I live in a state of constant failure. Even this post represents a failure, since I’m not writing on the topic I’ve been struggling with for the past week, and I’m repurposing an old personal blog post instead. I take on more that I can realistically handle, and I aim much higher than I can probably ever achieve. I determine my self-worth in large part by my distance from the top–i.e., the distance I failed to cover, instead of the distance that I climbed from the bottom. On days like today, I feel as though my life is defined by what I didn’t achieve:
- I didn’t write the challenging post on the tensions between writing for art versus commerce, or self-expression versus audience. Hopefully my thoughts will continue to percolate until I’m able to articulate them clearly.
- I’m working on a novel, a short story revision, a new science fiction short story (writing SF scares me), and a comic script. I’m falling behind my self-imposed schedule on all four projects, but refuse to let go of any of them.
- I am on rejection number five for my story about a necromantic mushroom in love. But I keep submitting it to professional markets.
In Booklife, Jeff Vandermeer tells us that “To be great, we must attempt so much that we not only are in danger of forever failing, but that we do fail ..and in the failure create something greater than if we had set our sights lower.” I find deep comfort in these words. I’m not sure if anyone else feels this way, but it’s like I need someone to give me permission to fail. And not just permission to fail in the process of achieving a single goal, but to fail and fail again. As Samuel Beckett said: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Here’s one more quote, and some muddling of metaphors: Thoreau said that our dreams should be in the clouds, but that we should set about building the foundations to support them. What do you do when your dreams are soaring into the stratosphere? What if they’ve reached the earth’s escape velocity?
I know I’m unlikely to achieve my dreams, but I refuse to set my sights lower.
Maybe it’s the Japanese in me. There is a place for the honorable loser. The great medieval epic, the Tale of the Heike, is named for the losers of the Gempei War. I want to fail and fail again. Because if I only fail when I set my sights high and stretch myself in the vain struggle to achieve them. I will fail. I will try again and fail better. And by so doing, I will fail gloriously.
So, what are your recent failures?