It’s the final day of XOXO and I’m sat under a canopy watching the prolonged withdrawal of a beautiful evening — shadows flitter their way across skin left bare by shorts and dresses as everyone has now gathered outside after the talks. They slowly form clusters and talk giddily amongst friends at the open bar. Others can be found on the outer rim of the grounds, huddling around the embers of a little fire whilst the food trucks nearby begin to hunker down, ready for a night of well-earned slumber.
It’s possible to see all the work that’s left to be done, right there on the faces of those in attendance; all the websites and sculptures, all the comic books and novels in progress — they’re just waiting to be pushed out into the world. This weekend has lit the coals beneath our feet and so, even though everyone is sad to leave, there’s a sense that if we all listen carefully enough we might begin to hear the whispers of our desks calling our names out into the wind.
We’re ready for work.
Although, what’s more important than the work that’s bound to flourish from this festival is the feeling that there are more smiles to be collected just yet. There are high-fives to be fived, and conversations that will soon hum with potential, dormant conversations which can only be kindled with beer or ice cream; amongst all this excitement it’s obvious that there are great friends here at XOXO that aren’t yet friends.
And there’s little time left, even if the evening is still young.
On my first night in Portland I took a rambling walk across Hawthorne, and then onto Division Street where the fancy tea shops and the ice cream parlors (with lines that stretch around the corner) can be found. After my Sim-like ice cream status turned from red to green I decided to hop on the bus home.
A couple of stops later a woman stammered through the door. Clearly worn and bruised by daily life, she was followed by an older woman that handed her a phone number and some money.
“Take this,” she said, “and call me when you get where you need to be, ok?”
The young woman covered in scratches and bruises nodded to her companion, although it was plain to see that they had only just met one another a short moment ago. Someone was in dire need of help and a stranger had emerged from the streets of Portland to offer what little comfort she could.
In the lead up to XOXO I’ve been thinking a great deal about what success now looks like to me. Over the past two years I’ve had the opportunity to accomplish so many of my young teenage dreams but this experience has left me with a sour, incomplete taste; goal posts shift as if they’d been set without care into desert sands.
After the spectacular events and friends that I’ve made at XOXO, and the ones I’m sure that I’ll continue to make tonight, I’m starting to feel like maybe I have an answer though. It has almost nothing to do with programming, or writing better code, or earning more money, or becoming the greatest designer that’s ever lived, or traveling around the world, or receiving recognition, or status, or fame.
All these pail in comparison to the answer I’ve found here.
And it’s this: at the beginning of the first day Andy Baio said that the festival is starting to look less like a conference or an event and more like a community. And it’s this community I want to encourage and improve, it’s this community that I want to nudge towards empathy and kindness and I want to help build tools for. I want to reach out to people in order to do whatever I can to offer help and assistance and I want to be a part of a group that encourages kindness and warmth, alongside stimulating acts of creativity.
I want to be more like that lady on the bus, handing over a tiny scrap of paper with a phone number on it to a complete stranger in need. I think that’s because success is really just a combination of small gestures; the steady hand on a shoulder, the random gifts of kindness.
And, for me at least, XOXO was a rich pool of these strange gifts.
Thank you so much Andy, Andy, Rachel and everyone else involved.
XOXO has meant a lot to all of us.
Behold! My newsletter—sent infrequently—about new things that I’m working on. Every so often it’ll contain notes about web design and publishing things that I’m interested in, too.