Failure #6: Supper

I heap the quinoa into the pot and add a few cups of cold water. It’s been a long time since we’ve eaten quinoa regularly (probably since we lived in Bolivia and over-dosed on it) but I’m trying to get us back in the groove. Along with the quinoa I roast some garlic that I planted last fall, garlic that took 11 months to grow from a single clove to a full head. I also prepare Roma tomatoes I started from seed, carefully moving their little pots to follow the sunlight throughout March and April; transplanting in May; watering, weeding and mulching through June, July, and August; then storing in a cardboard box to ripen in October. Tonight I’m drizzling the fruits of my labour with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and slowly roasting them for two hours to bring out their flavour.

When the quinoa should be done I notice it still looks mushy and wet. I lift a spoonful to my mouth and it smells off, like old play-dough. I make a mental note to buy a new bag of quinoa for our quinoa renaissance and set it on the table anyway, even though no one is going to touch it. Then I start on a fresh pot of spaghetti.

Finally the meal is ready and we corral everyone to the table. Vivian takes one look at her plate, eyeing the ingredients that took months to procure and spits out an emphatic, “YUCK!”

I hold her chin, twisting her face to meet mine, telling her we don’t say YUCK at the table, when another family member starts gagging. The gluten-free spaghetti is sticking together in unwieldy chunks and is lodged in their throat. There is theatrical sputtering, drooling and coughing. Meanwhile someone trying to tell a story huffs about all the interruptions.

People are disgusted. Tired. Frustrated. And irritated.

Do therapists who recommend sit-down family dinners ever try their own advice? Is this what’s going to keep us together and healthy? It seems hard to believe and a little frightening.

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*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe and record moments I experience a sense of failure; I’m simply capturing a scene without adding further explanation or perspective.  Read more in the introduction to the series here.


Failure #5: Garbage Draft

It’s been about 6 years since I opened my book draft.

I haul the binder out of the filing cabinet, excited to be back to my project and curious to see what I’m up against. Once I start reading my eyebrows lift. I squint my eyes. I am cringing. My body pricks everywhere with discomfort and embarrassment. So many words, so much pomp, so little worth keeping.

There are a few images here and there that grab me. An occasional paragraph makes me pause and I pick it out of the muck. These are the ones that tell a story and take me to a place I can see, hear and smell. But the rest–and by this I mean pages and pages and pages–is garbage. Who was I trying to be, spouting facts and studies as if an expert on everything from wildlife biology to psychology? How am I going to wade through all of this? Is it even worth my time to look for something salvageable, or should I start over again?

My friend Kirsten gave me some advice this week. She told me to write what only I can write. The themes that are important and fascinating to me have already been taken, she reminded me, unless I can find a way to write my story through them. I keep this in mind while I leaf through my draft, failure glaring at me page after page.

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*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe and record moments I experience a sense of failure; I’m simply capturing a moment without adding further commentary.  Read more in the introduction to the series here.

Failure #4: Expanding Pores

We’re laying in bed together–Belén on one side, Susanna on the other. Belen is reading a book and Susanna is staring at my face which is inches away from her own. “Mom, what is this?” she asks, while tracing the skin close to my hairline. “It feels a little bumpy.”

“Oh no! Please say it’s not wrinkles,” Belén pipes up. I thought she was engrossed in her book but apparently she’s listening to our conversation. I recognize her fear. I feel the same way about my parents aging; I want my 75-year old dad to water-ski like he’s 25 and my 69-year old mom to party like she’s 19.

“I don’t think it’s wrinkles,” says Susanna, inspecting me like a medical specimen. “It’s the holes in her skin.”

“Pores” I say. “Yes. They get bigger as you get older. Think of Vivi’s face, it’s so smooth now because her skin is young.”

My body is doing what bodies do. Skin cells are losing elasticity and regenerating less frequently. All of them slowly decaying under the sun and wind, one day at a time.006

*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe and record my own mistakes and shortcomings. Read more in the introduction to the series here.



Failure #3: Pikachu

“Can I ask you guys a question?” I lean forward like I’m about to divulge a terrible secret. Lowering my voice, I continue. “Who…or what… is Pikachu?”

The sixth-grade students surrounding me respond in exactly the same way, as if perfectly choreographed. Jaws slacken. Eyes widen. Breath shortens.

“Pikachu? You don’t…?”

