I Said It Was Time To Quit

thursday april 14th 2011 7:14 PM
riese: i think this is the part where we have to quit laneia
laneia: hello
what is happening
riese: brokeness
is gonna happen
laneia: should we put the ‘we need help’ post up
riese: yah i need to….. finish writing it
laneia: this is not when we quit

It wasn’t the first time or the last time I declared it Time to Quit, a statement I always throw around a bit too carelessly, like it’s some kind of practice for the real thing, something I’m trying on, something I can’t let myself forget is still in the back of the hall closet, should I require it. Like a melodramatic girlfriend who screams LET’S JUST BREAK UP in the middle of a fight about whether or not to take the dog to the vet.

thursday april 14th 2011 7:20 PM
riese: we need to figure out a way to make autostraddle a “project” so that we can make a kickstarter campaign
can you go to kickstarter and read the faq and tell me if you have any ideas
laneia: yes i will read the faq
riese: laneia also all these things i cancelled last month still charged our account
laneia: ugh

When I said it on April 14, 2011, I was on my mattress on the floor in a studio apartment in Oakland, surrounded by tax-related paperwork and string cheese wrappers. My then-girlfriend Marni and I spent every night together and she always cooked increasingly impressive dinners for us both, but on this night specifically her Mom and Aunt were in town, and she was staying with them in the city. So I was alone to unravel spectacularly and eat mini candy bars instead of dinner.

thursday april 14th 2011 7:31 PM
laneia: it seems like if we could figure out how to word it
like, it can’t be just ‘fund autostraddle’
riese: right
or ‘help us hire someone’
laneia: it has to be about getting us to a certain point
riese: right
laneia: i don’t know what that point would be
riese: me neither
what if the point was what we are doing now
like some kickstarters are like  “we need to print our may issue”
of a print magazine
we need to print our may issue too, it’s just not on paper. so how do we do that
laneia: i don’t know how to make that be something they will accept
i feel sad
this movie isn’t helping
nor the looming taxes
riese: yes i was trying to do taxes
that was what i was doing
when the walls caved in
metaphorically

Also on the bed that night: two fresh medical bills from my legendary trip to the Palm Springs ER — $1,531 from the ambulance and $4,800 from the hospital. I hated having stuff like that, stuff that made me need more money. I was always hunting for ways to need less: less money, less help, less time, less validation. But this job I’d created was just endless need, a guilt nagging at my neck. I wondered if I was too mentally ill to do something like this — and not in the psychopathic way that leads to unethical prosperity. Just in a boring sad anxious achey way.

thursday april 14th 2011 7:34 PM
laneia: where do people get money
how does gawker have money
riese: they have ad salespeople
and charge a ton for ad space
laneia: i want an ad people

The first time we faced the prospect of shutting down was about a year earlier, a year into our existence. April 2010. I woke up before Alex, just after dawn. I think this was my first-ever panic attack. Every inhale felt like shutting another door. I shook and sobbed, I can’t do this. There was a legal conflict happening and it was the first of many time-sucking Autostraddle dilemmas I’d find myself unqualified and unable to resolve in a way that made everybody or anybody happy.

thursday april 14th 2011 7:39 PM
laneia: i can email everyone
and tell them that we have to shut down
and tell them that we loved them
riese: should we do indie-a-go-go instead
it’s less strict
laneia: i think i’m going to throw up
riese: BIG NEWS ALEX PUT UP THE STICKERS + SHIRTS IN THE STORE
can you write a post about them
laneia: yes!

The April 2010 breakdown had been building up for weeks. I was working on a book review of a memoir by a writer I adored that’d somehow become a personal essay about my emotional unraveling, and the deadline came and went as unedited videos and ignored emails piled up. I crawled out of my room and lay on the kitchen floor with my roommate Natalie, like we used to do in college when boys hurt our feelings. My credit card, like many cards in the years following the 2008 recession, had suddenly lowered my limit to basically my balance, thus eliminating my financial safety net. And then I woke up that morning with a panic attack about the shares of the company that were worth literally nothing but would require so many expensive lawyer-hours to figure out, and we couldn’t afford that, so maybe this was the end? Alex and Natalie talked me down. I caught my breath.

thursday april 14th 2011 8:04 PM
riese: what if i auctioned off tinkerbell on ebay
how much do you think i could sell tinkerbell for
laneia: no!
good lord
riese: probably everyone wants me to keep tinkerbell
but maybe we could get like $5,000
and exist for three more weeks
laneia: i would like to cry
riese: we can cry and write posts at the same time i think
laneia: no
wait yes
i could
but i’m going to wait
riese: ok
i’m trying to articulate the help that we need
w/r/t “we need help”

