What does it mean to lag behind, to loiter, to delay, to be undecided, to lack a goal? To fail, to fall, to get lost, to wander? To not be perfect, to not match exactly, to not fit a plan, to not fulfil the scheme, to not be of value, in short, to not be successful?
What does it mean, to see a sudden flight of birds fly in a triangular pattern on the water’s burnished surface and feel unsure– even they have a plan. The leaders lead,the others follow, but they all fly towards where they ought to be. The emergent pattern, the underlying direction, the science of the flight and the art of the perfect picture–the birth, the life, the growth, the breeding and the final fate of all things living–and dead–matching the pattern exactly.
What does it mean then to be dazzled by the imperfect, the laggard, the dishevelled, the disorganized, the jostled, the one that’s left behind? The one who tries, the one who is beaten down, the one who does not fascinate you, the one that does not try again,the one that is not a hero.
Why do they even exist? What does it even mean that the rabbit pup that will not survive even existed for a few days? What does it even mean that the stream that will not meet the ocean even flowed a couple of miles? Why even bother?
And yet, the father who can never find his spectacles, the neighbour who always goes out wearing mismatched socks, the husband who always buys furniture in the wrong size, and the child who uses the wrong idioms in the wrong place is endearing.
The boy who drops out, to not make his millions but to do just that, drop out, is not.
But if one is going to be a writer, one has to be fascinated by those laggards–the hiker who starts up the mountain but waits by the wayside because he can’t continue, the boy who fails the entrance exam to college and has to come home and face his mother, the girl who fails her vows to her childhood sweetheart and accepts the proposal of the rich neighbour. Perhaps they wander, perhaps they are lost, perhaps they meet another fate, perhaps no one wins and everyone fails.
Perhaps you have a novel. Perhaps you have a Wuthering Heights.
A result of our contemporary fascination with the success story is the impoverishment of the imagination. To soon does the boy drop out of college and build a successful corporation. Too soon does the black woman rise out of her rags and become a singing sensation. They fill our imaginary spaces eating up all other narratives, smoothing out the nuances.
Nothing succeeds like success in the best selling lists. Certainly not failure.
A result of an impoverished imagination is the lack of satisfaction with our lives, driving forward towards a different designation, a different role, a different career, a different place to live. All other nuances seem smoothed out like the view from a mountaintop. Of no real consequence. Wee little things moving in the distance. Only the other big mountaintops matter.
A consequence of the impoverished imagination is the impoverished story. Either the rags to riches popular novel or the stagnant, depressive, uninspired second-rate, “artsy” fiction no less mass produced than the former category.
We need to fail more, get lost better, lose direction more frequently in order to experiences the nooks and crannies of our imagination.
3 thoughts on “Ode to failure”
It’s such a huge problem, isn’t it? I would say I fail quite often, but still the characters in my stories soldier on and manage to overcome most of their obstacles. I guess I never have it in me to do them too much ill.
Loved this! And your blog 🙂