I'm David. I code at Kickstarter. I'm an artist—I make things. See resume »


I re-read a letter someone I knew wrote before his death; I will show it to you. Even after all these years, my emotions well up from it. Maybe especially after all these years.

I’m writing this because you should understand why I began pursuing art rather than code. It is a fundamental shift in philosophy. It’s about life.

There would be no life without change. Life is a sunlit field in the mountains after a cloudy morning. It’s a warm cup of coffee in winter, sitting across from the person you love. It’s about sitting in a cold hospital with her hands dead in yours.

Never forget the bigger picture. There is too much wrong in the world to be complacent, and there is so much good in the world to see.

When you’re dating someone amazing, you’ll eventually hear about difficulties they had to face. And the more you learn, the more beautiful they’ll seem.

My friend asked me what events had the greatest impact on my life. There are three, which total my life story. I have probably never told you; but if I hope to make you understand, perhaps I should.

1. Divorce

My parents divorced when I was eight. And that became my first example of “love”: you get close to someone, you marry, you claim it’s love, and years later you’re screaming at your husband to get the hell out of your house. And then I hated my father, because I thought my mother must hate him, because I couldn’t bear to love him. If I loved both, who was right?

My brother says our family never talked at the dinner table. I don’t remember any dinner together. But my parents often argued in escalating screaming matches that made my heart hurt—that kind of pain where you feel like someone reached through your ribs and squeezed. I remember that part.

Ever since, if a person close to me stops talking to me for a while, I feel like they don’t feel the same way about me anymore. Or, perhaps, they never did.

2. Death

Someone I knew had cancer at 22. He died a year later. I was 18. Amark Patra, also known as Steel, wrote this letter in case things went wrong. You do a great disservice to me if you don’t read it. It is so important. And it is one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve ever read.

Reading that letter was the first domino. It made me change. It inspired many others. It might inspire you.

The first time I read this letter, I remember staring outside the window of my dorm room, my face wet. That night, the air was alive with lamppost-lit snow. The glass and the painted wood, the walls and the bed, they all felt like they were breathing. I never experienced such perfect clarity—never felt so overwhelmingly small. The fuck was I doing, worrying about grades and exams? How utterly pointless it all seemed. His letter was humanity stripped to its bare fucking essence.

I could be out there, living a life right now. I had no friends. Everyone loved to call me smart and ignore how hard I worked. I switched schools in elementary school to go to a magnet school where everyone continued to call me smart. I was cripplingly shy. I was depressed and played with the idea of suicide. Life literally had no meaning. What in the hell had I been doing for the past 18 years?

I remember the overwhelming urge filling me then, an urge to completely change. I remember thinking, this is the feeling. This is what being human means.

3. Love

I remember one particular instance of love: a message my friend hid for me in a place I wouldn’t find until days later. It put a fierce smile on my face, and my first thought was, “Why don’t people do this more often?”

People shy away from vulnerability like it’s a disease. But the deepest conversations you’ll ever have are raw; sometimes so raw that suddenly you’re scared you said too much. But you can’t feel close to someone without exposing yourself to the possibility of future pain. Happiness is a risk. More than that, it’s a verb.

And even then. I was a shut-off, pessimistic, sad excuse of a kid when I read Steel’s letter. After which, I had cried. If I shed tears and felt pain over someone I knew only over the Internet, what did that mean? You are always vulnerable when you deal with people. Too often we hide behind anger or indifference instead of expressing love.

This brings us to art. If I make you think honestly, if I motivate you to never live things by half, if I destroy injustice and inequality, if I make you appreciate the terrible beauty of life, if I create art that will do all these things, then and only then will I be content.

I can’t continue one-on-one conversations to help people forever—one day I will die. My art will continue for me. And maybe it’ll inspire more art, and then, who knows, maybe humanity will wake up one day and be healed.

Few things are more powerful than a person’s words on their deathbed. If Steel hadn’t died, I wouldn’t have changed. I wish that didn’t need to be necessary. But, message received.

Death • January 2013 • Stashed in Stories