Life’s Little Failures

I’m realizing that life can go by pretty smoothly when you surround yourself with positive friends and family, and every day, you see most of your ideas, actions, creativity and decisions rewarded with support or if not, a smile.

Now I have this sinking feeling that maybe that path to take through life is a little too easy. Maybe the key to personal success are in those little failures along the way. Happy times may smooth over those rough edges, but it’s the numerous cracks and rough-housing that mold who you are. How awful.

So deep, right? Actually, probably not. I think I read this idea on a motivational postcard or something. I’m not very original, unless I’m trying to come up with reasons on why I should eat my feelings. Speaking of which, I totally just ate two cookies after lunch. Yum!

This realization came to me when I decided to the initiative and enroll myself in a fiction writing class at UCLA earlier this year. Trust me, I’m not some aspiring novelist with 3 drafts under my belt and I really had (and still have) no idea what I was doing, but I figured that if I spend so much of my time tapping away on the keyboard, I might as well try to do something truly original with it for the first time. Okay, not really the first.

Somehow it made sense inside my brain. In elementary school, I used to scribble away during the long flights to Japan or New York with really lame stories about the adventures of country girls in the late 1800’s, all of which sounded overly similar to the Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie books (down to the names that I gave their farms and households).

I still have a Sanrio notebook where I wrote a play about two poor girls being invited to the Queen’s big ball. Somewhere in my house, there’s a 3rd grade journal where our teacher instructed us to write our feelings but instead, I wrote stories about teddy bears and fairies (and then read them aloud to the class). If you were in my class, I’m really sorry for subjecting you to that. When we got our first real computer (a black and white NeXT computer), I’d put on my mom’s fancy chandelier earrings, pretend to be an aspiring writer in the 19th Century and then write away in a fake diary in whatever word processor I could find.

Of course, I never finished any of those “books,” and I had a big reality check when I showed one of my Emily of New Moon novellas (complete with illustrations) to my sister. Her first question was why all of my characters were God fearing, church going white folks who celebrated the Sabbath by putting on their fancy clothes and sitting quietly in the parlor.  I actually tried to incorporate a token Black girl with a Japanese name but then everything just fell apart while I went through a mini racial identity crisis. I wrote a murder story for my high school’s snooty literary publication, and then realized how much the plot twist sounded like a short story I had read a month before. Basically, it all sucked.

By the time I was finished with college, writing consisted mostly of updating my Xanga and trying to finish my term papers. I pretty much gave up on doing anything fiction related, aside from reading, because what was the point? I was among students who successfully crafted their words on paper, and the chances of actually doing anything good with it were slim. Plus, I was mostly preoccupied with trying to find a job and not freak out about the impending move back home.

Next thing you know, it’s been over six years later. Focusing on building a career, which would inevitably change direction every two years, took over my brain and seriously, who wants to say they like to write in a city full of aspiring writers trying to pen the next big screenplay? It sucks.

I still don’t have much of a career, but last year, I realized that among the twisty turns of trying to find a career move that I’d be good at, I was already pretty good at something. Writing. Okay, so this mostly meant blabbering away about my life and celebrity gossip on various blogs, but it was something that came seamlessly out of my fingers. I could sit in front of a computer, amidst a busy work schedule and a blaring television set, and easily type anything out. I’m not saying any of it is good, and looking over that old Xanga makes me want to stuff my face with two more cookies, but it was fun. I could do this.  It also helped that I totally aced my typing class in junior high, so tapping out a sentence on the keyboard took less time than actually finding something to type a sentence about. Does that even make sense? But again, my mistake was believing that pursuing this notion of writing was going to be fun because I thought it was easy.

Because holy shit, was this class hard. It was hard enough to fork over the money to pay for the extension course, and it was hard enough to adjust back into a classroom setting with other new students from a variety of ages, backgrounds and beliefs–including an old man who wore loafers without socks, claimed to have known John Cassavetes and who I later learned (thanks to Google) invented the mini-mall in Southern California. But to work on a completely original story that you had to read aloud to the other students and then listen silently as they pointed out every single inconsistency, fake plot point and grammar error was fucking hard.

