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It Happened To Me: I Got Older Without Noticing
--OR-- Has Anyone Seen the Damn Map?
Welcome to The F Word, a weekly newsletter about failing, flailing, falling, and flying.
What does that mean, you may ask?
What goes up, must come down. And what is down, stays down. Think of the Easter Island statues, the Grand Canyon, The Great Wall. Carved from the earth, they’re not being tossed into the atmosphere any time soon. Those babies are stuck, low, a help-I’ve-fallen-and-I-can’t-get-up kind of down.
Failure has a feeling. A physical manifestation. When you’re down, no amount of motivation and well-wishing and good intentions will get you back up again. It’s unrelenting pressure. Every turn of your head requires more effort than it should. (I could also be describing Depression, capital D). Failure, and its physical manifestation, is a gravity that’s more of Jupiter than Earth (fun tidbit, check out this gravitational calculator) .
((This newsletter is an uplifting one, ain’t it? Still hanging on? Let’s continue.))
Granted, failure is subjective.
So subjectively speaking, what is The F Word?
(** Hello you, you person following along. I will make you a solemn promise here and now: the following is about myself and my own journey. It feels self-serving to write, it feels banal, it feels conceited, but it’s my damn newsletter and that’s what this damn first issue is about. Dammit.)
What is it to fail? The lens that feels most familiar to me, the definition I reach for, is the Death of Dreams.
Failure is when you’ve reached for something, fallen short, the game is over. None of this late-stage, one-more-inning-but-down-by-8-runs bullshit. Sometimes it IS over when it’s over, Yogi. Sometimes, hard work and doggedness does not, in fact, push you through. Sometimes there are dead ends.
….what then? When you’ve crafted part of your very soul by achieving a specific and measurable goal, what happens when it fails? Does part of your soul die, too?
Presumably, even after this type of failure, we are still living, breathing, still responsible for paying our bills and for tending to our children and taking phone calls from our ailing parents. We are still accountable for and tied to other things. We may still have jobs to go to. But failure (as defeat, as dream-death) is painful. It’s soul-crushing. So how do you carry on? Who the F word are you after a failure of that magnitude?
As an elder millennial, I was raised with the liturgical “you can do anything, you can be anything!” ringing in my ears since before I can remember. (Bonus: I was also raised Roman Catholic. We love a good refrain.) So when I failed, FAILED, big, fat, all caps FAILED at publishing my novel, my core was shaken.
Let me set the scene:
According to the white-middle-class Holy Bible of Achievement, I followed the steps. I worked my ass off. I spent my days and nights planning, writing, connecting, hosting, and, very, very truly, enjoying my time in London and the people I met along the way (most of them absolutely amazing and kind and inspiring and gracious, some of them not so much). But I was always hyper-focused on the end goal, Steps 7 and 8 of the MASTER PLAN. The gospel! How could the gospel be wrong?! Every film, every story, follows the same structure!
→The odds are stacked against our protagonist, the protagonist follows their inner truth, they succeed in their goal! ←
Well, it was wrong. The Three-Act Structure we are all so familiar with, the Joseph Campbell Heroic Journey we know and love, led me astray. How could this be? Either, I reasoned, the structure was a conspiracy, or I, myself was the problem.
What if I was NOT the hero in my story? What if I was meant to be the best friend, or the neighbor, or Patron #3 in the background of the coffee shop? What if this all was some big, embarrassing, misinterpretation of my own worth?
((Have you ever felt like you’re just a bystander in your own life? Talk about soul-crushing.))
After all of the work I put into 3 years, the seven different iterations of my novel, the amount of rejection and shame I carried with me all the while mounting like a pile of dead leaves gathering in layers on the ground… then, THEN! add the pressure of the pandemic and becoming a mother for the first time in the thick of it all… and I rewrote my novel. Again. AND IT WAS REJECTED. AGAIN.
And then we ran out of money. And I had to go back to teaching, albeit in a different format than the public school system, but teaching all the same feels like a familiar foe, a toxic relationship I am going back to because I couldn’t cut it in the real world. The book I worked so hard on, poured myself into, was not Worthy of Publishing. I am not seeking sympathy, here. I have spent enough time feeling sorry for myself. But what I’m looking for is just an understanding. I’ve pretended for a long time that I’m just IN THE PROCESS STILL. When people ask me how my book is going I say, “oh! great! I’m halfway through!” and this is an embarrassing and difficult confession for me to make. But I truly believe that in getting this off my chest, I’m able to move on from it.
(So thank you, those of you who have made it this far. Please don’t judge me. And for the love of all that is holy, please do NOT feel sorry for me. I’m just trying to announce where I truly am, here, not garner pity.)
There are many ways and reasons people fail and dreams die: some dreams die violent deaths, some heroic ones in the service of some greater good, some fall victim to the passing of time and wither from the vine, unpicked. Whether it be circumstance, coincidence, or consequence of XYZ, we have all failed at some point, in some way, and if you have not, then I hate to break it to you, but you are in a current state of failure and just haven’t recognized it, yet.
So anyway, that’s the gist of this newsletter. I massively rearranged my entire life, and my husband’s entire life, and our finances, to achieve a dream that I did not, in fact, achieve.
[Why the title, you may ask?
A week ago I went out with a friend to see some live music for the first time in my motherhood-slash-post-pandemic life. I thought the lead singer was someone I went to high school with. When I saw the pursing of my friend’s lips at this comment, I asked her if she thought we were too old for that to be true. “Yeah,” she said. “Probably. But maybe not,” she added graciously.
The singer ended up being in her early twenties, but watching her on stage in all her energetic/creative/center-stage-loving beauty, I SAW myself in her. Like, physically and spiritually and I thought “oh yeah, that could be me right now because I am her age because we probably went to high school together. Anna! It’s me, Steph!”
No. No no.
I AM OLDER THAN I THINK I AM. I am older than I feel. (This is absolutely the first time, but most certainly not the last time this will happen. I am aware of this, I do not need you to point it out to me).]
Anyway, thanks for reading.
I wish you love, light, and happiness this week.
And drink lots of water.
Stay tuned for next week’s issue, when I INTERVIEW A STRANGER IN A COFFEE SHOP ABOUT FAILURE!
Too long, didn’t read: I am 33 and have failed at the goal I shuffled my life around to make work. I also love to use hyphens and lists of three adjectives to describe things.