I Invite You to Laugh at My Failure: Lessons from a Failed Business


I stink of it.

But, I’m ready to talk now. It is time to show off my fresh thousand-yard stare.

I want to say something like, “I’m telling you this so you don’t make the same mistakes.” But I believe in you, and I think you’re smarter than I am, and you never would have gotten yourself into this shit in the first place.

With the help of some friends, I started a co-working space last year. It lasted 6 months, and I ended up losing money on something  I thought would be an at least somewhat profitable endeavor.

One day I’ll look back on this and laugh. Hopefully that day is tomorrow.

The Allure of the Co-Working Space

A year or so after I started freelancing, I found the crushing loneliness of working from home unbearable. And that’s coming from me, a witch who lives in a cave in the woods. So I decided to “put myself out there” (ew) and join a co-working space.

Lucky for me, there was a co-working space in a warehouse just a couple of blocks from where I lived.

There was a casual atmosphere. It was an atmosphere where you found yourself looking around, wondering what the hell anyone there did to make money. Around 3 pm, most of the members would trickle into the warm embrace of a happy hour. People I can best describe as “Redditors” would slink in after the sunset, asking where they could buy bitcoins.

Soon, management said, they would move us to a nicer warehouse.

But the new warehouse wouldn’t be an ordinary co-working space. Oh, no.

They described it as a self-contained universe where people traded only in Bitcoin and kept everything as off the grid as possible. There would be showers! And a kitchen with a chef! And hammocks! And a woodworking shop! And a recording studio! Why, you’d hardly ever need to leave or speak to your family ever again!

It was a bit much.

So four members decided to strike out on their own. They found an office space that was close enough to downtown to climb onto the roof and pee on some tech startups.

I started sticking my nose into their plans. I wanted to be a part of their world. I wanted to have a tiny amount of power over a tiny amount of people.

“Do you want to be a big dog?” one of the co-founders asked me.

“I’m a big dog,” I told her.

And so I threw my $1,000 dog hat into the ring.

Many co-working spaces are incredibly pricey, and we charged only $100 per month. In this land of Vuka and WeWork, which will set you back at least $200+/mo, we were something of a sweet deal.

Or so I thought.

Lesson 1. Have Only Correct Thoughts

We picked our office space based on location. It was on Austin’s East Side, the part of town that has shops that only sell miniature succulents.

How much space do we need?

Not that much, right?

We found something small and affordable. It was a tiny, L-shaped office within a larger suite, right next to a popular cafe called Brew & Brew. (The East Side is very much the ampersand part of town).

It didn’t have windows. But it was so damn affordable!

Who needs windows? You’re there to work, not look out a window like a trust fund baby.

Lesson 2. Do Not Lie About Windows

There were stock photos on our website. We failed to update the photos before our first happy hour that we hosted to attract clients.

A pristine graphic designer that smelled of jasmine and Icelandic spring water said, “I thought those were the actual pictures. This space has no natural light.” And promptly saw herself out.

Lesson 3. Never Underestimate the Modern Passion for Windows

Overwhelmingly, the feedback we got from potential members was: No windows, no deal.

People fucking love windows.

“But the outside world will distract you!” I would reason.

“Natural light,” they would scream.

Ok, we don’t have natural light. But what about inner light?

We started hosting donation-based yoga. Sheer desperation.

Lesson 4. People Can Tell When You’re Using Art to Cover Up the Lack of Windows

Last Days Dark and EmptyJPG

We had a couple of artist friends come and hang some of their stuff. Riding high on their new installations, I started referring to our space as a having a “gallery vibe.” I know that’s annoying, but I’m too much inside my own brain to tell you exactly how. I’m sure you can all let me know.

I thought it looked great.

But check out the competition.

Here are some pictures of a co-working space I visited recently. (Cheapest general co-working membership: $275/month.)

Impact Hub Couch

Crashed airplane furniture

I sat in a corner decorated to look like the cargo of an airplane that had recently crashed in a lush jungle. Which is the type of atmosphere that makes me feel both comfortable and productive!

