[S]ome failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.
Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.
The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned.
Sticking my neck out has been something I have learned to do. And I think it’s a good thing.
Human beings are the only creatures who are allowed to fail. If an ant fails, it’s dead. But we’re allowed to learn from our mistakes and from our failures. And that’s how I learn, by falling flat on my face and picking myself up and starting all over again. If I’m not free to fail, I will never start another book, I’ll never start a new thing.
in Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery
and Invention (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)
One of the things I like about Dillon is that it welcomes failures; in fact it embraces them. Growing up in small towns, I always felt there was something bullying about this love of failure, and that there was within it a not-so-hidden class resentment, a desire to keep everyone on the same level, even if that meant everything was mediocre. I do think that sentiment exists, but I also think there is a humanity to small places, an acknowledgement that people need space in their lives to enjoy what they have, for as long as it may last—a space outside of accomplishment. A space outside of self-improvement. A space to have emotions that might not be “productive.” A space to have emotions, period.
The recognition that literature promotes a special kind of perception illuminates the contrast between miscellany and integrity. Modern science generates a general intellectual tendency to subsume particular phenomena, under general laws. We acquire this disposition from an early age. When a child dissects a tadpole in a school laboratory, she is taught that the interest is not in that creature, but in coming to an understanding of the anatomy of tadpoles in general, of all tadpoles. Were she to rest with the thought that she has come to know something just about that particular tadpole, she would be seen to suffer from an intellectual defect.
Literature has no such aspiration. A literary person, were she to find a tadpole alluring, would likely visit her attentions upon that one creature. Love, a theme more common than God (and not always unrelated) in literature, is typically the love of someone. A poet may have general opinions she presents about the nature of love and about which qualities are lovable and which not, but when she is not in this way being a philosopher manqué in passing, when she is most doing what a poet does, her work is expressing or conveying the expression of the love that someone has for another. That is the link between the expressive aspects of literature that I began with and the inescapable miscellany of particulars that litter a literary work, particulars that in science or philosophy would be viewed as confusion, clutter, failure.
I was talking to my graduate class a bit … about how career writers–career anything, I suppose–are always having to list their shiny accomplishments, and how it would be such a great relief sometime to write up your Anti-Vita and let people see it. It would be such a moment of candor, of behind-the-curtain truth. All the awards you didn’t get, all the amazing journals your work wasn’t good enough to be published in, all the prizes you were nominated for but–oops!–didn’t actually win. Sigh. All the teaching innovations, trotted out with such high hopes, that failed miserably. And so on. How you sat at home on the sofa and muttered, “What’s the point?,” embarrassing yourself and boring your family members, who tiptoed quietly away.
Revealing all the failures would be such a relief, such an exhale, such an “I’m nobody, who are you?” opportunity.
Anyway, do we really want consistency in an artist? What does this pressure to please the market have to do with art? Originality involves risk, and risk implies the possibility of failure. That’s how greatness is born.
I could have said that I am stepping down to spend more time with my children (which I truly want to do). Or that I am leaving to pursue other opportunities (which I also truly want to do). But I have never had much tolerance for others’ spin, so I can’t imagine trying to stomach my own. The simple fact is that not enough people watch my program.
Apparently Campbell Brown is being applauded for Stating the Obvious. Which, on the one hand, seems ridiculous, and on the other hand, is yes, refreshing (since it’s so rare). So isn’t it that startling honesty that’s appealing, not her “failure,” as the linked article seems to indicate?
[B]y admitting, in essence, to failure, she pulled off something quite magnificent: She appealed to those of us who have failed at one time or another. That is to say, she appealed to all of us[.]
[btw: Google tells me that the phrase “failure is the new success” made its first appearance in 1999.]
I do worry a little that the modern age has taken the failure stage out of the creative process. Now if you can’t get your manuscript published, it’s because the publishers are cowards, can’t see your genius, and you can self-publish it (and then send out slightly crazed emails to critics). There is a lack of humility, a failure to recognize that getting knocked on your ass is actually good for you.
I often need to remind myself that I need to hear failure out, because by failing at doing an easy thing, a groupthink thing, a thing one has been taught to do for one’s career, one might be encouraged to make or do or be something more original and true. Because failing as an artist is a necessary thing, a thing I wish I could more easily accept.