“I can’t even…”


They all interrupt themselves with their own disbelief. I imagine their next question: Are you even fit to work with us? but our discussion comes to grinding halt. I’ve never managed to stay abreast of pop culture and this is further proof. Despite middle-school teaching experience, raising a teenager of my own, and volunteering with the youth group I have failed to stay in-the-know.

After their initial shock passes one of the girls leans forward to pat me on the leg. “Don’t worry,” she says, “we don’t think you’re stupid.” She’s trying to be kind but I detect a trace of pity in her voice.

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*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe and record my own mistakes and shortcomings. Read more in the introduction to the series here.

Failure #2: Not Being Anne Lueneburger

I type her name into the Google search bar: A-n-n-e-L-u-e-n-e-b-u-r-g-e-r and scroll down to click on her company, North of Neutral, “a global leadership advisory boutique”. I’m reading the book Essentialism and for some reason it reminds me of Anne. I want to see what she has been up to since we met at a bakery in New York City a few years ago.

When our husbands introduced us to each other I immediately liked her. Warm, confident and interesting, she was someone with whom I could visit for hours. Now, as I browse her website, I am impressed again. The company she founded has grown to include staff from all over the world and her clients and partnerships are inspiring to say the least.

“Wow,” I utter to myself while reading about her publications in international journals and Elle magazine. I click over to her staff page and pore over the remarkable bios–doctors, world travelers, professors and more. All of it makes me wonder at my own bio.

What exactly am I doing with my life? Posting the occasional blog, cheering for a few volleyball games and letting my heirloom tomatoes rot on my kitchen counter? What’s my claim to fame? What have I accomplished in my 40 years? Shouldn’t I be on the way to somewhere right now?

I feel small and insignificant.

It’s too late already and I know I shouldn’t be looking at the screen. I go to my room. Read some poetry. And go to bed.

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“Vivi on her way to somewhere.” (Or, Vivi on top of the pile I need to spread around our new workshop.)

*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe and record my own mistakes and shortcomings. Read more in the introduction to the series here.

Failure #1: Sleeping

I have it all worked out. If I wake up at 5:30 am everyday, continue to swap baby-sitting with Twila for one morning a week and take Vivi to daycare for another full day, I have 20 hours to myself each week. Twenty long luxurious hours!

I am giddy just thinking about my stockpiled time. I plan on using 5 or 6 hours for walking, running and praying. The rest are ear-marked for blogging, writing and submitting essays, working on a book and Wonderscape.

I set my alarm clock ceremoniously, making sure Stan sees my industrious intentions. He doesn’t comment. (Perhaps this is because he wakes up at 4:30 am everyday without pomp and circumstance.) I fall asleep dutifully at 9:30 pm, just as I had calculated. And then my plan goes awry.

Vivi screams in the middle of the night about “persons” in her bed. I rock. I sing until she asks me to stop singing. I trundle her to my bed. Then I trundle her to Belén and Susanna’s bed where she seems happiest.

An hour later the digital birds start chirping incessantly. I think about all the regular people in this town who get up early to go to the gym. If they can wake up to jostle their bodies around on machines, surely I can slip down the hallway to pick up a pencil and flex my wrist.

It turns out I can’t. Not not this morning. I roll over and go to sleep. I now have 2 hours less to accomplish my dreams.

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*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe and record my own mistakes and shortcomings; read more in the introduction to the series here.

An Experiment with Failure

I’m interested in failure lately. I’ve been thinking about it, talking about it, writing about it, and reading about it. All of this has prompted me to experiment on my blog (given its title and all). I’ve decided to record my failures for the next 30 days.

Why would I want to write about my failures?

  • I want to do something that brings me to this spot regularly and briefly. I don’t want to write an essay every time I sit down–just capture a crisp snapshot of something at which I’ve failed, in 250 words or less.
  • It’s something new. I’ve seen dozens of gratitude lists before, written many myself, and see the value of positivity, but I’m a sucker for change. I love new.
  • Autumn is a season that calls for reflection, all the beautiful dying happening around me is the perfect setting for this experiment.
  • It will hone my honesty. (A few people have pointed out lately that I need more of this–but wait, I’ll save the details for an upcoming blog!) There’s a caveat in here of course, so don’t get too excited. I’m not going to share every single failure, and maybe not even the juiciest ones if they expose other people and relationships who haven’t signed up for publication.

Later, after my 30-day trial is over, I’ll take a look at all my shortcomings and mishaps to see what I can learn. Maybe I’ll even pull something meaningful out of this whole experiment, but for now I’m simply observing and recording. As negative as this might sound, I’m thrilled to begin. Come join me on my misadventure!september 015