where the writers are
Total Failure
Amazon.com Amazon.com
Powell's Books Powell's Books

The good news is that I've failed at just about everything, especially the important stuff: relationships, parenting, writing, teaching. You name it, and I've screwed it up. Cutting of contact with people for years, making enormously bad decisions for my sons at regular and predictable intervals, writing the wrong thing at the wrong time and sending it to the wrong person, beating dead pedagogical ideologies within an inch of their lives, semester after semester after semester, failure upon failure after failure. I also have a penchant for saying the exact wrong thing to the exact person who should never hear it, managing to insult and alienate editors, publishers, friends, family, and other loved ones. I'm a champ of bad. My history is a regular worst-of rosary of despair. Hail Mary. Just watch me and sigh.

So where's the good news? Pretty much everything I do I start from the bottom up. That is, once I've recovered from my downward spiral, I'm able to take all the information I've gathered on my way down (clutching at those walls as I was) and learned a lot. I've figured something out and I try again. This is not to say the new attempt doesn't end in dismal failure, but now, after fifty years, the quality of my failure has changed. or rather, my reaction to my failure has changed.

My moments of despair, self loathing, and pity are shorter or pretty much non-existent. I shake my head (again?) and go back in. Also, the fall is shorter. I've done this all before and know failure short cuts. The best editing of the failure experience is to cut out the railing, moaning, bitching, crying, whining, and blaming. Really, that's a major time saver. Think of all the people to blame after each failure. Mother, father, sister, brother, husband(s), students, editors, publishers, readers, boyfriends, girlfriends, writing group, the world at large. That's about a one week to lifetime savings!

What I've also learned is that it's all about the failure. That's where the damn learning comes in. When we adapt, we learn everything. When we succeed, we've learned getting there, but the success was predicated on about one hundred failures. So the success is really just a momentary, giddy feeling. Probably, it's just endorphins and serotonin. And have you noticed that the feeling wears off. Failure, on the other hand? Well that stays with you. You can remember that. And as long as you don't let it pull you into the abyss, it's the thing that teaches best.


4 Comment count
Comment Bubble Tip

Good for you, J!


'Success' is pretty much an illusion, anyway, and tends to be calculated in arbitrary terms by other people. It can't truly be experienced and generally doesn't add to the sum of happiness for those concerned. Often it generates misery and jealousy and the obligation to achieve unrealistic goals.

Real success is coming to the conclusions you have, getting in there again, realising that it's all part of the human learning curve that delivers life moments and phases that are especially precious.

Saying 'no' to despair is a powerful shot in the arm. My own multiple failures have lead to a place I'm really happy with and from which I can gently expand now that there's a kind of underpinning from the process you describe. All the 'investment' when things were tough - and that was for decades - is repaying wholesale dividends.

The important thing is gaining the tools for survival and keeping them honed. I'd especially wish it were possible for younger folk to realise this so that the abyss wouldn't loom so large when disaster strikes.

Thanks for sharing.

All best,


Comment Bubble Tip

Sometimes, I think it's just

Sometimes, I think it's just about getting older and paying attention. But maybe both of those things aren't easy.

Francis Bacon said that if you begin in certainty, you end in doubt. I think the converse is true, too. If you begin in doubt, you end in certainty, which we can translate maybe as calm.

Thanks, Rosy, for your response and your wisdom here.




Comment Bubble Tip

wisdom gained

 I've done this all before and know failure short cuts.

Now that has value. If you've learned to focus at arm's length on the misery, you have a much shorter retreat to return to calm.

Peace be with you, Jessica. 

Comment Bubble Tip

and also with you! :) Best, J

and also with you! :)