Hello, Failure

Of all the enemies of literature, success is the most insidious

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Failure of the Day: Sold!

If I had to pick a word to describe the concert the Police put on last night, it would be “enterprise-class.” (That’s what comes from a year and a half in software marketing.) The show was sleek and big and impersonal, and to my blunt ears, musically flawless. If the guitar was out of tune for two bars during Walking on the Moon or whatever; Chris would have noticed, but me, I’m all ohh, shiny!

Now, the 60-something suburban divorcées who sat in front of us rocking out and toking up were a whole other matter. It was disturbing on a very deep level—sort of like being at the stoner park across the street from school and having your teachers show up with the bong. On the other hand, it left me feeling nicely optimistic about the future of marijuana laws.

I am also currently in the thick of planning our summer vacation trip to Chicago. It’ll be the biggest trip Chris and I have taken together, and I’m having a superfun time navigating through and developing some expertise with the various online travel sites. I’ve always been good at getting good prices on our trips, but I lately I’ve been deep into the arcane rules and strategies of using Priceline and Hotwire and have, I think, seriously outdone myself.

So by now the trip is almost completely booked! and I am moving on to the activities research. I discovered that Milwaukee is a mere 90-minute drive from Chicago, and I thought: SOLD! Milwaukee! I can’t imagine there will be anything there to see but I don’t care. In my mind, Milwaukee is as different as a thing can be from a Jewish poet who hates both beer and nature. It’s the geographic equivalent of the polar opposite of me! I love it already. Chris is always up for weird "roadside America" adventure, but even if he weren't, he's putty in my hands since I told him about the Bob Newhart statue on Navy pier.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Failure of the Day: Rung

In his new book (which is just supernaturally good), Michael Chabon says doom is a thick ribbon that marbles all Jewish life. Which goes a fair distance toward explaining why, when I finished the third draft of my own novel week before last, adding more than 30,000 much-needed words and 70 fleshed-out pages to the second draft, I was overcome with one of the most profound feelings of disappointment I’ve ever felt in my life.

It’s not just that it’s not very good—hell, it’s never been very good; it’s a first novel by a confessional poet for chrissakes—it’s that it’s poorly written. Of all things to be wrong with it, that really was the last thing I expected. I spent the whole week in pitiful mourning; weeping for the thing as though I had buried rather than written it.

When I land on my ass in a big stinky pile of doom, it usually only takes me a minute to look up and find the Home Sweet Home sign I nailed there round about 1992. Doom is my natural habitat—all this dreadful suburban luxury and emotional comfort and financial well-offedness that surround me 15 years later is a temporary ruse, a tablecloth that will be yanked out from under the placesettings not by a skilled magician but by a dog who gets startled and makes a run for it with a corner of the linen caught in his teeth.

I have been presented with a fair number of Last Place certificates in my life—they are all from the children’s bowling league I was marched off to on Saturday mornings, and all have a picture of a ladder and the slogan Watch Us Climb Up Next Year going up the rungs on them. I think a lot of my life has been based on those certificates, that cheerful spin on bottoming out. Truth is, I don’t mind it here. There’s safety in doom, and a sense of perspective. Two weeks in, for example, I figured out that the work that remains on my novel is actually the fun part, the making beautiful now that the mundane and grueling storytelling part is so much more defined. I also figured out that the lump in the center of my thoughts a big glut of neglected poetry that needs badly to be let out. So this homey doom, it is not so bad. There's plenty to muck around with down here, and as ever, nowhere to go but up.