When I first walked in, a muscular Steve Jobs-type wearing Fashion Glasses™ greeted me. “How do you share your awesome with the world?” he asked, as if that’s something that’s ok to say.

I looked around. Windows for dayyyyys.

Lesson 5. Decide How Hard to Party. Party that Hard, and No Harder

There was some confusion over whether we should drink the wine that I bought for a future event for lunch.

I imposed a new rule: No wine at lunch.

Many of the people who were joining wanted an atmosphere like our previous co-working space. “Let’s haaaaaang!” They said, right around 3 pm.

I spent a quiet afternoon gathering empties and putting them into the appropriate receptacle.

Y’know what? Just no more booze.

“But what if one of our members wants to drink in the middle of the day?”

“I’ll be the bad guy.” I told my co-founders. “Blame the no-booze thing on me.”

Lesson 6. Be Prepared for the Getting Side-Eye from a Member Who Would Like to Drink their Lunch

Nothing else to add here.

Lesson 7. Can’t Make a Honey Pot with No Honey.

The worst idea was definitely the tab. As an incentive, memberships came with an open tab at the coffee shop next door.  All members had to do was mumble our name under their breath, and hey presto, drinks for free.

And where should we advertise this magical tab?  We ended up posting it on our public page. Eventually we discovered that people who were not members were putting their drinks on our tab.

This was, of course, a nuclear holocaust. Do not create a honeypot out of honey that will become radioactive and transform into a honey monster that robs you at gunpoint.

Lesson 8. Spiral Into a Deep Depression And Take Pictures of Sad, Deflated Balloons in the Hallway.

Sad Balloons

Lesson 9. Embrace Death

Four months after we started our space, some other friends opened a co-working space. Their new spot had more of that casual fun that everyone craves. There were even a few windows. Pretty quickly our members started to jump ship and voyage to the new space for a better life.

It’s hard when you make something that people don’t like. But at the same time, the mistakes we made were glaring. Looking back, I’m like, duuuuuuuuuuuh

Lesson learned. Some lessons are more expensive than others.

Lesson 10. Can I tempt anyone with this decorative IKEA plant?

I’ll cut you a deal.

Plants from Ikea




Texas Hill Country

If you look closely at a map of Central Texas, you’ll see the grey wake of a thousand ghosts, their shadows long over the scrubby hills and green rush of the Colorado River.


Central Texas has a lot of towns that were settled by sweaty Germans in the early to mid-19th century.

Some have cool names, like Zodiac.

Most have German names, like Luckenbach.

Many were wiped out either by floods, or by boll weevils that weeviled so fast and so furious that before anyone could say “What the what?!” (in German) there tweren’t nothin’ left but a pile of bugged-up cotton puffs.

Because I have a complicated soul the idea of ghost towns appeals to me. (Liberal arts degree, moved to Austin, “freelance writer”, kale salad — you get the picture.) My hill country road trip took place at the beginning of the summer.

I stuffed my car with all the adventurous ladies I could find.

Katie thought it would be jolly to pick nicknames, and expressed a wish that I refer to her as “Young Lunch Money,” like the corner boys did in her homehood of Harlem. I’m only mentioning this to avoid recriminations for leaving it out. (You don’t know what she’s like).

Annie, aka Lil’ Chicken Sticks (I shan’t explain), would be our guide, as she grew up in in the quaint central Texas town of Dripping Springs, aka “The Dirty Drip,” according to Annie’s friends in middle school.

(Katie helpfully volunteered an alternate title for this post: “BORN TO BE WILD: YUNG LUNCH MONEY, LIL CHICKEN STIX, AND THE CAPTAIN HIT TO ROAD.” For future reference, audience participation is never welcome.)

It had rained heavily the night before our trip, and we discovered our chosen route had flooded. Every year Texans pray for rain to relieve the near-constant drought, and they are punished on an annual basis with biblical floods.

Should we turn around? Or was there another way?

What was it our parents did, once there were no more tears left?

And so we decided to stop at a gas station to look at a map. Surely a map would be more detailed than whatever Apple or Google had slapped together one boozy week night, doing their best to nail a deadline.

While Annie and I puzzled over directions, Katie found time to shop for souvenirs. (This is what she’s like.)

