Failures

Life

In starting this blog, my intention was to write weekly. It felt important to cement rules to this venture if I wanted to feel a sense of accomplishment (hello Type-A). That goal has already collapsed. I’m not too broken up about it and instead, I’m working on embracing the failure that belies writing.

I’m not especially adept at accepting failure, though I am a highly accomplished quitter. My infamous quitting ability is analogous to my fear of failure – you can’t fail at something to which you’ve already said “no thanks”. 

I’ve always been aware of this character flaw. Over coffee, I casually mentioned to a close friend the different ratios of steamed milk to foam in a cappuccino versus a latte. “Why do you know that?” she asked. “Oh, I was a barista for a year,” I said. This, piled on top of all the other sojourns I peppered into conversations, and my friend had enough. “Honestly, what else have you done, Hannah?” In short: a lot and a little.

Off the top of my head, I’ve dabbled in – and promptly quit – the following:

  • Ballet
  • Horseback Riding
  • Brownies
  • Irish Step Dancing – but I’m easily convinced to revive my short-lived career every St. Patrick’s Day
  • Cello
  • Clarinet – twice
  • Basketball
  • Tennis – though I’ve picked up the racquet in adulthood
  • Piano
  • Voice Lessons and various choirs
  • Guitar
  • Track and Field
  • French National Honors Society
  • Sailing Club – at UW-Madison which I also sort of quit by transferring out
  • Book Clubs
  • A handful of part-time jobs
  • Sorority Life – but who am I kidding, I never really participated, to begin with
  • The Marathon – one accomplished attempt and two attempts that I quit. The jury is out for my 2019 attempt

In each case, when I felt the painful twinge of failure, I stopped. 

Now, I’m working on staying power. I most recently practiced facing failure last week while visiting Paris with my mom. I have studied French since my freshman year of high school (though, as noted, quit French National Honors Society). I minored in the language in college. I studied abroad in Paris. I listen to French podcasts and read French novellas.

Despite all that, my French is horrible. In the past, because I know it’s horrible, it has kept me from trying and failing. Most exchanges in my beloved second-language were brief, mumbled, or censored.

Maybe it’s a sign of maturity and acceptance of my own shortcomings, but on this trip, I just went for it. I had conversations with shop owners. I used verbs improperly, laughing and trying to correct myself (laughing or smiling are my other French hang-ups I avoided in the past. I felt that any time I acted too overtly happy they would peg me for the American dullard that I am). I worked with several shop girls to find my size in these adorable pajamas that I will link because they are very cute and very French and I am very proud that I used my middling conversation skills to locate a pair in a shop four arrondissements away. 

Buying a new pair of sunglasses in the glorious BHV (evidently, shopping was the main goal of this trip), I discussed different frames and became absolutely tongue-tied trying to say “polarisées”. The vendeuse politely corrected me so I could hear and repeat the native pronunciation.

When le crêpier refused to break my ten euro note, holding my warm crêpe à la cannelle hostage, my mom and I laughed as she dug change from the bottom of her bag. I asked for him to hold on for a moment while scrambled through the foreign coins, examining them on my palm. I stupidly threw in some French exclamations: “Donc“, “Alors“, and the tutting noise you hear mamans make at their children. He laughed with us, handed over my crêpe and bid us adieu. Or – more literally – bonne soirée, but you follow.

In each case, it would have been easier to shy away or ask if they spoke English. But by giving myself permission to try and fail, I interacted with more people and learned more (and now, with my rekindled love of the French language, Max has to entertain my dream to move to Paris once again). I’m going to give myself that same permission here on this blog. My made-up deadlines can be lax and I can fail to meet them. As long as I keep coming back to write then I have not yet quit. Which means I can continue to learn from my failures and love writing. Toujours et encore.

Write Steady

Writing
My favorite desk, to date. Circa 2011

I’ve finished the most steady month of writing in my life. I’ve been jotting down ideas for this blog every day, writing characters traits, copying turns of phrase I’ve read and liked.

For my fifth week of blogging, I found moments of free time to write about my egocentric obsession with personality tests. The piece had it all: Horoscopes! Enneagrams! Myer-Briggs! Harry Potter! Gloria Estefan! Introversion vs. Extroversion! 

It was utter shit. 

I wanted it to work, but I couldn’t get it right. What is more boring than reading about someone else’s personality test results? I was trying to talk about enneagrams because I think they’re having a big moment, but Jesus, those tests are complex to explain. I showed my writing to Max hoping my initial feelings were wrong. He told me he liked my use of vocabulary. If that isn’t the kindest letdown, I don’t know what is.

I spent several hours writing something that won’t see the light of day. It feels wasted, but also not. I learned a little bit along the way. Like how to accept letting go of something you wanted to be good, but just isn’t. And since I’m really committed to posting once a week and had to scrap my initial attempt, I will now give you the laziest but most effective writing form of our time: The Listicle. Probably also not the best, but at least you don’t need to read about how I’m an INTJ.

Five Things I Noticed After Writing Steadily for One Month

  1.  I’m trying new things Exhibit A – my thrown-away piece on personality testing. I’m seeking out new ideas and experiences because my self-induced deadline for weekly posts is tough. Seeing the world through this lens is really fun. I feel more inquisitive than I have in the past.
  2. I spend more time alone with my thoughts It’s taken me a long time to accept that I am pretty evenly extroverted and introverted. I used to believe introversion had a negative connotation, so I fought against it. Now, allowing myself the time to reenergize by being alone, going on a walk with the dog, and examining my ideas more closely has been really cathartic. 
  3. I have more story ideas Best Selling Author Elizabeth Gilbert writes in Big Magic about a transcendent level in our universe where ideas exist as their own living entities. She believes that if you allow yourself to be creatively open to these entities, then they will find you and ask to work with you. That sounds very crazy or very genius, but I’ve found some truth in that belief. I don’t have any more or fewer story ideas than I did before – but now I’m on the lookout and ready for when they pop into my head.
  4. I read more My to-be-read list grew by about thirty books in the month since I’ve started this endeavor. There is a lot to know about the world if I have any hope in writing it down. And I’m working on reading more variety. Do I really want to read the terrible right-wing propaganda my brother sends me every day? Or Ulysses? Or The Second Sex? Not really. But if I don’t, how will I know about them?
  5. I’ve let go of some insecurities I have been the critic of many an article. I dissect other people’s opinions into obliteration, especially if it’s written word. So I know all the ways people can trash me and my writing. And I’m getting over it. I’m sure a troll will find me eventually (most likely said brother with the propaganda). But at least I’m thinking in new ways and learning about myself. I’m acknowledging my insecurities and putting myself on the chopping block anyway.

There you have it: my first listicle. I have to say, I understand why so many writers use it – it’s really easy. Especially if they’re up against a deadline and wrote junk for a week straight.

Until next week! I’ll be on the lookout for something to say.