I failed.

22 Nov

I have failed quite a few things in my time on this planet.  Fine.  Whatever.  I took the driving portion of the DMV test 4 times before being awarded my license. In my defense, I passed the written part the on the first try and was a nervous 15-year-old.  I failed a couple of courses in high school and a couple more in undergrad.  That was my fault for not paying attention and/or not showing up.  I failed at my first marriage.  I was 23 and knew what I wanted, not what I needed.  I failed as a saxophone player in middle school.  It was heavy!  I failed at snowboarding.  I am just not that coordinated.  I have failed at doing my fair share, remaining composed, being sympathetic, picking right over wrong, meeting deadlines, following up, apologizing, saying what I mean, losing weight, quitting smoking, correct pronunciations, simple math problems, remember things, listening, and being on time.  I failed a pregnancy test twice…

In the end, very few of those things mattered and some of them even turned out for the best despite their poor initial showing.  I have had my fair share of successes.  I even have a document printed on the skin of a dead animal declaring me a master.  (I totally would have opted for the paper if I knew I had a choice!) Those are stories for a different day. It is my failure as a writer that continues to needle me.  I finished my undergraduate degree with a major in studio art and a minor in English (creative writing).  It could have gone either way for me.  It just so happens by the time I visited an adviser I had 1 art class left for the B.A. in studio art and 3 left for the B.A. in English.  I went for the art degree.  After 5.5 years it was the way to go.  For several years I wallowed happily in the mud of mediocrity.  I dabbled in both photography and creative writing.  I taught art to elementary school students and later English literature and creative writing to high school students.  I loved both jobs.  What I did not love was the idea that I was done growing and evolving as an image maker or writer.  A good number of my friends at the time had terminal degrees and spoke enthusiastically about what a gift it was to have had the time away from “real life” to hone their craft and refine their methods of expression.  Slowly my mud stopped being safe and pleasant and started to get sticky.  I found myself increasingly frustrated with my creative works.  They were stagnant and juvenile.  One subject in particular proved itself to be impossible to express through either photographic imagery or the written word.  I tried innumerable times to address the death of my father with seriously limited success in either media.  It was time for graduate school. I looked into programs that offered a MFA in photography and those that offered a MFA in creative writing.  I labored over statements and cover letters.  The more I wrote the more frustrated I became.  I found myself blaming language for my inability to communicate.  In one rash moment, I unceremoniously discarded all the creative writing applications and dedicated my life to the photographic image.

It was not a mistake.  I thrived in my MFA program.  My images grew technically, expressively, became more sophisticated, and I leaned who I was artistically.  I finished my degree, worked a year in a museum, and then landed the coveted college teaching position.  14 years after my father’s death I have finally made a series of images that address this ever elusive topic.  Granted, they don’t even begin to scratch the surface of my experiences or emotions in regards to losing my dad.  I have not resolved anything, nor do I think I ever will or even want to.  What I did succeed in doing I am very proud of.  I simultaneously communicated my grief and gratitude.

Bolstered by my pride in that series of images I thought, maybe now I can do my dad and his life some justice with the written word.  It turns out that I cannot.  I tried.  I failed.  I found myself reverting back to my old argument that words are weak and incapable of the depth I need.  While that may be MY truth, it is not THE truth.  I have read so many well crafted,  interesting, and entertaining blog entries since joining this crowd a couple of weeks ago.  Here are some recent examples that I enjoy and am admittedly a little envious of: The Laws of Nature « Becoming ClicheProcrastination and the Time Thief | Rant Rave Write.  Rebellious Phase (Or Why I Blame Boyfriend For Ruining My life) « purposefullyawkward.  Boxers & Blugs « Kana’s Notebook.  Panic and Maternity Pants « brokencondoms.  Driving in America « Miss Demure Restraint.  Weak words are definitely not their truth.

Right now I feel like Alastair.  He is 4 years old and in a manic struggle with the number 5.  He can count to and far beyond the number 5.  He can add and subtract to reach 5.  He can write the letters to spell five.  He can recognize a well crafted “5” when he sees one.  He can also recognize a poorly crafted “5” when he sees one.  What he cannot do is get his brain and hand to co-operate to consistently create his own beautifully handwritten number 5.  The frustration causes screaming, tears, and projections.  I know, buddy, I totally get it.

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21 Responses to “I failed.”

  1. actionfiguretrish November 22, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    it’s not really failure if you haven’t quit. the answer is in the question, so to speak, had you phrased this commentary in the form of a question. you are writing, i’m reading…and relating…enough to do it ahead of more pressing things…my continued employment for one.

    i found my sometimes satisfying and expressive style by watching the beats, especially kerouac, take ridiculous license with language and i fell in love. the freedom rang my bell and released my inner rule-follower from it’s careful guard over grammar and the use of only already existing words. then my emotional, dreamy side took over. and sometimes i like what i write 🙂 enough to keep up the refinement efforts.

    the point of that is, you never know when something will click and free you. and you haven’t failed, by definition. (word)press on.