Katie Shopping

As it turns out, maps suck. No wonder all our parents are divorced. (Except mine. Usually I would leave this out, but as we’ve established I’m a coward.)

We set our sights on the ghost town of Luckenbach. Along the way, we kept seeing signs for wineries.

When I picture vineyards, I imagine rolling hills and soft summer rain.

“Mustang grapes,” Annie explained. They thrive on the edges of woods in east Texas’ subtropical climate. Too tart to eat raw, they end up in jams and the very sweet wines of Fat Ass Ranch.

Fat Ass Ranch

We got just drunk enough to drive the rest of the way to Luckenbach. (I’m not backing down from this one.)

All that’s left of the historic town is a post office, a dance hall, and this fried pickle stand.

Luckenback Pickle Stand

It’s not so much a “ghost town” as a concert venue and, like so many small towns in America, a place to display all the nostalgic license plates you could ever want.

I have a question, America.


Luckenback License Plates

A giant cow caught my eye near the entrance. There was a man standing next to the cow who appeared to be charging $8 to sit on it.

“Can I ride this cow?”

Aprraising Cow

“Y’all not from here?” the cow guardian (is there a name for these????) asked, with classic Texan impertinence.

Out in the country, my Mid-Atlantic jibber-jabber makes the hair on the back of many a sunburned neck stand up. People look at me like I’m Fran Drescher.

I explained, apologetically, that I’m from Maryland, and that Katie has the nerve to hail from New York.

Annie mentioned that she’s from the Dirty Drip. The cow master eyed her fair skin.

“Musta’ not let you get outside much.”

“They did! But slathered in sunscreen,” she demurred.

He furrowed his brows, to the point that his caterpillar eyebrows grazed his walrus mustache.

“You know where all the sunscreen goes when you shower? Into the ocean.”

We chuckled nervously.

“You know what they call the ocean now? A Dead Zone.”

We let that sink in for a second.

Annie decided to take a firm tone. “Both of my parents have skin cancer, so…” She shrugged, half smiling, as if to to say, “I’d rather not die of skin cancer.”

The apparent CEO of Luckenbach Cow Corp was quick with his comeback: “Me too.”

The tension was building. Continue reading

How to Announce Your Breakup (God, I hope my ex doesn’t read this.)

Oh my god, this is going to be so juicy.

I’m spilling the beans like never before.

And I’m going to do it with 27 years of  panache.

When someone is dealing with a breakup, their friends often have to deal with a narrative that, frankly, isn’t all that tight.

But I’m nailing that aspect of the split.

For future reference, you should have a 15-second explanation of your breakup at the ready. Feel free to use this template I’m providing.

  1. We decided we wanted different things.
  2. I’m going to stay with my [friends/parents] until I find a new place.
  3. It was hard, but for the best.
  4. Anyway. What’s YOUR dick look like, homie?

Remember to shrug at the end, and don’t overthink it. The sooner everyone knows, the sooner no one will care.

There is, of course, the long version.

I know the modern reader loves other people’s pain, and I would never deprive you. After all, you’re the one I’ve secretly always wanted. Leave your address in the comment section, and I’ll be over once I’m done painting my nails.

Part 1. Chaos

This breakup was a whirlwind. Things were great, and then they weren’t, and our relationship dissolved over the course of a mere 4 days. One minute we were deciding where to put the Donald Trump Piñata, and the next I was shuttling around my Donald Trump Piñata in my trunk, as I crashed at a series of friend’s houses.

This is a stupid problem to have:

Trump Trunk

I spent the next couple of weeks imagining how I would have to change all of my routines to avoid a run-in with my ex-boyfriend.

We used to always get breakfast tacos from the same sweet taco spot. I imagined the people working there saying, “Did you hear? One vegan taco, one avocado taco split up with one vegan, one sweet potato chorizo. They’re going to be ordering separate tacos from now on. God, I’m going to miss that taco order.”

We have a tendency to overestimate how much our breakup effects others.

Someone saw me drop a cabbage while I was at my office co-op. I had a cabbage with me due to a series of logistical problems caused by my nomadic lifestyle.

