Career / Identity / Portland / Publishing / Writing

On Failure

One month ago I was sitting at a light near Clackamas Town Center in my brand-new car. At only three weeks old, the Toyota Prius V still had its temporary paper plate taped to the back. I didn’t have the tags yet. My first payment had yet to be submitted. While I waited, stopped at the light, a 2010 Mercedes bashed into the back of me.

In those fragments of seconds before the impact, one thought flew through my mind: you could be rear-ended. I think a lot of crazy, paranoid, neurotic things, though. I don’t claim it was a premonition. Then again, maybe the atoms making up our nerves and skin and minds quake like animals before a hurricane. They can feel the universe stirring up something ominous behind their backs. Maybe we’re no different.

After my back snapped forward and I boomeranged back in my seat, I watched the kid in my rear view mirror hurling his tiny fists against the steering wheel, the gold chain around his neck quaking as he shook his head.

He doesn’t have insurance, I knew. I was right.

As I limped my perfect car, the first new ride I’ve ever owned, back to the house, I can’t remember if I cried or not. Screamed or not. All I remember is the notion that wouldn’t leave: you fuck up everything. You are such a goddamn failure.

Less than two months ago, my phone rang, and I thought my life was going to change. It did, but not the way I imagined it. Not the way I wanted it to be. I don’t think I could write more of a clichéd platitude if my name was Katy Perry, but it’s the truth. I had been waiting for the call since my job interview at Rogue Ales & Spirits in late June, clocking in with about three weeks of watching my phone like it was an oracle. Trying to plan what we’d do if I suddenly had to move. How, when, where. Logistics clawing against uncertainty. I was offered the job as I was on my way out the door to the airport for an unrelated trip to Portland planned almost a year before. I waved my arms, I paced, I told the ticketing agent and the TSA agent and the guy at the airport bar—I just got my dream job! I blasted it around the world and back. I was proud and in love. I was on my way to what I was meant to do. The job was made for me. A Writer for a Brewery. I felt like Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Sailor Moon. I had a destiny.

Everything started well—I loved the quirky marketing materials, the Oregon roots, the flash of working somewhere that made people’s eyes widen when you mentioned it. I’d never been a conversation starter, prompting people to wax over their favorite brew, or how much they loved visiting the Green Dragon, or how they’ve had their Rogue Nation card in their wallet for most of the last decade. I bought the t-shirt. I gulped the Kool-Aid. I mowed over the red flags on the horizon, the notes and glances and intuitions of a bigger truth, that this might not be so great. This was what I wanted, I reminded myself. This is what I’m meant to do. I’ve broken up my family to do it, strained not only my own heart and patience, but the man I love as well.

Then, as suddenly as it had started, it was over. There was an incident. I walked out.

I’m proud, I said. I stood up for myself and stayed true to who I am. This is not a fiction—the person I was five years ago would have bitten her tongue, bided her time, tried to prove to people who are indifferent that she is worthy. I’d see the suffering as currency. But if my twenties have taught me one thing, it’s that you will never prove yourself to people who are incapable of respecting you. I have learned that I will work hard and be the best at what I do, but I won’t eat shit because other people like to watch. I’ve seen where my line is, and what happens when I let other people cross it.

Even so, I feel the undercurrent of failure tugging at my feet. You fool, I curse myself. You starry-eyed, love-crazy idiot. You told the world you’d made it, and here you are, alone and fallen. You were asking for it, with all your excitement and bullshit about fate and dreams and destiny. The justice is so poetic, it’s nauseating.

I can’t shake my greatest fear—the fear of being disappointed. The fear of being the disappointing.

Last week, I discussed here on West to West my plans to rewrite my manuscript. If you asked how it was going, I’d say well. I’m drafting work. I’m having fun. I’m optimistic about where this could go. Again, as always, this is the truth. But the truth is complicated. It’s in that complication where my fierceness feels extinguished.

I feel like a failed writer. I wrote a book and it wasn’t wanted. There are reasons or factors or whatever you or I could say to placate the facts, but it comes down to the reality that I wrote a book and it did not sell. Even if I’m on the way now to write a better book, or become a better person, or whatever I’m working toward after the horse has thrown me, the facts remain, and I am so ashamed.

I have always wanted to make my people proud. My family, my friends, my mentors, my tribe. I owe them everything that has kept me from becoming lost, from learning to believe that I could be who I am. I was the grade school overachiever, the teacher’s pet, the people pleaser, the apologizer.

Am I good?

I’ll do better.

There are worse fates than one manuscript that doesn’t get picked up, that’s for certain. Even though I knew this possibility going in, I was proud enough to believe that I was good enough. That I’d worked hard enough. That my writing was strong enough. I’d make everyone proud.

And then, I didn’t.

And maybe no one really gives a shit, and this is all of my own egotistical, solipsistic, internal tempest. No one is waiting for me to succeed, and there will be no sleep lost when I fail. Which is fair. Kind of a relief, really.

But I wasn’t doing this for all of you. I mean, I was, but I was also doing it for myself. And it’s that self who feels let down. All over again, I curse myself as I face forward, trying in earnest not to look back but unable to shake what has become the theme of my Big, Crazy Summer: You starry-eyed, love-crazy idiot.

The world did not end, you know. Iggy the Toyota Prius V was picked up from the service center without so much as a scrape in her shiny blue paint to show she’d suffered a catastrophe. I get divine massages from the physical therapist. Instead of being a Rogue I’m back at the same company I worked with when I left Portland last year, with twice the benefits and infinitely more stability and a hefty bonus of sanity. I’ve already proven myself to decent, reasonable people. I have enough energy left in my soul to come home and write at night. My writing life moves forward, albeit slower than I had wished. I am alone but not. I am heartbroken but my hope hasn’t been extinguished. Not yet. It takes a lot to stamp out who you are, and I am a starry-eyed, love-crazy idiot. I don’t know when I’ll set it right or how I’ll turn it all around. I have to, though. I may be a fool, but I’m not a failure.