Wednesday, June 20, 2012

fear, failure, and the future

The other day a close friend asked me how it felt to lose my house, pack everything up and move to a new place with no money, job, or plans in place.  I said I was a little freaked out, and excited.  And that I felt I terribly alone in all of this.  She smiled.  She said, "you are alone in this." And I thought to my self: Am I afraid of being alone?

The funny thing about a question like this, is that the answer is always contingent. Ask me now, this second and the answer is no. Ask me later, after a loss or humiliation or in the middle of the afternoon before a nap and the answer is certainly yes. Whatever we are as individuals is fleeting. Maybe that's why I paint and write and fall in love. These activities externalize and fix a transient reality in an object, a text, or a body. Of course these activities, objects, and bodies are fleeting too.  But there's no point in even saying that, because of that whole “on a long enough time line” thing.


I have been sitting here in my local coffee shop for ten minutes looking at the blank screen. I type a few words and I backspace out of them. These are the hesitation marks of a writer. They are expressions of a frustrated desire, maybe to die, maybe to something else. Who knows and who cares. These marks, leave no trace, only a fleeting memory that wouldn't even last through the week if it weren't for this here, these marks now.

It seems pointless to express anything at the moment. I am crazed and terrified. Momentarily overcome with sadness. Momentarily adrift. And I usually only write about my little place in the world when it resonates with something else that interests me artistically and intellectually. And I think I am hesitating because what I am feeling right now is something quite simple and probably somewhat common: I am afraid of failing.

This is an utterly cliché, self-help construct. I want to believe that it's more complicated than that. But I kind of doubt it. Much of my life comes down to this fundamental insecurity. Most every job I've ever had could be done by a monkey. It would take a very well trained monkey, but the level of intellectual investment (not capacity) required to hang theatrical lights, or swing a hammer, or throw a drunk out of a bar is pretty minimal. These were all jobs with dignity and worth. And they were challenging and creative in their own ways. But, for me, they were wholly without risk. It's not that I wasn't challenged by them. I was. I learned it all on the fly and had to learn to navigate cultures much different than my own.  But in the end it's hard to care about failing at something you don't care about.

I've failed at many things: experiments in identity, relationships, business ventures, sports, hobbies... And while some of these failures hurt terribly and sometimes came close to ending my life, in the end they were essays into things I didn't actually care about, distractions. I never wanted to be a stagehand, a business person, a machinist, a husband-like thing. I did want to be a bouncer. But that got a little dull after a few years. The point is now that I am setting off to try and do the one thing I have wanted since I was kid, I'm terrified. I feel that if I fail, it will matter.

And it's a funny circumstance. There is no metric for success. What amount of money, recognition, respect from peers, etc, counts as artistically successful. On the one hand the temptation is to say that the personal referent is the only one that matters. But, if that were the case why make art at all? Art is a conversation of sorts. If no one listens, isn't it pointless? On the other hand the available referents – peer acceptance, recognition, the market, etc. – are equally pointless. So success or failure in this case might just be a matter of perspective. Unfortunately, I am rarely a reliable observer of anything, much less of myself.

For some reason I am reminded of this scene from Freaks and Geeks. 

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