Who saved us in 2010? I had this friend, this mentor. She’d have me and Alex over to her expansive Upper West Side apartment and she’d tell us how skinny we were and let us order lunch on her seamless account. We’d sit on her deck overlooking the whole foggy city and Alex would fall asleep on a lime-green lounge chair while I ate french fries and ground my teeth and bit my nails and worked on a prospective budget for hypothetical investors. She showed me a sample magazine budget where a managing editor made $25k a year and I wanted to stick pickles in my ears. She generously gave me money for a lawyer and talked me through it all. So that was how we got out of that: one very kind person.

thursday april 14th 2011 8:59 PM
riese: this is really stupid, maybe
this idea
autostraddle
laneia: i like it
ok the title is “Autostraddle Tanks, V-Necks and Stickers Are Now Available”
is that too bland

On Thursday April 14, 2011, the situation was this: Autostraddle occasionally sold ads, and we made around $2k a month from readers who supported us via Paypal subscriptions. We were growing rapidly, but readership growth wasn’t engendering financial growth. A huge network of volunteers were keeping it going, all of us waiting for an investor or a buyout that’d enable us to really go pro.

thursday april 14th 2011 9:17 PM
riese: we need like a chunk of money that will keep us secure enough for a certain amount of time like a few weeks so that we can work with new people
laneia: how do we get a chunk of money
should i sell my eggs
one sec i have to put them to bed
the other eggs
riese: the eggs
yes
laneia: the fertilized ones
[…]
laneia: ok i’m going to start drinking now
riese: i haven’t yet
isn’t that good
laneia: yes
riese: also we owe delaware like $800
laneia: what’s delaware done for us lately

This chat with Laneia — chopped up for you, here — is only half the story of that night. The other is my chat with Alex about printing stickers and getting t-shirts into the store and our respective workloads and it’s embarrassing to read. I’m clearly spiraling, we’re squabbling, my stress leaps off the screen like I’m trying to throw it at her, too, so I’d feel less alone in it. I’m retroactively ashamed of myself, how poorly I was navigating it all. But we worked through it, eventually. We got the merch up — and I’m honestly stunned that we did it so late at night, did we always do that? In pages of G-Chats, not one person says “it’s kinda late, and like, really late on the east coast.” We just plowed onward like it was noon o’clock somewhere.

And then.

thursday april 14, 2011 10:24 PM
riese: holy shit
my inbox is blowing up
we’re already out of t-shirts
alex: yeah wow
haha there were only 5
We’ll make more obvs
riese: you know we have a lot of subscribers
people really like us
alex: that is true
riese: i figured out the other day if i could just sell 20 things a day for $10 each we’d be ok
i don’t know what those 20 things will be yet
but that’s what we need

We put up that post about the stickers and the t-shirts, but I’d also mentioned on tumblr (tumblr!) as a response to a formspring (FORMSPRING!) question that our existence was in peril, so people began buying but also; donating.

thursday april 14, 2011 10:55 PM
riese: WHO WAS RIGHT ABOUT THE STICKERS
alex: you were
you totally were
i was wrong
but also… it’s because i designed them so good!
bwahaha
riese: of course it is
that’s why i bugged you to do it!
they look great
alex: it was a great idea. Great promo for us too.
so many orders
riese: seeeeeee
alex: also, this frenzy of purchasing and supporting us is validation that we have a great audience here to sell other things to… like your camp idea, like the auto-mall idea, and I think we should also consider picking up the mobile app idea…

On Friday, Alex bounded off to the stationary store to buy neon pink envelopes. I’d planned to avoid my email on Saturday while sightseeing with Marni’s family, but the emails that day didn’t take anything away from me, they affirmed me and made me look successful in front of Marni’s Mom. I remember vividly opening my email to a $400 donation as we walked from the parking lot to the observation deck at the Chabot Science Center. It was sunny and mild and the wind was crisp and the whole city cascaded beneath us and I had holes in my shoes but I felt infinite.

monday april 18 10:54 AM
laneia: hello darling darling
riese: hello!
good morrow!
laneia: and a fine day to you sir!
how are you
why do you want to do a video chat
do you miss my face
do you want to make sure i’m paying attention and not watching porn
riese: i feel like it’s more effective
than disembodied voices
b/c we have to kinda get serious now!!!
people are giving us money to be serious
like we have to do them the favor of getting our shit together
and i feel like video is a more effective method of communicating
what do you think
laneia: i agree
are you excited about making a real budget
and then people saying “ok i will make this happen”
riese: i am!!!!
this is all very good!!!
laneia: also there’s a phx meetup on 4/30 and the girls are trying to figure out a way to make money for us. like that’s on the agenda for them.
how cute is that?
riese: very
it’s crazy
this whole thing!

