Saturday night, like Friday night, was made up of opposing forces of social gathering. On top was a film festival, and underneath that was a tabletop gaming frenzy. Friday was an either-or of music versus live-action gaming (not, I hasten to add, any form of LARPing, though I would’ve LOVED that SO MUCH it HURTS).

As you can imagine, if you’ve been paying attention at all (and I can only assume you haven’t if you’ve managed to get this far because I have literally stopped writing this article twice now and decided it’s just not worth it only to come back here and keep typing because I am the web’s Sally Field and you’re the Academy) deciding which large group of people I’d rather not be in is a bit of a challenge, but luckily no one was going to be paying any attention to me, anyway.

Darkness is helpful in both a literal and figurative sense to me, so watching movies is great. Except when for some odd reason people in the audience start imagining they’re watching movies in their own living rooms and start having conversations out loud like the movie they’ve come to see is interfering in the fun they’re having. Which happened.

But whatever.


Did I enjoy XOXO? Yes, I certainly did. Did it provide what I wanted?


But let’s be frank, or really let’s be anyone but me for a moment and reflect on the impossibility of a conference of any sort helping me get through this period of life I like to refer to as “life.”

A conference is a place to go to learn things. A conference can also inspire and charm and influence. I left XOXO feeling more or less like I arrived, meaning that what was happening and being proposed (which in my head was ‘you can do this, too; we have the tools, we have the technology, we have the crowd-funding’) had little to do with my problems (I am uninspired and passionless). The people on stage, for the most part, had stories of success and finding happiness in doing what they wanted to do, except for….

Well, I’m not gonna name names because that’s not in the spirit of the festivities. We’re supposed to group-hug everyone, I guess, even when they’re assholes.

I‘m still looking for passion in this world. Passion for anything. Anything at all. I would like to care again. I would like to find something important. Something worth it. Worth doing. Worth living for.

Another day in paradise.



Lance Arthur

I don't know why, I just do.