“Fuck! My cabbage!” I screamed.

Then I self-consciously announced that I had a cabbage with me because of a breakup.

“I knew something was up when I saw your cabbage,” one onlooker said, subtly pointing out that no one cares that you have a cabbage, and no one is interested in your boring broken heart.

Part II. Stifle 

I’ve made a lot of good friends in the past year, and a couple of them let me clog up their houses with my sadness.

I watched 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt almost nonstop. It’s important to never give your brain any space to waggle its pain receptors, which can turn into a pretty exhausting routine. “Stifle. And stifle. Keep stifling. That’s it! You’re doing great! Remember, silence is trying to kill you!”

At some point you’ll need to loosen up. Beer is a no. Wine is a hard no. Gin always treats me right, but you’ll have to experiment.

When you drink, you will have a sudden urge to say some very, very mean things to your ex. This brings me to my next point: Tinder has its uses (definitely not sex). Why say something spiteful that you’ll regret, when instead you could say something weird to a stranger?

Choose wisely. You have but one life to live.

Part III. Return to The Birthplace, Much Like a Sea Turtle. 

I went to stay with my parents in my childhood home until it was time to move to my new place.

It’s not until you’re swimming away from the sinking wreck of H.S.S. Love Boat  that you truly appreciate your parents.

Ah, home.

Where you know there will always be a stack of anti-Clinton literature in the bathroom, within easy reach of the toilet.

Bathroom Literature

Continue reading

Trump Piñatas: You Bought HOW MANY?

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with [them]. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

My dad called me shortly following the Donald’s speech last summer.

“Have you seen the piñatas?”

I had not.

In the months following Donald Trump’s July remarks about Mexicans, there was an outcry in Austin’s Mexican-American community. This protest mainly took the form of piñatas.

My dad knows that I live in the piñata-rich territory of east Austin. He ordered me to snap one up and send it to him in sad, piñata-free Maryland.

Contemptible Impudence Sr. lives to be politically antagonistic. Lately he’s been bellowing about how he might vote for Trump. I think he’s kidding, but I’m not sure. My father is a complicated man.

This is the first Donal Trump Piñata I spotted one weekend in early July, hanging in the doorway of J&J Liquors on east 11th.

Trump Pinata J&J

I went inside and asked the proprietor of J&J Liquors where he had found this charming specimen.

“My friend came in and asked if he could stash it here for a little while. That was last week.”

The abandoned Trump’s mouth hung agape. How could someone do this to him? He had done nothing but spread joy!

Soon after I started seeing Trumps in every piñata store in east Austin. On East Cesar Chavez, the neighborhood’s main drag, there are four piñata stores in less than a half mile.

All of the Trump piñatas wear black suits, white shirts, and red ties. The best ones have giant lips and gaping mouths. None of them play up the squinty eyes to my satisfaction, and some of them look downright jolly.

I decided to go to each of the 4 piñata stores in my neighborhood, until I was certain I had found my one true Trump.

Continue reading

Our Lady of East Austin and the Downtown Aztecs

December 12th is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. You probably already knew that, but I had to learn the hard way.

I woke up in the wee hours of the morning to the sound of horns and some soft drumming.

I decided to see what was amiss.

When I opened the front door, I saw a group of around 15 people holding flashlights, horns, small drums, and tambourines. They formed a slow procession that surrounded a man shuffling along the street on his knees, using a couple of yoga mats for cushioning. Once he had shuffled the length of one yoga mat, one of his buddies brought the rear yoga mat to the front.

I retreated back inside and groggily Googled “Austin parade knees dawn why.” Eventually I learned that the Catholic church down the street has a large Mexican congregation, and that this morning marked the anniversary of the day the Virgin Mary appeared to an Aztec man on a hill in Mexico and told him she needed him to build her a church. This particularly Mexican version of the Virgin Mary came to be known as Our Lady of Guadalupe (OLG)®.

I returned to bed.

A few hours later, a much larger, noisier procession appeared. Most of the performers wore Aztec costumes. The musicians played wild Aztec jazz.

More Dancing

For the rest of the afternoon I saw people headed for the church, many of them carrying bouquets of flowers and pictures of OLG.

