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Feasting on failure

March 21, 2014

Had a very candid, heartfelt, at times quite uncomfortable, conversation with Spouse a few days ago. Not only did we talk about topics we would almost-never normally talk about, but neither of us got defensive. I found myself — quite unexpectedly — welling up with tears of grief . . . that I talked through, and all was well. I’ve rarely had an opportunity to do that, because my emotions are so intense usually that if they surprise me, the conversation derails. But this time I stayed on track.

We talked about our fears for the future, but also our hopes and aspirations.

I told him about something I really really want to do, that’s a huge longshot (so why even bother telling him?). I explained the intermediate steps I’m taking, trying to work up to it becoming possible. I asserted that I need things to aspire to that are well beyond my current comfort level or skills because that keeps me motivated. (Plus, anticipation & excitement are fun!)

= = +

11 years ago this spring, I received word that I’d won a very big honor, something I thought I had little reasonable chance at. I was over the moon excited. I couldn’t wait to share all my feelings with Spouse. He . . . wasn’t excited for me. In fact, he was angry and upset, because he assumed what I would do with it would invalidate many of his cherished aspirations. He sulked for days. I wasn’t . . . quite . . . devastated, but I was certainly disappointed. And I was very determined that I was going to use my honor pragmatically and well, and that there was, there must be, a way for me to get what I want, but not to preclude what he wanted. It turned out there was. We were able to do what he wanted to do, by, in part, the success of what I did with my honor.

In this recent conversation, I touched on that earlier disappointment. And he didn’t get defensive then either.

We’ve both been growing and changing, through working on our own stuff. Thank goodness.


The dripping of the kitchen faucet, an ongoing reality for the last 6 weeks, despite 5 requests for maintenance, is driving me ‘round the twist.

My bathroom sink has also been stuck closed for that same 6 weeks. So Spouse and I have to share his bathroom sink for everything. That’s annoying.

It seems like everything in our apartment is falling apart.

Spouse seems to have finally noticed how ugly our apartment is. I love the location! I love the convenience of the location. But I hate listening to our upstairs neighbors, the Elephants (with the Elephant’s Child, who cries and screams and throws things around, daily). And I really hate how ugly the interior is. Of course, a lot of our furniture is at least 20 years old, and is also ugly. We’re trying to get rid of a bunch of our old ugly stuff.

I’ve been going through old papers of mine. I’d been saving all sorts of articles on art, artists, art communities, art techniques, etc., since 1994. I just kept accumulating them.

I’ve gone back through those, weeding out almost everything. I did save interesting phrases or sentences, for bricolage poetry, and interesting typography, for a new project that I haven’t quite started yet, with visual poetry.

I’ve also winnowed piles of books, mostly sff, that suited younger versions of me, but no longer fit with who I am now.

That’s a metric that I’ve used with books on other topics too. Like books for my small business, that never really got off the ground.

I’ll be discontinuing its email address, and its website, soon. I’ll be closing its dedicated checking account (never used) as well.


Some people deal with change by allowing things to fade away quietly.

I like to burn bridges.

Yes, it forces me to go forward since there’s nothing to go back to.

But the primary reason that approach appeals to me . . .

the raw materials of my life (including my-life-as-a-work-of-art) are failures. Which maybe sounds self-hating, but it’s not, not at all.

Failure is supposed to be this terrible thing, that we should try to minimize happening to us, because it’s practically impossible (supposedly) to recover from. We should certainly never let other people see us, failing — oh, the shame of it!

The thing is, failure is absolutely essential for iterative processes. Look at evolution: There are trillions of niches in the world; there have been gazillions of attempts to make effective use of those niches. Most of those attempts have failed. But by tweaking, improving incrementally with every iteration, organisms eventually fit their environment. Or co-evolve with some other organisms, to fit their shared environment (bees as pollinators of flowers, for instance).

When I first conceive of something I want to do, I don’t . . . know . . . where a good place to start is. I have to just jump in and try something. If where I jump in turns out to be a “good” place to jump in, I don’t learn very much.

It’s better for my later success if my first few attempts at New Thing X are . . . disastrous. Because then I’m learning in all directions. About things I had no idea were important or relevant.

If I fully immerse myself in new projects —I don’t hold anything back; I give the effort my best efforts — I fail a lot.  But gradually, my skills improve. And then flow becomes possible. But even better, I understand the world at much higher levels of detail because I’ve been part of it at much higher levels of detail.

I learn by doing. And I learn best when I fail, early and often.

(Failing-in-public can still be embarrassing. Especially when uncreative people are observing and commenting.)

I need to burn bridges because I need to publicly acknowledge that Attempt 31, 67, or 109 failed . . . so that I can let go of it. I need to physically (metaphysically?) feel that last tendril of obligation? attachment? hope-for-what-might-have-been-possible? be severed, by my hand.

This was not something forced on me; I chose this. Attempt 582 ended because I say it didn’t work.


And now, I’m free to start from scratch. (If I want to.)

If I don’t burn that sucker to the ground, I personally never feel like I can “start from scratch”. I feel like I’m stuck inside of whatever-last-was-failing, so that I’m obligated-somehow? to keep trying to “fix” it, or find a new way it could work, or whatever.

Sometimes, often, the only way to “repair” a situation is to change it utterly. Which, while I still think of myself as inside it, is practically impossible.

Example: my former first name. It had good points, which is how I got trapped in the first place. Because it had good points . . . for someone completely unlike me. I always felt like it described . . . the daughter my parents wished I was. And, it enshrined their guiding principle that boys are always better than girls.

Beyond that, nobody could spell it, or pronounce it, correctly. So I couldn’t just tell people my name, and be done with it; I had to spell it out, letter by letter. I had to endure teasing about how I was pronouncing it wrong, or “suggestions” about diminutives I should go by, for someone else’s convenience.

I told my mother when I was a child that I wanted to change my name, but she got very defensive. She shamed me for wanting to.

So I tried. I really really tried. I changed the spelling, a few different times. I changed my middle names. I experimented with my handwriting, so that at least my signature physically looked different. I tried different diminutives. I told myself fictional stories about how the name came to me.

Online, I tried names that evoked it, and (mostly) names with no connection to it. I discovered that . . . I really liked introducing myself by a name I had picked for myself. It hardly mattered what the name was; the important thing was that I picked it.

Finally, January 2013, I stopped going by my former first name. I experimented with two different names I went by instead. The second of those . . . grew into . . . what I eventually legally changed my first name to be.

I spent 46 years trying to work within the framework of “the first name my parents gave me” can work, for me, as the name I go by. That framework was fatally flawed. That bridge needed to burn.


Now that I’m on the other side of that particular bridge? If I want to feel kinship with people who hold names that resemble that of former name . . . I can. But I don’t have to. I can choose.

Sometimes I will; sometimes I won’t. Sometimes I’ll never think about it at all. Because I was able to let go.

People on both sides of my family . . . hoard, which is a maladaptive psychological response to being subjected to more traumas than they had the coping skills to deal with effectively.

To some extent, coping with traumas by clinging ever harder to them . . . became normalized in my family of origin. Reminds me of kudzu overgrowing trees, until the trees are strangled, and die.

If trees menaced by kudzu could ignite their own leaves, I bet kudzu would learn in a hurry how to act differently.

Traumas are failures too. Clinging to them instead of learning from them . . . is like seeing delicious food spread out front of you, but turning around, and rooting around in the garbage instead. (And then perhaps bemoaning your rotten luck.)

Failures, and even traumas, are tasty and nutritious opportunities for growth, for wisdom, for improving one’s skills at life.

Will you take a bite?

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