I am falling in love with failure. At least I’m trying. It is time I have to.
We shouldn’t, lovely womyn, be short on our accomplishments. It doesn’t matter how slow going we’ve been, what we haven’t done yet, or what we haven’t quite obtained. We have to focus on the great strides we’ve made despite all the seeming nothings. If we fail, that means we put ourselves out there. Many times I submit a request or offer myself, the answer is silence, but other times the answer has been “yes.” I just haven’t heard many yesses because I don’t really try all that often. I’m timid, beat myself up, get down on myself, give up. Failure feels most like failure, though, the bad kind, when I’m indecisive and I don’t or can’t act. Not committing to something or deciding feels like a weight or blades inside. How can I love this failure? Or, at least, how can we be compassionate toward ourselves when we are in this situation?
I get Esther in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, at least from what I can gather from this quote: “I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, [. . .] and another fig was Europe [. . .]. I saw myself sitting at the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose.”
Every decision requires a sacrifice, and sometimes there is no perfect or ideal option. And I am often suspicious of my motives for choosing a path, wondering if I lean toward indulgence rather than what I should do, the “harder” path, what would be in the direction of my long-term goals. Then there are the sideline voices that can be critical to our dreams and journey, but if they aren’t stepping out on the out-and-open track with us, then perhaps it will be good if we can have some space to breathe and listen to our own internal wisdom. I think being in love with failing will help me make decisions because even if I’m worried about making the “wrong” decision, then I can still make it, feeling okay if I fail, if it really is the wrong one. For me, it’s better just to invoke the failures to come.
Later, Esther is eating and feeling better. I wonder if we can take from this to not take the array of options so seriously and to practice self-care while we are in distress about the indecision or post-decision.
Marcus Aurelius feels we should usher “the development of all rational beings into their own image: they [gods, universe, etc.] want the fig-tree to do the proper work of a fig-tree” (Meditations 10:8). I am messy, selfish, a sensation junkie who writes. So I guess I’ll have to forgive myself for ditching and erasing any grounding from my home country to escape to another country with a little money, breaking ties as felt right, escaping what felt like a sleep-deprived zombie vortex even as it shot me up with sparking injections of crystal red dust in the true work of it (the rest of the work padded with thick layers of yellowing mineral wool like most jobs) to try to dip myself into a good feeling for as long as I could. Fortunately, I met a saint who gave me a domestic pod of productivity for awhile so that I woke every morning feeling I was in my own MFA program and getting my wounds licked clean and fresh so that I’m leaving him more healed than when I came. That doesn’t happen often for me.
And on this morning when it’s a week until goodbye, at least for this particular country and the people in it, I listen to Fiona Apple and realize she offers lines of liturgy:
“I’m good at being uncomfortable so I can’t stop changing all the time” (Extraordinary Machine).
“I’m going to fuck it up again. I’m going to do another detour. Unpave my path” (When the Pawn…).
“How can I ask anyone to love me when all I do is beg to be left alone” (The Idler Wheel…).
Owning up to it, this spillage of courage can lead some of us to happiness, we who have our blue chakra blocked so that our words get choked in our throats. Eternally, it seems, I get the “sneaky card” in my Tarot readings: the Seven of Swords, an image of some svelte thief hunched over with stolen swords haphazardly mustered his arms while he attempts to slink along the side of a stone wall. I don’t often have the courage to say hard truths to people; I’m scared of how they will react, what they will start withholding from me, what will be lost. So I steal from them in silence.
In Paulo Coelho’s The Zahir two people have a conversation about who has access to the secrets, who could potentially unlock the code, where one person says, believing we all do, “we just don’t all have the courage to follow our dreams and to follow the signs. Perhaps that’s where the sadness comes from” (45).
What it takes for happiness for some of us is simply what is courageous. Courage to fail, courage to accept the consequences. I have a feeling I’m on a path where I’m about to fail more than ever but with a ravenous hunger for holy, taste-good bites. Because, yes, we could birth some figs, and sometimes also we could just eat the figs.
Elisabeth S., Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches online composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a chapbook of poetry and traveling through Iceland, Spain, and Ireland.