“EXCUSE ME! CAN I TAKE YOUR PHOTO?” I hollered at this mother-daughter duo as they scuttled to catch up with the rest of the parade.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

In Austin, you can see evidence everywhere of the strong ties between the Aztec people and OLG.

On Cesar Chavez there is a popular business called Leal’s Tires. According to Yelp, they quickly and efficiently patch tires.

Leal’s owners pay tribute to the Aztecs and hot Aztec maidens with the murals on the sides of their building.

I’m not a fan of the body language on display here. Mostly because I’m not a fan of the fucking patriarchy, even if it puts on a feather headdress and disguises itself as a marginalized indigenous people.

2015-12-29 15.15.24

On all fours? Really, Moctezuma?

I’m sure there’s a lot about the Aztecs that we can all still appreciate. Stepped pyramids? Give em to me. Ritualized heart removal? Can’t get enough.

But based on this one mural they seem like macho dicks.

Directly across the street you can visit a liquor store called East 1st Grocery. Emblazoned on the side of the building is Our Lady, looking on pityingly at the tire store Aztecs, as if to say “U think ur hot but ur not.”

2015-12-29 15.13.11 HDR

All of the stories of OLG that I read online seemed flat and colorless. In the mist of a sleep-deprived daydream, I suddenly remembered where I had first heard of her.

A certain little storytelling dog named Wishbone covered the legend of OLG in the mid 90s.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 11.44.47 AM

Wishbone played Juan Diego, the Aztec man that bumped into OLG on Tepeyac Hill. Tepeyac Hill is significant because it has served as the location of an Aztec temple before the Spanish smashed it to bits. OLG told Juan Diego that she needed a church in that same spot. She spoke to him in the Aztec language of Nahuatl, so Juan Diego would get that she was down with the cause. Continue reading

Pickle School with the Austin Learnshop

Earlier this year I joined a hippy work space collective. I’ve been freelancing for two years now, and working from home breeds madness. Going to cafes is expensive, and I have a medical condition where I need to be coldly ignoring lots of people before I can do any work.

As an added perk, sometimes my office holds events for its members. Last month I attended Austin Learnshop‘s pickling workshop. I currently live in a household that is at the whim of a kombucha scobie, so pickling seemed like something I could probably incorporate into my lifestyle.

The class was led by a young pickle entrepreneur named Sheena, of Sheena’s Pickles Facebook Page fame.

Sheena’s Pickles: A Brief History

Sheena got into pickling right before one “broke-ass Christmas.” She spread pickled cheer throughout the land, and forever after her pickles were in high demand. Sheena’s fridge is continually packed with pickles, and the hordes of wailing pickle-gobblers are never far from her door.

She also makes jams.

“Any questions?” she asked before we began. Some Paranoid Patty asked about botulism. Sheena explained that botulism only forms at very high temperatures. You only need those kinds of temps for canning – jarring doesn’t get hot enough for that kind of freak funk to form.

Pickle Ingredients

At each table the picklers had an array of flavoring agents at our disposal. Sheena warned us to go easy with the jalapeño: “I don’t want you all shitting fire.”

Sheena passed out latex gloves and warned the gentlemen in the room about the dangers of mixing spicy peppers and penises. Women also put on gloves, who knows why.

(Don’t be naive. In case we wanted to touch penises later.)

We were free to paint our pickle canvases in shades of carrot, green bean, okra, and zucchini. Johnson’s Backyard Garden, an organic farm in Austin, provided all of the vegetables.

Eli, one of my co-workers, sank into a deep depression once he learned that there was no cucumber. He looked at his zucchini, betrayed. “This isn’t cucumber?”

I sharply reminded him that Sheena had specifically announced cucumbers weren’t in season. “Weren’t you paying attention?”

Another woman at our pickling table was more compassionate. Mary kept handing Eli odds and ends to add to his jar, in hopes of cheering him up.

There there. Have a carrot.

Pickle Pout

He pouted for the duration of the class.

“I thought we were making REAL pickles.”

Eventually someone pointed out that Eli’s vegetables were too short for his jar, which increased his sorrows by tenfold.

