I posted this on Facebook and got numerous responses.
Thoughts about failure–particularly in the realm of the creative? I’m about to embark on a time-consuming, expensive, possibly annoying, off-mission project! I’m giving it a 60% chance of “success.” And yes, I’ll talk about it once underway. But what is your opinion about chancing failure in a big way?
And I should add—I’m not looking for advice, more what YOU know. I’ve failed spectacularly from time to time, and not on purpose. I’m not sure I’d call these “learning experiences” because often I was just trying to survive the chaos. To be honest, I don’t learn well when I’m upset. However, what my old friend Peter Frank says below makes sense to me.
Peter Frank, curator and art critic:
How much (of a) failure can you afford? It’s one of the best ways to learn – at the right moment…
Yehudis Fishman, Hassidic teacher:
from a Hassidic perspective, no intention for a positive accomplishment ever goes to waste; if it doesn’t seem to bring about its intended results, it still exists in the universe until someone, somewhere, sometime, actualizes it. Good luck!
Benjamin Alire Saenz, writer:
When you do something because you need to do it, and you dive in—where is the failure. You wrote the book you needed to write. And it didn’t get published? That’s not a failure. Failure resides in taking no risks. Failure resides in standing still because you are afraid. The issue is in how we understand and interpret what we do. To try and create something beautiful that comes out of you is called living.
The essay features the Fuddles, people in one of the Oz books, who like to scatter themselves into pieces so they can then be put back together like jigsaw puzzles.
They can serve as a lesson of what to look for as we construct our books.
“We add our books together piece by scattered piece. We trust that they are secretly connected, that somehow they will eventually join the narrative’s arc together. Intuition is largely our guide here, as well as a certain dogged persistence. And then comes the time when a critical mass of addition is achieved (a point that is always different for every book), and, as in the Land of the Fuddles, a “mouth” is found: an insight that speaks with an echoing authority, which helps the writer better understand what they have been attempting.
This is the moment that a writer searches for, often unconsciously: a “mouth” of insight that will speak for more than itself. This is the point when a book switches from hopeful guesswork to far more intentional construction. Mysteries may certainly still abound, but a point of no return has been reached, and the writer increasingly believes that their book will eventually be born, its last piece finally fit into the waiting pattern.”
from a stranger’s tree
It’s a common practice in Santa Fe to harvest fruit from neglected trees or even windfalls from the sidewalk or street. I passed an old lady, about my age, doing just that. I wonder if she’ll make jam or sauce.
Freshwater is a new commission by the artist Jean Shin that celebrates and pays tribute to the freshwater river mussel, while inviting those of us who live along the Delaware River watershed to consider our responsibilities towards the health of the river and its ecosystem. Interweaving wonder and grief, beauty and decay, Freshwater draws upon the history of the decline and restoration of some of the most endangered species in the United States and offers a glimpse of a healthier potential future for the river and all who depend on it. https://philadelphiacontemporary.org/projects/jean-shin-freshwater
From ecoartspace on Facebook. (Check out ecoartspace–a tremendous, and active–organization based right in my neighborhood! Consider joining: https://www.ecoartspace.org/)
Featured artist and ecoartspace member is Luba Zygarewicz and her recent installation titled SENTINELS, Keepers of Light: Community environmental project, 2021, working with Monofilament and broken fishing ropes recovered along the shores of East-port, Maine (168 x 144 x 120 inches). Zygarewicz gravitates to creating pieces that, in time, accumulate to a larger whole, working with materials such as hair, lint, twigs, cotton, and tea. Her work comments on the transience of time and landscape and elevates the seemingly banal through immersive, place-based installations and sculptures. Born in Chile, raised in Bolivia, Zygarewicz moved to San Francisco at the age of 15. She received her BA in Visual Arts from Loyola University, New Orleans, and her MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute.
The city folds itself to sleep
along familiar crease lines
east to west, north to south
curb to curve
inside turned out
I dream of you
perhaps you of me
held by Indra’s Net
two drops of dew
trembled by time.
It is a truism that every person has a book inside of them. However, this isn’t exactly accurate.
No book is inside the constructed self that anyone calls “me.” That self itself isn’t as “real” as a swing set on a playground, but I’ll leave the details of that to Buddhism and other spiritual paths.
Any book–written, partially written, or just aspirational–exists in an intermediate zone that consists of you, your imagination, literary lineage, and the world of other people. It doesn’t reside in the conscious mind, or we could grab it like a dental appointment card. It isn’t unconscious either, or it would stay that way. Rather, it is located in what Freudians used to call the pre-conscious–the realm where things emerge: dreams, daydreams, visions, and of course stories.
That book you want to write is made of only one substance: words. Words and sentences from whatever language you are writing in. Language is a book’s mother, grandmother, foster mother, step-mother, godmother, sister, and all of its second cousins once removed.
The book belongs to language as much as to you.
To write it, you must navigate between the lived and the observed, between what you think is the self and everything else. Books called “How To Write A Novel” are full of handy tips but they don’t always admit that a book is not inside the writer as if it were an internal organ. You don’t control it. You don’t even possess it. You might invoke it, incubate it, conjure it, or fashion it. Indeed, you should.
But you can’t pull it out like a radish from the earth or a bean from a toddler’s nose.