How do I love failure? Let me count the ways

April 17th, 2023

I’ve mentioned several times that the story of my book, Us, is the story of failure; but today, I want to count the ways.

Because I’m an eternal optimist, however, failure is always only half of a story.

The other half is a lesson, an annoying ray of sunshine as a bookend to perceived misery.

Let us, then, count both the ways.

Failure #1: Writing the story

Us was not easy for me to write. At all. I knew how it ended, I knew what it was about, and there were still so many nights I sat staring at a blank computer screen, realizing for certain that I was not, in fact, a writer, and I was never going to write again.

Among my active alcoholism, my inactive imagination, my overactive sense of doubt and sometimes debilitating lack of self-esteem, I found myself drowning.

Then November came.

I had long wanted to do two things: write a story about dreams, and participate in National Novel Writing Month, which takes place around Thanksgiving, and is exactly what it sounds like: a challenge to write a whole book in one month.

A few days into November, the ending to Flip, a story that I, myself, had been dreaming about, told itself to me. I decided to shift from Us to work on Flip, and I did it, finishing the novella in a month and releasing it that December.

It gave me a new lease on Us and I was able to finish it by its release date: April 1st, 2014, exactly a year after Them.

Lesson #1: Creativity is a strange thing. (Like, duh.) I have to leave myself open to inspiration and new paths that reveal themselves to me, even if they’re scary. (Especially if they’re scary.) Since then, I’ve never only worked on one thing at a time; I always have several projects at different stages in motion. Always.

Failure #2: The Kickstarter

The funding of Us was my second Kickstarter campaign. I upped the goal after successfully funding Them, and I had ample confidence that I would succeed.

Spoiler alert from here, the future: I failed.

Lesson #2: Nothing is guaranteed. Running the exact same campaign, with the exact same product and reward, but expecting more money for it was both foolish and selfish. Next time around, I added another book — the aforementioned Flip — to the campaign, to much greater success. I learned that giving people variety and choice was a win-win, and have utilized that mindset since, leading to four successively successful Kickstarters.

Failure #3: The response

Us came out and… nobody cared.

It remains the book of mine that is talked about least, at least to me. Even after getting two decent reviews in the Faribault Daily News (for my previous novellas, Them and Flip), they moved on, and so did everybody else.

I don’t blame you.

Lesson #3: I didn’t really look inward on this (and everything else) until I got sober, but the lesson for me is I can’t care if other people care.

Because they haven’t, and some forever won’t.

If you’ve done the math, you’ll see that Us came out in early 2014, and I didn’t release another anything until later in 2018, and that was an issue of a comic book.

This shit hit me hard.

It was the same thing that happened with The Next Step; after releasing three albums that nobody outside a baby handful of people cared about, I knew that I just wasn’t good enough at music to keep doing it.

What I had to do was some hard-to-swallow soul-searching, and that resulted in the scientific finding that I was a bit of a piece of shit and I needed to change.

Writing and art was and continues to be a big part of that process. Sure, it’s hard not to care what others think of what I do, and I fail often, but ultimately it’s most important that I care about what I do.

So I do.

(And I found I strengthened a part of myself; I feel differently about writing than I did music. With writing, I DO feel good enough, and it’s just something I can never cut off. Blessing and a curse, or some shit like that.)

Failure #4: The story itself

I’ve described the overall story of Us as half-baked, and I think that’s still true (though the updated Special Edition does the series justice, and I know because I read it again this year).

But that’s not what I’m referring to here. The story of Us itself is actually about failure; about being aware (woke, if you will), and still failing to do a damn thing about it.

There are several interpretations of the ending, and this is one of them; looking around at the world right now, it makes me sick that it feels so true.

We live in a country, particularly, that hates those it considers “other.” We ban books, we censor and “cancel” and build walls so high, they touch the peaks of the moon.

We’re violent; nonsensically so. We’re distrustful; hysterically so.

Them + Us cover all that, and more.

Lesson #4: Be careful what you write, I guess.

But, really, all the failures — personally, financially, professionally — taught me that it doesn’t matter how often or how hard we fail.

I’m still here.

I was told that I couldn’t change my spots or stripes; it has been slapped into my head that things are the way they are and that’s just the way it is.

But it’s not.

It’s not for me, it’s not for you. It’s not for this country or world or universe.

Failure isn’t an ending; it’s a beginning. Over and over and over again.

Us is about cycles, and what we can do to break them; it is an annoying ray of sunshine through a seemingly impenetrable wall of clouds.


Published by dennisvogen

I'm me, of course. Or am I?

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