I don’t know why we didn’t ask you first. Maybe because it was 2011 and the economy was shit and most of our readers were still in college, eating their proverbial Ramen. Maybe because I was scared you’d say no, and then what had it all been for?

monday april 18 11:29 AM
laneia: riese i can’t believe we raised 9000 over the WEEKEND
that’s not even our whole readership
THAT’S CRAZY
riese: i know right
it is crazy!!!
laneia: 9 grand from our little weekend readers is fucking nuts!!
yes
riese: awww annika’s email!
laneia: !!!
riese: i read her tumblr the other night when i couldn’t sleep
laneia: i want to invite her to my sleepover
riese: and seeing all the feedback she got via formspring etc
was really amazing
like a lot of ppl wrote her to say how glad they were that she’s on autostraddle and etc
it made me feel really happy about the future

On Monday April 18th we all orchestrated a beautiful post of kitten graphics thanking you for your generosity and you told us that you wanted to help more, actually, still had more to give. So we kept going.

tuesday april 19, 11:11 AM
alex: maybe a major news source will catch wind of our fundraiser and re-post/link
like afterellen!
omg!
riese: hahaha
alex: …..
riese: never
alex: this is their perfect chance!
riese: i think if we had an exclusive scoop from kristen stewart coming out as bisexual they probably still wouldn’t link to us

We hit $10k, and eventually by the week’s end, topped out at $20k. We got help from the “We Need Help” post — an advisor who counseled us through team management 101, and another marketing professional who helped us with audience data gathering. We didn’t get an ad person. So we kept doing then with Alex what we’re still doing now with Sarah — a really bizarre role wherein a skilled + talented Graphic Designer is also saddled with spearheading ad sales, with my help as needed. We’re working to separate those roles now, again, and after 12 years of troubleshooting we know exactly what we need, and it’s incredibly specific. (If you know someone or are that someone, they can apply here!)

It is wild to see our weathered enthusiasm in those following days, Rachel’s big email to our team about how we were really “proud and amazed and floored and humbled and flattered and overwhelmed” by the support and how now we wanted to “make sure that we’re giving 110% so that we feel like we’re giving those people as much as they deserve” and be “more efficient, more accountable, and more professional.” Tess installed the social networking features readers asked for and we upped the number of posts per day we published.

So much of what I wrote in our celebratory “We Raised $20k” post in 2011 could’ve been written yesterday, maybe with some nouns swapped out. But we’ve also grown and changed and are no longer trying to support this entire operation on a $20k-for-4-months budget. Now, $20k is the top-off we’re hoping to clear this week.

This post was supposed to be “top ten times we almost shut down” but then I got too deep into archival g-chats, into this one moment that changed everything for us, and wanted to rest here. We asked if we were worth it and you said yes. And at the end of that week I took one (1) Friday night to eat penne and watch a movie with my girlfriend on my mattress. And maybe, if you say yes again, today, Nicole could do that too!

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riese

Marie Lyn Bernard, aka Riese, is an award-winning writer, blogger, journalist, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in the midwest, lost her mind in New York City and is currently making it work in California. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better, The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image and The Hazards of Being Female," "Dirty Girls," and "The Best American Erotica of 2007," magazines including Nylon, Marie Claire, GO, Curve, Interlude, and CollegeBound, and all over the web including nerve.com, Jezebel, Queerty, Emily Books and OurChart (RIP). She was the recapper for The L Word Online and host of Showtime’s Lezberado and her personal blog has earned many dubious honors including Best Personal Blog 2008. Riese has spoken about blogging, community-building, feminism, cyberculture and sexuality at places like BlogHer, Yale, New York University, The University of Chicago and The Museum of Sex. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Interlochen Arts Academy and The Olive Garden's week-long training intensive; she enjoys eating foods, having big ideas, reading books & talking to her stuffed dog, Tinkerbell. Also, she's Jewish. Follow her smokin’ hot adventures on twitter. Contact: riese[at]autostraddle.com

Riese has written 2895 articles for us.

7 Comments

  1. This is very beautiful. TY for sharing these . . . .

    THANK HEAVENS TO BETSY you didn’t try to do a mobile app!!!! i sometimes make those in my job and they are massive neverending sinkholes for money.

    • lol yup the price tag to get an app was like tens of thousands of dollars and that was just for andriod? the app we did almost end up building was basically an app version of the queer girl city guides — which was a cute idea but now i know that keeping that up-to-date would’ve been literally a full-time job and as illustrated, we didn’t have enough employees as it was. But everyone was like “build an app build an app!!”

  2. Riese, I think I speak for every reader here when I say we are so so glad you never quit. I wasn’t a regular reader yet in April 2011 but I do still have my “Read A F*cking Book” bookmark from the first time I donated to one of your fundraisers. (2012, I think?) There have been several times over the years that I thought I lost it and was very sad, but then it turned up inside a book I’d abandoned or at the bottom of my nightstand drawer. Anyway. The work you all do here is important and I am so glad you are still here doing it.

  3. Recently discovered AS (where have you/I been all my life?) and just wanted to say how grateful I am for the work you do, the sense of community you help to create, and all the sacrifices everyone on your team has/is making to choose over and over to keep saying “yes” to this.

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