What is failure anyway?


I’ve been in something of a reflective mood. Or maybe obsessive. The line between the two wobbles a bit for me.

What I’ve been dwelling on is failure. There’s what for me is a common failure–art. For every piece of art I show people, several pieces are in the trash. I experience varying degrees of disappointment, but the feeling doesn’t last too long. I know it is part of the process and I’ll eventually have something I can live with. And, for better or worse, I’m usually not trying to please anyone but myself when it comes to art. Sure, “likes” and nice comments are great, but I don’t put everything I make online. I have things I’m happy with that have never received praise from anyone else.

There’s the failure of writing–stories that don’t work or don’t find a publication home. That disappointment bothers me more. I can hang my art on my own wall and be happy enough, but to be the only reader for a story… The failure of a story feels like an octopus inside my chest. There’s the tentacle of failing to have a good enough idea, the tentacle of failing to write it well, the tentacle of failing to research where to submit, of building a platform, of networking, of being patient, of having faith, and of not being some other great writer.

There’s the failure of daily life. I don’t clean my house enough, I don’t eat healthy enough, exercise enough, stay in touch with people enough, and a whole bunch of other stuff I don’t do enough of (whether according to me or someone else). These failures bother me more some days than others. We’ve all probably experienced such feelings of Enough-itis. Maybe there’s an Enough Tapeworm. An Enough Tapeworm acts like a regular tapeworm but instead of taking away all the nutrients of what you eat, it devours feelings of satisfaction no matter how much work you put into something. Sneaky little blighters.

Then there’s the failure of being the sort of person you see yourself as. You possibly see yourself as meeting certain standards of “being the good guy/gal” even if it you realize you are not perfect. I mean, you know you’re not perfect, but you don’t see yourself as a villain. What’s that saying about being the hero in your own story? What if someone points out to you that they see you as the bad guy? From what I’ve witnessed, most people dismiss this out of hand. I’ve heard people talk about how people get mad at them “for just telling the truth.” “The truth hurts.” “You can’t handle the truth!” But these expressions often seem to work for folks only when directed at someone else. Yet truth-telling shouldn’t be a one way street.

So, the truth can hurt and it can set you free. Right? Trying to figure out what is true can keep you up at night. Are you a villain if the harm was accidental?

A few years ago I read this story, The Question of Where We Begin by Kyle Minor. The story opens with his uncle’s suicide and then it attempts to find the cause. What would’ve had to have changed to save his uncle’s life? I’ve asked similar questions-what would’ve had to change to prevent this argument? This accident? This mess that we’re in?

When someone tells you something unpleasant about yourself, it can be hard to know what to think. Is that person wrong or are you blind? An automatic and defensive, “that person is crazy” is one possibility. But the person could be right. They could even be crazy and still right. Or it could be a chance to improve yourself, do better, learn a valuable lesson. Or that person could be wrong, and you’re spending energy and time on self-recrimination and flagellation, punishing yourself for a crime you didn’t commit. Maybe what you’re seeing isn’t the light of truth. Maybe’s it’s gaslight.

A punch in the nose may or may not be provoked. Was it self-defense? When punches are metaphorical, who punched who?

I read the news and wonder if we are living through a metaphorical barroom brawl. It seems as if we’ve decided that punching people is easier than talking to them.

Then as a writer, I create villains. Or people who may not be villains, but not everyone can get what they want. As I said in my last post, I’m reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. The “best” villain is the character who believes he’s the hero. He showers his favorite people with monstrous gifts. Woe unto a poor soul who catches his attention. He is blind to the suffering he causes. He sees himself the way we might all wish we could see ourselves, and it is a terrible thing.

I may be rambling. I may have failed to write a good blog post. But I won’t fail to say, thank you for reading.

4 thoughts on “What is failure anyway?

  1. Marta, when you have stories for publication but nobody takes them on may not be a reflection of your writing, not a failure of yours but rather of theirs. Why not make a book of those short stories and self publish. With a piece of your art work on the cover it should have lots of appeal. Today’s picture is a gem by the way.
    It’s easy to overthink our failures when we’re ultra critical or when we’re sensitive to others unearned criticism. I’d say as long as we’re doing no harm to others we can count it a success.
    Keep well.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    1. Thank you, David. I have thought myself in circles about the self-publishing option. I’m not sure what I’ll end up doing. Overthinking is definitely something I’m not a failure in!

  2. “I’ve been in something of a reflective mood. Or maybe obsessive. The line between the two wobbles a bit for me.”

    DO NOT OBSESS OVER THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN REFLECTION AND OBSESSION (ha). Although I suppose reflecting on it is okay…

    I love your idea of an Enough Tapeworm, although I hate the idea of tapeworms in general. You could basically turn that it into something actually plausible — a parasite which thrives on certain human neurochemicals, like these four:


    For best access to them, I guess the critter would need to latch onto, I don’t know, the spinal cord or deep within the brain itself. Which actually makes it a bit creepier.

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