The worst time of my life
But, beyond Adam Savage, the giant robots, the fire and electricity shows, the beautiful steampunk women, the good energy, the delicious food and the pictures with Daleks; the most beautiful, shocking, awesome and magical moment of the Maker Faire 2013 was when I had just arrived at the Autodesk booth. I saw the giant map of DIYers from around the world, and I realized my picture and profile were representing Colombia and I was one of the three leading makers of South America. I was paralyzed remembering all this journey, from being a complete loser without a future to that point in time and space when I felt absolutely happy, calm, and at peace with myself. It was worth it to keep fighting, just for that sublime moment.
I felt like a Rock Star. Not because I was, but because Instructables and Autodesk made me feel like one.
When people ask me “Why do you love Instructables?” my answers are always the same: because the site is awesome, has amazing projects and great contests with cool prizes; because Instructables is the only one who has supported my DIY activities, especially in my country (Colombia) where science and technology aren’t priorities, and so on.
But I never gave the complete answer.
And now, after these fantastic five months as Artist in Residence, I want to tell the truth:
I love Instructables because they were with me in the worst time of my life.
In 2009, I lost my job as Security Analyst in an important Colombian company. I thought I could subsist thanks to my junk projects and creating my own business, but almost nobody was interested on buying recycled crafts (besides, I wasn’t as good then as I am today.) And the only interested people wanted my works for free.
It was not enough for a living, so after a few months I started looking for a job. Due to its economic situation, Colombia has high rates of unemployment and it’s very hard to find a job, and there’s no government subsidy for unemployed workers (sorry Colombia! One day, I will talk about all your beautiful and fantastic things, because you have a lot. But not today). Besides, when you are a former military officer the only civilian jobs you can apply for are in security because nobody thinks you can be creative; and if you are, nobody takes you seriously.
Every two weeks I had an interview. Every interview ended with just another “we will call you.”
It’s time to confess something to the world: at the same time, I was diagnosed with mild Borderline Personality Disorder and depression. It’s not something that “SHAZAM! You are nuts!”. No. I knew from years ago there was something wrong about me, but just in that moment I found out what I have. Just in case you ask: no, this condition doesn’t make me a bad employee, and I’m very competent in my work. No, I’m not some kind of evil psycho. Just a little bit creepy sometimes, but I always try my best to be a good person. And no, I’m not trying to look like a “dark and bizarre, Tim Burton style” character just because I want to look interesting. It may work for an artist or a teenager, but not for somebody trying to get a job in the security business or a stable relationship.
I didn’t have any health insurance; I didn’t have money for any treatment and, in case I could afford it, there is a social stigma about persons with some kind of mental disorder, and no company would be interested in hiring a security manager with that kind of problem. So, I had to keep it to myself. I didn’t even tell it to my family.
And my girlfriend broke up with me. So, my life was “complete.”
I was without a job, love and almost without my sanity. Almost all of my “friends” were gone. I was drowning in debts. I didn’t have money even for basic things. I had to return to my mother’s house. I lost every goal, every dream, and every hope. The situation was so desperate that I seriously thought about giving up.
But only two things stopped me from doing that. One was Carolina, the only friend I had in that moment.
The other thing was Instructables.
I found the site several months after because I was looking for simple robots ideas. Then, I saw Instructables has contests, and I entered my first project (the “SPD Exoskeleton”) for the 2009 Halloween Contest. A lot of people made awesome comments about my project, and I received my first prize: the “Photojojo!” book and a Robot T-Shirt. “What? I just post pictures of my project on an internet site and they give me free stuff? Interesting!”
Then, I made another project, the “Valentine’s RoboGrinch”. I was a finalist in the 2010 Valentine’s Day Contest. People around the world commented about my ideas, and my projects started to become popular being featured in other sites and blogs around the planet. When I got the First Prize on the Dead Computer Contest, I gave to my mother the netbook I won. It was the only present I could afford to give her in a long time.
In my darkest moments, when I thought about giving up, I remembered I had some project on Instructables I didn’t finish or publish, and then I keep fighting just one or two days more, because I didn’t want to leave it uncompleted. When I finished it, I endured one week more, just for knowing if it was successful in a contest. Sometimes I won. Sometimes I lost. When I could get some money, I used it for buying tools or materials for the projects, instead of food or paying debts. Because I started to think that every project, every idea I was making, every instructable I was writing, was my little legacy to humanity. Probably one day I will die, but at least in some part of the Internet, it would be a proof that I made something good, something that could be appreciated by anybody, and my life was not in vain.
And I started to win more contests. It felt good, because I thought “I’m a loser, but this loser is kicking butts!” With so many fantastic authors, the competition got tougher, so I had to improve my skills (and my English. Instructables was the only opportunity I had to improve and practice this language.) I became very good at making stuff with plastic trash and limited resources!
Besides, without knowing anything about me and my personal situation, even without being on the same country, the Instructables staff and community were (and are) very special and kind with me. They always made me feel respected and loved. Instructables was the only escape I had from my reality. This site has thousands of users and still they had the time to talk to me, to care for me, to make me feel like part of a bunch of friends! They were the only people that didn’t see me or treat me like a loser or somebody who needed to be pitied. They were the only ones that made me feel I wasn’t completely alone on this planet.
All of this situation lasted one year and two months. Instructables kept me fighting almost all of that time.
Finally, in September of 2010, I got a job. It wasn’t the best (honestly, it was horrible!), but at least I was working. Four months later, I got a better job as security manager of a business center, enough to start paying debts.
