Failure #8: Story Slam

The rules are stated before the competition begins: You have five minutes to tell your story. If it takes longer you’ll be penalized one point and at 7 minutes you’ll be gonged off the stage. First prize is “Total Glory”, which means newspaper and television coverage among other opportunities for recognition…

They throw the performers names in a toque and make a draw to see who will go first. Thankfully, it’s not me. I look down at the sparkly pink folder, one of my daughters’ I’d found at the last minute , and feel comforted by the narrative I know is in there.

I trust my story. I trust that it is funny and interesting and that it will carry me and my nervous stomach. I trust I will be swept up by it’s movement and forget myself. I trust I will enjoy where it takes me and everybody else in the room.

When it’s finally my turn I take a deep breath and pause for a moment. I’m imagining the darkness, the blaring music and the crowd where my story starts. Then I dive in. I can feel myself pulling the audience along, as if the story I wrote is a boat and the listeners are floating in it. I am holding a rope, swimming ahead in the waters of my tale, and tugging everyone with me. At four-and-a- half minutes it’s over. The judges hold up their numbers: an eight, a nine and a few nine-point-somethings. None of it means much to me; I didn’t come for the score, I came for the pure act of telling, of towing an experience, with words and sentences and tempo and gestures, that holds other people.

The rest of the night feels like a giant exhale. I did what I came to do and now sit back and listen. After the final performance the scores are tallied and the winner is announced. It is exactly who it should be. And it is not me. I have another failure to blog about, a failure of which I enjoyed every minute.

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

 

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Failure #7: Long jeans

I’m pawing through the pile of jeans, looking for Belén’s size, when the saleswoman comes to help. I hold up a pair and they flap down, unfolding themselves. They’re the kind Belén wants, with rips and holes all over, but I notice they look short. “Are these all the same length? They don’t seem long enough,” I comment.

The saleswoman looks at me for a moment, her long black hair brushing against bare arms covered in tattoos. “Yeah, they’re all the same size,” she says. Then she informs me, “It’s the style now–high waist and short. You won’t find anything else in the store.”

We take a few pairs back to the fitting room. Belén slips into them then opens the door so I can take a look. I cross my arms and move a step back. The hem, or rather the ragged edge where the hem should be, is already above her ankle. I figure it won’t be more than a month or two before these jeans are way too short. I wonder how long this trend is going to last. I wonder if we should sit it out and wait until long jeans are back in.

I turn to the salesperson watching us. “Can I ask you a question?”

She nods.

“How long have short jeans been in style?” I’m slightly embarrassed by my frankness but I need to know.

“Oh, at least a year,” she responds casually.

A year!? Did I know this? I suddenly feel very mom-ish. Very middle-aged. I look back at my daughter framed by the fitting room door and stare at her naked ankles. Then I look in the mirror at my own jeans, the excess material bunched and ruffled at my feet.

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

 

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…”

“What?!”

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.