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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Failing Isn't An Option, It's a Requirement

What's this? Another post? Two in one day? Oh what a lucky day! Caloo, callay, oodalally, etc.

Failing is part of the process, and I am processing it up . I just got a notice from a show I submitted to at the PhotoPlace Gallery in Middlebury, VT regretting to inform me that my work was not chosen for inclusion. The show is called Imagined Realities and they have put up the 40 works that were selected for the show and the 35 to be included in the online annex - they had just under 2,000 pieces submitted, so the competition was pretty fierce. The work they have chosen is really beautiful and I'm hoping that I can learn by looking at it closely.

This latest notice, which I have to keep reminding myself is really at what I hope is only the very beginning of my involvement in photography, made me think that it might be important to document and understand the failure. I seem to fail very well. I don't mean that as a poor-me statement, instead I started to wonder if I shouldn't examine it a bit more closely and see what it means.

My first response as I think about this was, of course, to mope a bit and decide I am good at nothing, etc. but that's just depressing and I don't need any help with that.

So, second (and other) thoughts: 

I fail a lot because I try a lot of new things. I love to learn new things and I will try things even when people tell me (show me video footage of) why I shouldn't. 

I also fail a lot because I am impetuous and impatient (and impish…just to continue the alliteration). I hear about something and I want to go ahead and try it right now, even if I don't have the right stuff. I'm not sure where the impishness comes in…in fact, I think that might just be a failure at adjective selection. Hmmmm…


Without getting sappy, I think that failure really is only something that can happen when there is some moment in which a particular thing/experience/location reaches a time in which it only has two states: yes or no, on or off. It has to be a thing you are trying to get, not a process and I really love process. However, my impatience leads me to want the thing already to be done with it because I've just seen something else I want to leap into. I'm sort of like a cat - I can stare at a spot on the wall for hours and have everyone amazed by how fixed I can be on something, but then the slightest movement in my periphery and I'm off tearing around the house for no particular discernible reason. At least I don't have fleas.


I expect to be able to master something if I just try hard enough and that's just not always true. We tell people that they can do anything they want and that simply isn't the case. There are somethings that require determination and grit (I think that means that you are supposed to skip a shower for them) and others that are simply too late to start (i.e. being a child prodigy, that moment has passed for me), too outside of your skill set (giving people directions to my house), or require time or other resources that just aren't available to me (traveling around the world in a hot air balloon). 

Rita Rudner said something which has become the true motto for my life, "If I can't be a good example, I can at least be a horrible warning." I think that might be part of what makes me interesting, people seem to enjoy listening to my stories, most of which do not end with me saving the day (Tuesday), getting the girl (would be awkward for Pepe), and vanquishing the villain (who oddly enough turns out to be tooth decay). This doesn't mean that I don't regret some (many) of the things that I have done - unfortunately, it also doesn't mean that I've really learned and grown from all of them either; sometimes they are just good material.

So far, I have failed to:

  • Build a school in Ghana that would help educate generations of school students and cause no cultural conflicts or need any ongoing maintenance
  • Teach myself how to warp an 8 harness loom and then weave on it
  • Reconstruct a 19th century floor loom
  • Write a book about the history of interiors (but who hasn't failed at that really?)
  • Win a photography contest
  • Get accepted to a juried show
  • Get a job at Harvard (or an interview, or a letter of response, or a retraction of the restraining order…)

Okay, it could go on. Today I failed to pick out matching socks. 
In any case, during all of this failure, I have:


  • made some awesome crochet things
  • found out that knitting isn't really for me, I just like the casting on part
  • learned the heck out of PhotoShop
  • taken pictures that I really like
  • read books about amazing photographers
  • gotten a purple belt in Taekwondo (which my autocorrect really wants me to change to the word 'teakwood') at Defensive Martial Arts (is that shout out that my mom might read worth a discount?)
  • traced my family history back to the 1100s
  • travelled to Australia and gone scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef
  • sung in a mariachi band
  • scratched the head of various penguins at the San Francisco zoo
  • performed at a piano bar in Austin, TX

None of those things have led me to fame or fortune, but they were awesome and we've just got that until we die. So, now I'm going to pay attention to my failure for a bit and see if it leads me to any insight. Or to any wine.