Monthly Archives: December 2013

Failing Better

Fail better next time.

There are a lot of things going on in that sentence, and while it starts with the word “fail”, I believe it’s the most optimistic sentence possible. Sure it doesn’t glitter like “If you aim for the Moon and miss at least you will end up among the stars”, but what it lacks in grandiosity I feel it makes up for in gumption. I like to think of it as Camus’s fascination with Sysyphus as a hero — the eternal optimist for whom knowing success is unlikely; even impossible; cannot dissuade or deter his efforts — distilled into a handy throw away piece of advice.

I recommend against throwing it away. As I get older I realize there are no unmitigated, inarguable victories. That is now how life works. Each thing, when you are done with it, has failed you in some way, or you have failed it. Even in masterworks a virtuoso artist can see their own mistakes, second guess themselves: even if a thousand thousand people love every detail, there will be one thing you notice about your creation that you wish you could un-notice. A failure you wish could be blotted from the record, an edit you wish you could make in time. But you can’t. It’s madness to think you can. The only thing you can do is accept your failure, and make note of that mistake for next time. You’ll fuck up again, of course. But you’ll fail better.

Knowings hard won…

Leo Tolstoy says all happy families are alike, but that each unhappy one is unhappy in its own way. It’s an old saw but generally considered a good one, but after much meditation I consider it dishonest at it’s core. Each unhappy family is unhappy in _exactly_ the same way. They are stuck. Sure, every day things happen (fresh failures, new atrocities, reopened wounds) but from sun up to sun down, there’s something big that everyone knows shouldn’t be there, shouldn’t be happening. It’s anathema to even imagine, but there it is, happily happening despite its wrongness, and nobody knows how to fix it, so everyone is miserable. Each happy family has these stuck things too, but they’re smaller, and sometimes they move around, and everybody can deal with that. That is all the difference in the world. But for the truly profoundly unhappy, the stuck thing is so stuck they can’t even conceive of it moving. Every act of the day is, in fact, conceived and develops from the stuck things fundamental motionlessness. It is the uneven rock which reality is built from. Self, direction, love, emotional awareness, logic, reason, humor, happiness, all of those sacred core concepts of human-being — Minimized, mocked, and twisted with malnourishment because of the energy required to keep this stuck thing stuck. Each member of the family may have a different stuck thing they’ve built their daily religion around, but rest assured it is there and Holiest of Holy in their minds, conscious or not. They have a mad master they must obey, and obiescence is first and foremost lack of acknowledgement. Horrific, systemic, in-human and in-humane inaction codified, crystallized and concentrated. They have created a shrine to this horror in their head, and their oblations to it are their own misery; their attention and energy drawn and dismembered by the galloping horses of ego and shame, their hours imprisoned in permanent panicked inaction by the twinned tethers of ignorance and inattention.

An unhappy family may have happy family members in it, as a happy family may have unhappy members, but the unhappiness that stems from an unhappy family life is deep, it has roots and runners that pervade each segment of the individual’s life. It is as if a kidney or liver or some other vital purgation and sanitation organ has shut down, and the natural waste management process has completely fallen apart, allowing misery to pile up in every deep nook in your head, inflaming minor slights and infecting sources of potential positivity with the fetid stagnant pus of doubt. This persistent negativity is of course incompatible with a happy life; just as soil too alkaline or acid twists and blights the plants that grow in it, any seed of happiness that germinates in this mire grows scorched, strange, and fragile. And of course with this fragility comes increased worry, insecurity. How can one dare rely upon their happiness when it is so wretched and withered, better to simply find another emotion to fix your life around, one you can count on to be there each day: shame, anger, sadness, regret. And how best to protect fragile happiness but by making sure that there are no big changes to upset your sense of order. And so begins a self sustaining cycle of excuse and ignorance based on a series of little white lies and logical dodges, all seemingly harmless. And again you are stuck, the crystalline nature of your central conceit; wordless powerlessness to an unsolvable wrongness; ties down each limb that could help you get perspective, develop self, or ask for help.

Getting perspective is first on that list for a reason. Nobody has ever asked for help who didn’t have a least a little bit of outside perspective about their problems. Nobody can really develop a sense of individuality without first understanding themselves as they understand others. Being able to understand how people perceive you from the outside, without the shading, depth and color of your internal monologue blaring over it, excusing and aggrandizing the entire time. Being able to sit with yourself and your actions and know that while in the moment and from the drivers seat they felt inevitable, righteous and intentional, out of their temporal emotional context, those same actions can be interpreted by others as erratic, irrational, even monstrous. Those same small, “inconsequential” but fundamentally ill-intentioned things done repeatedly in the name of protecting some shred of comfort amass to a war on happiness, both inside you and inside those around you. You have to accept that while you might have had the best intentions the whole time that the black weight of the whole is significantly greater, and altogether darker, than the sum of its parts. You have to accept those foibles and mechanisms as elements of self, and not excuse them, not logic them away. You have to acknowledge them. Apologize for them. Address them. Redress them. Redeem yourself for them. And most importantly, you must swear to never leave a thing unaddressed again. These fundamental “stuck” things make you feel awful for a reason, the answer is almost never to keep feeling awful.

I don’t know much. But I know this.