    • actionfiguretrish November 22, 2011 at 10:54 am #

      grammar guard is annoyed with the incorrectly punctuated “it’s” in my sentence – that’s not the kind of rule i’m talking about breaking. lol.

      • Sheila Talbitzer November 22, 2011 at 11:30 am #

        Ha! I never notice the typos until I pass around my handouts in class and start reading them out loud. Yep. College professor. That is me. It is better than the time I went to a small conference for English teachers and they forgot to capitalize English on the agenda.

    • Sheila Talbitzer November 22, 2011 at 11:28 am #

      That is how I feel about my photography…but not my writing. I am not sure what the difference is. Well, I think it might be insecurity. I have put far more effort into learning to “speak” photographically and still feel like a novice expressing myself with words. I am pretty sure I am not a quitter. I guess I will just have to wait and see what happens. I very much appreciate your encouragement.

  2. becomingcliche November 22, 2011 at 10:58 am #

    Wow! I read your blog and discover myself there. That’s humbling. Thank you for that.

    Sometimes being too close to the subject totally wrecks my ability to reproduce it. My NaNo work comes to mind. Give it time, and don’t give up. And be aware that you may never be totally satisfied with what you eventually write about him, but don’t let your inner-critic prevent you from getting the story out there.

    • Sheila Talbitzer November 22, 2011 at 11:33 am #

      Ugh…I know. That damn inner critic. I even teach a class designed to help students overcome their fears and make the art they want to make. I feel totally qualified to teach it in regards to photography, but have never been able to apply it to writing. Thanks for the kind words.

  3. Miss Demure Restraint November 22, 2011 at 11:10 am #

    Sometimes we write about everything but the thing our soul cries hardest for. I use humor to divert. Its my way of lightening my load. I have only once written about the daughter I lost when she was four. (Hug Alastair for me). I also lost the man I call father only a few years ago and have not written about that. They are both inspirations for me though and some day I may find the right words to convey how much I love them and miss them.

    You have not failed . . . You are simply waiting for the right words. Any piece of writing that evokes a strong reaction is a success. This is a success.

    • Sheila Talbitzer November 22, 2011 at 11:40 am #

      I am in tears. I will smother my boy in kisses and hugs when I pick him up from preschool today. I can’t imagine…
      It is the right words I need. My dad was just so…much. Everything I write seems so little in comparison.

  4. gertieapigo November 22, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

    I can see a picture of my failure in your post as well. I often lost for words. My vocabulary is very limited. I almost failed in my undergrad thesis because I wasn’t able to justify my work and elaborate on many points. I’m so thankful my adviser gave me a second chance. For that, I went back to my COMM III (Communications 3) instructor and seek for her help. My thesis was concisely written but still got poor grade on oral defense (fear of the crowd).

    I had great failures in life as well. I failed my dad for a failed relationship, a son outside marriage. I failed my son and deprived him of a complete family, and so on. I must pick it up from here. 😀

    • Sheila Talbitzer November 22, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

      I have found that given time a lot my failures turned out for the better in the long run. I bet that will be true for you too.

  5. oopsie23 November 22, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

    I really loved this post (and not because you mentioned me here, although, I was very, very touched that you did).

    I have loved expressing myself words for as long as I can remember and I agree with a lot of comments here that you have not failed at expressing yourself with words, you just haven’t the right words yet. I lost my grandmother nine years ago. She was my inspiration. She taught me everything I know about the good in people and how to be good TO people and she taught me to love. But if I sat down to write about her, (for the millionth time) I would come up with a giant blank space. Because I don’t have those words yet either. But I think that they will come in time. (I am totally tearing up while writing this comment. But I also TOTALLY blame pregnancy. I am TOUGH, dammit!)

    And might I add that, while you may not have found the words to write about ONE topic close to your heart, you really have found a lot of really great words for a lot of other things…Kudos!

    • Sheila Talbitzer November 22, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

      You were tearing up writing you comment? I was tearing up reading it…and I can’t blame pregnancy!
      Where are all these damn words hiding? Don’t they know they are needed?
      Thanks for the compliment. I wish I could find away to stop gauging all of my success/failure with writing on whether or not I could express how much my dad mattered to this world.

  6. Kana Tyler November 22, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    Just my own little two cents… I’m not a fan of writing when it’s accomplished via “time away from “real life”–maybe because I’m quite partial to the writing that ARISES from real life… (And having suffered through an MFA program in creative writing, I wish I’d had the simpler and healthier resource of this blogging community INSTEAD–this is way more beneficial!)