(I stuffed my jar perfectly. Everyone noticed.)

Dry Jar

For my veggies I tossed in mostly carrots and green beans, along with a couple of okra. Then I threw in some zucchini, so as to not hurt the zucchini’s feelings. I also chucked in a couple of sprigs of fresh dill, slam-dunked a small clove of garlic from the 3-point line, and catapulted in a few hearty pinches of seasoning using a tiny, medieval trebuchet.


For those of you all who thought pickling was just taking a nap while your cucumbers soak in vinegar: You think you grown, but you ain’t.

There is an arsenal of special pickling tools. Continue reading

The Tale of the Grocery Store Slasher

Want to hear a scary story?

Earlier in the summer the parking lot of my favorite grocery store became a crime scene.

On June 5th, 2015, at 1:30 am, a woman was heading back to her car in the South Congress H-E-B grocery parking lot when a man attacked her, slashing her throat and taking her purse. The woman stumbled back to the grocery store, where a security guard found her. The security guard staunched the blood with his vest. Doctors say his attentions likely saved her life, and she has since recovered and left the hospital.

Edward Roy Bennett was charged with attempted capital murder the following month. When he was arrested, he suggested the police “put it out there to the public that they should just do what a robber says and give them what they want, so that it would save police from having to go looking for a dead body, and that instead we would be able to just get a report from a victim.”

I’ll do whatever I want, Eddy.

Ever since moving to Texas I have shopped at H-E-B, a San Antonio-based grocery chain found only in Texas and a few towns in Mexico. H-E-B, according to one madwoman on the internet, is known for its “impeccably stacked produce.” It also has a lot of goods made right here in Texas, which people seem to like. Especially these adorable Texas-shaped chips.

HEB Chips

In recent years H-E-B has expanded its brand to include a luxury grocery called Central Market. Central Market makes Whole Foods look like a hot dumpster.

At the time of his arrest Bennett was on parole. He had a considerable rap sheet – he stabbed and killed a man in Texas in the 1980s, and stabbed a correctional officer in the face in the 1990s. Upon his arrest, Bennett outlined his plans to stab one of the guards at the prison.

Police zeroed in on Bennett as a suspect in the stabbing after his parole officer raised concerns about his whereabouts and his keen interest in stabbing.

H-E-B is named for Howard Edward Butts, one of the original CEOs of the grocery store. His mother, Florence Butts, founded the grocery store chain in 1905. H-E-B has been around a long time, and knows how to get over some unpleasantness. Shortly after the stabbing, I noticed the storefront of the South Congress H-E-B looked even more cheerful than I remembered.

This new mural represents the beautiful tapestry of culture in south Austin. The women, the men, the olives, the half-dozens of eggs that selfish hipsters bring back to their empty apartments to eat, alone and unloved.There is a man talking on the phone in the 70s. “Broc-O-Mite, baby!” he exclaims, full of hope for the future.


If you look even closer, you’ll notice a stark portrayal of the dark side of Austin culture.

His dead eyes glower at his captor, a typical overconfident Austin woman, brimming with foody zeal.


He doesn’t WANT the apple, Eunice! He’ll switch to a plant-based diet when he’s good and ready, and not before!

I shop at this H-E-B because it is my favorite H-E-B, not because it is the closest H-E-B to my house. The one nearest to me is in an area of Austin that has yet to cater to uppity newcomers such as myself. My neighborhood has only just tipped the scale from Cool N’ Shitty to Laughably Unaffordable. The grocery store hasn’t quite caught up, and does not supply me with necessities like More Than One Type of Quinoa, and miracles of genetic engineering like plumcots, and plumogranate pluots.

(“What the hell is wrong with plums?” my dining companion asked. Not a thing, simple boy. Not a thing.)

I am a loyal South Congress H-E-B customer, throat slashers or no.

They make a point of pointing out which products were made with pride in the USA.

They correct themselves with a sharpie when they forgot.


They alert me when the frozen bread section has become incredibly hazardous.

Frozen Bread Emergency

But I can’t say our relationship is totally free of betrayals. Continue reading