Monday, March 26, 2007

Failure

From the book Art & Fear by David Bayles & Ted Orland (a must read for any artist/writer):

"Talent, in common parlance, is 'what comes easily'. So sooner or later, inevitably you reach a point where the work doesn't come easily, and Aha, it's just as you feared!

Wrong. By definition, whatever you have is exactly what you need to produce your best work. There is probably no clearer waste of psychic energy than worrying about how much talent you have--and probably no worry more common."

Over the next couple posts and probably in general I plan address issues of fear, failure, struggle, worth, value and how they relate to art. My art is writing. I notice a cringing feeling inside me as I write that. I feel like I'll be punished for calling it that. Laughed at. Called pretentious. Or worse, someone will read something I've written and call me a fraud.

It has finally become clear to me that I'm in a kind of spiritual choice-point (I hate the word crisis) with my writing. I can either see it as a means to a financial end only, toiling and frustrated and self-loathing, allowing the voice of my grandfather ("don't get your hopes up") to speak in the back of my mind...or I can rethink my relationship to it, stretch myself, find out what's undearneath the fear of failure, see it as sustenence and vitamins and soul-nourishment. I can even fail gracefully, and then get up and try again.

One of the messages I seem to be getting over and over is: there's no such thing as ultimate failure. You don't get only one chance at anything. You can't "fail" permanently and continuously. I mean, I suppose if you kill yourself or someone else, you might. And if you sabotage yourself and reach for failure--sure. But in general, if you write a shitty draft; if you act out of laziness; or get feedback that you need to start from scratch; if you misunderstand the vision; or totally lose the point in translation...you really can try again. Sure, maybe you lose a client/money/hope/...but not the chance to keep making art.

I'm really interested in the manure right now--the product of failure. The doubt, self-loathing, the proof that many of us fear will turn up any second if we don't keep up the act proving we really do suck. And for some of us, the frightening realization that there is relief in failure. That it means we don't have to be better than our family/friends/teachers. We can be satisfied living below our potential.

I'm not there yet, but I'm finally, after quite a long struggle full of denial, listening. Okay failure: what do you have to teach me?

JPR

7 Comments:

At 8:40 PM, Blogger Fionnix said...

Stretch, darling. Stretch.

 
At 7:24 PM, Blogger Jesse said...

I found this post very interesting. When I was a physics/math tutor, a lot of my older (re-entry) students spent a lot of time defining and examining "failure" without realizing that they were also defining "success" in the process (in the sense that "success" can be viewed as an overall lack of "failure" in a particular endeavor). Many of them found that they had actually been creating impossibly difficult criteria for "success" in the process, and ultimately met more of their goals through (among other things) mindfully re-defining "failure".

 
At 8:34 PM, Blogger Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

Jesse--How do you personally define success and failure?

 
At 8:35 PM, Blogger Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

Rhi--I'm a-tryin!

J

 
At 10:43 PM, Blogger Jesse said...

I would personally define success as pretty much anything that has brought about significant growth, expanded opportunity, deeper insight, sharpened skill, enhanced knowledge, or greater honesty, as well as those things which have brought joy or comfort to those around me. Some experiences that I might have once considered "failures" I now know to have been powerful successes. The proof is manifest when I look at some knowledge, ability, insight, or component of a relationship that I have now and realize that I can trace the root of that present-day strength back to some experience that I could call a "mistake". I think the only real failure is the failure to learn from our mistakes and grow through the experience, or in some cases failure to recognize opportunity when it is at hand.

 
At 11:07 PM, Blogger Jesse said...

Success!!

 
At 11:09 PM, Blogger Jesse said...

Failure.....

 

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