The Privilege of Failure
by Jessica Lohafer
I’m tired of stories about the body.
-Dorianna Laux, “Fall”.
I can’t stand the sound of my own voice, sometimes. When my thoughts are contained to only my own notebooks, I don’t have to worry about backlash, about the opinions of those around me. I can sound as narcissistic as I want, without fear of judgement. Writing in a public forum is causing some sort of anxiety for me; I no longer have the luxury of privacy. I can, of course, choose to not share my work but that brings us back to accountability, to deadlines, to the reason this all started. But it’s not so much my voice that I find irritating or embarrassing. No one would call me a quiet person and I have little to no difficulty expressing my opinions on most anything at any time. So what is it that keeps me from opening rough drafts to fresh eyes?
I don’t want to share my process.
I would rather come into the room with work that’s pristine and perfectly enlightened. Find a theme that’s somehow both universal and freshly relevant. I want you to think that I didn’t have to think too much about what I wrote, or for too long, that it came to me like a voice from heaven, showering me with manna and exciting sentence structure. That I offered my work to the lord and the lord boomed back, a la Charlton Heston,
It is good.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. I, like every other writer (except maybe for Dorianna Laux) have to meet my subject matter like any other suitor. I wink at it. Flirt with it a little bit. Ask it where it grew up. Try to seduce it onto my desk, take it out to dinner and see what it’s willing to do for me. And sometimes, it doesn’t bite. I wake up the next morning, forearms covered in ink, waiting for it to call me back.
Sometimes, my literary inspiration doesn’t call me back.
You have to know when to let go. Sure, you might think a memoir about the struggles of an upper-middle class girl from a small farming town would make for a good read but that doesn’t mean anyone needs to read it besides you. You might flounder on the page. Furiously scribble down three stanzas, only to find you’re completely copying someone else. Maybe you think your idea is so good, your prose so engaging, that you ask it to your junior year Homecoming dance, only to accidentally hit it in the chin while performing a particularly difficult swing dancing move, injuring both your pride and its jaw alignment. Let’s be honest, you’re getting a handshake at the end of the night. But I digress.
Everyone fails sometimes.
As an artist and a feminist, I’ve realized it’s just as important to show off your failures. Unfair expectations have discouraged too many women to the point of inaction; I will stumble through misconceived book titles and half-baked play-writing attempts with pride, knowing I’m allowed to take risks. I’m allowed to participate in the process. A novel idea, to cultivate your own perceptions of reality, and reflect these ideas back towards your culture. It is a gift to be allowed time to create. I will work past awkward, knowing at the end of it all, I’ll be able to recognize when any given project is complete.
Then I’ll sit back and tell myself, a la Gloria Steinem,
It is good.