    I’m also all too aware that it’s my (MANY MANY) failures that actually make my writing (such as it is) what it IS. If it’s any consolation, my failures include multiple driving-test re-takes like yours, as well as failed marriage, jail & criminal record, multiple stints in rehab, losing my kids (luckily I’m blessed to have them back in my life now), throwing away my high-profile high-paying career… Yeah, LONG list of failures. But here I am, still kicking (and still writing), and still struggling with some of those “big moment” kinds of things that seem impossible to capture. It’s so easy to write about underwear, and so much harder to (successfully) write about some of the things that matter. I’m so pleased that you’ve found some expression about your dad’s death through your photography (would love to see you share that), and I actually have faith that the writing of it might come to you too. Speaking for myself, it doesn’t always happen when I TRY to tackle a topic, but sometimes (even years later) the right moment or impulse or angle or thought or… SOMETHING… actually sparks and gets it going. In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying your writing here! A-plus from this one-time English professor! 🙂

    • Sheila Talbitzer November 22, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

      Oh Kana! You just said something so profound I feel like an idiot for not recognizing it myself. You talked about it not happening when you TRY, but later the a moment or thought sparks and you are on it. I literally wrote about that happening in the statement that goes with my photographs about the death of my father!
      “Like the poem Threnody that Emerson wrote after the death of his young son, the series Elegy is both a lamentation on the death of a loved one and an acknowledgement of the beauty and importance of that life. Since the death of my father in 1997 I have struggled to find a way to communicate the deep grief I feel at his passing and also the gratitude I feel for having had such an extraordinary man in my life. It was not until the birth of my sons did I come to find at least one way to visually honor and weep for my dad. In an otherwise unremarkable moment with my boys it dawned on me that my playful interaction with them mirrored a time I shared with my father. I felt myself looking inward and outward with new eyes. In body my father is gone, but through me and now my children all the good that he was is very much alive. The skulls, bones, and skeletons in the images recognize his death, just as the celebratory and symbolic white flowers represent the new lives he continues to influence and nurture.”
      I wasn’t trying to make those images! It was spring and the trees were in bloom with white flowers and I was just playing with my kids in the yard. I thought of my dad and it clicked. Here is a link to the images: http://sheilatalbitzer.com/section/250908_Elegy.html
      Sometimes I am shocked that I can be so blind.
      Thanks for the honesty, the compliment (everybody loves and A-plus!), and the inadvertent eye opening.

      • Kana Tyler November 22, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

        Amazing photos! Clearly you’re not failing at expression! 🙂
        I wonder why it is that we writers tend to beat ourselves up so much? Another of my face bloggers wrote on the same topic today—Emmiemears.wordpress.com–she’s worth checking out 🙂

        • Kana Tyler November 22, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

          Sorry, FAVE bloggers… (damn that autocorrect!)

          • emmiemears November 22, 2011 at 10:28 pm #

            I am your face blogger, Kana. Always and forever.

            Now if I can just figure out what that means…..

  7. emmiemears November 22, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

    Humbling, isn’t it? To think of a child so distraught with frustration about creating something we take for granted? Just a small number on a paper.

    I get that.

    Many times I get caught up thinking about what I haven’t done yet — published anything at all, moved to my beloved Scotland yet, gotten that little orange kitten I’ve wanted for so long — that I forget about what I am doing. I work 45 hours a week at my “day” job and then most days either get up and immediately start writing or do it when I get home or both. We writers and other creative sorts seem to have all had our self-flagellate buttons pushed on in our DNA.

    Thanks for stopping by the blog and for following!

    • Sheila Talbitzer November 23, 2011 at 10:54 am #

      We certainly do…
      I sometimes fear I am accidentally passing on some of those traits to my boys.

  8. thewaiting November 24, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    I lost my dad years back too and have had a frustrating time mourning him properly because I tend to freeze up when I begin to think about creating something that honors him and also forces me to face a lot of the emotions that he wells up in me. I’m getting there (I think). It’s encouraging to read this and know that it’s possible. When you said, “Granted, they don’t even begin to scratch the surface of my experiences or emotions in regards to losing my dad. I have not resolved anything, nor do I think I ever will or even want to. What I did succeed in doing I am very proud of. I simultaneously communicated my grief and gratitude.”….Well, that pretty much sums it all up perfectly.

    • Sheila Talbitzer November 24, 2011 at 7:54 pm #

      I am sure being pregnant doesn’t help with emotion control…I thought about my dad a lot when I was pregnant both time. My dad loved kids and would have been an incredible grandpa. Fortunately, my mom remarried years later to a man who is a wonderful grandpa and my oldest son LOVES him. The second I found out I was having a boy I knew his middle name would be my dad’s name. I smile a little every time I have to write Alastair Thomas or when I first-and-middle name scold my kid…which is good for my boy when he is in trouble!

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