Hello, Failure

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

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.


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