On October 2010, I went to the Colombian equivalent of Comic-Con, using the Cyborg suit I built for the Instructables’ Dead Computer Contest. Thanks to this, a beautiful woman found me out of the crowd, because she loves robots. She became my biggest fan and we shared a big love. I never thought I could find a love like that. She was the girlfriend I got thanks to Instructables! She was the inspiration of my “Cyborg Heart in a Can”. And I gave it to her.
And then Instructables interviewed me as Featured Author. I would be the first Colombian to be a Featured Author! That was awesome!
In total, I have won twelve Instructables contests and two challenges. Thanks to Instructables, people of all the world know about my cyborgs and my Roboplanters. (The funny thing is I’m still feeling like the black sheep of the family!)
It was 2012. After one and a half year of relationship, my girlfriend and I broke up, for good (our respective problems were stronger than our love.) Besides, I was stuck at work and I couldn’t study something art or robotics related because the restrictive schedule of my job. So, the depression was returning…
I was lying on the couch watching “Doctor Who” when a phrase get stuck in my mind: “All of time and space. Everywhere and anywhere. Every star that ever was. Where do you want to start?” And then I realized that nothing was tying me to Colombia and I could apply to the Instructables Artist in Residence Program. I wanted to know, at least for a few months, how it was to be in the most awesome company in this world.
So I quit my job, I sold most of my belongings, I packed my Dremel, my trench coat and my sonic screwdriver, I said goodbye to my family and I traveled to San Francisco on February 27th of 2013. I didn’t come for the “American Dream”. I came for the “Instructables Dream”!
What can I say? How can I describe the most fantastic experience of my life, using just a few words? How can I summarize five months of happiness, learnings, DIY and good energy, when every day was an amazing adventure?
I felt, after 35 years of life, I finally arrived in the place I belong.
I met the faces behind the site I love and admire. You know who they are (sorry for breaking the magic but, please! Update the Instructables Team page! A lot of awesome people are not there!) I’m trying to not mention specific persons, because I shared awesome experiences with each one of you. Every one of you taught me something, every one of you made me feel appreciated, every one of you does a fantastic job keeping this site working. And I want nobody feels excluded of this post (Sherry always fights for sending out prizes on time, silently. Why nobody says “Thanks Sherry?”) Because Instructables is more than servers and computers and projects and internet. Instructables is the people.
From the beginning, Instructables and the Autodesk Consumer Group made me feel like one of the team, like part of something bigger than myself. The Pizza Thursdays, the Marvelous Mondays, the Build Days, the Design Nights, became magical events for me.
But it wasn’t only Instructables and Autodesk. This beautiful city of San Francisco taught me real lessons about tolerance, respect and being yourself. It doesn’t matter if you are radically different to the other people. Just be a nice person, do your job and respect the others, and everyone will respect you.
I had never touched a CAD software, because I didn’t see any possible use for it in my life. And I thought it was something so complicated that only engineers and designers could use that kind of program. But then I went from 0 to 123D Design! I learned the basics in just two days and I fell in love with this awesome program, and it’s free! (But, seriously guys, try to fix that problem with the crashes. Everyone in the lab knew that when I screamed, it was because the program had a crash and I hadn’t saved the progress). And later, I learned how to use a 3D printer, a machine beyond my wildest dreams!
I remember the infinite sadness the first time I went to the amazing Pier 9 (new installations of Instructables and the Autodesk Consumer Group) and thought I could never try that fantastic technology; and the happiness when Noah told me I could stay two months more! You have all the best freaking hi-tech tools in this freaking world, and you don’t need to be a NASA scientist or a millionaire to use them! This place is waiting for people of all the world, to come with their ideas! (It doesn’t matter how crazy they are). 3D printers, laser cutters, a water jet, a bunch of expensive machines I still don’t know the names of, an awesome test kitchen, metal and wood shops, even a sewing area! And all available for the DIY community!
But, more than being on Pier 9 because the fantastic machines, I loved to stay here because Instructables. My life has good things and bad things, successes and failures. But being part of Instructables and sharing moments with all of you has been the most memorable experience of my whole existence!
I want to say something to my dear friends of Instructables and Autodesk: if one day, for some inexplicable reason, you feel like your work is meaningless, you don’t like it’s Monday or simply you forgot what this is all about, just remember something: you will never know exactly how many lives Instructables has touched: how many persons found their true calling thanks to the projects, and how many persons found a hobby that makes their life happier. How many couples fell in love thanks to the delicious recipes and romantic crafts, and how many parents shared precious moments with their sons building something. But now you will always know, at least, Instructables and Autodesk saved one life. My life!
I wish to finish my post with some “Doctor Who” quote. I love “Doctor Who”, because is all about being awesome and optimistic and keep smiling even in the worst situations or despite you are feeling absolutely sad and alone. And the series has a lot of badass and beautiful quotes!
But now, when I have to start packing my bags, when I have to return to my hometown where I have to pretend I’m a “normal” person and try to get a “normal” job again, when I have to say goodbye to my coworkers (that are at the same time most of the only real friends I have had in my life), and to the greatest organization I have had the honor of being part (where for first time in life I felt truly appreciated, respected and loved, and happy because it was Monday and I could go to work in a company that is making of this world a better place); there’s one, and only one phrase that I got stuck on my head; the last words of David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor when, standing alone after saying goodbye to his loved ones (and to the most awesome time of his life), his final moment comes:
“I don’t want to go.”
Mario Caicedo Langer
Former Artist in Residence.