I am proud of myself, though, that I didn’t burst into tears or choke up after listening to the rest of the class critique my first story. I distinctly remember that night as I drove home, down the windy, dark streets spotted with the mansions of Beverly Hills. It was quiet and my car stereo was off; all I could see what was my headlights showed me and I mostly felt a sense of relief. I had vomited something that sort of resembled a short story onto a piece of paper, and other people actually analyzed it without a second thought. I survived, but the heaviest feeling that nagged me for the rest of the week was a sense of failure. They pointed out the gaping holes in my story, the details that didn’t match up and the parts that confused them. They weren’t satisfied with the ending and the bits of humor I tried to inject into the dialogue fell completely flat.  I put together what I thought was a decent piece of work (that made complete sense) and they, in turn, proved me wrong. Would I even be able to make the next step?

So here’s the part where I talk about how I turned everything around: I took their notes, I continued with the class, I kept on reading great books and then rewrote an amazing, Pulitzer prize winning story and the end. Here’s what I did instead: I sulked, I moped, I continued with the class, I read some okay books and ate a bunch of cookies, all to push that failure of a short story down into the depths of my brain. I pretended like it never happened, and instead thought about how this class was a waste of my time.

Unfortunately, my teacher wasn’t going to let us finish the course so easily. Weeks later, our final assignment was to unearth our stories for a proper rewrite, which we would turn in after the last class and he’d mail back to us with his thoughts. Ugh. There was no turning back. I was being forced to reevaluate a failure.

Looking over something that you know isn’t good, whether by your personal standards or (in this case) everyone elses’, is a pretty sucky thing to do. It’s like purposefully jabbing an open paper cut: you see the awfulness that you put together, and it’s completely your fault. Reading over the story weeks later was the worst part; I understood everything that my classmates had seen: parts didn’t make sense, some stuff didn’t add up and why did I think this was okay to read aloud to strangers?

But here’s what I learned: facing your failures isn’t as hard as it looks. Admitting the failure is half the process and the rest is just working to make it better. I knew now that my story sucked, and that was alright. I worked really hard on fixing it up. I worked even harder on my next assignment, second guessing everything I typed out to make sure I covered every hole and confusion. It was challenging and I even couldn’t sleep properly at nights because I hadn’t yet figured out what I was doing, but I did it. I finished the rewrite, turned it in with a stamped envelope and ate lots of cookies in our final class.

With the two assignments out of my hands and with no more night classes to work a schedule around, I was ready to forget everything that I had done. I faced failure, did what I could to reverse it and now it was time to move on. I was even mentally preparing myself to feel even more rejection when I received my assignments back, and THAT WAS GOING TO BE TOTALLY OKAY.

And my reward? The best part was finally reading the feedback from my teacher: everything worked out. I did manage to turn a failure upside down (which would still be a failure, just wrong side up…right?) and emerged unscathed. I came out with the energy to keep going,  knowing that the path ahead of me is full of puddles, potholes and those cracks that I always trip over whenever I go outside.

So that’s the moral of this lame story.* I learned that I wasn’t good at everything, but the struggle to reach that next level is how you move forward. So bring on the challenges and I’ll bring the cookies.

*I’m sorry if you had to suffer through this really long lame story. I just had to get it out of my system.

  1. I enjoyed this post. You are totally welcome to participate in my writing group in Sherman Oaks (with Travis and a couple others) anytime you want. If you bring cookies.

    Reply

    1. Oooh that would be fun! Donuts aren’t involved, right?

      Reply

    2. Moye,

      This was absolutely beautiful. If your fiction is anywhere near as well-crafted, pointed, relateable and funny as your non-fiction is, there is nothing to be afraid of. The only part I didn’t like is your apology at the end. No need to apologize, Moye. Everyone lucky enough to have read this is surely just as satisfied and pleased with the amount of time spent doing so as I am. And if anyone suffered, I will kick them in the brain. They’re obviously using it wrong.

      xo

      Reply

      1. Lisa, I’m sorry.

        Reply

      2. :)
        I enjoyed this post a lot.
        And for what it’s worth, I’ve always thought of you as a great writer. :)

        Reply

      3. Oh man, I couldn’t help cracking up reading back on your Anne of Green Gables days, because I remember them well – and also because I went through exactly the same thing – thanks to you, Moye. I’m pretty sure you’re who turned me on to all the Victorian white-girl stuff, and I still have dreams of moving to Prince Edward Island one day. All because of you. Does that make you a pothole or a puddle or what?

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      4. I’m glad you finished the class and shared the story. If you get stuck or doubt yourself in the future, the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is quite good. Hope you keep writing.

        Reply

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